Getting “Creative” with the U.S. Federal Budget.

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Speaking at Mayflower church in Minneapolis on October 30 2015,  HUD secretary Julian Castro suggested we be creative, as we don’t have the budget to fill our affordable housing needs.

So here is my creative idea. Let’s limit our war budget instead.  We could stop arming everyone in the Middle East, bring the troops home, say no to Obama’s “boots on the ground,” use tax dollars to build housing at home rather than tear it down overseas.

It’s kind of obvious, I know.  Too obvious to be creative. So I dressed it up with some magic markers.  Here, in case you need a translation, is what my drawing is saying:

Affordable housing, plus education, plus infrastructure, plus health care, plus  parks  and other common goods…. Looks like we  don’t have enough money for war! 

 

 

 

Keith Ellison’s Affordable Housing Forum Stirs the Pot.

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Today, October 30th  2015, Congressman Keith Ellison sponsored a public forum in Minneapolis on Affordable housing, featuring United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Julian Castro and local stakeholders.  Together they addressed:

Urban neighborhoods and Suburbs

Do we build up what Castro calls the old urban neighborhoods or create housing in suburbs?  And what about there first ring suburbs getting all the affordable housing and second ring, more affluent suburbs  not getting their fair share.

Segregation and integration 

Both were mentioned as problems and solutions. People need to live in communities that provide social supports and often those tend to be places where one finds  people of one’s own racial, ethnic and religious group, but we can see a correlation between segregated communities and concentrations of White wealth  and People of Color in poverty.  Community Organizer Nelima Sitati talked of the community she created in an apartment building in Brooklyn Park where she and her neighbors, all single mothers, supported each other, took care of each other’s children, and helped each other get through college.  There was nothing wrong with them, — Satita said — what was wrong was the lack of investment in their neighborhood.

Racism 

Sitati noted that every housing advocate has to be an advocate of racial justice.

Racism is a huge problem in housing, affecting who gets access to homeownership, (24% of African Americans — we learned — own homes in the Twin Cities — one of the lowest rates in the nation), and who gets access to decent rental property, affordable or not. Gentrification — when white people and their resources move into low income neighborhoods of color — leads to residents of color being priced out of rentals and property-taxed out of homes.

Looking forward and backward. 

Everyone was interested in looking forward but Yusef Mgeni of the St Paul NAACP said, we also have to look backward to see how we got to this place. I wish he had pushed further to talk of reparations for past injustices. Done correctly that could provide a substantial pot of money for those neighborhoods  and communities that need it.

My Thoughts: 

People in poverty have a right to live in all places,  but that is not enough. Audience member Chaun Webster asked why the panelists did not talk about poverty. In one of the wealthiest metropolitan areas in the wealthiest nation we need to move the above words around and demand that Peoples in all places have a right not to live in poverty.

Before I am accused to not being pragmatic enough, not addressing issues facing people today,  without much time I can think of a dozen things we could do policy-wise immediately to decrease poverty, fight gentrification in neighborhoods and increase affordable housing. All of these things are being done somewhere.

  • Immigration reform. Immigration issues were neglected by the panel but addressed by audience members. We need legalization. In the mean time – end discrimination in housing for all people residing in the Twin Cities  regardless of immigration status.
  • The Working Families Agenda of living wages, ($15 minimum) regular schedules and sick time.
  • Rent control and property tax control to protect People of Color and other low income people in neighborhoods experiencing gentrification.
  • Community Benefits Agreements to make sure businesses and public funds entering low income neighborhoods address  needs delineated by the community. This goes for housing stock as well. The fact that the Twin Cities has seen  a phenomenal growth in both new housing and  people without housing illustrates the problem.   
  • Move from banning the box to making it illegal to discriminate against former felons in hiring and housing.  An audience member noted there is a discrimination against parent renters ,whose children are picked up by law enforcement. They lose their housing — something that does not happen to homeowners.  Such discriminations make it impossible for people to create a stable household.
  • Begin a public works program to fix infrastructure and provide union jobs.
  • Increase corporate taxes. Eliminate corporate welfare and use all public funds for the common good. No more money for malls, stadiums and airports unless that means subsidies for low-income consumers.  If we subsidize sports and make the games free then I’ll support it. Otherwise that money should go to schools, parks, libraries.
  • Reverse the current funding disparities and put  our common resources into schools where kids are currently poor, fund culturally relevant curriculum,  field trips,  summer and evening programs, we will have both access and equity.
  • Free pre-K and college tuition.

But we need to think bigger too. Castro’s final remark illuminated a basic problem: there is not enough national funding for affordable housing to meet the needs. We can be creative — as he suggested — but unless we change national budget priorities, the people needing safe stable inviting and affordable housing will only continue to grow.

Keith Ellison’s forum was packed to overflowing with people passionate about affordable housing. There was  not enough time for audience feedback.  Hopefully there will be another event just focused on collecting ideas from the people.

Short-term memory and the fight for Working Families in Minneapolis

 

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I am old enough to have started my work life in Minneapolis at a time when sexual harassment on the job was not a phrase, just an everyday nothing-you-can-do-about-it reality. Gender discrimination in hiring and wages were just how people did business. Racial discrimination was rampant in both the the workplace and in unions. Race and gender discrimination was illegal, (I’m not that old!) but our ability to litigate, as individuals or in class action suits were limited and small businesses were basically untouched.

In other words it was not the good old days. However, for the half-dozen crappy food service jobs I had in the 1970s and 80s,  I always received a schedule – part or full time. Working more or fewer hours was offered as an opportunity to me, not a requirement. So when businesses large and small cry that they can not possibly survive if they give workers a regular schedule they can count on, they are counting on us having short-term memories.

In fact flexible scheduling is an “innovation” of the 1990s,  an outgrowth of  globalization, free trade, and the rise and reification of business education.

I remember one corporate winner-of-the-year I heard on the  radio in the 90s  use the analogy of a boat in the sea  without  allegiance to country or workforce, able to pick up and follow the cheapest labor source. Genius! These were the people that everyone who wanted to make a million overnight, sought to be like, They were the ones in the limelight.

I am also old enough to have started college at a time when there were no temples to business on University campuses overshadowing liberal arts, as they literally do on the University of Minnesota west bank campus.  Inside those new buildings experts in the early 1990s with lots of letters after their names explained the joys of free trade — a happening  post-cold-war innovation.  The  North American Free Trade Agreement, inaugurated on January 1 1994, would be the template for all global and local trade relations.

 

Until a band of indigenous farmers from Chiapas interrupted the celebration on the eve of the inauguration of NAFTA.  The barely armed Zapatistas interrupted the party.  They used the brand new internet to build solidarity across the globe.  Ever since, workers and small-scale farmers have been crossing borders to fight the vagaries of so-called free trade and the boomerang dislocation of workers at home.

If you are a boss, no question, flexibility in scheduling and hiring and firing is good. Which is why it has been adopted by every kind of industry — from hospitals to universities, trucking to restaurants, warehousing to mining. And if you are a worker it sucks. There is no middle ground, just an ocean between the two. The only way workers can make it worth it to an employer to pay decent wages,  provide decent schedules, and time off for sickness and family needs is when workers agitate and labor peace becomes a cheaper way to go.

