Just Apples. A New Year’s Resolution.

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New Year’s is one of my favorite holidays. Not the debauchery.  I love making resolutions.  I find personal maintenance challenging so my list begins with things like sleep, exercise, and healthy food.  I tend toward isolation so I make rules like: if you spend one day alone you have to get out and be with people the next day.  I am happier outside, but I forget that easily so I make it a rule: spend time outside everyday.  I even tell myself to breath. Basic maintenance.

I can usually hold myself to a resolution for a week, but that does not mar my enthusiasm for the process. In my heart of hearts however, I know such individual efforts at self-betterment, without social structures that support our human welfare, are of limited value.  I know that thinking we can be “good” all by ourselves, or that every success is a result of personal fortitude, is not only false, but dangerous.  It leads us to categorize ourselves and others as inherently good or bad, to think we can eliminate the bad apples without upsetting the apple cart.

In the United States the number one personal resolution at New Years is to lose weight. It’s always at the top of my list.  Yet the Blue Zone folks have incontrovertible evidence that creating healthy community structures, not individual will power, is key of solving obesity.

Same goes for everything else we want to do as a society.  It’s not about rooting out bad eggs or apples and encouraging individual will power.  It’s about creating healthy, equitable social structures, systems and policies that encourage all of us to do better.

We are not the good guys if we resort to bombing the “bad guys.”  We won’t solve domestic gun violence by mental health screening because all humans are susceptible to mental dis-ease.  We won’t create a just policing system by routing out bad apples; the cart is rotten.

We are all just apples, capable of sweetness, permeable to worms.  As a society we need to develop the structures that encourage us humans to take good care of ourselves and each other, to share our collective wealth, to care for our earth, to mete out equal justice.

This year I resolve to meditate every day. My mantra will be: I am just an apple.   I look forward to joining all you other apples in 2016, to make a better cart for all of us.

Winter Solstice in East Texas, 2011. Bicycle Memoir excerpt.

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For six months we had been racing against the setting sun, adjusting our riding time to shorter days. Too many nights we entered a new town in the dark, tired and cranky. Too many times it felt like a miracle to be alive when we made it to our destination. But on the solstice our timing was perfect.  At the top of a ridge we rested, taking in a panoramic view, watching five weather systems — five theaters in the East Texas sky.  I had a staring contest with a longhorn cow.

At 4:06 pm, with plenty of light still in the sky, we entered the gates of the Acres Alegres ranch, our home for the night.

 

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We had just enough time to learn a little about our host before she left for a Christmas party.  She was petite, tough and beautiful, one of those people whose energy and easy generosity inspired awe. She used to have cattle; now she farmed walleye, turning part of her ranch into a wildlife sanctuary for skunks, deer, wild hogs and copperhead snakes. She made furniture and wooden toys. A row of miniature logging trucks sat in her shed, ready for some lucky child. She played the dulcimer, sang in a choir. She was bilingual, in charge of helping new Spanish-speaking families at her church. She and her shiny black Model A car were the same age.

She offered us her barn loft with porch overlooking a meadow and forest, and then took off. Just as her car disappeared over the horizon, the electricity went out. As Dave searched in vain for candles and a fuse box, I decided to give in to the darkness. I would sit out on this porch so far from city lights, and watch until the last bit of sun left the sky. I figured it wouldn’t be long.

I was wrong. There was still a streak of light over the horizon at 8pm – enough to create monsters out of  tree trunks.  And when it was gone, there was the moon.

A revelation of light on the darkest day.

This is an excerpt of my forthcoming book Turtle Road: Pedaling America’s Divides, a 12,000 Mile Bicycle Memoir. I am still in the editing process. Responses to writing and content are appreciated. Thank you. 

Anne Winkler-Morey 

My Crime and Punishment in Hennepin County and Metro Transit Discrimination

 

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Youth standing up. Minneapolis, May Day 2015.

 

I was the only professor arrested when students sat in at Morrill Hall at the University of Minnesota in 2006 to protest the closing of General College – a program that made the U of M accessible to working class kids, rural youth and urban students of color.  Admittedly I didn’t have much to lose.  I had just been laid off and had only a few weeks left of my ten-year stint teaching as a contingent faculty at the U.  Still it was ironic to be charged with trespassing at the place where I got my BA, MA and Ph.D. and worked for 25 years, scooping cones, selling sandwiches, grading papers, teaching classes.

But that is not why I am telling you this story.

