Cathy Jones. Post office, Park Board, Fourth Precinct. Demanding equity in the Minneapolis Commons.

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One thing about me is I don’t carry a grudge. I can hardly remember what I ate for dinner yesterday! I know I need to let things go. Otherwise I’d die of the stress. I am glad that as a letter carrier I work outside. It helps me get things out of my head. I need to be in nature – spend time around water a few times a week. It replenishes my soul. I’m a spiritual person. I don’t belong to a church. I have my own altar at home. Everyday I wake up and say, “Thank you God for another day! Let’s hit it!”

I was born in St Paul and lived there for a brief minute, until my biological parents put me up for adoption. From 6 months to 18, I lived in a foster home in the Linden Hills neighborhood with people I consider  my parents. They had  four biological children  and fostered many kids for short periods. Me and my younger brother Timmy — also a foster child  — lived with them for our entire childhoods. My mother also did daycare. There always many kids in our home.

My father is a Swede. My mother was Irish and Timmy — who passed away recently — was Native, so we always said we were the most international family in a predominantly white neighborhood. We traveled North every year to the farm where my dad grew up in Fosston, Minnesota. We camped and took a trips out West.  I was in a Swedish dancing group at the Swedish Institute in the summers. I wore a Swedish folk costume and performed at Minnehaha Park and the State Fair. Typical middle class white living.

But my older sister Karol and my parents let me and Timmy know about our cultures. They took Timmy to pow wows. I was wearing Phillis Wheatley T-shirts at the age of nine. Karol is a lesbian. She was an anti-war and women’s rights activist and had a big influence on me.

In 1969 my mother walked me to the corner before kindergarten and said (using the terminology of the time) “You are a Negro. Hold your head high and remember not to let anyone tell you they are better than you.” Who would know I would remember those words and gather strength from them my entire life? I am thankful my parents took me in. I had an amazing childhood.

I went to Lake Harriet for kindergarten and a private Catholic school — St Thomas the Apostle on West 44th, for first through seventh grade. I went to Southwest High. I wasn’t in school much during my 10th grade year. I was more interested in what was happening in the world. Connecting with other kids from other schools. Doing things I probably shouldn’t be doing. Exploring. But I still managed to graduate early.

When I was 19 I had the opportunity to meet my biological parents. I did some investigative work. They were no longer together but my biological father just happened to be over there the day I went to find my mother. My biological mother thought I was adopted and she would never be able to find me. I think my foster mom knew if she didn’t adopt me I would have an easier time connecting with them. She was keen that way.

I wouldn’t say I am really close now to my biological family, but we are in contact. My biological brothers look like my sons. I look like my  mom’s sister.

After growing up in Linden Hills, I lived in North Minneapolis and I became acutely aware of the inequities in city resources and policing. The only police I ever saw growing up in Linden Hills was the crossing guard officer. I was a crossing guard. My first husband was from North Minneapolis.. When we were dating in high school he would drive me home and we were constantly stopped and questioned at Glenwood and Lyndale, just as we were leaving the North side. They would say “Where do you think you’re going” — as if there was a gate! The way police drive up and down Broadway Avenue — that would never happen on France Avenue. It is not like drugs and guns are not in Linden Hills — it’s just that people there have money.

Becoming a Postal Worker and Union organizer.

After high school I did a lot of retail work.  One of those places was union, but I wasn’t aware of the union then — even though my father was a Teamster.  At 40 I began looking for something that would pay a decent wage and provide a retirement pension.  There was an ad in the paper for postal workers. It said: women of color strongly encouraged to apply. I figured I had a good chance. I also liked that you got hired based on a test score. I would pass the test and everything would be great.

It was a year and a half before I got hired. (People are getting hired quicker now because the baby boomers are retiring, but not then.)

Being a letter carrier completely changed my life. It put me in a whole  new income bracket and it turned me into a labor activist. My shop steward saw I was speaking out at work, and tapped  me to go to union meetings. I started going after three months and have not stopped. I have been a steward, and a trustee. I am currently on my second term as a delegate to the Minneapolis Labor Federation. I continue to work in the rank in file. trying to get people inspired to join the union movement.