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In Minneapolis a coalition of groups including CTUL, NOC SEIU and the Minneapolis AFL-CIO and Fight for $15  have been organizing around the Working Families Agenda that includes living wages, regular scheduling, and sick time — conditions that allow us to care for children and elders, build lives and careers.  Such across-the-board legislation would allow those businesses who want to do well by their employees, to thrive, evening out the playing field.

So when businesses in Minneapolis cry out that there is no way for them to survive without flexible scheduling  — a little historical perspective is in order. As for city politicians trying to play both sides, there needs to be a moment of reckoning .  Employers sitting in their flexibility boats are feeding workers to the sharks. Will you send us a lifeboat or not? The voters want to know.

But we aren’t waiting for politicians to act. In the next two weeks workers in Minneapolis are taking action to #reclaimourcity. 

 

Black Lives Matter, the Middle School Edition!

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On October 26, 2015  Duchess Harris,launched Black Lives Matter, a book she coauthored with Sue Bradford Edwards aimed at students grades 6-12.   The reader, written at an 8th grade level, just makes one hungry for more. Suddenly we can imagine school library shelves filled with books for children dealing with issues that matter to them.

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Professor Harris teaches courses on civil rights, race and the law at Macalester college. In a comment I could relate to as an instructor of Race and Public Policy, she  noted that when she teaches first year college students she is starting from scratch. “Imagine” she said to a colleague who teaches math, “Imagine teaching college algebra to students who never had math in their K-12 years. That is what is like teaching about race.”Harris’ hopes that her book’s wide use in the nation’s middle schools, will make her job as a college instructor easier.

 

It is an unusual thing to read a book about current events of any kind, let alone a book about race.  Black Lives Matter doesn’t fill a gap — it magnifies it  while dropping a pearl in the bucket.

The book — published at lightening speed — begins with Micheal Browns’s story, the unarmed youth murdered by Ferguson Missouri police officer Daryl Wilson in August of 2014  and then steps back and provides two chapters of  historical context beginning with slavery and Dred Scott, moving to Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. It then includes more individual case studies of recent criminal injustice:  Travon Martin, killed by an acquitted neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford Florida in 2012,  Oscar Grant killed by transit police at a Bay area train station in 2009,  Renisha McBride, shot by a homeowner when she sought help for after a car accident in Detroit in 2013, Eric Garner the New York father smothered to death by a gang of cops for selling loose cigarettes on a New York Street corner in 2014; Tony Robinson the distressed unarmed young man shot by police in Madison Wisconsin in 2015; and Freddy Gray the Baltimore man who died after a ride in a police van in April 2015. Six police officers have been charged in Gray’s death.

The book was finished a few days before Sandra Bland, a Black Lives Matter activist and student at Prairie View A&M University,  lost her life in Waller county Texas after she was stopped by an officer for a frivolous traffic violation and hauled to jail, so the book does not say her name. That is our job, until justice is done.

There are chapters that put these stories into the larger context of ajudicial system, from policing to sentencing.  Sections on the social movement leave this reader wanting more, with less emphasis on government action and more on the work of social activists.

A pearl begging for more pearls.

Harris and a colleague with expertise in K-12 curriculum will be creating a lesson plans for teachers, which they hope to publish as early as January. Perhaps more personal stories of activists can be included there.

Black Lives Matter, the book and forthcoming companion curricula are a  beautiful beginning. Let’s go forth, activists, academics, educators and authors, and multiply!

(PS. Here are a couple places to look for other  K-12 Ethnic Studies resources: Rethinking Schools, and Teaching Tolerance.  Write in about other individual or collective sources!)

RELATED POSTS:  End the Foreclosure of African American History

A Single Story    Black History Matters

BACK TO THE FUTURE. Appropriation and the Power of History Part 2.

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If history is written by the victors, can we change who wins by changing the stories we tell about the past?

David Mura  asked the above question in the context of a discussion about lies in textbooks and public history displays, cultural appropriations and distorted and offensive depictions of Indigenous and Latino people.

It is a wonderful question, one that is central to arguments about reparations and stopping the patterns of repression.

Resistance to colonization and imperialism past and present are central themes for Latina writer Teresa Ortiz.   Rhiana Yazzie sees history as circular– the repression of the past happening today. Emmanuel Ortiz addressed Mura’s question of history and victors, noting that “our definition of victory is not the same.”

Mura brought up the recent effort to secure apologies and reparations for the deportation of Mexican Americans —  U.S. citizens — during the Great Depression.  An example that illustrates the danger in making corrections for the past with without explaining the hierarchies they upheld,  documenting the struggle that led to change, and recognizing recurring patterns, like the uptick in deportations following the 2008 recession.

As  R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. talked about monstrous  depictions of Native Americans painted on the walls of the capital and offered himself as a subject of  replacement portrait, I imagined a painting of him pointing at the old depiction, and his words speaking truth to the history of misrepresentation.

In Detroit, someone laid a tomahawk in the forehead of Columbus on October 12, of this year.  A permanent display like that, vilifying St Paul’s Columbus statue, and explaining the history of it erection is better I think, than taking it down and pretending it was never there.

Minneapolis’ Lake Bde Maka Ska, was for 180 years called Lake Calhoun after John C. the slave holder, Mexico invader and Indian killer. Now it needs only the Dakota name, but on each sign there should be a plaque explaining how it came to be named Calhoun, why that was offensive, what people had to do to change it back to its original name. That history includes people like Bree Newsome who climbed a flagpole in South Carolina to remove a confederate flag this past June, accelerating the push to de-confederate Minnesota as well.

The days after  Mura’s panel, I had two conversations with African-American students questioning their majors in Ethnic Studies “because the information is too depressing.” I took those conversations as a challenge to spend more time in my classes exposing the human determination and struggle undergirding all social progress.

We go back and tell truths, not to live in the past, but to change the future.

Maja Gorland, my beloved 92 year old Aunt, sharing refugee stories. Rest in Peace.

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My Aunt Maja, sister of my father, just passed away. She was 92 years old. Below is a draft of my account of  visiting  her during my perimeter bike trip in 2011/2012 when she was still living in Miami Springs, Florida.  

Warnings about biking in Miami traffic, accumulated. We decided to take them seriously, caught the monorail in Hallandale, then walked into Miami Springs to stay with my Aunt Maja in the home she had lived in for 70 years with her husband and four children.  There was not room inside for us, so we put our sleeping bags out on the porch. I spent the next afternoon in the living room, Maya in her wheelchair and me on the couch, talking about her mother — my grandmother.

I was eleven when grandma died. Maja, with her lilting German accent, is my connection to her. She also inherited grandma’s authoritative personality – kindness and firmness intertwined.

“My mother was a nurse during World War One” Maja reminded me, then added a detail I had never heard. “The radiologist she worked with was killed. She took his place. Eighteen years old and no medical schooling. She was incredibly proud of her military service.”
Despite her loyalty to Germany, Grandma somehow knew before many of her Jewish neighbors, that to survive they had to leave the country. “She sent your grandpa away a year before,” Maja explained, “so when the Gestapo came looking, he was already gone.”

Dad had told me about Nazi soldiers tearing apart their home, looking in closets, under the bed, in drawers for his father. Dad was five years old at the time. He remembered thinking  these places were much too small for his father to fit. The  apartment was always dark after that, shades drawn.

