Category Archives: Politics in Minnesota

Lessons for today from the Woman Suffrage Movement

The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see.  Winston Churchill

Recently I posted on this blog a spate of brief and preliminary backgrounders about the forthcoming celebration of the centenary of ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote.  Celebration of the ratification is simply a point in time; what’s important is that we capitalize on the occasion to learn from and share the lessons that can be gleaned from the long and volatile struggle known as the Woman Suffrage Movement.

The hallmarks of the Woman Suffrage Movement were vision, commitment, resilience, collaboration and persistence – virtues demanded by these troubled times.  Fortunately, the tools to understand and share those stories are both rich and relevant. These are the links to these recent posts:

The earlier posts identify resources that cover the Woman Suffrage Movement from a national perspective. They suggest the broad perspective, what was happening at the national level, the leaders and key supporters of the Suffragettes.

Still it is often more meaningful to tackle complex issues such as ratification of the 19th Amendment from a local perspective, the context of  one’s personal experience.  The Woman Suffrage Movement may be best understood as the struggle evolved and involved individuals “close to home” – with whom we have some connection in terms of  geography or experience

Fortunately, the record of Minnesotans’ involvement in the Woman Suffrage Movement is robust and readily accessible.

For a quick and easy guide to Minnesota’s ratification, start with the Minnesota House Record posted here:   (http://history.house.gov/HouseRecord/Detail/15032436205)  The archives  include a replica of the original ratification document – an inspiring first step on the journey to trace the roots of the movement. (http://history.house.gov/HouseRecord/Detail/15032436205)

For an excellent overview of the history of Minnesota’s steps to ratification there is no better than Eric W. Weber’s excellent piece on the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association  posted in MNOpedia.  (http://www.mnopedia.org/group/minnesota-woman-suffrage-association).  Weber’s essay  was reprinted by MinnPost in 2012 (https://www.minnpost.com/mnopedia/2012/09/minnesota-woman-suffrage-association-fought-womens-right-vote)

The MNOpedia entry leads to treasure troves of excellent resources including these:

These sources provide a firm foundation to appreciate the work of historian Jane Curry who has toured the state with her delightful one-woman show “Samantha Rastles the Woman Question.” It’s a powerful production that tells the story of the Woman’s Movement in a most delightful way!  Learn more here: (http://www.usfamily.net/web/dllund/jac/samantha.htm)

Though these posts may seem premature, consider the prolonged struggle for the Woman Suffrage Movement.  The parallel with today’s challenges offers a powerful model of resistance, collaboration, persistence and resilience, qualities that serve us well both individually and collectively in these difficult times.

She stood in the storm, and when the wind did not blow her way, she adjusted her sails ― Elizabeth Edwards

Information and media – Not weapons, but tools

Informational Power is where a person possesses needed or wanted information. This is a short-term power that doesn’t necessarily influence or build credibility. Vivian Giang

The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the minds of the masses. Malcolm X

The fact is, information and media are unique and powerful tools, to be wielded by sentient creatures for good or for evil. When the American Library Association was promoting the “information power” theme years ago I worried at the value-free assumption that the information would be put to good purposes. And when we hyped the potential of the communications media, from cable to the web, I wondered more….

My skepticism is affirmed today as we experience the reality of information and communications expertise brilliantly coupled to disrupt our democracy.

This should not be news. It was either Mark Twain or H.L Mencken who advised his readers to “Never pick a fight with a man who buys ink by the barrel and paper by the ton.”   The technology, but not the meaning, has been updated here. http://www.adweek.com/fishbowlny/ink-by-the-barrel-on-the-internet/252889

But that’s a diversion from the real fact – that the administration has effectively wed the power of information with the power of the media to shape reality.   Those in power wield information as a sword to silence, to pervert, to foment, to shape, to craft alliances and to conceptualize, then propagate, alternative truth.   We who are but “subjects” are ill-prepared to meet the challenge; we lack, or fail to unsheathe, the information/communications skills and attitudes to withstand the onslaught.

And still it is a real fact that we are not a passive people. The Women’s March and forthcoming March for Science clearly reflect our power to harness the human power to resist.