I started delivering the mail in North Minneapolis. It is really is a diamond in the rough over there. The mail is light so its easier on the back.  (More affluent neighborhoods have more mail.)  And the sunrises are gorgeous on the North side. I would have stayed but I had to bid out. Seniority. I have delivered to every area in North Minneapolis and now I deliver in Uptown.

Letter carriers are the eyes and ears of the community.

Organizing for a more equitable Postal Workers Union at the National Level.

In 2014 our convention was in Philadelphia. David Noble — a known figure — ran for president. I was on his slate, running for executive vice president. We were trying to get a group of women into positions of leadership in the union. Usually the union appointed people and nobody challenged them. At the convention I was working the back of the room because I needed signatures to be on the ballot.  It was pretty easy. People wanted a change. We were coming off a bad contract. We were a clean slate.  Still, they were in shock that this was happening. For decades there were no elections — just appointments.

When my friend came up to nominate me, someone actually pushed her away from the nominating table! Then the most beautiful thing happened. Women of color from Florida started nominating people. They were not with us but everyone thought they were. They had their own slate, but similar goals — to diversify and clean up the union.

Our NALC printing company ran the election. Ballots were left alone over night!   David Noble was arrested for trying to stay with the ballots. All the candidates should be with the ballots until they were counted. How else do we know they counted all the ballots?

This election cost our union 1/2 million dollars.  I hadn’t spent a dime,  —- just advertised on facebook —- and I got 19,000 votes — a third of a vote. I am wondering how many votes I really got.  I regret that I did not go out to the ballot counting.

After I ran in 2014, I was told by one of the powers-that-be in my branch that I wasn’t qualified to run for national office and I was a disgrace to my union, and that he would personally make sure that I would never be given a position of power in the union.  I’m sure there was pressure on my local from the national saying “she gets nothing now.” They have retaliated against all of us on the slate.

At a Women in NAACP (WIN) luncheon to support a Nellie Stone Johnson statue and college scholarship, an organizer of the scholarship (for any family member of a union member of color) was so delighted with my work she asked me to be part of the executive committee. She said “Get your union to write a letter and you’re in.” But the President of my union refused to write me a letter! For a white guy — a union brother — to stop a woman of color — a union sister — from being on a board created by a women of color — That does not happen! That hurt.

In 2012 we were fighting to keep 6 day delivery, so workers rallied.  That is off the table now because we got that Amazon delivery contract, increasing our work to 7 days a week. Right now we don’t have a fight. It can make people complacent . We are fighting complacency. Our NALC truth page has 13,000 likes — a place for getting people more aware of the union and what is going on. We talk hours, pay, treatment by management — any issue you can think of. National doesn’t like it because they have always had a monopoly on communication, but with Facebook —- its a brand new day.

The workers’ movement is changing. I had tried unsuccessfully to get a resolution on Black Lives Matter passed locally. They wanted me to take out the words “Jamar Clark” out of the resolution. I wouldn’t. This year, the national passed a resolution supporting a Black Lives Matter movement! I don’t know the exact race demographics of letter carriers, but 60% of those who came to the national convention this year were people of color.

Fourth Precinct and Governor’s Mansion Occupations

I got involved in the NAACP a round about way. I became a fellow with the Nexus BCLI, a leadership institute. Nekima Levy Pounds was a mentor for the program. We got to know each other. She got me involved in the campaign to rescind the Lurking and Spitting ordinances and then drew me in when she decided to run for NAACP president in 2015. We have been through a lot in a the last year.

When I think about the fourth precinct occupation, I smell my winter coat- –  that smoky smell. My whole family spent time out there at all hours of the night.  I never spent the night there but I was there late and early. I got up many times and went out there. It was a really emotional time. The day the supremacists attacked the camp I had just left. I came back.