Grandma snuck the children out of the country assuming someone else’s identity. She left parents and siblings, knowing she would probably never see them again. They tried to get into Switzerland but were denied entry, a fact I discovered in 2005, when I received reparations from the Swiss government.

Maya was ten years older than my Dad and their memories reflect their age gap. On the ship to the Americas teenage Maja flirted with young men, meeting the one she would marry. Dad hid under his mother’s skirts, watching Orthodox Jewish ladies in the women’s room take off their wigs, revealing bald heads. They landed in Havana and lived in a refugee camp there. Dad remembered his mom had a job pulling the heads off chickens. Maja remembered standing on the Havana shore, watching the MS St. Louis come into harbor so close she could touch the outstretched hands of excited children hanging on the railing. She watched in horror as the ship of German refugees was turned away by Cuban authorities. The United States and Canada also refused them harbor and the boat sailed back to Europe, sending passengers back to battlefields and concentration camps.

To get from Havana to Miami where my grandfather was waiting, my Grandma went regularly to the embassy to see if her name was on the list. When another woman whose name was called did not show up, she claimed to be her. She sold her jewelry to the Havana synagogue to pay for their passage to Miami. In 1987 I visited that synagogue in Havana. They had a display case of the jewelry refugees exchanged for passage.

In Florida, Dad and his other sister Helga started school. Dad remembered first grade, the sting of mispronouncing “h is for hatpins” so the last syllable sounded like “penis.” Maja got a job to help provide for the little ones.

When the family moved to New York City, Maja and her husband stayed in Florida and bought the home along the canal in Miami Springs, where on hot  November morning in 2011, we ate sweetbreads with cousins.

I asked Maja what kind of music grandma liked.

“She had no time for music.” she said shortly.

Then for some reason I asked, “What would the soundtrack for grandma’s life sound like?”

She did not hesitate. “Da Da Da Dum.  Beethoven’s 5th.”

I wish I had asked Maja what her own soundtrack would be. I would imagine it would be something equally strong and embracing.

Netanyahu Displays his Racism

It has often been said by me, that there are two equally dangerous historical myths about the Holocaust.

Myth 1) That it didn’t happen or is exaggerated.  It is hard for us to exaggerate the horror of burning millions of people in ovens because they were Jews. Others were also targeted for extermination because they were Romani (Gypsies), Gay, Communist.

Myth 2) That it was so singularly horrible that it can not be compared to any other human atrocity.   Nothing happens in history exactly the same way twice. But the Holocaust does not represent a unique experience of mass trauma, genocide, extermination. It is part of the history of crimes against humanity, like slavery, Native genocide and too many other examples. If we refuse to compare what happened in Germany to other atrocities we will never understand how to stop them from happening.

Both myths make the quest to rid the world of genocide that much more remote. Now there is a third dangerous myth, put forward by Netanyahu on October 20th 2015.

To quote the New York Times: 

“Mr. Netanyahu said in a speech to the Zionist Congress on Tuesday night that “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews.” The prime minister said that the mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, had protested to Hitler that “they’ll all come here,” referring to Palestine.

“ ‘So what should I do with them?’ ” Mr. Netanyahu quoted Hitler as asking Mr. Husseini. “He said, ‘Burn them.’ ”

 

It is not just that Netanyahu’s assertion is untrue.  It is the dehumanizing RACIAL assumption, the Hitler-like tactic of brushing a whole people with the false accusation about one person, that makes it so dangerous.  For even if it was true it would tell us as little about Palestinian leadership today as the reality of Hitler’s culpability tells us about current German leadership or people.

In fact the speech tells only about Netanyahu and his demonization  of a people in order to justify his policies of second class citizenship,  state terrorism and the robbery of land and resources of Palestinians. In both deed and propaganda he is borrowing from Hitler’s playbook.

 

Appreciation, Appropriation, and the Power of History

 

 

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In 1981 I visited Eastern Europe with my father. It was a roots trip, to visit the coal mining town where he was born. Gleiwitz was German until after WWII when it became part of Poland. Dad was born the year Hitler came to power.  His family managed to escape but thousands of other Jews in the region did not. Behind the iron curtain we dug up memories and found the names of his five- year olds friends on concentration camp rolls. We hung out in cemeteries and the ruins of Jewish neighborhoods. We visited antique stores where shopkeepers displayed menorahs and other Jewish paraphernalia.

It was a trend at the time, to collect such items. I was shocked, but being from the United States I recognized the phenomenon: The theft and fetisization of all things Native American followed forced removals, genocidal marches, and the creation of reservations and boarding schools meant to erase peoples and  cultures.

This erasing with one hand, robbing and appropriating with the other is a process that is ongoing.

Native and Latino writers Teresa Ortiz,  Rhiana Yazzie, Emmanuel Ortiz, and R. Vincent Moniz, Jr at the Loft  Literary Center on Monday October 19, spoke of this  ongoing theft.

Fall is the season of appropriations.  Emmanuel Ortiz talked of Day of the Dead sculls as an art project devoid of spiritual content,  offensive Halloween costumes and football mascots. R. Vincent Moniz, Jr noted that he sees it all the time every day, from the Blackhawk sweatshirts worn in his Phillips neighborhood and violent murals at the St. Paul Capital, to the butter aisle at the grocery store.

Appropriation includes obvious obscenities like the “Cleveland Indian” mascots and more subtle but no less damaging examples of practices and accoutrements,  stolen and misused without understanding or respect. Emmanuel Ortiz noted that power is central to appropriation and other types of exchange. He talked of  the unequal exchange inherent in Americans crossing the border because the drinks are cheap and Mexicans crossing because the jobs are north.

Rhiana Yazzie talked about a Native American worldview– an understanding of creation that is fundamentally different from the Judeo-Christian hierarchy, and a relationship between the United States and American Indians that is unique. All  Americans need to understand concepts of national sovereignty and treaty rights, she argued.  R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. said he felt lucky being able to go to the Dakotas to sit on the ground of his ancestors.

Teresa Ortiz said her work is also steeped in the stories and rhythms of indigenous and African ancestors while noting that Latino culture in Minnesota is always changing as new immigrants arrive.  As a Latina artist she needs to keep up with these new realities.  She  writes in both  Spanish and English “the languages of my ancestors and my children.”

R. Vincent Moniz, Jr. invited the St. Paul Capital to paint him on their walls if they want to depict a Native American.

Real depictions are not monochromatic. It is the false imagines that strip diversity and the reality of change, even as they lie about the past. David Mura, Japanese poet and curator of the panel, wanted to know about the power of uncovering those lies. He asked a question dear to my heart:

If history is written by the victors, can we change the winner by changing the stories we tell about the past?

 

The Politics of Beauty

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“Why do you have to make everything political?” my brother asked.

“It’s not worth writing otherwise,” I replied.                  

 

 

A few years back Minnesota passed the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment, allocating tax dollars for environmental protection and the arts. It’s a great thing. I have already written here about projects receiving those funds: “Prep,” a play at Pillsbury Center providing $ for pay-what-you-can performances and the Loft Literary Center sponsoring free public readings such as the series More than a Single Story—both recipients of the Legacy Amendment.