The first line of resistance to alternative facts is well-meant but knee-jerk –- placing blame and responsibility on the communications channels, or even the sources, of misinformation and disinformation is short-term and futile.

We are challenged to fully accept that information and communications technology have been “weaponized” – and that it is incumbent upon us to “arm” ourselves. We need to assume the responsibility to become critical thinkers – and to shape a learning environment that enhances the critical thinking of future voters, including both youth and future voters.

We can’t fall for the press-bashing and post-truthiness cleverly designed to divert our focus and our energy. Instead, we need to embrace the challenge to seek the truth and to stand firm when it is information is thwarted, perverted, suppressed, hidden from public view – or is not collected in the first place!

Thomas Jefferson, a man who dealt in truth, had this to say on the subject

Wherever the people are well informed they can be trusted with their own government.” –  Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789

* * *

Related posts – Selected:

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/marchers-will-support-research-science-real-facts/#respond

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/discovering-truth-starts-with-independent-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2017/01/08/creating-a-culture-of-encounter-some-info-tools/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/relax-learn-then-resolve-to-resist-post-truth-thinking/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/10/03/information-literacy-universal-challenge-of-the-digital-era/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/information-literacy-curriculum/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/tag/national-information-literacy-awareness-month-2016/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/11/19/facing-the-facts-about-facts/

https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2011/08/03/scrubbing-history-scrapping-the-facts/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voting matters – Early, curbside and with a smile!

This morning I braved the chill, boarded the #32 bus, and headed for the WaterBar on Northeast Central Avenue to cast my vote. (I had long since affirmed that the WaterBar, a community hangout, was simply leased for the duration of the voting season). Possibly because the pop-up voting site was at the WaterBar, my after-voting sense was one of “cleansing.”

The process was beyond efficient; it was inspiring. I walked into the site a lone senior, a bit apprehensive that all of the paperwork was okay and that I could pass for an eligible, even informed, voter. What I found was a welcome, a sense that I was among fellow citizens, all engaged in a powerful process that, despite the ugliness of the campaign, rises above the tawdriness of the day.   My instinctive response to the warm environment was, Yes, when they go low, we do go high.

Basic fact, the process was assembly line efficient. It took me less than 10 minutes to go through the proof of registration and to cast my vote. If there were a gap it was only in my pause over down ballot choices where I had not been as diligent as I should have been about the research….

With pride I thanked the cordial staffer who offered the “I voted” sticker with a smile and an appreciative citizen-to-citizen nod.   I left the WaterBar with the clear understanding that the voter reigns in the voting process.

As I headed back to the bus I cast a sidelong glance at the sign that read “curbside voting.” I might have left it with that quick glance had I not encountered a proud staffer en route to the bus stop. At about 20 paces she spotted my “I voted” sticker – and took time to thank and congratulate me. Wow!   Ignoring the fact that the good woman was freezing, I succumbed to her warm smile and decided to ask the question that was on my mind: What’s “curbside voting?”

What I learned is that curbside voting means that anyone with physical challenges to poll access has a host of friends at hand. Staffers will reach out to verify registration, provide ballots, witness the secret vote, submit the secret ballot, and otherwise assure in every way that the voter enjoys equal access to the voting process. Curbside voting works! The challenge is to spread the word and the ways!

En route home I stopped to reflect over a cup of Aki’s famous coffee – My experience indicated that the mechanics of the voting process were in perfect order. Yes, I had fulfilled my duty. Far more important, my appreciation of a fair and open process was affirmed. And so I sipped my coffee with a powerful sense of good will, patriotism, and affirmed commitment to the common good. I had experienced the support of committed staff who clearly cared that the system works for all.

I also thought about the ways in which the WaterBar, a Northeast treasure, is yet another example of that sense of good will and affirmed commitment to the common good – a perfect polling site. Learn more about the WaterBar here:

 

 

Lively mix of issues and media at ESFL this month!

