The Democratic frontrunner for Wisconsin's Senate race lauded a liberal nonprofit for its "amazing work" to defund police and abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Mandela Barnes headlined the Center for Popular Democracy's (CPD) "Hold Our Power Strategy Launch" on Nov. 15, saying he was "very honored" to land the liberal group's endorsement given its "amazing work … in states all across the country." CPD, which bills itself as the "nation's largest progressive organizing network," is at the center of the movement to defund police and has also called to curtail illegal immigration enforcement.
In July 2020, CPD organized an array of "beautiful and powerful actions with calls to defund police" and touted its role in convincing local officials in liberal cities to cut tens of millions of dollars from their police budgets. Days later, the group hosted a "national day of action" to demand that public schools across the country refuse to reopen until they are "police-free." CPD also sponsors DefundPolice.org, a self-described "comprehensive web resource where organizers can find everything they need for their campaign to defund police in one place."
Barnes's praise for the group comes after he refused to distance himself from the "idea behind ‘defund the police'" in an August interview that also saw the Democrat reference "overpoliced communities." Those remarks prompted Republicans to slam Barnes as soft on crime and "too liberal" for Wisconsin, attacks that could resonate in next year's midterm elections. According to a Suffolk University poll, just 29 percent of residents in Milwaukee—a Democratic stronghold—support defunding police, while 62 percent would feel "safer" with more police on the job in their neighborhood.
Animosity in Milwaukee toward the defund police movement has not stopped CPD from pushing the issue in 2021. In April, the group said there is "no justice until we can defund police." CPD president Jennifer Epps-Addison—who introduced Barnes at the group's November event—has also called police "the private security force of white supremacy" and equated the Black Lives Matter movement to defunding police.
Neither Barnes nor CPD returned requests for comment.
In addition to CPD's defund the police advocacy, the group has led the charge to abolish ICE, the Department of Homeland Security entity responsible for immigration enforcement and terrorism prevention. In 2018, CPD co-organized an "Abolish ICE" sit-in that led to the arrest of hundreds of protesters at the Senate's Hart Office Building.
CPD has also sparked controversy over its repeated harassment of elected officials. In October, one of the group's partner organizations, Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), filmed Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D., Ariz.) in an Arizona State University bathroom—a potential violation of state law. CPD also organized protests outside of Sen. Joe Manchin's (D., W.Va.) houseboat.
CPD has received substantial funding—nearly $11 million—from the Open Society Foundations, a liberal group bankrolled by progressive billionaire George Soros. Soros confidant Pamela Shifman defended LUCHA's bathroom harassment of Sinema, calling the tactics necessary to "save the democracy we have and ensure it works for all of us."
This is not the first time Barnes, who serves as Wisconsin's lieutenant governor, has hobnobbed with radical activists. In September, the Democrat traveled to San Francisco to fundraise with the son of left-wing terrorists.
Barnes and 11 other Democrats are running to replace Republican incumbent senator Ron Johnson. Barnes's prominent primary opponents include state treasurer Sarah Godlewski, county executive Tom Nelson, and Milwaukee Bucks senior vice president Alex Lasry. Barnes holds a 29-point lead in the primary, September internal polling shows.