Eau Claire City Council makes national headlines

City Council votes to ban children from dais after councilwoman breast-fed her infant son from her seat at the dais

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Getting Weird
December 13, 2018
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Eau Claire City Council makes national headlines

After Eau Claire Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle asked to breastfeed her baby from her seat, the council made headlines after voting to ban children from council meetings.

After Eau Claire Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle asked to breastfeed her baby from her seat, the council made headlines after voting to ban children from council meetings.

Photo by Kar Wei Cheng

After Eau Claire Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle asked to breastfeed her baby from her seat, the council made headlines after voting to ban children from council meetings.

Photo by Kar Wei Cheng

Photo by Kar Wei Cheng

After Eau Claire Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle asked to breastfeed her baby from her seat, the council made headlines after voting to ban children from council meetings.

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Last Tuesday, the Eau Claire City Council made headlines by voting to ban children from the dais. This vote came after Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle breast-fed her infant son from her seat at the dais, the Leader-Telegram reported.

After four council members complained, Emmanuelle agreed to sit in the public area. Emmanuelle told the council she had a legal right to feed her child from her seat. Several groups, including Moms Rising, came to Emmanuelle’s support and council members received thousands of signatures petitioning in defense of Emmanuelle.

Though Emmanuelle told the council they had no right to prohibit her from feeding her baby at her seat, the council voted 7-1 in favor of a resolution to ban children from the dais. Councilman Michael Xiong voted against the resolution, while council members Kate Beaton, Andrew Werthmann and Emmanuelle abstained from voting.

According to The New York Times, Council President Kerry Kincaid said the vote means the council has the ability to remove anyone from the dais who is not allowed to be there. This resolution extends to prohibit mothers from breast-feeding and taking care of their children during council meetings.

“From my perspective and what I learned from the city attorney, governing bodies have the right and responsibility of setting their meeting protocol,” Kincaid said. “We set that to say who could be on the council dais, and we are well within our responsibility and right to do so.”

On the Monday before the vote, Emmanuelle and her fellow councilwoman Kate Beaton held a public meeting at UW-Eau Claire, where speakers rejected the resolution.

Beaton said her young adult constituents are “embarrassed” of the resolution.

“They’re sad to say it’s happening in their community,” Beaton said. “We’ve fostered a culture where people are proud of what’s happening here. I believe this resolution is going to be on the wrong side of history.”

 

Volume One reported 12 members of the Wisconsin State Legislature wrote a letter to the Eau Claire City Council asking them to reconsider the policy.  

 

“We are outraged about the vote your body took earlier this week,” the letter said. The letter continued to explain this resolution discourages women from serving their communities and teaches young girls their bodies are inappropriate and distracting.  

 

State Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison) shared the letter on her Twitter and Facebook accounts, Volume One said. The social media response has been heated since the resolution passed.

Taylor Limberg, a junior environmental geography student, attended Monday’s meeting in support of Emmanuelle. According to Limberg, Emmanuelle said the city council meetings are a public space, explaining she had every right to breast-feed her son while she is there.

Limberg said this resolution has made her hesitant to run for city council someday, as she would not feel welcomed there as a young woman and potential mother.

“I personally see Eau Claire as a progressive, welcoming community,” Limberg said. “From what I have seen, the city of Eau Claire is disappointed … The community has offered a lot of support for Catherine and other young women who choose to breast-feed in public places, but we clearly still have a lot of work to do in the community.”

Limberg explained this vote has set a precedent and the city council’s decision could influence other local businesses could choose to enforce areas that do not allow women to breast-feed.

Conversely, Kincaid has said this vote has nothing at all to do with breast-feeding.

The Leader-Telegram reported Councilman Andrew Werthmann, who abstained from the vote, mentioned an incident last year where council members said they felt uncomfortable with nursing. Werthmann asked if this played a role in Kincaid’s decision.

“I will answer that though it’s a speculative question about my emotions,” Kincaid responded. “The issue of breast-feeding is not before us, and it did not enter my mind.”

After Emmanuelle asked if she was permitted to bring her son to meetings, Kincaid ruled children would not be allowed at the dais. Kincaid, according to city code, has authority to maintain order in the council chamber. However, those rules can be reviewed and appealed by the council.

Emmanuelle has sought a civil defense lawyer in order to defend her right to breast-feed wherever she and her children are authorized to be, the Leader-Telegram reported.

“This has gotten so much press because women’s rights are being challenged by this resolution,” Limberg said. “It is especially sad to watch Council President Kerry Kincaid and Kathy Mitchell support this resolution … These are powerful women in our community who say they are progressive but don’t act like it. I do not feel empowered by either of them or their actions.”

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