The East Side Freedom Library (www.eastsidefreeodmlibrary.org) continues to explode with creative ideas, provocative programs, and an open door to all who wish to share the energy that fuels this amazing community resource. Here’s what’s up in the weeks to come:

  • Wednesday, October 5, 7:00 p.m. Free and open — Deregulating Desire: Flight attendant activism, family politics, and workplace . Author and former flight attendant and union activist Ryan Murphy will discuss his book by this title. Held at the ESFL 1105 Greenbrier Street in St. Paul.
  • Friday, October 7, 5:00 – 8:00 p.m. Screening and Discussion of What Happened Miss Simone? (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4284010/mediaviewer/rm346220288) The evening, is co-hosted with A Greener Read Used Bookstore. (http://www.agreenerread.com.  Festivities  begin at 5:00 p.m. at the bookstore (506 Kenny Road) with viewing and discussion of the documentary. This will be followed by discussion of Come Back Africa (https://comebackafrica.com) at 7:00 at the ESFL, 1105 Greenbrier Street.
  • Friday & Saturday, October 15-16, it’s a “political graphics workshop” featuring Design and Screenprint from the Living Proof Print Collective. (https://wehavelivingproof.com) Presenters are Aaron Johnson-Ortiz and Aaron Rosenblum. Attend one day or both – it’s free but take time to register at http://goo.gl/forms/NXeFeJVBV7tqewlf2
  • If you actually survive Election Day 2016 you‘ll need to pause and reflect on it all by taking in a series of post-election talks on “Turbulent Times in the Race for the Presidency: An Historical Overview.” The series will explore the issues that have “driven political energies in the past two years – and in the more distant past. Presentations are set for Tuesdays in November (the 15th, 22nd, and 29th) 12:30 p.m. at the Roseville Library, 2180 Hamline Avenue North. The series features presentations by Peter Rachleff, History Professor Emeritus at Macalester and founding Co-ED of the East Side Freedom Library.   The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is co-sponsor of the series.

Questions? info@eastsidefreedomlibrary.org or 651 230 3294.

 

Direct Support Professionals – Clarification + Resources

Earlier this week this blog carried a piece about Direct Support Professionals Week which ends tomorrow. (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/to-honor-and-thank-direct-support-professionals/) The intent was to honor and thank those good people who daily meet the needs of individuals with physical and mental challenges.

Unfortunately, that post contained a muddled sentence that implied the opposite of what was intended. With apologies, I want to correct any confusion and to share what was intended, i.e. that I totally support the opinions and data stated by individuals who are far more knowledgeable about what is a political football.

The fact is, those who care for our family members, friends and neighbors who are physically or mentally challenged are grossly and unfairly underpaid. In order to make that fact abundantly clear, I would cite a series of critical articles posted in recent months by Tim Benjamin, Editor of Access Press.

Though Tim has covered the issue of pay for Personal Care Attendants (Minnesota’s term for Direct Support Professionals) in numerous AP editorials, he has doubled-down in recent months, in particular since July 2016. Tim makes a compelling case that Minnesotans – all of us — need to pay heed to the fact that those who care for vulnerable Minnesotans are under–recognized, under-valued and woefully underpaid – and that this is the reason there is a woeful shortage of workers who are able, but disinclined, to meet what is not only a personal but a societal need. Click on Tim’s powerful and timely editorials starting here:

http://www.accesspress.org/blog/2016/07/08/editors-column-july-2016/

The Legislature has failed to come to grips, much less take action, on what is a public disgrace that diminishes the work of these professionals – with tragic results on the welfare of deserving residents of our state, a state that boasts of its compassion and commitment to the common good.

If you’re into data, read Dick VanWagner’s metrics-laden piece in last week’s Access Press: http://www.accesspress.org/blog/2016/09/09/by-the-numbers-is-there-really-a-shortage-of-pcas-heres-an-analysis/

Though there are other references to the issue, these are good places for each of us to learn about and frame the issue – then think about what we can do to face and remedy the crisis in care.

One priority is to follow monthly up-dates in Access Press –free and readily accessible at countless public newsstands that we pass by every day.  Click here to learn more about AP (http://www.accesspress.org) or subscribe to the online edition here: http://www.accesspress.org/subscribe/.

Read it and learn!

 

Equal Means Equal – Time to get serious about the ERA!

Equality of rights under the law shall not be abridged

or denied on account of gender.