This weekend I had the opportunity to enjoy another Legacy recipient: the Root River trail in Southeastern corner of Minnesota. It was the most beautiful weekend to ride: sunny, cool, enough leaves to provide brilliant color, enough leaves crunching underneath to allow the cyclist spectacular views river, farms and bluffs.

The Root River Trail is what this bicyclist calls pure gravy train.  The paved path puts you into some of the most beautiful bluff country in a minute. Every 5-10 miles there is a town with great places to stop and eat. Lovely Lanesboro in the heart of the trial, has a bikers cathedral – a public bathroom building right on the path.

The people using the trail had diverse bicycle abilities and experiences. They were males and females of all ages: small children, elders and everyone else in between. They utilized the entire spectrum of bicycles: tandems, tourers, big-box cheapos, and elite racers.  There were walkers and strollers and wheelchairs too.

The users were almost entirely White.

So here is what I want to know: What structures create knowledge and access to this place? How do people find out about it? How comfortable is it to stay in one of the many campgrounds, B and B and motels if you are not White? How could we expand public transportation access to the area?

Any recipient of the Legacy Amendment should be required to ask questions of access and assemble a coalition of stakeholders who can act on  the answers.

The Root River Trail is a Minnesota treasure. The only way to enhance such exquisite natural beauty is to add equity.

My edited answer to my brother’s question:

“I write about politics to imagine a more beautiful  world.”

MARTIANS IN MINNEAPOLIS! #1.

 

Martians landed in Minneapolis in September to study the religious beliefs and rituals of Minneapolitans. The full transcript of their report is published here by Turtleleaks.

“The Minneapolitans are polytheistic. They have  two main gods they call TCF, and US bank.   They build massive cathedrals to their gods. It seems that US bank is the dominant god, based on the size of the worship center they are currently building.

There is no separation of church and state in Minneapolis. The people pay a tax to build these cathedrals and provide tax relief to those who create small worship centers around them they call ‘sports bars.’

Our expedition was fortuitously well-timed to coincide with the beginning of holiest months of the year, when their sado-masochistic rituals of devotion are at their height. People come to the cathedrals to cheer and yell, sing and wear identical colors and watch their fellow male humans damage their brains.

Human sacrifice is slow and painful and begins early. The Parents groom their male children for the ‘privilege of being sacrificed. The young sacrificees are taught open-air worship centers. Only a tiny percent ‘succeed’ to be sacrificed at the giant cathedral in front of an audience of thousands. This elite are treated like royalty even as their brains are slowly smashed and bodies maimed. Those who don’t make it to the cathedral may also find their brains damaged, without the compensation of temporary idolatry and offerings.”

The Martian report had an addendum:

“Like us, the Minneapolitans come in different colors. Unlike us, the color of a person’s skin has been assigned meanings which we have yet to understand. As we tried to blend in and not be noticed, our various skin colors and hair textures, elicited different reactions. For this reason we suggest another visit.”

Turtleleaks will disclose the full report of the second expedition tomorrow.

Special thanks to the Metro blue line for providing great views of US Bank stadium project, inspiring today’s entry, and to students in my Metropolitan State University Race and Public Policy class who conducted the experiment that is the subject of tomorrow’s.

 

More Than A Single Story

 

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More Than a Single Story: Women Writers of the African Diaspora,  was a three session series at the Loft Literary Center, curated by Carolyn Holbrook in the fall of 2015.  Holbrook took the title  from  the Ted Talk by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Single stories are the stuff of stereotypes that dis-empower.

The first session featured Tish Jones, Shannon Gibney, Andrea Jenkins, Lori Young Williams, Pamela Fletcher, and Mary Moore Easter. The second The October 4 session featured three Caribbean writers :Valérie Déus, Beaudelaine Pierre, and Junauda Petrus.

Holbrook asked what they feared writing about. For Shannon Gibney it was the experiences of others. Andrea Jenkins felt comfortable in that space but feared writing about herself. All struggled with writing about those close to them.

“Should there be a cannon for Black women writers?  They disagreed, but all felt It’s important to know you are not the first, when you sit down to write.

Moore Easter and Gibney encouraged writers not to worry about what genre you are filling. Jenkins encouraged people to self-publish and not let the industry get between you and your audience.

 

Déus,  grew up  in a Haitian community in Brooklyn, New York. She fears writing about trauma. She has a ritual of retelling to mark anniversaries, but is waiting for the time when she ready to say something more about them.

She told of countless retellings of the Haitian revolution growing up — the island that overthrew slavery and colonialism all at once — a story that made her unafraid to imagine radical change.

Petrus, who grew up in South Minneapolis of Caribbean immigrant parents, compared inter-island migration that splits families and leaves children without their parents, to African-American great Migration North.

Petrus hears Black Cannon everywhere: in her mother’s voice, in Chicago’s south side, in hip hop. She told of a year her mom took them to live in Florida, of falling in love with the ocean.

Both she and Déus, talked of the difference between Minnesota lakes and rivers and the power and smell of the big salt sea.

Pierre came from Haiti to the Twin Cities in 2009. Her father told her to be a writer because she could speak French well. Now she writes in Creole, a language that most can’t read, but one that best describes her reality.  Coming from a place where everyone is Black and therefore no-one is black-identified she struggles with American racism, especially as a mother of Black children in Minnesota.

Not a single story, but many essential stories.

Photo by Brian Peterson, StarTribune.

The Democratic (non) Debate on Foreign Policy

 

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As the United States and Russia expand their interventions in Syria and the presidential campaign heats up, the need for a transformation in the global polity in order to save the planet  — a point made by MLK (see above) almost 40 years ago and more urgent today —  is not being addressed.

While we fight for social justice at home, keeping the candidates feet to the fire with immigration, Black Lives Matter, 350.org and fight for $15 movements, we need to remember and remind those in power that without peace and global justice there will little progress at home.

Though the #Demsdebate was described in the mainstream media as a fight between Democratic Socialism and benign Capitalism, Bernie and Hillary’s agreements on foreign policy are a central problem for we, the people.

Naomi Klein is right to argue the times require a Change in Everything, including U.S. relations with the world. We need to demand a candidate with a global perspective, one who will tell the truth about the dangers of nationalism in the 21st century; one who understands that the issues we face internally have global consequences and global solutions.

I want a leader who will say out loud that the U.S. is the chief per-capita polluter, wealth extractor and weapons manufacturer. It is the power with the most military bases, billionaire investors, and corporate sweatshops. It is the greatest consumer of the world’s non-renewable resources.

The United States still has a prime role to play on the world stage but one that involves an about face: from world super power to global leader in redistribution of wealth and demilitarization, chief elevator of labor and human rights and prime mitigator of climate change.

I’d like to see a candidate who will prioritize education, not to compete with the Chinese but because education is a right of all children on the planet, a candidate who will oppose the TPP not just because it will hurt workers in the U.S., but because it will hurt workers everywhere, especially in the global south

A global capitalist economy that measures success by increasing consumption is destroying the ecology of mother earth. As chief global capitalist that buck stops with the United States. . I want a president who realizes that tackling climate change and global redistribution of wealth are one and the same.

If we elevate labor everywhere and dismantle the military industrial complex we will naturally slow migration streams, because we will be protecting the right of people to stay home. Then we can tear down our walls, open our borders; let Wall Street run a labor and environmental obstacle course to apply for a temporary visa.