The occupation rearranged our life — the things we did to make sure the family was safe. My son would follow me to make sure I got home safely.  There was a lot of toying around with our different phones. I’m sure my phone was tapped. Many people’s phones were tapped. But it was a positive experience.  The good we did, providing a meal for a homeless person, the clothes we distributed. People came together from a place of hurt and stood for justice. It was an indescribable feeling. I think about it a lot; how exhausted people can be. Many  put in way more time than me —out there for days and nights. I was able to come and go. Go to work, come back. There were times I didn’t go to work, and I had to deal with that.I tried to be a support. If I saw a situation I would grab someone’s arm and walk them away and talk to them. Being there, letting the community talk; listening.

I am proud of the activists in our Twin City area. We have a lot of people who are really committed. One thing that I’ve learned is that everybody does not have to be on the same page. We are still all fighting for the same goal. I was part of a “break off” that has not ended — a group of people getting comfortable being at each other’s houses having meetings, forming friendships. It was an amazing time.

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I remember getting the message about Philando. Nekima and I went out there.  We left Larpentaur Ave and went over to the hospital because the family had requested that someone from the NAACP family come over. I went with Nekima and a couple other people. They weren’t giving the family any information. We actually found out more than the family knew and they were sitting out there for a couple hours! They had moved his body to the medical examiners. Nekima called and got a lawyer for the family.

We when left I got the message on my phone. I said to Nekima, “They are headed to the mansion.” I had 15% on my phone left and I thought, “I better call in sick because I don’t know what is going to happen now.”  Black Lives Matter was already at the mansion when we got there. It was absolutely amazing. They had music going. They had already decorated the Mansion gate with police tape. It was raining a little. Someone had built a fire.

I sat and talked to a guy who was out there because his son went to the school where Philando was the lunch supervisor. He said his son would often get bullied, so every day Philando would walk him through the lunch line. I heard so many stories like that. Philando saying a kind word, giving a kid an extra serving of food — the things that you want a lunch supervisor to do for your kids.

We chanted all night. In the morning — maybe 6AM — the police came and snuffed out our fire. They said, “We are getting ready to open up the street.”
There were about fifteen of us there by that time. Nekima said “ We should all sit in the middle of the street and lock arms.” We did. We were chanting until the police chief came over. He was very nice that morning. He said they were going to respect our rights. They would block off the street at each end of the block.

To see that crowd grow —- from 15 of us to over 4,000 that afternoon —- it was beyond emotion. It was so crowded! All our phones were dead. Nobody had any communication. I saw a friend and felt suddenly so exhausted. I said “Can I use your phone to call my husband?” That is when I started crying. I said “ I am so tired and hungry!” There was plenty of food there —donations coming in — but I couldn’t eat. There was a woman cop who saw me and said, “You better sit down — you look like you are going to pass out.” She kept checking on me — brought me a water and a banana. I probably did look like hell.

When I left my husband the day before, I had told him I would be back in a couple hours. I didn’t come home until 4:30 the next day!  He picked me up, fed me something, and then I went to sleep from 5pm to 8AM. I went to work the next day. I only missed one day .

After that first night I wasn’t out there as much as I was at the fourth precinct. I was really guarded about my self-care. It can be vicious out there. We can be hard on each other — because we are in so much pain and we take it out on each other. I couldn’t go through that. It is very hurtful. I just get a certain way when we attack each other.

So I didn’t go out for a few days, but when I did — I was apparently on the police radar because as soon as I got to the Governor’s Mansion my phone was drained — you see all these pink and green lines and then the phone is dead.  As soon as I got home I was able to recharge it —- its just a way to block your phone when you are organizing or communicating.I was prepared. My husband and I  went back to the safety plan we had with the Jamar Clark 4th precinct occupation — he knew to drop me off and pick me up in the same place.

I don’t go to Black Lives Matter planning meetings. I am not a leader of the movement. I get out and protest. Go to all their events. It is a younger people’s movement. If there is anyway I can help them I’m there. The reality is we are not going to get anywhere until we dismantle the system. It’s the same with the unions. It not going to change until we change policies and procedures.

