What do we choose?

Doctors Without Borders
“Forced from Home” experiential exhibit by Doctors Without Borders

As the single mother by choice of a study abroad student now in Prague and a newly planted freshman at Southwest High School, my life since 1999 has largely consisted of learning how to be a parent.

How do I bathe my infant in a tiny New York City kitchen sink without dropping her? How do I manage potty training?

Then, in a blink, how do I help her through anxiety about ACT exams? How do I trust him to navigate Minneapolis by bike and bus and, soon enough, car? How do I, day by day, let them both go?

As a journalist and now owner of a long-time feminist magazine, I have privileged access to the stories of people who have vastly different worries. And, as so often happens, I marvel at the wide range of engaging conversations we can have in Minneapolis.

Awareness

My teenage son and I recently visited the “Forced from Home” experiential exhibit by Doctors Without Borders. The exhibit walked through the realities that face families forced to leave everything behind quickly due to natural disaster, “ethnic cleansing,” high rates of murder, civil wars fought because of food insecurity and religion-based intolerance.

One quote that stood out for me: “It’s not a crime to seek safety for your family.”

In another conversation, I learned from the director of St. Paul’s new Community-First Public Safety Initiatives, Jason Sole. Years ago his mother tried, unsuccessfully, to keep him safe from prison and violence. Sole emerged from his experiences with determination and resilience and offers strong messages about how society benefits from efforts to restore human beings rather than simply punish them.

Sole gave a talk at the Central Library with Emily Baxter, author of the newly released book “We are All Criminals.” It shows in photo essay form how young people caught with drugs or shoplifted items, for example, are given very different opportunities than those who commit the same crimes but are not caught or who are let go because of skin color or neighborhood.

I see awareness growing around criminal justice reform efforts — about how we define and limit some people by their mistakes but not others.

Advocacy

I did a video interview with “Dream Country” author and Minneapolis Community and Technical College professor Shannon Gibney, who writes about previously untold histories. The quote that sticks with me: “You can’t ‘other’ people when you connect with the complexities of their stories.”

In the pages of my monthly magazine, I learn from those whose experiences and needs have tended not to be reflected in the curriculum we teach, the policies we fund or the public officials we elect. They write about how they are working with others to change that.

Debates about housing development, for example, have tended to ignore how many mothers we have in our community who are struggling to offer a secure environment for their children. One advocate quoted in my October issue of Minnesota Women’s Press told the story of Aja, a local woman with a young family:

“Food spoils because the refrigerator breaks down. The carpet in the building hallway stinks and is black from years of dirt. Her apartment has roaches and rats and has not been fumigated. In the winter, the unit gets very cold.”

I see momentum growing around the acute needs for affordable housing. The advocate, Nelima Sitati Munene, works with city officials to find solutions around tenant rights.

Kenwood-based Norah Shapiro has produced the inspiring film “Time for Ilhan.” The film makes clear how important it is for our community to reflect a wider blend of backgrounds in its leadership.

Not only because we are overdue for having voices at the table that reflect “others” who live here — women, Muslims, Latinas, Natives, Somalis, African-Americans, the LGBTQ community — but also because there are strong voices that have ideas and passions derived from experience with our disparities in education, housing, childcare, health, employment and transportation.

Being a collective

Minnesota Women’s Press hosted a “Using Our Voice & Vote” event Oct. 16 that included 150 powerful, everyday women — ranging from college students to advocates in housing and criminal justice reform to state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray and Nekima Levy Armstrong.

The latter two women delivered a keynote address about how our segregation as individuals — who identify within cultural and socio-economic lines and then stay within those borders with others like them — is weakening our power as a community.

As someone who has written this column for a few years about the strength of what I consider an Attainable We, I obviously believe in the strength of collaborative efforts.

My hope is that as we use the privilege of our voice and vote in the mid-term elections, our choices will reflect what I hear in the community at large: whatever fears and worries we have, for ourselves and our families, we err on the side of working toward believing in the power of the greater collective.


Mikki Morrissette is owner of Minnesota Women’s Press. Contact her to learn about events, subscriptions, and its storytelling mission at editor@womenspress.com.

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