Hy Berman. Build on his Legacy through College Access, People’s History and Erasing the Town/Gown Divide.



Hy Berman, who died today at age 90, was part of a generation whose parents were factory workers, who gained access to college after WWll.  Some — like Professor Berman — brought their working class lives into the academy, transforming our knowledge.

There was no such thing as labor history when Hy was a student. He was one of a tiny group who moved the U.S. history narrative beyond wars and Presidents in the early 60s.  His students — many of whom gained access to  college because of affirmative action — created African American and women’s history, Chicano and Asian American studies in the 70s and 80s. They, in turn,  opened the door for Queer and disability studies in the 90s.

I have sweet memories of Hy’s labor history course. I can still remember how my brain felt, crackling with new ideas after each class.  He  said he studied labor history so he would not have to labor. As his TA, I laughed. There were times when we disagreed, when he chose not to speak out about labor issues on campus.

The academy today is a place of labor struggle like it was not when Hy’s tenure as a professor began in 1961.  At the University of Minnesota,  campaigns for labor rights and faculty representation are building currently. Administrative salaries have ballooned, staffs face salary freezes. Nationally, 75% of us who teach today, work as adjuncts for poverty wages, without the security Hy had.

In Professor Berman’s memory we need:

  1. Secure decent jobs for higher educators who, while not facing the conditions of miners,  do, in fact, engage in important labor –especially if, like Hy, they commit to asking the questions that emancipate.
  2.  Free college tuition and access that begins at preK, so that working class people, like Hy was, can advance our understanding of how the world did, does and could work.
  3. A blossoming of departments and hires that transform our knowledge of the non-elite experiences.
  4. Finally, in honor of  Hy’s work as a public historian, let’s open ivory tower resources everywhere, to benefit the common good.

Telling people’s histories is an essential part of our struggle for an equitable sustainable future.  Our current understanding of historical trauma deepens our responsibility to do as Hy did: ask new questions and tell non-elite stories. One of those stories is the tale of the young son of immigrant textile workers who went to college.



Your grateful student.

#Jamar Clark, David Carr and two Minneapolis nights.



A storied past. If we live long enough, we all have one, full of ups and downs.  As the story of Jamar Clark’s life and death emerges, as the best forces in my city fill the streets to demand justice for a man murdered by police, as sources gather to piece together what happened on one Minneapolis street on one Minneapolis night, I keep thinking about another Minneapolis story.

I keep thinking about David Carr, a man, who unlike Jamar Clark, lived long enough to tell his story.

Carr told  of one Minneapolis night when he wanted a drug fix so bad he left his two infant children alone in a car in the winter while he went into an apartment and got himself high. Carr went on – just months later — to become a parent advice columnist(!) and then later celebrated journalist and writer, whose death from sudden illness was mourned by millions.

We all deserve second chances, chances to tell our side of the story; for people to know the complexities of our realities; to heal.   David Carr had that chance.  I am so glad he did. I was one of the readers of his advice column who took strength from his stories as a new parent.  Carr had a louder megaphone than most of us can ever dream of having. Jamar Clark was killed and then his killers were given the megaphone to tell his story!  

In the tales of these two men, on two Minneapolis nights, is the story of a city divided by race and class, without equal justice.  Only in the streets,  united, our numbers multiplying the amplification, do we have the possibility of telling a true tale of a Minneapolis night of tragedy; of changing Minneapolis’ storied past of deep structural injustices; of building the One Minneapolis we seek.  As new details of Jamar Clark’s story emerge, it is up to his survivors — ALL OF US —  to create a healing end.



Chief Harteau’s video lies. When Jamar Clark was killed, the North side built community.

IMG_0524 (3) 4th precinct police headquarters.

On March 16, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced an end to the use of Grand Juries in police homicide cases, as long as he is in office.  He also promised to make a decision on the Jamar Clark case by the end of the month.  On March 24, Chief Harteau issued a public warning. Her accompanying video footage sent the message:  ‘Police cars matter, Black lives don’t. ‘ It was not just odious, but also an assault on public safety.