I have five kids — three sons and two daughters. They are all graduated, in college, or working, so I am blessed that way. My husband Brett works different hours from me. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be able to do this work. He works 5 to 1:30. He cooks dinner, so when I get home I can eat, have some conversations with him and then get out into the community if I need to. It is a unique relationship. He supports me 100% at home, making my activism possible.

Fighting for Racial justice in the Parks.

The park board was my first job as a kid. I worked at Armatage Park as a SETA employee. It was a great opportunity.  When I lived over in North I learned how the inequitable distribution of our natural resources worked to create blight. They buried beautiful Basset Creek, covered it up and built the Projects over it!   It was by design.  Today it continues. Parks in Somali neighborhoods are not kept up to par.

We are working for racial justice on the park board, through our labor committee of NAACP. We have documented both discrimination in hiring and disparities in care of the parks across the city. we have heard about Black men going into apply for a job and coming out thinking they did not do so well, even though they are qualified. We are documenting how they have criminalized Black employees. People are not promoted. They work seasons and are never hired as full-time employees. The mid level managers are the ones who do the front line discriminating — not hiring, firing and not promoting. Now we are also working with MTN to show how both the parks and the local public station — both Minneapolis municipal entities — are mistreating or not hiring black employees.

I have been driving around and taking pictures of the inequities in park care.  I brought those photos to the last meeting on September 7th. We had a room full of protesters that night.  NAACP members and affiliates were targeted and arrested. They are trying anything they can to silence our voice instead of engaging us.

We have beautiful parks in Minneapolis. I use them all the time. Walking Lake Harriet. Going to the Rose Garden. We are so close to being great. Now we need to make our public heritage equitable.

 People of Color Union Members (POCUM) 

Kerry Jo Felder was a sight for sore eyes when she  came to the MRLF. The labor federation  is supposed to help all unions and build solidarity, — like getting all the unions to help with the nurses strike. They are not our boss. They help unions out. Previously there were no people of color there. Then they hired KerryJo Felder and Alfreda Parwon, an amazing, organizer of East African union members.

KerryJo saw the need for people of color to have a safe space to organize and be. POCUM is that a safe space for union people of color. No Roberts Rules of Order. We act on things people are doing in the community. They call us a contingent. We don’t really have any money. MLRF pays for our food at meetings. That is it. We are then free to support who we want: $15NOW, the Janitors campaign, the Fourth precinct occupation.

POCUM convinced the National AFL-CIO to make Minneapolis one of the cities to hold a Racial Issues Summit last February. The two hundred people there heard testimonies from across the union movement about people feeling left out, about issues of power.   I was one of about five people who testified at length. Some nurses testified about how they were treated by white nurses – how they wanted to be floaters and go from floor to floor because as soon as they’re assigned to a floor, they’re treated badly by their fellow nurses.

It still continues. It is almost as if the laborers are just not comfortable with the idea of giving a person of color a promotion. For example since the commission – Corey Webster, a Black unionist who grew up in this area as well — was put in the position of president of City Employees union, a historic position. He has been there two months and there had been no mention of it. (Now they are saying he will be in the next issue of the Minneapolis Labor Review.) It’s like — here is the job but we don’t want anyone to know you have it.

If we continue to ignore internal racism we won’t have a labor movement.

There was no epiphany after that February Summit. In fact we have heard nothing from the national. I think they called the meeting because  the “right to work” Supreme Court case was up and they needed backing. They go to the people when in need and then any other time they just ignore them.

(BTW: On “right to work” — I think the labor movement has it all wrong. You shouldn’t be afraid to organize! I don’t think people should have to be in a union. We should not be afraid to organize. Letter Carriers do it all the time!)