There is much we need to do on the home front: tackle racism, homophobia, rape culture, gun violence, mass incarceration, crumbling infrastructure, health care, education. The candidates are talking about some of these things, but they are not telling us that we can’t do them without changing our global priorities. Remember how the War on Poverty got consumed by the war in Vietnam?

We need money for social justice at home, not Empire-building abroad.

The planet is small and connected. That’s not left or right. It’s our 21st century reality.

The Invisible (Blue) Back Pack #2

 

 

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UNATTENDED LUGGAGE AT LOGAN AIRPORT  WILL BE CONFISCATED, EXAMINED BY BOMB-SNIFFING DOGS, BLOWN UP BY ROBOTS.

Before I left home to visit my ailing baby brother in the hospital in Boston I  packed my suitcase and blue back pack.

In the back pack I put my laptop, wallet, passport, sunglasses, sheaf of essays to grade, phone with shattered face. Dave, the loving spouse, suggested I take the daughter’s social security card and birth certificate, as I would be seeing her.

I consider saying, “Is that safe? How can we trust me with them?” but it felt good to think I was trustworthy, so in they went.

Arriving at Logan I rushed to the Silver line bus stop, headed to the red subway line at South station. The bus arrived just as I did.

I  was frantic to get to the hospital. My previously healthy littlest brother, couldn’t see, couldn’t walk. His malady was still undiagnosed, but they had begun a treatment called IVIG– which Wikipedia says is:  “a blood product administered intravenously. It contains the pooled, polyvalent, IgG antibodies extracted from the plasma of over one thousand blood donors.” 

I had missed the worst moments. He was on the upswing, well cared for by hospital and family.  I needed to see him, to be a part of the healing process.  Getting on the right bus was a relief. I felt lighter.

Too light.

The bus was just leaving the last airport stop when I realized I did not have my back pack.

I walked back through no-pedestrian land, going through what I had in the my back pack. the laptop with latest version of my book, the passport – surely gone now. Emily’s birth certificate….

I imagined telling my students their papers were blown up by robots. Everyone gets an A.

A for absent minded.

Thirty minutes later I arrive back at the silver line stop.  The blue back pack was lying on the sidewalk untouched, right where I left it, with all of its contents.

My baby brother has now been diagnosed with the rare auto immune disease  Guillain-Barré Syndrome  with a side of Miller Fisher.  The IVIG treatment seems to be working quite miraculously.

“It’s like hair” the nurse said. “It will grow, you will get better, but slowly.”

The “village” is organized here. A meal train made up to 12 neighbors and friends begins tomorrow, scheduled to deliver  a meal a night. The cooler is outside the front door, ready to accept these gifts.

HEALTH CARE FOR ALL

The invisible Blue Back Pack #1.

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While I was on the plane from Minneapolis to Boston, my family of origin were engaged in a bet: what will she lose, break, forget, ruin this time?  When I found out about the bet I was miffed, but I didn’t have a leg to stand on.  I had already told my sick brother of my misadventure  at the airport. It felt like a lucky thing then, something to make him laugh as he lay there in his hospital bed.

At least smile a bit.

I am extremely absent-minded, have been since I was a child. I’m not proud of it, but after four decades of I- should-do-better-now adulthood, I am trying to give up on feeling ashamed. It doesn’t make it any better.  I yam what I yam.

I have never had any diagnosis – just a lot of nodding heads when symptoms of ADD or autism spectrum are  noted. Trouble learning to tie shoes. Trouble spelling words I use constantly – like foreign – when I was in graduate school studying U.S. foriegn policy — and bicycle when I was on a 14 month bycicle trip and blogging daily. Trouble remembering to comb hair, clean glasses. An absolutely maddening dog-run- in-circle-chasing-tail when I try to leave my house with the basics: keys, wallet, phone.

The only things that give me relief from a brain that will not sit still long enough to do things right, are walking, biking and writing. A combination of one of the first two and the second is heaven. The thoughts begin to gather, to form lines, to make sense.

I have had a million falls and a million second chances as a result of my wayward brain.  I have become aware, mostly through my teaching, that many of the second chances I get are classic examples of white privilege, and in some cases, short woman privilege. I appear to be helpless young thing, or, now, a tottering old thing, but not dangerous, not trying to cheat the system. A presumption of innocence is a privilege I have relied on to get me through countless messes.

But that does not explain the case of the blue back pack.

More tomorrow.

Dump the Doctrine of Discovery/ Declare the Doctrine of Hospitality.

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During fourteen months of touring on a bicycle, I observed the way people were tied to place. The love of a hill, ravine, lake, field,  city neighborhood, prairie, mountain or forest, seemed bone-level. People showed us this love by showing off  their places, wanting us to see their communities through their eyes.

This love of place does not require armies or borders.

Homeland that needs security is manufactured, needing recruiters, slogans, flags and songs to make it real, convincing us we need ICBMs or drones.  A river needs no flag. Nor does the culture that develops on its shores.  It just needs people to love it and share how it is like no other. It is in this hospitality that we begin to tear down borders of all kinds, the barbed wire between the United States and Mexico, the wood and stone barriers of gated communities, the economic, racial, ideological, urban and rural divisions so prevalent in this country.

Breaking down these walls won’t happen without a profound economic about-face. In that regard we are moving in the wrong direction. Recently the United States, hoarder of global resources, re-reached  its pre Great Depression 1928 record of internal wealth inequality.

Poverty in America has no reason other than to make a hedgerow wider and a yacht longer.

In 1493, Pope Alexander the 6th declared any land “where there were no Christians” belonged to the Christian conqueror, justifying conquest of the Americas.

In 1823 the United States Supreme Court adopted the Doctrine of Discovery to justify the new republic’s  conquest of indigenous America. After Native land was parceled out to homesteaders and given to railroad companies the No Trespassing signs went up and homeland security was born.

As we call for the Doctrine of Discovery to be rescinded by Pope Francis, while we implement reparations for 5 centuries of damage, lets declare a  Doctrine of Hospitality, to invite others to see what we love about a place; to share its resources.

Its no more audacious than a mariner declaring he discovered the Americas or a Pope declaring that “discovery” a deed of ownership.

Photo: Columbus statue in Wilmington, Delaware

Community Benefits Agreements in the Commonwealth of MA

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Spending a week in Boston with my brother who’d fallen suddenly ill, I took a break from Mass General Hospital and went for a walk with my fourteen year- old nephew Stefan along the Charles River Esplanade,  a public waterway  that rivals the Twin Cities Grand Rounds in abundant natural beauty commonly shared.

In both Minneapolis and Boston however, questions of access lessen the equity of these shared spaces, while private development along public ways and in neighborhoods are pushing out the gente and bringing in the gentry.*  Luckily, in both places the gente are  are organizing.

In Somerville, a town two miles outside of Boston, Union United,  a coalition of “small business owners, residents, immigrant groups, religious congregations, labor unions, and community-based organizations,”  have developed a Community Benefits Agreement in reaction to  a development project in their town square.