I wrote this four months ago and never finished it. I offer it as a response to  Chief Harteau’s video:

North side resident Jamar Clark was shot in the head by Minneapolis police officers Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze at 1AM on November 15. At 3pm that afternoon people began standing vigil, first at the place of shooting, and then a few blocks away at the 4th precinct police office.  The demonstrators delineated demands from the start: a federal investigation, release of a surveillance video tape, prosecution of the police officers involved.

The Mayor met the demand to call for an federal investigation but refused to budge on the video tape.  Protesters then walked up the North Minneapolis  entrance to  I-94 and took over the freeway.  It was a peaceful show of resistance, as all of the other protests have been,  ending with the arrest of 42 adults and eight minors, including the President of the NAACP, Nekima Levy Pounds, who knelt on the freeway and told the arresting officer. “I am not afraid.”

Early on the protesters asked the media to leave, saying “we know that you will get this story wrong.”  There have been a few good local media stories and several bad ones, especially at the beginning, when only the police version was told.  It has been strange to listen to the radio switch from local news – silent on  the Jamar Clark case — to the BBC, reporting on the Minneapolis police killing. 

On November 18 in the afternoon Mayor Betsy Hodges called for a meeting with Black Lives Matter activists. People left their occupation of the 4th precinct foyer only to have the Minneapolis SAT team dive in and take over, but then an amazing thing happened. People began arriving from all corners to surround the police who had surrounded the building. All night long  people held vigil, people coming and going, though freezing rain.

In the evening of the 18th and early into the morning of the 19th the police used mace, pointed guns in people faces and lodged a rubber bullet in one man.  State Representative Dehn was there. Council person Cam Gordon had a gun put into his face. Council person Bender saw the cops putting guns in people’s faces and confronted the cops saying if you are going to shoot someone, shoot me….

The superb organizing of Black Lives Matter — including regular messages to thousands who on their phone lists, and the brilliant re-organization of the local NAACP last spring when Nekima Levy-Pounds and a team of women took over — are making things happen here.  The diverse female NAACP leadership working in concert, have built a broad and deep base of support in the community, and those connections are coming to fruition.  The Mall of America’s eleven month effort to prosecute BLM activists for a December 2014 rally has been a great vehicle for organizing that support.  Recently CTUL workers organizing for raise in the minimum wages to $15, came together with Black Lives Matter in a six hour moving picket line. 

Now Northside labor, youth, and faith leaders are joining neighborhood people in front of the 4th precinct.  The organization of tents, kitchen, fire pits is nothing short of amazing.  They’re have been lots of prayers, rants, songs and chants.  The most popular: No justice, no peace. Prosecute the Police…..  


Refugee. Dad.


My dad ( shown here as little boy with his older sisters, circa 1936) was a child refugee. He and his two sisters and mother fled Hitler in 1939, ended up in a Refugee camp in Havana Cuba and eventually the United States.

They were lucky. Many refugees were refused entry. My Aunt Maja, Dad’s older sister remembered standing on the Havana shore, watching the ship 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.

In the 1990s my dad used to go speak to elementary  school children, sharing assimilation stories with new child immigrants. He told the kids about being new to the country, not speaking English, trying to figure out how to make friends. One day he saw a popular kid throw his lunch bag away. He threw his away too, hoping to impress the other kids, but they just ignored him. Now he was lonely and hungry.

Dad has been dead 15 years. He left this earth before  three of his grandchildren were born. He missed seeing his granddaughter Emily (shown below in 1991) grow into a beautiful woman.  He missed lap tops, cell phones and Facebook. He missed 9/11 and the endless “wars on terror,” the Patriot Act and Guantanamo detainees,  Abu Ghraib and Drone warfare.

This week he is in my heart more the usual as I try to imagine his reaction to demagogues posing as governors all trying out populist fascism to see if it suits them. No Refugees in MY state. Only Christians in MY country… 


When I was 22, Dad and I visited the concentration camp where his five-year old best friend was incinerated. In the guest book everyone wrote “Never Again.” At the time I was involved in the Central America movement. I knew that my own government was funding and training an army in El Salvador led by Roberto D’Aubuisson, who considered Hitler his mentor. For the rest of the trip Dad and I discussed the meaning of “Never Again.” How do we make sure one terror does not lead to another retaliatory terror? Does the slogan mean anything if we only apply it to “our” people?