There are some unions that get it. AFSCME is out there really strong. The new president of the Nurses really gets it. But for the most part many of these powerful unions don’t like to be called out. My own union has work to do.
To everything there is a bad side. I believe in unions. I am a firmly committed to fixing what is wrong. I see the potential. My union is worth 30 million dollars. We are not a bank. We should be using that money to grow the union, organize. Most of our members don’t know about things like national Labor Notes Conference and the organizing resources they have available. But it is changing. Our unions will look very different in ten years. Anytime you have a change in the guard there is going to be a struggle.

It is exciting to see the movements coming together. That is what is going to save our country.

 

 

 

Roya Damsaz: From Iranian Revolution to Cooperative Politics on Mpls.’ Northside.

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Roya Damsaz 

Somebody asked me, did you move to Minneapolis for money or love?

I moved here for love.

I was born in Tehran, the youngest of five children. All of my siblings came to the U.S. for professional graduate school careers. I had just started studying for my engineering degree in 1979 when the Iranian Revolution happened. During the Revolution, they closed all the schools. Shortly after the revolution, my University closed again for “cultural revolution.”  They didn’t like that our classes were taught in English—the “language of Satan.” After a lot of “cleanup,” my university finally reopened and I went back. Because of all this, my five year program took 8 years.

I married in Iran and had two children there. My oldest sister,  a US citizen, had applied for a green card for us. Even though my husband and I were both engineers, we were having a hard time making a living and did not foresee a good future for our kids. We moved to San Diego in 1995.

I got a job as an engineer, designing air conditioning systems for industrial buildings. It was an American company, but their plant was across the border in Tijuana, Mexico — a product of NAFTA. At the time I did not have a clue about free trade and the exploitative border factories that were the result.

The Mexican culture in San Diego and Tijuana was similar to my culture — very warm and family-oriented. I was not facing any discrimination. I think that was also because of my education and status as a professional. I knew Iranians without degrees who struggled to find jobs and to fit in; some of them eventually went back to Iran because they could not survive in the U.S.  My eight year old son had a tough time though. He didn’t know a word of English.  It was hard to leave him in school. He will still say that it was really tough. I would tutor him every day after work starting with baby books. My ex could not help because he was taking english classes too.

I was getting promotions. We were frugal. In three years we bought a new house. Moving up. Our citizenship ceremony was a few days after September 11. We were afraid the ceremony might be postponed or cancelled, but it wasn’t.

After 9/11, the border crossing slowed to a crawl. After going through a deep background check, I enrolled in a program that allowed me to get across faster, but I could see the way the Mexican people who went back and forth were treated terribly—body searches, looking for weapons. This seemed especially ridiculous; there were way more weapons on the U.S. side than on the Mexican side!

I lived and worked in San Diego for 16 years. By 2007, I was divorced.

Mike and I met through an online dating site. In 2010 we both had mid life crises. We left our jobs in San Diego and moved to Everett, Washington, where we bought a coffee shop/used book store. It was funny because we had no experience with coffee. Mike didn’t drink coffee and I thought instant coffee was just great. We had to learn from the previous owner how to make a mocha, latte, etc.

The area (about twenty miles north of Seattle) was loaded with artists. We had many events such as open mic nights, knitting groups, Native American flute players, and environmental activists. The first meeting for Occupy Everett was in our coffee shop. The Occupy site was not far from us and we supported them in many ways including free coffee, sandwiches, soup and, perhaps most importantly, access to the store’s bathroom.

The community was mostly white people with blue collar jobs. Many of them worked for Boeing. ‘Money out of politics’ was a big issue for them and so were environmental concerns such as global climate change. There were train tracks right across the street from our coffee shop, and we watched the coal trains passing through downtown Everett, leaving a grey cloud of coal dust.

We managed to increase the store’s customer base, but we were not good business people. We knew that many of our customers were in bad financial condition, so we were reluctant to raise our prices. The store was so popular that when we decided to sell, a group of our regular customers got together and decided to buy it and run it as a community business

After we sold the store, we thought, “Where do we go from here?” My mom in Iran had just died. For several years before her death, all of us children took turns going back to visit her. It was hard, because I could not be with her when she died. Mike’s ninety year old mother lived in Minnesota and I didn’t want him to have the same regrets, so we decided to move to Minneapolis.