In recent weeks I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz around the theme Equal Means Equal.   Though the theme is of longer standing, I believe the local buzz was fanned by the t celebration of Women’s Equality Day on August 26. I must have been distracted by the start of the Great Minnesota Get-Together because, sad to say, I missed the occasion and the opportunity to learn more about this important movement. (http://www.nwhp.org/resources/commemorations/womens-equality-day)

Specifically, I missed the local screening and discussion  of Equal Means Equal sponsored by ERA Minnesota at the St. Anthony Main theater. I’ve been trying to catch up ever since. I’ve learned from attendees at the screening that ERA Minnesota not only showed the documentary, but lit the local ERA movement fire by hosting a panel that included powerful state and federal elected officials and leaders of the burgeoning Equal Means Equal movement.

No wonder there’s a buzz….

Just in case others, like me, are not up to speed on the full implication of Equal Means Equal here are some of the basics.

Equal Means Equal is a national campaign to tackle the challenge to (finally) pass the Equal Rights Amendment. The premise is that the need for a Constitutional Amendment must remain a priority.

The term Equal Means Equal is propelled and informed by leaders who have produced both a book and an award-winning documentary film that tell the compelling story:

Equal Means Equal: Why the Time for an Equal Rights Amendment Now is the book, written by Jessica Neuwirth, published in January 2015. The book “tells the story of the legal cases that inform the need for an ERA, along with contemporary cases in which women’s rights are compromised without the protection of an ERA.”  Topics covered in the book range from pay equity to violence against women to pregnancy discrimination and other stories that underscore needs that are not yet recognized or remedied..

The companion piece to the book is the documentary by the same name. Directed by Kamala Lopez the film has received numerous awards. The documentary, which features an all-star cast including Patricia Arquette, Gloria Steinem, Eleanor Smeal and others, presents real life stories and legal cases that depict the ways in which “outdated and discriminatory attitudes inform and influence seemingly disparate issues, from workplace harassment to domestic violence, rape and sexual assault to the foster care system, and the healthcare conglomerate to the judicial system.” Again, the thesis of the documentary is that present inadequate laws prove the compelling argument for passage of the ERA.

Needless to say, ERA Minnesota (http://www.eramn.org) can provide much more information on the book, the documentary and the Equal Means Equal campaign.

Though I’ve been slow to tune in to the buzz, I get it now and am eager to share the message!

Unlearning the narrative of Minnesota’s rural heritage

In the past 40 years, the United States lost more than a million farmers and ranchers. Many of our farmers are aging. Today, only nine percent of family farm income comes from farming, and more and more of our farmers are looking elsewhere for their primary source of income. ~~ Tom Vilsack 

Though I didn’t grow up on a family farm my life was enriched by weeklong stays and Sunday dinners with relatives who tilled the legacy acres. As a kid, I marveled at how the family worked as a collaborative – if occasionally reluctant – team. Rising before dawn the members of the team managed to cope with the weather, rotating crops, fluctuating markets, neighbors’ disasters, Koolaid deliveries to field workers, egg picking and the insatiable appetites of the threshing crew – not to mention the fragile finances of the operation.

In spite of the fact that I knew or cared nothing about agricultural or political forces – much less global economics – I did realize that it was not an easy lifestyle – early mornings, a non-negotiable milking routine, pumping water, de-tasseling in the summer heat, all with one ear cocked to Maynard Speece. Still, from my limited perspective as a city kid it seemed that my cousins enjoyed significant benefits – corn on the cob, real fried chicken, vast space for running free, tractor rides and a haymow with endless possibilities.

Somewhere in the back of my aging head the utopian dream lived on. Though I regretted country school and rural library closings and lamented the death of main streets, nostalgia blinded me to deep reality. I didn’t see that foreclosures, auctions, collapsed barns and outhouses were but symptoms of a fundamental – and intentional – reordering of society.

Reality insinuated its ugly head into my dream world when I inherited the “food and ag beat” at OpenTheGovernment.org, the DC-based advocacy group where I recently did a stint as outreach coordinator. That was when I learned that the USDA doesn’t even collect rural statistics at a level that would reflect a small family-owned farm. While working inside the Beltway I saw the power wielded by the well-heeled agribusiness lobbyists who strut and sip on K Street.