Never Again.




Minneapolis and the World Need Less Policing, more Humanity


On Sunday November 15, at 1AM  in Minneapolis police shot and killed a young Black man, Jamar Clark.. A protest began at 3pm on November 15 at the site of the shooting. Protesters demanded a release of the surveillance video, federal investigation, and arrest of the officers involved.   An occupation of the 4th precinct  continues as I write.  On the evening of November 16 protestors shut down of  I94  freeway for a couple hours, ending with the arrest of  40 activists including Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds.  Mayor Hodges requested a federal investigation this afternoon. The video has yet to be released. Witnesses say the man was handcuffed. Police say otherwise. Protesters fear tampering with the video. The occupation of the 4th precinct will continue until the demands are met. Tents have been set up outside the precinct, and a makeshift kitchen. Food and money donations are desired. 

#Occupy4thprecinct #Justice4Jamar

The last few days I have laid on my couch overcoming the flu. In my fevered state the stories of suicide bombers in Paris, Beirut and Iraq, and the death of the young man Jamar Clark, killed by a  Minneapolis police officer, overlapped. Among the clammer, a speech in my Facebook feed by Angela Davis celebrating  historian John Hope Franklin provided startling clarity among the din.

“We need more historically-minded people,” Davis said.

She did not mean people with their heads in the past, but those who see their present lives connected to past unfinished business  and a future bearing the fruits of their time on earth. They are not afraid to demand what can’t be achieved in their life time. Cognizant of historical roots of current problems, they  envision the future we need and a path to get there.

Davis illustrated what she meant, repeating the goals of her life work:  abolition of the prison system and law enforcement as we know it. “Take the guns from the police” she said. She does not believe her demands will happen in her life time, yet she paints for us a future in which security is based on the fulfillment of our needs for health, education, housing…

Events of the last days illustrate the wisdom of Davis’ vision. Law enforcement on November 15 did not provide security for a woman, a man or a neighborhood in North Minneapolis.

Police can’t address unmet human needs for decent jobs, affordable housing and well-funded schools  that would provide real security, but our tax dollars redirected can.

On a global level, Davis’ definition of security is as salient. As Mayors and Governors in the U.S. and World Leaders rush to build armies and police forces to “provide security” and  invoke America’s ugliest past by barring  Syrian refugees they deny the obvious.  Violence begets  violence.  We do not need to look very far back –– 9/11, Iraqi war! —  to understand that it will only make our future less secure.


IMG_0524 (3)

Minneapolis in the streets for $15 and dignity in the workplace.


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Joining 500 in the Working Families March of November 10, 2015 to support  retail janitors walking off their jobs in the Twin Cities, was the best kind of high.

The march began at McDonalds in Northeast Mpls before the sun was up, — a show of solidarity with fast food workers across the country.  I met the moving brigade in front of the downtown Macys at 7:30AM in time to see students from the U of M and Home Care workers who recently organized into a union, arrive on open air trucks caravanning down Nicollet Ave.

CTUL and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis welcomed the caravan.  The Minnesota  Nurses Association and Communication Workers of America and SEIU members, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, (NOC)  Mpls NAACP,  Faith groups and clergy,  added their voices. The picket lined bunched at a food table providing hot tamales and coffee.  The sun had yet to remove the morning chill and the hot liquid warmed cold fingers.

Minneapolis’ pre-Thanksgiving Macy’s parade was inspired by the upscale department store’s practice of wage theft and general neglect of workers most basic rights — like occupational health and safety — demands of workers a century ago.  The picket line snaked in front of Macy store windows displaying designer watches and bedroom sets.

People carried homemade signs that detailed our city-wide working families demands.  $15 minimum wage!  Paid Sick Days!  Regular Schedules!  End Wage Theft! 

The one I carried said We are no longer invisible. 

From Macy’s we marched behind a flatbed truck through downtown to the   following the chants of Kerry Jo Felder, organizer of People of Color Union Members (POCUM)  an organization that has pushed the Minneapolis Labor Movement to commit to racial justice.  It is behind the scenes hard work of groups like POCUM that build the networks that make coalition actions like this possible.

