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. 

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.

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