At the same time, I observed the indefatigable work of those who speak for small, minority, women and immigrant farmers and for land stewardship and the imperative of sustainability.

In this open government advocacy role I had the good fortune to meet the visionary folks at the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy, the Minnesota-based think-tank that monitors national and global policy. IATP opened my eyes to the interconnectedness of the forces of trade and agriculture, ongoing now as global trade deals are negotiated behind a veil of secrecy.

And yet, reality struck like a bolt of lightening just last week when I realized that there was just one farmer representing the Democratic Farmer Labor Party at the recent Democratic National Convention. (http://www.startribune.com/meet-the-onemer-in-the-dfl-delegation-to-the-democratic-nationalconvention/388273921/)

My knee-jerk thought was that the metro politicos – more likely to be “labor” than “farmer” representatives, had simply outnumbered rural delegates – to which there may be some truth. The fact that Debra Hogenson, family farmer from Nobles County was standing alone to represent the interests of rural Minnesotans within the Democratic-Farmer Labor Party blew any fallacies still stagnating in my mind.

Who does have a voice in the political arena? Who is calling the political shots? Why? Who is reaping the financial rewards of land ownership and food production?

The deep reality of rural Minnesota circa 2016 dawned — the mega-farms that don’t just “dot the landscape” but control and benefit from the land. I began to perceive what lies behind the mansions, the driverless tractors, the ubiquitous GPS systems, the PETA proofed hatcheries that light up the night.

A cryptic quote from rural sociologist Linda Loboa came to mind: “Land makes power. And power often doesn’t want change.” T

As I considered the Big Picture, the implications surfaced. I read the Rural Blog with new understanding:

The farms that once generated wealth for entire communities are now creating a new class of super-farmers who rely on machinery and don’t hire many new farmhands…the big farmers’ wealth is usually not highly visible, except to those who know who owns the land, the oldest class divide in rural America….Much money probably goes into intangible investments, no tangible goods that testify to wealth. But money continues to buy power….”

Correspondent Patrik Jonsson, writing in The Christian Science Monitor Jonsson underscores that “as this wealth accumulates, it is being spread to fewer and fewer people. The midsize to very large operations represent less than 8 percent of the 2.1 million farm households in the U.S., most of which rely on income outside agriculture for their livelihood.”

Jonsson goes on to quote Jonathan Bryant, a history Professor at Georgia Southern University: “A typical (large) farmer is not going to admit that they’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, in part because nowadays…those who have traditionally performed jobs on the farm are left out of any sort of share in the wealth that’s being produced.”

Quoting Iowa State rural sociologist David Peter, Jonsson adds: “It’s not just concentration of wealth, but it’s also what happens at the bottom. The upshot (of this concentration of wealth at the top) is that the trend of the withering middle class has occurred in rural areas much further and quicker than in urban and metro communities in general.”

Clearly it falls to those of us who depend on a robust supply of nutritious food – not to mention a healthy economy –to care mightily about the fragile chain that links urban consumers with the sources of food,

As consumers we boast of our wise decisions about what’s immediate — food safety, GMO’s, pesticides, additives, what’s on the school lunch menu.

And yet we are not as quick to open our minds to the Big Picture – the economic and agricultural policies and administrative forces that determine reality. As individuals and as a society we face the awesome challenge to wake up – to take time to learn even a bit about the complexities of the rural economy, land ownership, the influence of agribusiness, humane treatment of animals, sustainability, the role of federal government, the welfare of farm workers upon whom the entire system depends.

We must make the effort to be more aware that the voices of all Minnesotans are heard in the political arena. DNC delegate Debra Hogenson can’t do it alone.

 

Ballotpedia – A proven port in an information storm

It was Plato himself who advised us that “those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” My thought is that the translation “dumber” does a disservice to the wise man – “misinformed” might better fit the present state of affairs. Still, we get the idea.

It is axiomatic that this democracy is solidly based on an informed public; still, we the public are overwhelmed by questionable data, dubious interpretations, false accusations, apocryphal anecdotes and blatant abound. The flood of information offers us little time and few tools to consider the context or implications of the latest blast. The media blitz and push for ratings, the tweets, the cacophony and exchanges of ignorance have a propensity to drown out – or at least scramble – the truth.