People raised their fists as we entered the Hennepin County Government Center   — a signal to be quiet as we walked through it into the skyway to shut down a branch of US Bank where workers denied sick days, are organizing.

From there we marched across the street to City Hall for a rally in the atrium.  Striking workers, Black Lives Matter and CTUL activists echoed each other with a message for local politicians pass a working families agenda or don’t even think about getting re-elected.

Brian Merle Payne of CTUL noted that two years ago, when fast food workers in NYC went out on strike for $15, people said it could not be done. Today thousands of workers in dozens of cities are striking and marching for a $15 minimum.

The movement  is growing exponentially, connecting immigrant rights, Black Liberation, labor, student and faith-based groups in unprecedented ways.

It is those connections and solidarities that will allow us to  #ReclaimOurCity and nation.


See yourself, Be yourself.


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Shannon Gibney Speaking  about Her new Young Adult Novel  See No Color.


For the last week I have been doing everything I can to avoid writing answers to  what should be a couple of easy questions: Who am I? and  What is my book about?

Instead I wrote about Kmart, (!) washed five loads of laundry,  folded  AND put them away, graded all my papers, searched in vain for cheap last minute tickets to NYC to see my daughter perform, had tea with two students, made and ate two from-scratch soups, raked leaves, walked, checked Facebook and  turtleroad.org,  Facebook and turtleroad.org, Facebook and turtleroad.org.

I also attended two talks. Historian Peniel Joseph  addressed students at Macalester, putting Black Lives Matter in the context of civil rights and Black Liberation History. Shannon Gibney read from her new  YA  novel See No Color.

Joseph said we make a mistake when we put too much emphasis on legal changes, like the Voting Rights Act, or Brown V Board, or focus on the rise of an individuals like MLK andBarack Obama.  When we do that we see these events and people as some sort of resting spot, instead of staying in the struggle.

Black Lives Matter youth are the progenitors of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee)- young people aiming to transform the system, Joseph argued. “For Black people, History is sustenance.Without it we die. With knowledge of those who struggled before us we know who we are, and what we need to do. If we read and write our truths everyday we don’t need drugs and alcohol. The knowledge will keep us healthy.”

Shannon Gibney, whose book gives voice to young transracial adoptees — said essentially the same thing at the Loft Literary Center.  “Something happens when you don’t see yourself in literature.”

She was told by editors to focus her narrative – to which she replied “my life is multilayered.” It was exactly that complexity that she needed to write about.

One of Gibney’s strengths as a writer is that she is a truth teller – something she said does not always work for her in life, but is essential to writing.  Part of telling truth in See No Color was to create Alex, a 16 year old  biracial girl adopted by a white couple — who tells lies as she struggles to create a face for the world.

Her goal as the story progressed was for her character and her readers to learn to be comfortable with themselves and with the diversity they encounter as they proceed toward adulthood.

When I was 17 trying to maneuver my first semester at Oberlin College (a few weeks before dropping out) I came home from a world history class and wrote in my notebook:

“I am a product of history.”

Now, 40 years later, I wish that instead of paragraphing who am I and what is your book about — I could just repeat those six words … I am a product of history…  and the reader (and publisher) would say,

“Interesting. I’ll come along for the ride.”

Save the Kmart on Lake Street and Nicollet Ave in Minneapolis




Photo taken at May 1 2015 demonstration at the corner of Nicollet Avenue and Lake Street in front of the Kmart   where immigrant rights and Black Lives Matter marches met and became one.  

Two years ago I invited my Race and Public Policy class to my home for the final session. The way things worked out, a few students had not presented their policy proposals. They needed a TV to project their powerpoint. I did not own a TV.
Or a car.
“No problem” by partner said, and he hopped on the 4th Ave bus to the Lake street Kmart. Within an hour he emerged from a taxi with a digital TV.

