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.

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

 

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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.

RIP Hy.

Love,

Your grateful student.

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.

 

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.