The collective power of Minneapolis

“Social change happens when the marginalized and oppressed tap into their immeasurable strength as a collective.” — Sarah Super

At the recent annual meeting of Cooperative Energy Futures, which intends to roll out a dozen community solar gardens over the next few years — starting with North Minneapolis this summer and Edina — former Secretary of State Mark Ritchie spoke about the legacy of Minnesota as a uniquely collective-minded state.

“It’s how we do things,” he said. “Our collaborative nature is far beyond anything you might see in many other places.”

Whether it is solar energy, food, health care, or storm damage, our roots as a farming community that has “only ourselves to rely on,” he said, means collective energy is woven into the fabric of our society.

It was with that collaborative spirit that three strong-minded Minneapolis women gathered at Red Stag April 19 for the fifth in my “Sustainable We” forums. The title of the discussion was “The Visibility Cloak,” and focused on how we collectively are making the invisible visible.

Sarah Super of Break the Silence spoke about how she is giving voice to rape survivors partly by telling her own story. Kathleen Schuler talked about how her Healthy Legacy consortium is working to reduce dangerous toxins in the home. Shalini Gupta of Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED) reminded us that we tend to foist pollution on marginalized communities, and invited us to join in collaborative efforts to avoid our own version of Flint, Mich. (You can find audio clips of some of the conversation at

Speaking out

Sarah Super points out that one in five women is the victim of sexual assault. Two-thirds of women survive non-stranger rape, and tend not to share their story because of the doubt, shame and trust issues involved.

Sarah Super
Sarah Super

“We prefer to believe as a society that men we know, love, and trust would never do such a thing. But given the pervasive nature of sexual violence, this is simply not true,” she said.

In Super’s case, a white, educated ex-boyfriend from an Edina family broke into her apartment, hid in her closet, and raped her at knifepoint after she returned home. After she escaped to a neighbor’s apartment, he led the police on a high-speed chase before he was caught, convicted and jailed. Without the shadow of victim-blaming in her case — with the “privilege” of not needing to defend herself and become a victim all over again — Super realized that she felt a responsibility to share her story. Over the past year, she says, hundreds of women have told their story, at her “Break the Silence” events or in private, including a close friend who had never told anyone about a group assault in a school bathroom. She has raised funds for a city memorial to rape victims and is raising awareness conversation-by-conversation.

Super’s lesson: Telling our collective stories — not being shamed or blamed or disbelieved — brings issues into the light that are far more prevalent than we’d like to believe.

On being bullied into non-action

Legislatively, we have a weak system of enforcing public health, implied Kathleen Schuler of Healthy Legacy. With the American Chemistry Council wanting to protect the image and the profitability of chemicals overall, and the Chamber of Commerce wanting to protect the profitability of large businesses, policymakers and advocates generally face long battles in regulating toxic chemicals in our products.

For example, even after 10 years of rule-making, the EPA was not able to regulate asbestos, despite knowing its public health impact, because rules favored minimizing economic impact on businesses, Schuler says. Healthy Legacy is working on policy and awareness about everything from playground materials to cosmetic fragrances.

Schuler’s lesson: Collective action by consumers does make a difference. Manufacturers change production processes and create safer products the more we demand it. Informed community action is a path to change even in the face of opposing lobbyists.

On marginalizing fellow residents

Shalini Gupta says CEED data shows the “hot spots” in Minneapolis neighborhoods where industrial and vehicular pollution are impacting city residents.

Our right to clean air and water shouldn’t be a matter of “who can afford it,” she says. We need to start thinking like a community that wants all of its citizens to have common access to health. CEED has been participating in the Green Zones initiative of Minneapolis, which is bringing diverse interests to the table to invest in healthier communities.

Gupta’s lesson: Collectively we need to become more attuned to how much value we place on products instead of people and how the voices of certain people are valued more than others. For Minneapolis to become truly sustainable as a city — beyond simply having a reputation as a progressive community — we need to own up to how we are all segregated in our approaches to the issues that plague us.

On the website, you’ll find some of the community members who are telling strong stories like these.

Mikki Morrissette, founder of, is building toward a citywide “Sustainable We.” She welcomes supporters in the effort.