Headshot of Alex Schultz. Photo from Schultz’s Facebook page.
If you went to the climate strike at Pierce Park on Sep. 20, 2021, you’ve probably met Appleton’s District 9 Alderperson, Alex Schultz. Schultz has been in office since 2019, is passionate about climate change and the arts, and has strong opinions about national politics.
According to Schultz, he became active in the community when he first moved to Appleton. He founded a nonprofit called Sculpture Valley to move the needle forward on public arts funding in Appleton. Schultz recalls liking his alderperson up until 2017, when she retired and asked him to run. Schultz didn’t run because he thought the other candidate was a good candidate, but according to Schultz, he ended up not being very good at his job. Schultz challenged the incumbent in 2019 and defeated him, although Schultz added that the incumbent did not really run a strong campaign, and it wouldn’t be fair to compare his victory to Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) victory over the third most powerful House Democrat in 2018. In 2021, Schultz was unchallenged. He said that conservative organizations will likely try to put up a candidate against him, but that the council is approximately two-thirds progressive and has become increasingly more progressive during his time in office.
“When I came on [the Appleton City] Council…I didn’t have a lot of additional support,” Schultz said. “Now I feel that there are four or five members on the council that are bringing things forward. This is fantastic; we have a really engaged council. Then you look at the other [people] and they aren’t really doing jack.”
Schultz named Alderpersons Vered Meltzer, Denise Fenton, Israel Del Toro, Nate Wolff and Kristin Alfheim as people he sees as allies on the council. He said that he hopes Alfheim wins her race for State Senate but that he hopes she returns to the council if she loses. He also gave credit to Alderperson Chris Croatt, who is not necessarily from the progressive side of the council but according to Schultz, frequently works across the aisle with him and other more progressive alderpersons.
Schultz noted that the progressive side of the council has proposed the majority of the resolutions put forward.
“If you go to the city’s website and look up ‘Resolutions’…you can see the list of resolutions submitted back to…2016, just look at the names,” Schultz said. “You can tell that probably 90% of the resolutions introduced are from the progressive side…You rarely see anything from the other side of the aisle.”
Schultz further discussed the issues he’s passionate about.
To Schultz, climate change, public transit and pedestrian safety are intrinsically connected. He mentioned that there was a push for an all-electric Valley Transit bus fleet, as well as efforts to make water treatment and solid waste processing more environmentally friendly. He also thinks that Appleton needs to be more pedestrian and bike friendly; one way to achieve this is to choke speeds down on College Avenue so that it’s safer for pedestrians, bikers and people using Bird scooters. Although riders are expected to ride the scooters in the streets on College Avenue, it’s not safe, Schultz observed. He feels that by increasing pedestrian safety, it will also benefit restaurants, as they will be able to offer outdoor dining without worrying about customers being hit by scooters or bikes riding on the sidewalk.
Schultz was integral to the founding of Appleton’s Task Force on Resiliency, Climate Mitigation and Adaptation. He mentioned other efforts that the city of Appleton is taking to promote sustainability and biodiversity, such as No Mow May, a city ordinance that delays lawn enforcement until the first of June, and efforts to encourage less raking. Schultz is glad that Appleton is helping residents pursue sustainability efforts on their own properties, but he hopes to see more solar panels, charging stations for electric vehicles and other sustainable infrastructure projects built all over the city.
Schultz’s other top local issue, public arts funding, was sparked by traveling outside of Appleton to larger cities, such as San Francisco and St. Louis, and seeing their public sculptures. This caused him to wonder why Appleton didn’t pursue similar projects. He commented that Appleton doesn’t have a lot of public art, and what’s there has not been properly maintained; for example, the war memorials are missing pieces. He lamented that the process of placing public art has been “arduous” and has led him to stop putting forward ideas, but he wishes that construction projects were required to install public art as part of their construction.
In 2017, Jimmie Sanders, an unarmed Black man, was shot and killed by an officer of the Appleton Police Department while attempting to break up a bar fight. Schultz commented on the incident, although he did not recall specific details.
“It just drives me nuts when the first instinct of any officer is to pull a deadly weapon on someone who isn’t doing the same,” said Schultz.
He added that it’s “completely ridiculous” that some people think it’s okay to mistreat Black and brown people simply because of the color of their skin and mentioned the fact that District 4 Alderperson and Assistant Professor of Biology Israel Del Toro has been subject to racist abuse, such as being spat on and having his house vandalized and almost burned to the ground.
Schultz recalled an incident with Appleton police in which an alarm in the Airbnb he was preparing to rent out went off late at night. According to Schultz, officers arrived at the scene and insisted the house needed to be cleared, despite Schultz explaining the situation multiple times. It bothered him that 5 officers breached the house with AR-15s.
“That can’t be your response,” Schultz said. “Just because it doesn’t happen often doesn’t mean the mentality isn’t baked in.”
Schultz also referenced anecdotes he’d heard of Appleton police harassing pro-choice protesters but leaving anti-choice protesters alone, declaring that it’s unethical for the department to take sides. He feels that this issue is being addressed by himself, Wolff and Meltzer, among others in local government, and is excited for Appleton to hire a new police chief. He thinks that the Appleton Police Department needs more sensitivity and de-escalation training and that bad officers shouldn’t get a pass for unethical conduct.
Schultz recalled growing up in a strict, Christian household, and feels that turning against that mindset shaped who he is. Although he believes in natural forces in the universe, he considers himself an atheist. Schultz served in Operation Desert Storm, the invasion of Iraq under former president George H.W. Bush. He feels that Desert Storm, like most conflicts, was unnecessary and only served to enrich companies that sell weapons, characterizing it as an overwhelming use of force against people that didn’t fully understand why American troops were even in Iraq to begin with. Schultz said that serving in the military sparked his activist side.
As a veteran, Schultz feels that the military-industrial complex (a term which refers to the alliance between a country’s military and defense companies) needs to be defunded. He believes that every time there is a conflict in the world, corporations make money off of it.
The root cause of these issues, according to Schultz, is corruption.
“Corporate greed is the root of all issues,” Schultz said. “Everything we’re dealing with right now is because the power at the top is influenced by greed and that leads to shitty decisions that don’t benefit the majority of society.”
Although Schultz is a local politician, he has strong opinions about the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade and took away the federal right to an abortion, allowing states, including Wisconsin, to restrict it. Schultz said that after the ruling, he stopped standing for the Pledge of Allegiance in the council chamber.
Schultz is concerned about peoples’ rights being eroded, and he feels that the council passing statements in support of vulnerable communities is important because it sends a message to the state government. The council has passed resolutions in support of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and the Hmong community, among others.
“If you’re going to come here and try to take rights away from a group of people, we’re going to stand in your way,” said Schultz.
Schultz addressed young people feeling hopeless about the future and said that although he often wakes up and feels hopeless too, it’s important to fight to stem the worst effects of these issues, especially climate change. He added that it’s easy to get overwhelmed by taking on a lot of issues at once, but it makes it hard to focus. He advised young people to hone in on a specific issue they care about.
“We just gotta keep pushing,” Schultz said. “The human species is pretty capable of doing some amazing things. Whether or not we’re going to make through this crisis and extinction event remains to be seen, but I think there’s always a sliver of hope…It doesn’t make sense to assume the worst and not do anything.”