Union United’s  CBA  addresses the particular needs and dreams of those living in the community, demanding low-income housing for families and seniors, small business assistance for minority businesses, a multicultural community center and green practices that facilitate  “alternative modes of transportation. ”

More important than particular demands, is the way in which the  Union United CBA creates a process that insures the long-term participation of low-income people and the substantial Latino immigrant population of Somerville, in their own community development.

Based on research of benefits agreements across the country, Tufts university Urban Policy professor Penn Loh believes it is essential that Union United  sign the agreements with developers.  Loh argues that one of the ways CBAs get diluted is when municipal governments  step in and become the signers for the community. Inevitably, the cities end up representing the interests of gentrifiers.

In Minneapolis, activists have joined this nationwide effort  assure the vitality of  working class neighborhoods through  CBAs. One major effort is the campaign to hold the New Seward Food Coop on the 38th Street in the Bryant/ Central neighborhoods accountable for fighting the gentrification that attends  high-end grocery stories when they move into low-income communities.  People working within the coop and others working through the CBA process have together succeeded in an essential first step.  First round of hires included over 60% People of Color,  close to their  representation in the neighborhood, a key demand of the CBA drafted by neighborhood activists.

As the negotiation processes in Minneapolis, Minnesota  and Somerville Massachusetts continue, it is helpful to get a national perspective, to see how communities are winning and losing in the war against gentrification. Loh’s research shows that for the people to win, they have to be at the table.

*At a recent Gentrification forum in Minneapolis artists silkscreened T-shirts that read “Gente-fy the neighborhood. Gente means “the people” in Spanish. 

#cbaNOW

Green Tomatoes

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Yesterday as I left the house a women in her 50s, small, White, without teeth, was taking some books out of the free library in our front yard. I picked a fruit–- not as ripe as I first thought, and offered it to her.

“A tomato to go with your reading.”

She accepted the gift. “I lost my father yesterday. We had a beautiful service over at the Baptist Church. He always grew tomatoes in his yard.  This will remind me of him. I know to put it on the counter until it ripens.”

I left her to her book selecting, heading to catch a bus on 46th S, and 35W in Mineapolis, feeling ridiculously good about our encounter.

It’s two huge flights of stairs to the freeway bus stop — a closed system. If you wanted to get away from someone you’d be stuck. The other day I looked up from my own fear to notice the other faces — men and women of diverse ages and races — all looking as nervous as me.   Our fears are not making us safer, I thought.

So yesterday as I headed down the stairs, I was simultaneously hoping there would be a few people, not one man down there, and at the same time pledging not to let my fear show, to do my part to make it a more humane place.

There was one woman, waiting alone, African American, about 40, with a bright orange top and jeans. She was frantic. She could not find her transfer. She needed to get downtown, “Get my eyebrows done, do something for myself” and then back to her day- treatment in time. I told her I could pay for two fares on my card if she couldn’t find her transfer; that keeping track of my bus money or card was really difficult for me too, (true). We went through all the places it could be. She calmed down and found the transfer. The bus was late and her stress level rose again. I promised her it would come, as though it was under my control, reminded her how fast it would be when it did. –

On my way off the bus in downtown Minneapolis she gave me a magical smile. We wished each other a better day.

It didn’t make my day magic. While teaching my class the stress and worry about my little brother who took seriously ill a week ago caught up with me. At least I think that is what it was. My temper was short. My flashes of anger took me and my students by surprise. I tried to cover it with humor but only partially succeeded. To make up for it I stayed 90 minutes afterward so a student could finish a quiz he came in late for.

Walking home from the bus in the near-dark, October evening cold seeping into my bones, I felt low.

My spouse Dave returned home a couple hours later and I went out to greet him. Our neighbor, elderly Black man, was standing in the middle of the street. Dave spoke to him.  “He said his life-long partner had just died.”

Something about the way our neighbor continued to stand in the street told me that was not right. I went back and asked him what I could do.

“Ada passed this way and then went back that way. I called the police. They are looking for her.“

Ada had not “passed.” She had dementia, had walked out of the house and was lost.

I told him we would look for her.

We walked up and down trying to enter the consciousness of  the elderly White woman. Would she go for the bright lights? Look for a stoop?  I wondered if the cops were really looking. We saw no sign of them.

We did not find Ada.

 

 

Don’t Wanna Study the Geography of War No More

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Photo: Code Pink Alert.

When I was a child — up until about eight, I thought the world consisted of two countries. In my mind Germany sat right below the U.S. where Mexico is, only bigger. I had a globe and I had heard my Dad’s stories of crossing the ocean to escape Hitler, still my image of the world ignored these facts to reflect my reality.

Until I turned nine.

My Dad was drafted when I was nine. During the period between draft and deferment we had family conversations about moving to a military base, and Dad going to somewhere called Vietnam . My cousin Ronnie was there and I received a letter from him on the thinnest paper. I tried to image where he was – somewhere on that S shaped country spooning Laos and Cambodia.

In 7th grade the social studies teacher drew a map of Vietnam, slashed a line in the middle, and told us how were fighting for “peace with honor” – (Nixon’s slogan). I jumped out of my chair shouting “That’s not true!” and my grade went from A to D.

After seeing the movie El Salvador another Vietnam? In 1981 I went home and found El Salvador on my world map. So tiny! Why would the United States think it so important to support and train death squads and covertly deploy U.S. troops there?

Over the next 10 years I became intimate with the Central America map, dragging it to speaking events to build opposition to U.S. intervention in the region.

The U.S. military industrial complex continued to lead my geography lessons. The invasion of Grenada forced me to get out a magnifying glass to find the tiny Caribbean island and U.S. support for Indonesia’s genocidal policies in East Timor required another squint at a small tip of an island in Southeast Asia.

On-going U.S. support for apartheid regimes in Israel and South Africa extended my knowledge of two more regions.  When I learned that these three formed a triangle that covertly supported dictators in Guatemala and Argentina, the world grew smaller and more sinister as my map filled in.

In 1990 the United States invaded another nation “because it invaded a nation, ” and I learned  how to find another tiny place on the map — a kingdom flush in oil.

When the U.S. under the first George Bush went to war with Iraq, “for Kuwait’s freedom,” I purchased a map of the Persian Gulf region.  I still refer to it a quarter century later. It centers Iraq, surrounded by Iran,  Kuwait,  Saudi Arabia, Syria and Jordon, but on the eastern and northern quadrant, between Pakistan and Iran is also Afghanistan.

Yesterday was the 14th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. My country marked the week in the most horrific manner and I learned about a town not before in my consciousness.  I had to google it. Kunduz is near the Tajikistan and Uzbekistan borders. It looks from photographs  like it is rich in farmland — a verdant oasis in a land known for its sandy deserts and rocky mountains.

In Kunduz my tax dollars were used to bomb a Doctors with Borders hospital, killing 12 medical staff, 10 patients, and wounding 37 other people.

This latest atrocity illustrates the tragic necessity of continuing to study the in map of U.S. intervention, mobilizing and repainting our protest signs.

But  simultaneously we need to study and sing those spots on the globe where peace and justice  is blossoming, taking our geography lessons  into our own hands.

We can start with Kabul, Afghanistan, where activists have initiated a global campaign to say   #Enough  to war.

20150813140104959_1#Enough Campaign.

