150 community members braved a record cold snap to demand the new Council prioritize closing Minneapolis' worst-in-the-nation racial equity gaps as they begin their new term. A 7-6 majority of City Council members supported a motion to allow community members impacted by the gaps to testify for 15 minutes before the council, though they did not mean the two-thirds threshold necessary to suspend the rules.
After the conclusion of the inauguration ceremony for the new council, hundreds kicked off the rally for equity by singing we shall not be moved on the stairs of the rotunda as Mayor Betsy Hodges sang along.
They then marched up to the council chambers, where they hoped to allow traditionally marginalized voices to open Council’s first meeting of the year. Newly elected Council member Alondra Cano introduced a motion to allow for 15 minutes of public testimony, which was met with loud cheers and chants of “Let the people speak!” from community members gathered outside the chambers.
The main order of business, election of the Council President and other leadership posts, had largely been settled behind close doors in advance of the meeting.
“We’re disappointed that directly impacted community members weren’t given the opportunity to speak today, but the fact that a majority of Council Members voted in favor of the motion gives us hope that with enough pressure we can bring about a new direction for a new Minneapolis,” said Anthony Newby, Executive Director of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC). "Our communities can't wait any longer for the city to take these worst-in-the-nation racial equity gaps seriously. We need a racial equity agenda for the new term, and we need it to start today."
After being denied the opportunity to speak in front of the council, community members held a people’s hearing to allow those who came to share their stories to testify in the overflow room.
“I lost my home after getting hit with some unexpected court fees the week of Thanksgiving,” said Lynnette Stewart, a disabled working mother of four. “My four children and I were living out of our vehicle as Christmas was coming, and we had nowhere else to go. By the grace of God I connected to Occupy Homes, which moved me into a home that had been abandoned by the bank. No one should have to sleep in their car or on the street through the Minnesota winters. The city of Minneapolis must use eminent domain to turn these vacant homes into affordable housing for people like me who can’t afford the high market-rate rent.” After predatory lending in communities of color hit Minnesota particularly hard, Minnesota now has the biggest homeownership gap in the country.
“I’m 35 years old and have been pulled over 61 times, though I have no criminal record. That’s evidence of the racial profiling and police accountability crisis in Minneapolis that has never been taken seriously by City Hall,” said Marcus Harcus, an organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. “My wife and I have both been brutalized by the police. From 2006 to 2012, the Minneapolis police paid $14 million in brutality settlements--and that’s just to people who could afford to get a lawyer. We need to hold the police accountable with independent investigations. Police officers who are brutalizing us should be locked up. They cannot be above the law.”
“The Twin Cities are supposed to be the healthiest in the country--but that’s only if you’re rich and white,” said LaDonna Redmond, a nationally renowned food justice advocate. “But if you’re a person of color, you have to suffer through these inequities, like living near the HERC incinerator, asthma, hypertension, diabetes, homelessness--everything poverty brings. People are creating policies that continue to keep people impoverished. That’s what this is about.”
“Talk is good, but action is even better.” said community activist Mel Reeves, “The Twin Cities have consistently held the nation's largest black/white employment gap. No other city even comes close. What those statistics reveal is that there’s some discriminating going on. When you have a situation where everyone’s kicking in but not sharing in, it’s a giant unfairness, and a blot on what we call a liberal city. If you invite me to dinner but don’t put any food on my plate, you haven’t fed me dinner.”
Today's inauguration and rally happened just days before the demolition of the Metrodome will begin, making way for a controversial new taxpayer-funded $975 million Vikings stadium, a legacy of the previous city council.
"We're not going to let taxpayer-funded corporate projects dominate our city anymore," said Anthony Newby. "The days of prioritizing the interest of the richest 1% over communities of color are over. It's a new era, and it must start today."