In the future when we look back at the remarkable accomplishments of the George Floyd Square at 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis in the year 2020, people may remember or have some recollections of a “radical community” that was formed there.
Radical communities are at the heart of how social justice movements have organized for over a hundred years and beyond, stemming from as far back as the early abolitionist communities that organized for the immediate effort of ending slavery. They did so before political campaigns could be mobilized to do that work.
Radical communities have been built in physical spaces, or upon ideas, and through mutual fellowship around general principles. A principle that seems to resonate well in the George Floyd Square since late June and early July is “people over property.” That value is the heart of this work.
This general principle, “people over property,” is often articulated by folks who gather at the George Floyd Square under the awning of what used to be the 38th & Chicago Speedway. The gathering place has been renamed and repurposed and is known by us as “The People’s Way.” It suggests that the value of a person’s life exceeds the value of property.
The value of George Floyd’s life exceeded the value of the property that was deemed fraudulent, the $20 he tried to use to make a purchase at Cup Foods on May 25, 2020. The value of the lives of the Black people whose headstones in the “Say Their Names Graveyard” adjacent to the George Floyd Square exceeds the value of the State as an institution, whose agents brutalize, murder and steal from Black people each and every day.
The value of people over property is a reminder of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose name we will be celebrating on Monday, January 18, 2021. In November 1967, King announced at a staff retreat for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) that he was embarking on a Poor People’s Campaign.
Seeking a “middle ground between the riots on the one hand and timid supplications for justice on the other,” King planned for an initial group of 2,000 poor people to descend on Washington, D.C. The idea was for poor people from southern states and northern cities to meet with government officials to demand jobs, unemployment insurance, a fair minimum wage, and education for poor adults and children designed to improve their self-image and self-esteem.
King knew that the ultimate goals of freedom, independence and self-determination could not be realistically achieved overnight and would likely not be realized that year or the year after. As a result he said, “Let’s find something that is so possible, so achievable, so pure, so simple that even the backlash can’t do much to deny it. And yet something so non-token and so basic to life the even Black nationalists can’t disagree with it that much.”
We see the historical parallels and connections with what’s happening now amid the COVID crisis and the State’s apparent inability to provide relief during these troubling times with insurrectionary fascists storming the Capitol. The George Floyd Square is still presiding over a movement founded on the value that a person’s life exceeds the value of property.
Like King in the example of the Poor People’s Campaign, the radical community that makes the George Floyd Square came up with 24 demands to provide concrete, actionable initiatives in the wake of the George Floyd’s murder. If met, these demands would improve conditions in the community and help in our effort to negotiate with the State to allow the Square to be closed.
Since the demands were formed much has changed in the community dynamics, and overall support of the work has waned. But with the trial coming up for Derek Chauvin in March, there is hope that the people there and the value of people over property in the radical GFS community will still continue to make history.
This is a People’s Campaign after all.
Drew Valle welcomes reader responses to questionD@protonmail.com.