Black History Matters

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Hurrah for Roni Dean-Burren and her son Coby Burren who used Facebook to call out the Texas McGraw- Hill textbook for calling the Atlantic Slave trade and the middle passage “immigration,” and slaves “workers.”

It always amazes me that the same forces who argue slavery is not relevant to current struggles for equality are those engaged in efforts to erase the history of slavery.

This is a story of the power of individual voices and the power of a social movement. Dean-Burren spoke up and the Black Lives Matter movement used their now mighty megaphone to bring attention to her words. More than a million people have seen and shared the video Dean-Burren posted! As a result the company has been forced to recall and revise their text.

Before we say Hooray and move on, let us flip the script here.

Done right, It DOES make sense to talk about immigration in the context of slavery – to talk about the continuum of choices people have had, and continue to have when moving from one place to another. Slavery provides one extreme in which people were moved without choice in chains and with such violence that the middle passage itself was a place of genocide, mass torture, historical trauma.

12.5 million people were forcibly removed from Africa in chains. Slavery lasted four centuries. As we strive to measure the qualitative difference of this experience from other forms of human migration, genocide and forced labor, these numbers count.

The slave trade engaged in these practices to maximize profits from unpaid forced labor. So yes, slavery was about work. The inhumane conditions on slave ships– killing 1/6 of those on the boat — was a business calculation. Breaking spirits, dividing families, removing people from their communities, cultures and language groups, was found to be effective in maintaining slavery.

As we look at how people are moving across borders today we see that like during the era of the Atlantic slave trade, the labor needs of elites continue to play a central role. While some are pushed out by war – like refugees in Syria, others are pushed and pulled by trade policies that erase economic choices, forcing people to leave families and cultures and join migration streams.

People may come across the southern border to the United States for reasons other than labor but the majority are part of a stream created by the needs of U.S. agriculture, service, and construction industries. Their undocumented status is helpful to those wanting to maintain low wages and keep workers from organizing. For people who cross without papers into the United States there is a middle passage across a dangerous desert.

No, it is not the same as slavery, but organizations like the Coalition of Imokalee Workers have found that without organizing there is no end to how oppressive current employers can be – including forcing, and not paying workers.

The historical legacies of slavery cross racial groups. It would be perfectly relevant to discussing the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that made it illegal not to return someone who escaped North to freedom, back to bondage , in the context of 2011 legislation making it illegal for a citizen to drive an undocumented person in their car in Alabama. Controlling the movements of labor and using race to dehumanize are the continuities.

It is essential for our youth to learn the ugliest aspects of 16th- 19th century history – Indigenous genocide and the Atlantic Slave trade. The story is not all depressing. The resistance of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Fredrick Douglass and John Brown, Harriet Jacobs and thousands of abolitionists and slave resisters can inspire young people who see what Douglass meant when he said without struggle there is no progress.

So if the Texas textbook industry wants to talk about slavery in the context of immigration and work – bring it on. But let us make the correct analogies, and tell true stories that center liberation struggles, past and present.

Carolyn Holbrook, Limelight Sharer.

 

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I just came back from the second of the three readings  by women writers of the African diaspora, a series  conceived, curated and moderated by writer and educator Carolyn Holbrook.

The series is entitled “More Than a Single Story,”  to highlight the diversity of Black women’s stories. She was inspired by the Ted Talk by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who notes that single stories are the stuff of stereotypes that disempower.

The first session on September 27, featured Minnesota African American women across the age spectrum: Tish Jones, Shannon Gibney, Andrea Jenkins, Lori Young Williams, Pamela Fletcher, and Mary Moore Easter.

Today’s session featured three Caribbean/Minnesota  writers: Valerie Deus, Beaudelaine Pierre and Junauda Petrus.

Holbrook used her own 2015 Minnesota State Arts Board Artists initiative grant to bring together 14 other women writers and shine a light on them. At today’s session I bought her book, Ordinary People, Extraordinary Journeys  a beautiful collection of stories of individuals who used a neighborhood grant to  build the commons in St Paul.  Like her More Than a Single Story series, Holbrook uses the book to shine a light and build power in as many  grassroots places as possible.

Holbrook is  a gifted writer.  She read an exquisite essay about being visited by an ancestor at a time when she was 50 and broke and had moved in with her parents. She is also deeply committed to feeding the tide, sharing the stage, advancing the work and telling the stories that extend the grants. In the ego-centered world of academia, writing and nonprofits that is rare and precious.

Carolyn Holbrook, Ph.D is an adjunct faculty at Hamline University and Minneapolis Community and Technical College. At the first presentation she talked about how the State Arts Board Grant gave her the opportunity to write everyday this summer. All I could think was: the Universities she works for  should be providing enough for her to do that every summer.

 

Dear Runners of the Twin Cities Marathon, October 3, 2015.

20b2796ffeaa5493f3ae7473478259da-1   Dear Runners,

WELCOME TO THE TWIN CITIES! I extend this welcome even to those of you who live here, because as you know, we live in silos here in Minneapolis/ St Paul and chances are there is a part of the Twin Cities you don’t know.

Which brings me to my point. These urban marathons that stop traffic and transform byways for a day, can be cool ways to get to know the world. In fact that is part of the ethos of the sport. After all, if the point was to run 26.2 miles, you would do it on a track under controlled conditions. The competition would be fairer that way. But competition is not the only thing going on here. Marathons are global events. People cross national, cultural and racial borders and overcome diverse physical challenges to participate together in this extreme test of human physical capability.

That is a beautiful thing.

Unless it’s not really happening.

If the hosts and the marathoners gloss over problems inherent in each location, they can actually make them worse, pounding on the paths of existing inequalities,  making them deeper. Then your visit — rather than bringing the human family together — can actually increase injustices and pull us farther apart.

So we invite you to peal back the veneer and come and see our Twin Cities as they are – our lovely parkways and our ugly inequalities; our beautiful community- building efforts and the struggles we have to make our institutions accessible; our gorgeous diversity and our racism. We want you to learn about the cities we have and the cities we dream of having. We want you to know:

  • Arrest rates for low-level non-criminal, offenses in Minneapolis are 81/2 times higher for Blacks and Native Americans than for Whites.

 

  • As you run from one area or another you should know that  health disparities in the Twin Cities can be measured by Zip codes. Location matters in how long you will live and how able you will be to do things like run a marathon. At the same time we are fighting the gentrificationdisplacing low income residents and People of Color at accelerated rates in our fair cities.
  • Thousands of people in hundreds of Twin Cities’ organizations — including Black Lives Matter Minneapolis and St Paul, and Native Lives Matter, — are working tirelessly to change these structural injustices.

We congratulate you for your running accomplishments, welcome you to our Cities, and  invite you join us in our marathon struggles for equality, here and everywhere.

#twincitiesmarathon

 

Love and rage for Umpqua Community College.

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(Photo from Niagara, New York  summer, 2011, anti-violence campaign.)

I forgot to turn in my key after class this afternoon so I  came back in the evening to the Metropolitan State University Minneapolis building where I taught an afternoon class.  I arrived just as students were getting out of class, streaming down the stairs, continuing class debates and notes about assignments, dressed in faded jeans and business wear. Metro State students are all ages — most in their 20s-40s –most finishing a double shift as workers and students, some rushing home to complete a third shift as parents.  Despite these stresses, I could feel the energy of possibility and change, of connection and new ideas rippling through the building.