I had no intention of getting arrested.  Philosophically, I support mass legal action over planned arrest as the preferred tactic for building social movements with the numeric heft to create social change.  Besides, as a rape and sexual assault survivor I had no desire to give a man with a gun on his holster the excuse to touch me in any way.   Finally, I believed getting arrested for a cause is a privilege,  when a criminal justice system discriminates based on race and class.   However,  it was precisely this knowledge of criminal injustice that led me to decide at the spur of the moment to join the students — mostly youth of color — some my current students —  getting cuffed.  I had this idea that my suit-coat, age and race might protect them when we got down to Hennepin County, outside of the sight of the public.

But that is not why I’m telling you this story.

We spent six hours  downtown. I’ve been arrested one other time since, but this was the only time in my life so far that I had someone remove my jacket, give me an orange top, take my mug shot. The thing that disturbed me the most however, was when they took the wedding ring off my finger. I got put in a cell with one other protester and a woman who was coming down from a meth high. The first thing the drug offender did when she walked in was take the stub of toilet paper near the open toilet and lie down on the cement, propping the roll under her head as  a pillow.”Tell them it’s gone — they’ll bring another,” she said.

There. A tip I hope you don’t need.  But it’s not why I’m telling  this story.

At our hearing, as I remember it, we were given three choices: plead not guilty and wait for a second hearing, pay a fine, or work off that fine. The others took choice one or two. I decided , since I was unemployed, broke and seeking employment for the fall, that I would work off the fine over the summer.

My work detail dates coincided with the two hottest and most polluted  days of that 2006 Minneapolis summer – so hot and polluted that the official recommendation was to stay indoors and do nothing.  I showed up at the Southdale Hennepin County library parking lot.  The first day we cut brush along the highway. The second day we mowed the lawn of a private suburban cemetery.

But I didn’t write this to expose the  Hennepin County work program for using its free labor to service private businesses.  

I made friends. There were about 30 different people who worked half or full days with me. Among them, I was one of two women, one of two people over forty-five, one of three white people, and the only person who was white, female and nearing fifty.  My comrades had me pegged right away.  I had to be DWI.  In addition to my demographics there was the clincher: I rode my bicycle to the van site.  As for them, the most common offense that caused these young African-American, Latino, and  Native youth to spend summer days providing free labor?

That is why I am telling you this story.  

Failure to pay for public transit. 

My story is anecdotal and ten years old.  The ACLU-requested study  released on December 17 2015, is new and data-driven. We both came to the same conclusion:  Metro Transit police target youth of color,  pulling them into the criminal justice system for the most minor offenses.

To have  peace in the Twin Cities we need judicial justice.  In the meantime, protests   continue.

Holding a candle for Phil Quinn until justice comes.

 

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Notes from the “Remembering our Warriors – Justice for Phil Quinn” – candlelight vigil, St. Paul,  December 15, 2015.

 Hillary Clinton and the Wild Hockey game clogged roads throughout the Twin Cities tonight.  As the multitudes gathered to cheer their candidate or their team, 23 of us stood outside the Ramsey County Sheriff’s office holding candles. Most of those there were friends and family of Phil Quinn, the 30-year-old father killed by police on September 24, 2015  when his family called for medical assistance. Phil suffered from schizophrenia and he was having an episode. He was cutting himself. His family wanted a medic but what they got was the St Paul police, who surrounded the house guns drawn. Instead of talking to Quinn, they shot  and killed him.

Please now, if you are reading this, check yourself. Have you removed yourself somehow from this story?  Why?  You know — if you are honest — that you have known and loved someone with mental illness, and/or someone who on occasion needed outside help.

When the official helpers act in a criminal manner, turning crisis into irrevocable tragedy, the system is rotten at its core.   Native Americans have known this for centuries.  The vigil tonight, sponsored by Idle No More  and Native Lives Matter was called not just to remember and seek justice for Phil Quinn, but to mark the 125th anniversary of the murder of Tatanka-lyotanka (Sitting Bull) and all of the Native lives taken by police violence since.

Those who perpetrate police crimes should seek no comfort from the small turn out tonight. Phil Quinn’s story will be told at the December 19, rally for justice in Minneapolis, and there are plans for a January 9 action focused on the Quinn case. The people are getting together. Native Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter precisely because all lives matter, but our judicial and mental health systems proceed as though only white and wealthy lives matter.

It was cold on that corner outside of the Sheriff’s office, but the love shared with strangers standing in solidarity made it feel toasty.  We hugged each other, thanked each other for being there, told and heard stories about a kind-hearted and dearly-loved man shot down.

The struggle continues. Phil Quinn and the people who loved him matter. If you love someone with mental illness; if you are human; show up and say his name.

Minneapolis City Council Public Hearing: Ugly/Beautiful Truths Revealed.

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As I witnessed the Minneapolis City council Public Hearing on the 2016 budget on December 9, 2015, I kept thinking about another place and time.