At first I was really impressed with Minnesota. It had a different kind of cultural diversity. People working in the stores who were from Somalia were wearing their traditional clothing! I said, “Wow! I never saw that in San Diego!” There were also lots of Latinos and Black people, unlike in Everett. I was impressed.

Gradually I began to see it differently: I was treated very nicely, but there was this wall. Nobody would get close to anybody. The conversations were formal. Nobody wanted to know who you were and nobody wanted you to know who they were. I just couldn’t make friends. I would come home and whine to Mike: “Is there something wrong with me?” We started getting involved with a group of environmental activists. They were really nice people, but it was a milder version of the same thing. It was odd: Everybody told everybody they did a great job. People were reluctant to give honest feedback. To me that was not how people would learn, right? It pissed me off. I gradually began to learn what “Minnesota Nice” was, but I couldn’t accept it.

I worked in North Minneapolis and somehow we went to one of NOC’s events. I don’t remember how we found out about it. Nekima Levy-Pounds gave a talk that was eye-opening. I had no idea that racial inequality was still going on in the U.S.

I came from a country in which there is no race. Religion is the big divider. On your birth certificate it lists your religion: I am Muslim because my father was. (In my heart I am a Buddhist although I don’t practice that religion either), but if anyone would ask me I would say I’m Muslim. I never thought of race. Last year we had an opportunity to buy a house. At the time I wasn’t much familiar with the concept of segregation and even if I was, we just wanted to live in the real world with the people we cared for, so we moved to North Minneapolis.

We kept coming back to NOC events, and then NAACP and anything else that we could find which was related to social justice in North Minneapolis. I remember we went to the event at Sabathani Community Center where the police chief was supposed to give a talk, but did not show up because she was concerned for her safety. I looked around the room at the other people who were there, and couldn’t believe that the chief of police would be “scared” of these people. I listened to the testimony of people talking about police brutality. It was shocking. Jason Sole, Rose Brewer, Nekima spoke. My eyes were opening. We went to rallies for Mike Brown, Tamir Rice and unfortunately many more. Going back to work after these meetings I began to see that there were these two parallel worlds. You can live in one and never hear, never see, what is going on in the other. It was just shocking.

I did not feel the Minnesota Nice at NOC or North Minneapolis, which was great. People were more straightforward and courageous. But the African-American culture was also foreign to me. I was not a part of it — it was totally different. It took me a while to understand how little I know and how much there is to learn.

It was confusing for me. I was not sure who I was. Am I white? According to the U.S. census I am. I went to SURJ meetings. They say, “We are white people showing up for racial justice.” I wasn’t sure I belonged. Do white people think I am white? I don’t know. Is it skin color? If it is not skin color, is it European descent? Iran is not in Europe. I am still not sure where I fit in.

The area where we live in North Minneapolis is diverse. There are lots of empty houses, though, because of foreclosures. It is a quiet pocket not far from busy streets: Penn, Dowling, Lowry. I feel that I am becoming connected to the neighborhood and we are starting to make friends here. I am starting to feel like this community is close to my heart. I want to be a part of it.

I have started to understand the way things work in North Minneapolis. People come in and do things to the neighborhood, not with the neighborhood.

I recently got involved in a group called Carbon Zero Homes. The founder wants to bring a Carbon Zero house to North Minneapolis. He really does care. He thought talking to Mayor Betsy Hodge’s husband who is African American would be a way to reach the Black community. I told him ‘No No, No, you have to talk to people who live here.” 

