What a time to be alive

As I stood in the middle of the street I shivered and blew warm breath into my hands. 

I realized I was cold not only because the sun had set and there was a chill in the air, but because my hands weren’t held in my neighbors like so many others around me.  The sea of people filling the street were white, black, young, old, and most notably, human. 

After the thousands of individuals marched to the destination together they looked toward their leaders for what would come next. Those who began to sing a chant to the crowd were black women and trans women of color. The most oppressed victims of violence in our society were now leading us into a vision of a better world of peace, tolerance and unity. That moment reaffirmed to me that the revolution would not be televised. The revolution was here. 

The last year challenged my emotional resilience, and made me question everything I thought I knew about humanity. No matter where you are in the world you likely experienced violence, pain, sadness, tragedy, hope, faith, courage, opposition, community and division. 2015 was a year that tore the world apart, and brought many of us together. At the center of the progressive change in the world, was the city of Minneapolis.

The year started and ended with fierce desire and action for change. Whether it was City Hall or a freeway, Black Lives Matter Minneapolis shut it down, and woke up every individual in the state and across the nation. Black Lives Matter said those words, felt those words, and lived those words in the face of fierce vitriol on social media, militarized police retaliation and terroristic hate crimes. They did all of this in a year that began with a dedicated group of volunteers with no funding and soon became a thriving movement.    

“2015 was really the year of the organizer. This is the first time we’ve seen this many organizations come together for one cause, but at the same time keeping everything intersectional and in solidarity with other issues,” said Mica Grimm of Black Lives Matter Minneapolis.

Mica Grimm / Photo by Ryan Stopera 

 

When asked about the movement’s biggest accomplishments of 2016, Mica said: “Being an autonomous group while working in collaboration with established organizations such as [Neighborhoods Organizing for Change] and the NAACP. The fact that Minnesota googled Black Lives Matter more than any other state. That happened in a predominantly white state. People started to understand things that they didn’t know existed prior to this and how all of these things interact with each other. The more we feel like a community the further we are going to come in making this place better for everyone. This has given people the ability to reach across cultural and racial lines. It feels like there are genuine relationships and love here that didn’t exist before. Before the 4th precinct I never saw a more diverse crowd come together here.”

Neighborhoods Organizing for Change was one of the organizations working in collaboration with BLM and they have been a leader in the progressive movement in 2015. NOC experienced a whirlwind of a year. The infamously racist Pointergate story became a national example of what not to do in journalism as it was chastised in blogs and news across the nation, including the Daily Show. The same day NOC organized the largest workers rights march in the nation, their office in North Minneapolis was burned down in what was found to be arson. Despite this unconscionable crime the organization is stronger than ever and are a living truth to the words of Maya Angelou,

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha (CTUL) worked in collaboration with NOC and many other organizations to fight for worker’s rights in the city. In 2015 CTUL continued to teach skills to low-wage workers to help them go on five strikes with major corporations in the Twin Cities. After a major breakthrough in pressuring Target to adopt the Responsible Contractor Policy, providing the right to collective bargaining, CTUL is moving forward to fight for protection from wage theft, fair scheduling and a living wage for workers.

At the intersection of all of these issues is the planet, climate change, and the frontline communities that face the greatest impact of pollution and health disparities. Kevin Whelan became the new executive director of MN 350, the nonprofit that has been organizing around tar sands mining, fossil fuel divestment, and clean energy for years. He said what drew him to the job was first a shared sense of urgency around the climate crisis, a willingness to act on that urgency, and a desire to build a climate movement with social justice at its core. 

Kevin has been inspired by Black Lives Matter’s courageous actions and his extensive background in grassroots social justice made him a great leader for an organization working to address the disparities Minnesota faces, and to connect the dots between climate change and racial and economic justice.

“I think that aligning environmental, racial and economic justice movements is less a matter of clever issue cuts, or highlighting the disproportionate impact of a particular kind of pollution, than weaving together relationships and giving people the context to act together,” he said. “I first met the folks at MN350 when I was looking for partners for the Rising Tide Organizer Training that was ultimately hosted by MN NOC and co-sponsored by MN350. We trained people in grassroots organizing, direct action and fundraising and linked racial and environmental justice. During the training and after people took direct action against Enbridge pipelines that threaten indigenous lands and the climate in general, worked with Black Lives Matter, and did economic justice organizing with NOC. Connecting the issues is easy—building effective solidarity is the deeper work.”

What has come out of this coalition of social justice movements is broad and powerful solidarity in the work to create progressive change in our city. 

As a contentious budget was passed to begin the year, hundreds of community members spoke out against the City Council’s proposed “Latte Levy 2015” for the New Year, further questioning many Council member’s commitment to their constituents and putting their future seat in jeopardy. 

There has been a cultural shift in Minneapolis, and progressive values have become the moral high ground. Simply speaking the equity rhetoric will leave leaders behind, but acting on and voting for progressive policies will bring us together to become One Minneapolis. 

There are rumors of a Progressive PAC, made up of some of the most influential community members in the city raising money and power to run candidates willing to walk the talk. With all the power in the hands of the people of Minneapolis I’m looking forward to more change to come in 2016.

Ryan Stopera is a social worker and community organizer in Minneapolis. He is on the board of directors of MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and the Lyndale Neighborhood Association.