In May 2010 the Governor of Arizona, prodded by her education commissioners, signed a bill banning ethnic studies in K-12 schools in her state. The object of her  wrath was a Mexican American studies program in a primarily Mexican American high school in Tucson.  In doing so she revealed the ugliest truth.  She   did NOT want to close the so-called “achievement gap.” She did not want Chicana/o students finishing high school, going to college, becoming  empowered, self -motivated learners who could ace standardized tests without ever  studying-to- the-test.

At the Minneapolis City council Public Hearing dozens gathered, with two hours notice, to speak out against a $605,000 amendment to fortify the 4th precinct building. Like the Ethnic Studies ban in Arizona, the amendment — not to invest in North Minneapolis, but to protect a building and the police –– revealed that the “equity” Mayor did not really want to see people empowered.

When Jamar Clark was killed by the police, people mobilized to take on the  rotten- to-the-core injustices of the city’s criminal justice system.  Through the occupation of the 4th precinct they addressed immediate needs of people like food and a place to sleep.  They broke down divisions among Minneapolitans struggling economically.  Some non-profits dedicated their resources to aid the mobilization. Religious institutions stood up. People were teaching each other how to build a movement, maintain self care, support each other across racial, gender, neighborhood and gang lines. People were empowered.

The response?  Bulldozers and a secret amendment to fortify a building!

I am relieved the amendment went down but I don’t think we should exaggerate that win. That $605,000 in found-money should immediately be allocated on the North Side for the children. (If we want to bolster ethnic Studeis programs for the K-12 public schools on the North side I know some people in Arizona who could help out…. )

The Minneapolis budget remains misdirected with a bloated police budget and the police department that  (as the people testified at the hearing)  terrifies the people — especially African Americans and Native Americans — and is wholly incapable of assisting people experiencing domestic violence. The 605,000 was for the police to protect the police!  That should be an outrage to every taxpayer   in this city. The K-12 schools on the North side and other low income areas of the city need that money, for trauma therapy, for the arts, for recess, for programs that validate histories and experiences of People of Color….

The real win at the City Council  Public Hearing was the testimony – now on Youtube, an invaluable historical archive, a witness to empowerment and solidarity. Take it in segments.    Be inspired. See how the movement, despite bulldozers, is still building.

The Arizona ban in 2010 spurred a movement that has led to the spread of Mexican American studies and other ethnic studies programs across the U.S.  I believe that we can win. 

The Hanukah almost-Miracle. The call from Bernie Sanders.

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It happened after I finished lighting my menorah. The phone rang. I reached to turn it off so I could contemplate my candles undisturbed,glancing at the ID: Senator Sanders. I had to find out who was joking with me.

“Who is this?”

“Anne, this is Bernie.”

“Come on. Who’s is this really?!”

“Anne, we don’t have time for that. I need you to do me a favor. With Trump issuing hateful ultimatums against Muslims, and Jews pledging to stand in solidarity with their Islamic sisters and brothers, and me winning the popular poll for Times Man of the Year, I think its a good time to strengthen my Israel/Palestine policy.  Spin me a Hanukah revelation.  Nothing too radical, Anne.  Have it to me before your candles burn out.”

A policy request from Bernie Sanders?  I glanced at my menorah. Was I imagining it, or were my candles burning more slowly? It’s Hanukah, I thought. Who am I to question a miracle?

I decided to focus on two foreign principles already put forward by the Senator. 1. He is not about regime change and 2. He faults the United States for overthrowing democratically elected leaders like Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala installing and supporting dictators like the Shah of Iran and myriad Latin American tyrants just because they were friendly to U.S. business interests.

I typed fast, one eye on the candles:

“Under the Sander’s administration we will no longer provide unconditional support to any state. Instead we will reach out our hands to any nation engaged in loosening the power of the world’s billionaires. We will lend our assistance to any state who provides equal citizenship, voting and economic rights to all people regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation or religion. We will support efforts at reparation, truth and reconciliation anywhere, leading by example, addressing our debts to African Americans and indigenous people.  We will aid any effort to reverse climate change and do our part to demilitarize our world by ending the U.S. arms trade, shutting down U.S. bases, halting drone warfare and nuclear weapons manufacturing…

“In this context we will halt aide to the Israeli state until all inhabitants of  Israel/Palestine enjoy equal rights.  For decades the United States has posed as a peace broker in the Middle East, while arming everyone.  The military budget for Middle East Wars, is immense. Repurposing those funds  we could facilitate the Palestinian right of return and war reparations in a day.”