I work at an air-conditioning manufacturing company that is across the street from Northern Metals. I went to a forum on environmental pollution in North Minneapolis. Keith Ellison was there, along with folks from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, NOC. MPIRG and the City of Minneapolis.  As I was listening I realized how much I have changed. They were talking about doing more research collecting, more data. It got me so angry. I got up and said:

“Why do we need more data? The data is in. North Minneapolis has the most cases of asthma, the highest lead levels in the state. We need to act! It’s like you have a house and there is a leak here and leak there and you have $1,000 and  instead of fixing the leaks you hire an inspector. It makes no sense. There are programs that work to reduce asthma. Why aren’t we implementing them? Hire and train people from the community and give them the jobs implementing these programs. Research has shown a connection between companies like Northern Metals and asthma levels. They are using water tanks to clean the air. That just removes it from the air and puts it in the soil and the water. Air, water and soil are all connected!”

They responded that Northern Metals is just one of several sources, including vehicle traffic, other businesses, and the garbage burner that are responsible for air pollution in the area. I said, ‘Then you need to have even stricter standards for each of these sources, to lower the overall levels impacting this community.”

I was really mad. I walked out. I would never have done that before. Now I know why people in this neighborhood get so frustrated.

Here in the U.S., I hear a lot of people say that we need a revolution. I always tell them that I have been through a revolution—the Iranian Revolution in 1979. I was involved in the student protests when I started college. There was a lot of unity as the revolutionary struggle developed: All the organizations–religious, communist, socialist and lots of others—united to make the revolution happen. It was through the revolutionary struggle that I learned about how the U.S. was involved in installing the Shah. I grew up in the relatively comfortable middle class; I was shocked to learn that many people in my country didn’t have water or electricity. Then the revolution happened. Everyone promised to stay united, but it turned out to be just like Orwell’s “Animal Farm”–some people became more equal than others. At first the people leading us after the revolution were intellectuals–people who had motivated me and other university students. The first thing they did was look for agents of the Shah’s government and put them in jail. Little by little they began to also arrest the communists, the socialists, and other “non-religious” revolutionaries. It was not long before the Mullahs took over, and the whole government changed into a religious government. Nobody trusted anybody. Yet, rich people who were against the revolution managed to hold on to economic power. It was like when Obama got into office and appointed Bush people.

I began to feel like this was human nature: In the end people take care of themselves. It was really sad to see. So, I have no faith in revolution. But I am excited about grassroots movements. I went to a meeting recently that inspired me.

I am on the Board of the Wirth Co-op that will be opening soon in North Minneapolis. I was there on behalf of Wirth. We want it to be different from other food co-ops—more like a year-round farmer’s market. To share ideas, the city had invited all of these people to come and talk about their cooperative efforts. A Somali man talked about how they have created a global community cooperative. They helped their community members who didn’t speak english, didn’t know the laws or were unable to access resources. The ones who could provided the service for others. Sharing is caring, right? If you need something, someone will help you. They have 1,200 members already. At the same meeting, someone from CTUL talked about their union organizing work. Another person talked about Northside urban gardening. I was so excited.

This kind of cooperative economics is what we need. Being involved in the community—SURJ, MN350, NOC, Wirth Co-op, etc.—I am beginning to feel like I could stay here in North Minneapolis. I am growing some roots.

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I interviewed Roya on July 3. We’ve been in regular contact since. On July 9 she texted me: OMG WHAT A DAY!  

She had just returned from Day of Atonement * march against police violence, to protest the brutal police murder of St Paul elementary school nutrition services supervisor, Philando Castilo.

We walked nearly four hours!  

Roya and a thousand others had walked the streets of downtown Minneapolis and interrupted a Cathedral block party.  At the same time protestors in St. Paul marched on to Interstate Highway 94, occupying it for five hours and the 24 hour occupation of the block in front of the Governor’s mansion continued.

So empowering and yet sad people have to fight for human rights Roya wrote.

* Link has updates on ongoing protests. See sidebar for upcoming events.  See also Black Lives Matter Minneapolis. 

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.

#Jamar Clark, David Carr and two Minneapolis nights.

 

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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.

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Minneapolis and the World Need Less Policing, more Humanity

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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.

#Occupy4thprecinct

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