OUR MPLS: strategic proposals aimed at keeping City leaders accountable to communities of color
By Charles Hallman
With new leadership now at Minneapolis City Hall, a coalition of locally based organizations have developed a new racial and economic justice agenda for the city. Their dialogue at a recent community meeting reflected a new enthusiasm and optimism for moving with this new leadership in “moving racial equity forward.”
“What would racial and economic justice in Minneapolis look like?” asked Vina Kay last week during a monthly community meeting hosted by Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden at Butter Bakery Café on the city’s South Side. “We have a lot of trouble thinking that way about [racial justice] in Minneapolis,” she said, adding that the community needs to help City leaders see “that these disparities run throughout our communities and cut across multiple issues.”
Kay, research and policy director for Organizing Apprenticeship Project (OAP); Hope Communities Organizing and Community Building Director Chaka Mkali; and Avi Viswanathan, an organizer for HIRE Minnesota spoke on OUR MPLS, whose key components include “authentic community engagement” by City leaders with communities of color and low-income communities “in defining City priorities,” prioritizing bus rapid transit in low-income neighborhoods, and more investment in youth programming.
“We came together in mid-December because we saw this as an opportunity — a lot of new leadership” including a new mayor and several new council members in Minneapolis, recalled
Kay. Minneapolis “is a racial and unjust city right now,” she pointed out.
OUR MPLS “is a comprehensive policy agenda,” added Mkali. “We all want equity” but need more focus on solutions rather than causes, he pointed out. “We believe that the public’s will for equity is strong, and we really want to convey that to leaders.”
Community engagement could be as simple as City leaders holding meetings in easily accessible locations and times away from downtown, explained Mkali.
“People are aware of the problem,” said Viswanathan. “Now we are able to think about the solutions, develop them together, collaborate, and hopefully achieve what we are trying to get.”
Glidden told the crowd that she likes the agenda but admits there is “a lot of skepticism, a lot of fair skepticism. A big challenge ahead for all of us [is that] we need to be able to produce results.”
“This agenda contains a lot of specific proposals but also some broader, important principles that we hope the City will take and use,” continued Kay. “We would like to be asked about how things would be experienced by us
communities of color before [new policies] were implemented.”
Glidden announced that City officials soon will begin setting strategic goals: “This usually follows the beginning of a new term for mayor and city council members. How we frame our goals and what they exactly say are important — but I think [what] is more important than that is how we set a process for following up on those goals.
“That’s where we’ve fallen short before,” admitted the councilwoman. “We set goals, but we haven’t had a firm, rigorous, transparent process on how we follow up on those goals.”
During the Q&A session, a Latina woman asked why oftentimes communities of color are “clumped together” rather than considered with group-specific goals and solutions. “There are a lot of complexities and similarities” within each community of color, responded Mkali.
“A lot of times we focus on all of the differences, but I think it’s important to start where there are commons, then move from there. And also to be able to create a space of trust where we can have hard and difficult conversations.”
Getting all citizens involved, especially those who historically distrust officials, can be challenging as well, said Mkali. “How is the strategy in ensuring that there are different ways to engage communities and bring them to the forefront? That is one of the indicators of success for me, when you can see new leaders at the table.
“There is going to be work, and it is not easy and won’t happen overnight,” he warned. “We are going to have victories and we are going to have challenges where we are going to have to dig in deeper.”
Said Viswanathan, “It is important to establish trust where [people] can speak their truth and it is welcomed.”
Glidden told the MSR afterwards that she was impressed with the huge turnout at her first “Lunchtime with Elizabeth.” The councilwoman regularly holds early-morning sessions for community residents to discuss pertinent issues.
“We had a very full room,” she proudly reported.
“I feel it was a room ready and really interested in moving racial equity forward,” surmised Kay. “It was a room full of people who are in [the] community every day and [are] experiencing disparities. I think the reason why this room was so full was because people are eager and hungry to deal with the issue.”
“Since we put out this agenda, we have met with the mayor in early January,” Kay said. “We’ve met with almost every City council member and almost every park commissioner. Every one of them welcomed us…and city hall said they are willing to work with us to do this.
“I believe their words, “she continued, “but I believe it’s also our responsibility as communities to stay with that and to hold them accountable to sticking to that promise.”