“Under the Sanders administration, the United States will no longer be a super power but a real -small d democracy.” *

I was just getting warmed up — wondering if Sanders  should say something about being Jewish, maybe end with a quote by Art Spiegelman  creator of Maus-  about how Israel is a battered child with PTSD who has grown up to batter others— but before I could make my decision, the last candle went out.

I turned on the light in the darkened room, reached for my cell, to send Bernie what I had. But there was no record on my iPhone  of a call  from Senator Sanders.

 

Oh well. Six more days for a miracle  to happen here.

 

*Apologies Pinocchio.

“Sometimes You Just Gotta Give.”

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Four years ago this week, six months into a fourteen month bike trip.  

I had a bad feeling about the Imperial Motel in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, but the manager told us there was nothing else for miles. It was already dark, with wind chills in the 20s. Too cold for camping.

In retrospect, camping would have been a better choice.

“Cash only”  the manager said.
Most of the motel “guests” were permanent. They paid $40 a night — exorbitant for what they got.  Everything about the place was disgusting. The walls were oily. The smell was overwhelming, a putrid mix of mold, dust, body odor and smoke. After the owner put a screw driver to the heater  I could still see my breath.

The bathroom floor had the topography of a pit mine. Climbing into the slippery tub, Dave fell, slashing his hand.

The hospital was a mile away. We walked our bikes slowly, in a daze, Dave trying to keep his hand elevated. A jovial doctor from St. Paul, Minnesota gave him ten stitches.“When I was a kid, we’d cross the river chanting M. I. S. S. I. S. S. I. P. P. I. as fast as we could. I never thought I’d end up living there. I came down to work in Louisiana. When Katrina took the hospital in Chalmette, I transferred here.”

On the TV at a Vietnamese café blocks from the hospital, a slick anti-immigrant ad played between updates on a second Virginia Tech shooting. I thought about the guests at the Imperial and an emergency room patient who coughed blood and had no insurance. I looked at Dave’s drawn face, holding his bandaged left hand up, picking at his food with his right, in his own pain-medicated twilight zone.

Behind him, in stained glass was the likeness of a turtle.

Fifteen miles down the road, between Biloxi and Gulfport, we found a beautiful room for $35.95, checked in at 2pm and spent the afternoon at the IHOP eating whole grain pancakes that had become a comfort food for us.

Our route to Louisiana the next day hugged the Mississippi coast line. In Waveland, a town of 5,000 — over 90% white — we met Baptist Minister Ben selling oranges and apples on the roadside with a team of recovering addicts. The town was leveled by Katrina. I asked the Minister about post-Hurricane recovery. He shook his head.

“Recovery? There’s been none. The recession and oil spill destroyed what was left of our fish and tourism industries. All city workers — police, fire — were laid off a few months ago….”

While Dave chose apples– pointing with his bandaged hand– I shook my head sympathetically, encouraging Pastor Ben to continue.

“Without jobs, drug abuse and alcoholism has become so rampant the fast food companies stopped giving drug tests. Not enough sober workers to fill positions.” He pointed at the fruit. “Proceeds go to my Anonymous programs. My first meeting no-one showed up. The second week, three people came. Now 165 are coming every week.”

A pale man with shaky hands took our coins.

“We need good jobs,” Pastor Ben concluded, handing us three apples and three satsumas, “but the addiction problem is so bad, people will be in no shape to hold them when they come.”

In Pearlington, Mississippi, on the Louisiana border, we stopped at a gas station to use the bathroom. A spare, toothless Black man selling collard greens and garage sale items offered us chocolate bars and peppermints. It looked like he was more in need than us, but we were learning to take offerings from strangers graciously.   In Lakeland, Florida, at a gas station adjacent to a homeless encampment, a skinny man with stringy blond hair clutching a twenty-ounce can of beer insisted on giving Dave two dollars and got angry when he tried to refuse.

The collard vendor seemed to guess what we were thinking: “You can’t always be asking. Sometimes you just gotta give.” He shifted his gaze to the heavens. “I just lost my wife of forty years, but she did not leave me without. We had five children.” He listed them by age.  “Oldest, 38 …  baby, 28. The Lord’s been good to me.”

4th precinct Occupation Built Community in Ways that Can’t be Bulldozed

 


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Photo on the march from the 4th precinct to City Hall in Minneapolis on November 24, 2015.

 In the early hours of December 3rd the city destroyed the occupation of the 4th precinct in Minneapolis.  But they can’t bulldoze a movement .

People  lived outside of the 4th precinct North Minneapolis police station for 18 days, breathing campfire smoke, eating whatever was offered as an unusually mild Minnesota November has turned into a wintry December.