One port in a storm I’ve found is Ballotpedia, the dynamic digital beehive based, as the mainstream media would say, “out there” – i.e. free of the NYC/DC political/media cocoon. Ballotpedia is the product of the Lucy Burns Institute, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization headquartered in Middleton, Wisconsin, near Madison. You can learn more about the Lucy Burns Institute in an earlier post: (https://marytreacy.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/the-spirit-of-activist-lucy-burns-blazes-on-through-the-lucy-burns-institute)

Basically, Ballotpedia is an online encyclopedia of American politics and elections. The expressed goal is “to inform people about politics by providing accurate and objective information about politics at all levels of government.” Ballotpedia is a one-stop shop for information about the structure, policies, officials, demographics, and issues facing decision makers and those affected by their decisions. With an editorial staff of over 60 writers and researchers, and a complex system of internal fact-checking, Ballotpedia’s “brand” could fairly be characterized as inclusive, accurate, timely, and, above all, neutral.

One of my personal favorite features of Ballotpedia is the list of “influencers” who call the shots in DC, in the State Capitol and at City Hall. While the reader might differ with the listing of identified influencers, it’s instructive to see these fact-checkers’ take on where the influence lies….

In the midst of the current political frenzy one feature of Ballotpedia plays a lead role; Verbatim (https://ballotpedia.org/Verbatim) is the fact-checking arm of the enterprise. The legions of Verbatim fact-checkers are neutral, inclusive and at the ready. To their credit, they generously share contact information about their fact-checking colleagues and post links to academic studies on the fine art of fact-checking.

Ballotpedia fact-checkers boldly list the names and links to the host of fact-checking agencies that are delving into every word that’s uttered – or tweeted – in the ongoing political frenzy. More important, they will continue to keep their penetrating eyes on the state and local data/opinion ball when the dust settles.

The encyclopedia role and scope of Ballotpedia defies explanation and demands exploration. As might be expected, the wise founders of the multi-faceted resource provide a mix of helpful guides including tables, maps, interactive tools and more. As current events permit they also produce and maintain an online library of videos and publish The Ballotpedia Podcast. Needless to say Ballotpedia has a vibrant social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram – no doubt the best way to follow the action in the weeks and months to come.

Don’t just dip but delve into the depths of this straightforward, user-friendly, accessible and neutral resource – it will inform you through – and way beyond — Election Season 2016!

 

 

Inquiring Minds NEED to Know – Thoughts on Sunshine Week 2016

The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to bare the secrets of government and inform the people.  Justice Hugo Black 1886-1971 

“The mark of a truly civilized man is confidence in the strength and security derived from the inquiring mind.       Justice Felix Frankfurter 1882-1965

 These words of two Justices who served similar eras on the United States Supreme Court form the bookends of this post. They frame my “thoughts while thinking” about next week, March13-19, celebrated throughout the nation as Sunshine Week 2016.

Focus of the eleventh annual recognition of Sunshine Week reflects Justice Black’s emphasis on a free press. In this construct, government is the source and a free press is the necessary medium of access to information by and about our government. Traditionally, these essentials have been the emphasis of Sunshine Week, principles that have shaped my annual Sunshine Week thoughts and posts.

This year, for a mix of reasons, my thoughts keep turning to Frankfurter’s reference to the other essential, the inquiring mind. (I find consolation for my oversight in the fact that Frankfurter also observed that “wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late…”)

To give credit, it was local activist Rich Neumeister who struck me with his passionate defense of the “inquiring mind” that fuels his lifelong embrace of the spirit of inquiry to effect change.

Rich was just one of several committed open government advocates who spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon sharing their thoughts and experiences; they were the first interviewees in a fledgling video story of how and why the right to know matters. All had accepted an invitation to participate in an independent project with which I have the privilege of collaborating with Matt Ehling, President of Public Record Media.