Thirty years ago when we lived on 32nd and 3rd Ave, Kmart was six blocks away. We didn’t have a car then either and we shopped there regularly. A few years later we moved to an apartment building off of 34th and Chicago, by Powderhorn Park. At that time we had a car, a baby and the gift of a cloth diaper service, but we found that pampers at night made the difference between sleeping and not sleeping. Emergency trips to Kmart for diapers were common.

More recently my school social work husband has taken to running to Kmart to buy emergency clothing for middle school kids caught with embarrassing stains or simply no clothing. Last time he did that I asked him to pick me up a pair of jeans. Dreaded shopping done.

My family’s use of Kmart is basically irrelevant to this debate, except that it may help explain why I know how important it is in South Minneapolis if you live without car.

If you walk into the Lake street store you will immediately notice that it is bilingual space. Those iconic announcements to Kmart shoppers are made in accented English and native Spanish. The parking lot is usually not full because many shoppers don’t have cars. They walk, bike and haul Kmart bags on buses on Lake and First Avenue. I imagine that many of the people who work as prep cooks, dish washers and store cleaners at all those sweet little restaurants north on “Eat Street” and those new cafes and coffee shops opening up south of the store on Nicollet, shop at Kmart.

I don’t think Kmart is a progressive employer or buyer of goods. But as long as big box stores are a necessity for basics like diapers and inexpensive clothing and those big ticket items like TVs  we occasionally purchase, we need these stores to be accessible to all. I ask those who are crying to get rid of it — do you shop at a big box store? If so, do you have right to take away the only one that is accessible to your neighbors?

Maybe I’m off base. I suggest someone from City Hall who speaks Spanish go talk to people who work and shop there before they make a decision.

I do think there are other agendas that  City Hall and the Minnesota legislature need to attend to first. The #Mplsworks agenda of living wages, regular work schedules and sick days  will make it possible for people to afford the time and transportation costs to go elsewhere.
Passing legislation for drivers’ licenses for all,  will help non-citizens who shop at Kmart get to another store.

Given all we need to do to #ReclaimOurCity,  getting rid of the Kmart on Lake Street seems like a strange priority.

End mass incarceration, but ….



In the 1980s President Ronald Reagan defunded mental health programs AND shut down mental institutions.  As a result a new word entered the U.S. lexicon: homelessness. About one quarter of those released ended up on the streets, many others were re-instutionalized in unfunded and inappropriate institutions rife with abuse.   Thousands of mentally ill people ended up in jail.

The Reagan fiasco happened when the movement for the rights of the mentally ill was subverted by those wanting to decrease federal and state budgets allocated for human needs.

In a similar situation, progressive calls to integrate children with mental and physical disabilities into public schools continue to be subverted by budget cutters.  Without funding, integration programs are set up to fail, to  dehumanize and restigmatize.

So when I hear President Obama has started the process of de-incarcerating low level drug offenders, I am cautious in my enthusiasm. We must end mass incarceration, AND  fully-funded wrap-around programs to reintegrate people. We have to eliminate housing and job discrimination and provide counseling to help people make the transition, this could be another frying-pan-to-fire presidential decree with a Reaganesque legacy. 

Recently enthusiasm has grown among tax cutters, to end mass incarceration. Compromises with these forces that dissolve reintegration programs are no compromise at all.

Incarceration does something to the human psyche. Poverty post-prison only intensifies those issues. Racism adds another layer. Without addressing these issues we will create an open air prison for the de-incarcerated.  Without housing and job assistance, homelessness will increase, as will re-institutionalization. If we think the insanity of mass incarceration can not get worse we need to remember what happened to mental patients in the 1980s.

The fact that Obama is talking about banning the box for federal employees is a good sign. The fact that he is deporting 1/3 of the tiny portion of those he is de-incarcerating  is an indication that — so far — this new policy, like the old one it seeks to change,  continues to dehumanize.


Minneapolis Top city ?! Only when we #Reclaim our City!


Minneapolis top city?!  Star Tribune doesn’t question?! 