It was an intense protest — like fasting, or marching hundreds of miles — illustrating a deep and unmoving commitment to uprooting an unjust status quo.

The injustice here is a system that sanctioned the killing of an unarmed Black man– Jamar Clark — by police. The protest demanded — and won — a federal investigation and release of the names of the police officers.  A key demand — release of the video tape of the killing — has not been met.  Other demands for deep structural changes, including an end to grand juries, removal of  Police federation President Kroll and investigation of his and other officer ties to white supremacists groups, and reclamation of the 4th precinct site to rebuild the community center that once was there,  are developing as people are continuing to imagine and plan how to move to justice. 

The subsequent criminalization of protesters by police and the mayor; the silence of police officers not involved in the shooting; the light charging of White men who shot protesters;  added dimensions to the struggle for justice.

The 4th precinct occupation itself, uncovered the depth and breadth of the criminal injustice system.

One of the strengths of the occupation was  its ability to engage people near and far with many different abilities and resources.

  • There were daily requests for food, wood, hot water, social media support.
  • Activists held diverse events at the site: a vigil, march, church service, Thanksgiving dinner, concert, daily meetings a funeral. East African and Latino communities and organized labor held support rallies on site and middle school students from nearby Anwatin public school marched to the precinct.
  • Support actions offsite allowed thousands of people to play a part, including those far from Minnesota who have  bought a meal, or sent a message of solidarity.
  • Marches connecting Minneapolis, Chicago with local struggles have taken place in New York City, Buffalo, Tampa and many other cities.
  • The National NAACP came and led a vigil.  A Hip Hop legend stopped by to lend his support.

Every one of these connections big and small  built community.  This is the  immeasurable strength of the occupation, evidenced in stories that need to be gathered.  No wonder the powers that be wanted the occupation to end.

I spent one day at the 4th precinct, the day after White terrorists shot five protesters.  I arrived at 7:30 AM.  It was quiet — a half dozen people awake, an equal number still sleeping in sleeping bag lumps.  Seagulls– an unusual sight in Minneapolis — hovered together outside the cement blockade, apparently attracted to smells of food.

Three men who witnessed the attacks the night before stood around the fire reciting reasons why they believed the shooters had to be connected in some way to the police — They noted the lag time of police response to a crime taking place in front of their noses, and to the fact that they maced the  protesters  when they did arrive –criminalizing the victims of the attack.  A young woman who’d been there all night said when they heard the shots and screams they thought their friends had been killed.  “We sat in a prayer circle for an hour.”

By 9AM people began to come.  From 9 to noon this is what I saw:

  • Black men holding down the fort, staffing food tables, feeding fires.
  • People of all races dropping off food.  Four dozen bagels and cream cheese.  Hot cereal in a huge pot.  Egg sandwiches.
  • Four people on a sleeping bag down on the sidewalk meditating.
  • Two women singing in perfect gospel harmony, and a group swarming around them.
  • A woman in her fifties cornering a man wearing a green Mad Dads shirt. “I’m trying to stay peaceful, but I’m getting angry” she said again and again.  She had come down to get help channeling her anger.
  • Two young men, Black and White, talked history. One traced the road from  slavery to the old and then new Jim Crow. The other talked about Chinese workers who died building a railroad.   “We don’t learn about that.  That’s what whiteness is — an erasure.”

By 12:30 it was a different place — full of people, cameras, national  media.    Testifiers were now using megaphones.  A statement was read to the press.  A march was scheduled to begin at 2pm.  By 1:50 there were already too many people to hold in one place so we  marched around the precinct, through alleyways.  Neighbors came out on their stoops and joined in chants.  The back of the precinct was filled with cop cars and cops.

When the march began to move down Plymouth Avenue, it swelled in size, covering one block…  then two blocks… then more than three.

We marched all the way downtown, causing the shuttering of federal and local government buildings.  Over a thousand people.  Plus three hundred who stayed at the precinct, and another several hundred students around the city who walked out of their schools in protest.

When I returned to the precinct I could barely stand up, but the concert for Jamar in front of the precinct had begun and the music, the children picking out winter hats and mittens from the gigantic box of donations, the free dinner for three thousand, the singing and dancing, were intoxicating. As the Sounds of Blackness sang their movement anthem Black Lives Matter, I leaned on my husband who had joined me, managing to stay upright for another half hour, my awe at the stamina of those living at the 4th precinct growing by the moment.

When we walked back to our car, passersby greeted us on the side-walk.  Instead of “hello” they said,

“Black Lives Matter.”

“Black Lives Matter” we replied.

 

The occupation is over. The  movement continues. The Rally at 4pm  December 3 at Minneapolis City Hall  filled to the rafters