The impetus of the project was to recognize the 50th anniversary of the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); the strategy is to do so by “putting a face on” the right to know. To do this we are calling on people who represent the myriad facets and faces of how open government laws make a difference in real life. We will videotape and share their ideas, their recollections, their knowledge and their suggestions, then share those stories with Minnesotans as a way to spread that spirit of inquiry and thus inspire others to exercise their right to know.

What emerged from these first interviews was one unifying thought – that the life force of the right to know is the inquiring mind. It is the spirit of the individual who realizes the power of information that leads to change at the neighborhood or the national level.

It is our contention that, by using technology to share the experiences, perspectives and insights of these and other individuals we will celebrate not just the fact of open government but the power of inquiry itself.

On the one hand the focus is on the keys to implement the rights codified in FOIA and related legislation — sound policies, efficient bureaucracies, a free press, and a thoughtful approach to digital age challenges.

Still, the power of the right to know rests in the inquiring minds of individuals who place a priority on good information by and about the government. It is these inquisitive agents of change who breathe life into the right to know. They exercise that right by harnessing the power of information to improve their lives, their neighborhoods, their institutions.

In turn, they share their passion for inquiry and their knowledge of the channels of access, especially with young learners who too often know more about the how’s than the why’s of information access.

 

Minnesota Spin on African American History Month

The month of February, recognized in myriad ways by most Americans as African American History Month, turns a venerable 90 years old this year. Last year’s post focused on the centenary of the association that introduced the concept, the Association for the Study of American Life and History and Culture founded by Carter G. Woodson. (https://netforum.avectra.com/eweb/DynamicPage.aspx?Site=asalh&WebCode=aboutasalh) After 90 years that fledging initiative has morphed to its present recognition as Black American Month or National African American History, a grand celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a recognition of the central role of African Americans in U.S. – and global – history.

Because this blog, in content and readership, has a Minnesota-centric bias, the thought occurred to celebrate by shining a light on the role of African American individuals and institutions close to home. It’s also an opportunity to remind readers, teachers, parents and researchers of the role of MNOpedia, a living resource that is growing in its critical role as chronicler of the North Star State.

As a very occasional contributor I am familiar with the rigorous rules that guide the research, writing and editing processes that shape MNOpedia. I have the highest regard for staff and for the scores of researchers who volunteer their time to record and share the stories of Minnesota’s people, places and things. The hallmark of MNOpedia is that each entry fills out the narrative and identifies additional resources, analysis, and a chronology that places in perspective the passages in the life of an individual, organization or event. Each article serves as an engaging and accessible point of entry to deeper learning and understanding.

And so I chose to skim the scores of entries about the people, places, organizations and events that reflect the experience of African American Minnesotans. These summaries offer a mere hint of what’s readily accessible on MNOpedia; the few noted here are intended to whet the reader’s appetite.

The theme for African American History Month 2016 is “Hallowed Grounds: Sites of African American Memories.” The context sparked by the theme “hallowed grounds” suggests a host of places of worship that have played a significant role in the lives of African American individuals and families as well as of the communities they have served:

  • A proud feature of Duluth, and a place of worship for African American Duluthians, is Saint Mark’s African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.   St. Mark’s, founded in 1890 by Reverend Richmond Taylor, is not just a building but also the heart of Duluth’s African American community. This is a community that has weathered hard times including, but certainly not limited to, the 1920 lynching of three African American men. (Note: The Lynchings are described in another MNOpedia entry.)
  • Another church that remains central to the African American community is Saint Peter Claver Church in St. Paul, the first African American Catholic Church in Minnesota. In 1910 Father Stephen Theobald, the first African American priest ordained in the St. Paul Seminary, was named pastor of St. Peter Claver. The nucleus of a lively 21st Century community St. Peter Claver, at Oxford and St. Anthony near the much-traveled 94, welcomes a multi-racial congregation and serves as a pillar of the community it serves.
  • Crispus Attucks Home, established in St. Paul by AME missionaries Will and Fannie King served people in need for six decades, 1906-1966. Though there were several orphanages in the early days of the 20th century they served neither African American children nor people who were old or infirm. Despite great difficulties the Crispus Attucks home settled and survived for a half century in a house on Railroad Island near Swede Hollow in St. Paul. Though the original house has been razed, the site is now part of Eileen Weida Park and the Crispus Attucks Social Welfare and Education Association sponsors a scholarship fund for African American high school students.

