By Adam Tobias | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. – Niger Innis, national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, considers the annual White Privilege Conference to be frivolous, irrelevant and a waste of taxpayer money.
Not to mention the convention does nothing to address the real needs and concerns of struggling minorities, Innis told Wisconsin Reporter.
Still, Innis doesn’t have a problem with the conference’s progressive organizers inviting thousands of teachers, university faculty, activists, government employees and students to discuss the “evils of Western Civilization and white people” — so long as they are prepared to pay for it themselves.
Innis’ father, Roy, is the national director of CORE, a position he has held since 1968 when the civil rights movement was in its heyday.
“The First Amendment allows Nazis and white extremists to do what they are going to do, and it allows for black extremists and all other types of extremists to do what they are going to do,” Innis said. “I understand that and I’m not opposed to that. But I am opposed to using other people’s money — taxpayer money — for this useless agenda.”
So far, taxpayers are on the hook for more than $20,000 to stage this year’s four-day White Privilege Conference, which starts Wednesday in downtown Madison. How much more taxpayers will be expected to spend for the estimated 2,500 attendees to consider ways to dismantle the system of “white supremacy, white privilege and oppression” remains unclear.
Wisconsin Reporter tried to determine the total cost to taxpayers by seeking the registration lists from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, which entered into an agreement in 2006 to operate the White Privilege Conference as an auxiliary enterprise.
But UCCS was unable to provide those documents through an open records request because the school ended its relationship with the convention in October 2013 and no longer has access to the registration index, according to a written response from Patrick O’Rourke, university counsel vice president.
Whatever the total cost to taxpayers, Madison Department of Civil Rights Director Lucía Nuñez said the seminar is much cheaper than other training and professional development opportunities in the area.
Malika Evanco, director of employment, diversity and community relations for Madison Area Technical College, also said the convention will help local leaders create a community in which diversity is celebrated.
Participants at the conference can expect to examine concepts of privilege and oppression while offering solutions and team-building strategies to work toward a more equitable world, according to the group’s website.
“When one considers the purpose of this conference and its potential impact, this is not a fleeting expense,” Evanco said in an email. “It’s an investment that will pay dividends over time.”
Innis maintains the gathering only teaches young minorities how to be victims or part of an inferior class of citizens. The convention does nothing to improve the lives of African Americans and Latinos who are disproportionately dropping out of school or are in prison, he said.
Eddie Moore Jr., who founded the conference 15 years ago, told Minnesota’s MSR Online in 2011 he hopes the event will help people understand that “white supremacy, white privilege, racism and other forms of oppression are designed for your destruction — designed to kill you.”
Instead, Innis believes more focus should go toward breaking up the power that teachers’ unions have over school reform.
“You want to really do something? Educate a black kid,” said Innis, who is running as a Republican for a U.S. House seat in Nevada. “Give parents and students an opportunity to go to a private, parochial or a good public school.”
What governments shouldn’t do, Innis said, is continue to throw away tax dollars on an event built on the premise that the United States was started by white people for white people — especially when the conference isn’t struggling financially.
Budget documents released by UCCS show the White Privilege Conference collected $270,000 in revenue in an auxiliary account between July 1, 2013, and Feb. 25, the date of Wisconsin Reporter’s open records request.
The auxiliary fund also includes $143,152 in cash reserves.
But the White Privilege Conference also has other accounts used to collect revenue that are separate from UCCS, O’Rourke told Wisconsin Reporter in a phone interview.
Because the White Privilege Conference is now a private corporation, it doesn’t have to legally turn over its budget documents or registration lists, O’Rourke said.
Moore didn’t return several calls from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment and the registration records for the Madison event.
The Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, the host of the seminar, also doesn’t possess a listing of paid participants, according to Fran Puleo, community and public relations manager for the taxpayer-funded facility.
However, the conference is scheduled to get $18,375 from the Monona Terrace booking event assistance account, which is comprised of hotel room tax revenue.
Madison is paying a sponsorship fee of $1,500 while also sending between 30 and 40 city employees, according to Katie Crawley, spokeswoman for Mayor Paul Soglin.
Crawley couldn’t give the city’s total financial commitment because some staff are sharing registration expenses with colleagues.
Registration rates range from $195 to $440, not including lodging or the community dinner.
Eight staff members from the state Department of Public Instruction will take part in the convention with a registration fee of $230, agency spokesman John Johnson said in an email. Johnson didn’t return further calls and emails seeking clarification on whether each employee is spending $230, or if that’s the total amount.
A Safe and Supportive Schools grant also is paying for 92 students and 12 staff from the Janesville School District to attend, according to the Janesville Gazette.
UW-Eau Claire is contributing close to $11,000 in sponsorship and registration fees, university news bureau director Julie Poquette said.
UW-Madison is co-sponsoring the seminar at $5,000. MATC is chipping in $3,000.
Contact Adam Tobias at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @Scoop_Tobias