I’d like to invite the Patch of Earthers  who decided Minneapolis was the best city, to consider what kind of place this is to live if you are not White. Peal back the veneer and see our city’s ugly inequalities.  We are working for an equitable community, working to #reclaim our city, but first we need to take stock of the city we have:

Minneapolis is full of corporate headquarters yet it has highest race/income gap in the United States.
Minnesota has some of the highest K-12 test scores in the nation — and the great racial opportunity gap. The gaps are greatest in Twin Cities schools.
Racial Gaps in unemployment are among the highest in the nation
Arrest rates for low-level non-criminal, offenses in Minneapolis are 81/2 times higher for Blacks and Native Americans than for Whites.
Housing inequality in the Twin cities is the result of not just historical legal discrimination, like the Federal Housing Authority and neighborhood covenants, but also current illegal discriminatory banking practices in mortgage lending.  Only 24% of African Americans own their own homes in Minneapolis — one of the lowest rates in the nation.

Health disparities in Minneapolis can be measured by Zip codes. Location can predict how long you will live. Infant mortality rates are an issue for Blacks and Native Americans in Minnesota!

At the same time we are fighting the gentrification; the displacement of  low income residents and People of Color at accelerated rates.

Fortunately hundreds of  people  including Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, and Native Lives Matter,  and  CTUL, — are working tirelessly to change these structural injustices.In fact, the best thing about our city is  that the above people are here, working to reclaim our city.  I hope Patch of Earthers will come see us on November 10 when we take action to make our city the first rate place it ought to be.

As for our local paper. We expect more discernment and perspective from the Star Tribune. We expect you to consider that the experiences of People of Color in Minneapolis Matter!

Child Refugees of U.S. Foreign policy


While a refugee crisis grows in Europe, here in the America’s child refugee, continue to flee Central America. Since the crisis erupted 14 months ago the U.S. has sent in aid to beef up police forces in Honduras and El Salvador, while intensifying  border patrols in the U.S. It may appear that their efforts have tamped down the number of youth fleeing, but in reality women and babies are still taking off on the perilous journey only to be stopped in  Mexico and turned back. In other words the situation was the same or worse for the children. It is only less of a “crisis” for US. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE).  A new UN report uncovers the urgency of the situation.

The U.S. is directly implicated in creating the conditions that forced these children to flee their homes in Central America.

The Obama administration policy in Central America follows a tradition of gunboats and occupations a century ago; from decades of propping up dictators, training para-military forces and funding terrorists to the “free trade” agreements and Drug Wars of the post Cold War era. In all these periods, the goal remained the same: to protect U.S. corporations exploiting the region.
Policy motivations under Obama have been no different, but some conditions have changed.
In the last six years, mining companies — in a global race for new subsoil sources including gold, silver and titanium – an essential ingredient in all our cell phones and lap tops — have targeted the region.

While mining has never been a way to grow and diversify local economies unless unions are powerful, in this newest phase with new technologies corporations have found a way to touch down, extract, pollute and exit with advancing speed, leaving even less in the way of a tax base for infrastructure, or jobs to build community incomes.

It is for this reason that impoverished communities, especially in El Salvador, have rejected mining companies. It is in this context that Manuel Zelaya, President of Honduras from 2006 until his coup in 2009 – was considering legislation banning mining altogether in his country. This is one of the reasons the Obama administration backed his coup and worked hard – as Hillary Clinton boasted in her book Hard Choices – to make sure he would not return.

Zelaya was replaced by a corrupt right-wing regime, accelerating a wave of extreme violence in the country. It is no surprise then, that the majority of the unaccompanied children are from Honduras, the nation with the world’s highest murder rate. The reasons for violence in Honduras are multiple, but in all the U.S. is implicated. Free trade economics continued to ravage local economies leading people to resort to crime or immigration. The U.S-supported coup regime was infamous for state-sponsored violence, and massive corruption. Many of the gang leaders were deported from L.A. where they fled a decade ago – themselves the refugees of CAFTA. Together these factors created the crisis for Honduran children, who, if they defied gangs, faced murder or the dangerous trip to the border.

As we engage in protests of all sorts on many fronts, we can make connections: the criminalization of African American children in U.S. cities and Central American children on the border; Israeli companies that built the wall in Gaza, hired to build on the U.S. Mexican border; corporations that mine subsoil resources directing U.S. policy in the Middle East and Central America, while putting climate change on the fast track.

No borders.