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An Interview with Brad Paul

Brad Paul is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association (WISCAP). He has twenty years of local, national, and international experience developing partnerships and managing policy, education and research agendas related to issues of land, labor, housing and poverty reduction. Brad earned his PhD in History from UMass Amherst in 1999. His dissertation focused on 19th and 20th century U.S. labor, and comparative labor and industrialization in South Africa and the American South. Brad has long been active in national anti-poverty and homelessness policy and advocacy work, serving as both the Housing Policy Director and Director of Public Policy at the National Coalition for the Homeless and then as co-founder and Executive Director of the National Policy and Advocacy Council on Homelessness (NPACH). His writings on housing, homelessness, human rights, and labor have appeared in Clearinghouse Review, Ms. Magazine, Shelter Force, International Union Rights, and the Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working Class History. He is also the primary author of the 2003 Bringing America Home Act, comprehensive federal anti-poverty legislation introduced in the 108th Congress. Prior to joining WISCAP, Brad worked in the field of international development for a number of organizations, including Technoserve Mozambique and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). He has previously served as Visiting Scholar in the Department of Community and Environmental Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and as Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Brad lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Brad Paul

As the executive director of the Wisconsin Community Action Program Association, you are involved in anti-poverty and homelessness policy and advocacy work. Can you share a bit about the challenges and the rewarding aspects of your work?

One in ten Wisconsinites live below the poverty line, and close to 40% of all households struggle to meet their basic needs. Last year, local school districts identified over 18,000 homeless kids in the state. Taken together, it shows just how fragile economic life can be for low-income families. Our challenge is to impress upon lawmakers, the private sector, and the public where they fit in and how they can make a difference. As an agency, we often struggle to secure the necessary support that allows us to pursue policy and programs that can make a real difference for people. The donor community understands how their dollars contribute to direct service, but less so of the equally critical need for public education and policy change. On the other hand, the rewards seem obvious. Last year, close to 250,000 low-income Wisconsinites received some form of assistance from our member agencies. Knowing that we have an important role to play in helping meet the emergency and longer-term economic needs of individuals and families with children is both daunting and immensely satisfying.

You earned a PhD in History from UMass Amherst. What drew you to labor history? How does your background as a historian inform what you do?

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Rob Wilson, Consultant, Springfield Armory NHS

As the U.S. military was winning key battles during World War II, women and people of color working in American defense industries achieved different kinds of victories. Records from the Springfield Armory, in Springfield, Mass., attest to their workplace breakthroughs. Founded in 1794, the federally-run Armory made military weaponry and was the area’s largest WWII defense manufacturer. Before the war, one in ten of its workers were women (mostly secretarial) and three percent were black (practically all assigned menial jobs). By 1943, almost half of the facility’s 13,500 employees were women and 7.9 percent were African American. In wartime Springfield, as across America, significantly more women and blacks were in skilled defense jobs than ever.

A poster recruiting women to take wartime work at a federal Armory or defense plant and become a Woman Ordnance Worker (WOW). Posters with the iconic image of “Rosie the Riveter” also were employed to attract women into defense industries. This woman’s bandana is emblazoned with the WOW logo: a cannon ball with wings.

A poster recruiting women to take wartime work at a federal Armory or defense plant
and become a Woman Ordnance Worker (WOW). Posters with the iconic image
of “Rosie the Riveter” also were employed to attract women into defense industries.
This woman’s bandana is emblazoned with the WOW logo: a cannon ball with wings.

The Armory closed in 1968, but its labor and manufacturing legacies live on at the Springfield Armory National Historic Site (SPAR), a National Park Service facility in Springfield’s center. At SPAR— a frequent program collaborator with the UMass History Department— one finds archived documents that tell fascinating stories of the changing workforce and the experiences of these newcomers to the defense industry.  Detailed historical narrative about the Armory and its workers, digitized versions of documents, reports and photos from the Armory, recordings of 25 former Armory employees and more are available at SPAR’s Forge of Innovation website (www.forgeofinnovation.org).

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