In the morning I had gotten on the bus with poster-paper rolled in a rubber band and an idea that I wanted students to map out a reparations plans to heal our nation from the scourge of racist policies past and present. In class I divided the board in five parts:

  1. Apologies, monuments, museums, textbooks, and curricula.
  2. Truth and reconciliation
  3. Cash outlays
  4.  Government and institutional reparations in the form of outlays for education, housing etc.
  5. Commit the crime, do the time – retribution.

We talked about different real-life scenarios in which these forms of reparations have been implemented and then students picked one of the five and came up with plans — utopian in that they were in charge — but still in the real world, in a backlash-prone nation.   The atmosphere was jovial and thoughtful as students acted out parts to illustrate their ideas. We talked about breaking through information  silos and overcoming divide and conquer strategies.

One student stopped before leaving to thank me for the class. Another  — after talk of an upcoming paper, another joked  “This was my favorite class, but now you’re wrecking it with deadlines..”

I left class feeling inspired, walking across Loring Park, watching ducks on this gorgeous early fall evening. A dog in the narrow dog park stood like statue on a stump, making me and other passersby laugh. I crossed Hennepin avenue on the pedestrian bridge stepping over young lovebirds being photographed. I wandered around the sculpture garden. Another couple dressed for a glorious occasion were photographed next to the iron swing and the glass fish. I met my partner and we had a glorious evening listening to the magnificent poet  Douglas Kearney  and the soaring notes of a bass clarinet — Walker Art Museum’s free Thursday. 

It wasn’t until I returned home that I heard about the Oregon Community college massacre.  I immediately thought of my students, of the energy I felt in the school building when I returned my keys.

I know such hope and possibility existed  at the Umpqua Community College in  Oregon.

Now.

Ten people who made hard spaces in their lives for school, to build a better life,  are gone.

Ten families, ten groups of friends are left to mourn.

Tens of tens of Umpqua students just had the plug pulled from their hopes and dreams.

Another stat to add to the tens of tens of school shootings since Sandy Hook.

I’m glad to see the President angry. We need to stop the NRA. But we also must stop state-sponsored violence of our police and armies. Otherwise we have no leg to stand on when we demand an end to civilian gun violence.

Even the most disturbed can see when the emperor has no clothes.

 

Gentrification meeting in Minneapolis’ Ninth ward.

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Three hundred people met  at Plaza Verde on Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue in Minneapolis on September 30, 2015 to talk about gentrification and pose the question, who will live in Minneapolis in 2020?

Jessica Lopez Lyman, Chicano Studies Scholar, explained that one of the myths about gentrification is that it happens overnight.  In reality developers, politicians and bankers set the stage for years before the sudden appearance of new businesses and an influx of the white, wealthy, and formally-educated people, buying housing and businesses.

An audience member illustrated how the process has worked in Minneapolis.   Former Minneapolis Mayor Sayles Belton got rid of much subsidized housing in the 1990s. Subsequent Mayor R. T Rybak built luxury condos. Our current Mayor, Betsy Hodges has made it a goal to encourage 100,000 new residents to our city by 2020. The question is: who will these new residents be? From the housing  being built, it looks like high income folks. What will happen to those living here now? We have a housing crisis currently in Minneapolis, with long lines for affordable rentals.  Why aren’t we building affordable housing?

Another participant pointed out that gentrifiers have the luxury to plan long- term, while the residents of a gentrifying neighborhood don’t have the time or space to fight.    Their window is often next months suddenly-elevated rent.

Lopez Lyman explained that displacement of People of Color (it does happen to working class whites as well)  to satisfy the needs of elites, has been happening for eons, this is just the new name for an old game.

Neeraj Mehta of the Center for Urban and Regional Development at the University of Minnesota  noted, we are now told the problem is “concentrations of poverty”, — too many poor people living together — instead of poverty itself. The gentrifiers solution is dissolution and dispersal of neighborhoods. Nothing is done about racism or poverty. Mehta said the bottom line is “It’s easier to move people than to move resources.” We need to demand resources now — he concluded — not wait for the gentrifiers to arrive with their attending resources.

Chaun Webster of the Firehouse Collective and Ancestry Books in North Minneapolis, pointed out that the justification for gentrification begins with the colonial narrative that the neighborhood is empty of human resources. Nothing is begin replaced, only added.  Artists come in to  “beautify,” creating murals  and such, that satisfy the palette of wealthier whiter newcomers, often referred to as “young professionals.”

The crowd was rich in ideas to overcome gentrification.  Here are some of the ideas coming from the panel and the floor.

  • Demand an end to government subsidies to developers.
  • We need Community Benefits  Agreements between neighbors and developers for any project receiving government funds.
  • Fund community development that uses the human capacities already within neighborhoods.
  • Redistribute Park resources to benefit Communities of Color.
  • Turn Section 8 housing system into a home ownership program.
  • Encourage local coops.
  • Protect housing from foreclosures,  tax hikes and rent hikes.
  • Fight the culture of gentrification – when wealthier newcomers demand their cultural norms become law. (Real life example: removing a basketball court in North Minneapolis.)
  • Create an affordable housing trust fund.
  • Fighting discriminatory lending. Prosecute the offending bankers and banks.
  • Fight Charter schools that disperse neighborhoods and support the public schools that anchor them.

A man who encouraged us not to use race language was chastised by people not wanting a race-blind discussion. Unfortunately his original point — that the enemy has a face — developers teaching people to flip houses, planning foreclosures, people who actually plan and carry out gentrification —  was lost.

A woman pointed out that reliance on non-profits ends up with band aid solutions that keep the structure of racism and poverty intact.

Kudos to Minneapolis Ninth ward councilwoman Alondra Cano, for sponsoring a forum that was NOT about band aids.  Hope it is the first of many.

 

Easy solution to Reading Horizon’s racist early-reader books.

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Essential to erasing the opportunity gap in our schools, is erasing the boundaries between school and home life so that children can see themselves in their curriculum.

The Minneapolis school district bought a series of books for youngest readers that are racist, sexist, and full of historical myths that perpetuate inequality.  Thanks to teachers who called the question and community who protested at the School board meeting, the books are not in the classroom.

Everyone seems to agree that the book content is faulty. The problem is what to do it about it, since the district sunk 1.2 million into the curriculum.

I have an easy solution. Among the protesters and within our community are people with ample skills to write children’s books that reflect our community. We have the artists as well, to draw arresting pictures.  The district should lease out a nearby retreat center and put up a committee of  writers and artists to create stories that take place in our neighborhoods, in the countries and states of  immigrants and multi- generational migrants to our city,  that in a word, bring the real world in which our public school kids live, into the classroom.   If there is anything salvageable in the Reading Horizons template ( that’s where we need the input of K-2 teachers) they can be used to direct the team on how to introduce new words and sounds, etc.

I don’t know how much it would cost but I imagine  they could pay the group and cover the publication cost, for half the 1.2 million, and people would be well compensated. They could be published in such a way that if someone hits a wrong note, or things change, the book could be updated, edited, at low cost. New stories could be added, about people and places familiar to the lives of our public school children.

Essential to erasing the opportunity gap in our schools is erasing the boundaries between school and home life so that children can see themselves in their curriculum.