MNOpedia articles also tell the stories of African Americans who designed or constructed “Sites of American Memories”:

  • Clarence Wigington served as lead architect in over 90 St. Paul city projects. Though a person, not a place, Wigington and place are indistinguishable in the story of African American influence in Minnesota. Today’s St. Paulites and visitors will see Wigington’s work in the playground buildings at Hamline and Minnehaha parks, the Harriet Island Pavilion, and the Highland Park Water Tower; the latter two are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Long-time St. Paul Winter Carnival attendees will recall that the original ice palaces that were envisioned and designed by Wigington.
  • Another site well remembered by African Americans and others is described in the MnOpedia article on the Casiville Bullard House, 1282 Folsom Street in St Paul’s Como Heights neighborhood. Built and owned by Casiville Bullard the house is on the National Register of Historic Places.   Bullard (b February 24, 1873) came to St. Paul in 1898 to do stone work for the third State Capitol. The work of this African American craftsman is much in the news today as architects and craftsmen restore the original beauty of that edifice.
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  • Though the sense of place is the 2016 theme of African American History Month, the many MNOpedia entries tell the stories of African American Minnesotans whose lives have made a difference in the lives of Minnesotans and of all Americans.   Included among these articles are these:
  • George Bonga (c1802-1874) may not be a household word in Minnesota, but he shared his knowledge of words as a translator before Minnesota became a state. Bonga’s father, Pierre Bonga, was African American and his mother was Ojibwe. Educated in Montreal, George spoke fluent English, French and Ojibwe, skills that made him an indispensable player in treaty negotiations in which character as well as language was essential.
  • Marvel Jackson Cooke (1901-2000) broke both the color and the gender barrier as a journalist and political activist whose life and work spanned the 20th Century.   In some ways she also broke a geographic challenge as the first African American child born in Mankato. As a young girl Marvel’s family moved to the Prospect Park neighborhood in Minneapolis where she was the first African American child enrolled at Sydney Pratt School. Later she attended the U of M, one of five African Americans who graduated with the Class of 1925. Soon after graduation she moved to Harlem where she found work as an editorial assistant for W.E.B. DuBois at The Crisis, the national publication of the NAACP.   Thus began an incredible life that included her brief engagement to Roy Wilkins, a lifetime of investigative reporting, and a summons to testify at the McCarthy hearings.
  • Nellie Stone Johnson (1905-2002) was a union and civil rights leader and subject of a recent Minnesota History Theatre. The production, affectionately entitled “Nellie” drew huge crowds.
  • Renowned as a trial lawyer, Fredrick McGhee (1861-1912) was the first African American admitted to practice law in Minnesota. Known to be a force in the courtroom McGhee was one of the founders of St. Peter Claver Church. He also worked with W.E.B. DuBois, founder of the Niagara Movement, forerunner of the NAACP.
  • George Morrison (1919-2000) who is an internationally recognized artist celebrated in the 2015 major exhibition mounted by the Minnesota Historical Society.
  • One of the state’s most popular African American heroes is Kirby Puckett (1960-2006), the iconic hero who led the Twins to the World Series not once but twice. Echoes of “k-i-r-by p-u-c-k-e-t-t” still resonate midst the ruins of The Dome. When glaucoma curbed his career Puckett retired from playing but continued with the Twins as Executive Vice President, a role in which he continued as an active and visible community leader.
  • Dred and Harriet Robinson Scott, legends in the history of emancipation, lived as slaves at Fort Snelling. the lives of both are recorded in MNOpedia. The struggle for justice is memorialized in the Dred Scott Decision that led directly to the beginning of the Civil War.
  • It was the racial prejudice she experienced as a realtor that led Lena Olive Smith (1885-1966) to a career as an attorney. As a graduate of Northwestern College of Law (1921, she was for many years the only African American woman practicing law in the Twin Cities. She is credited with helping end the segregation of African American audiences at area theaters, with prosecuting police brutality and for the NAACP protest of the U of M’s showing of Birth of a Nation.
  • African American superstar Marcenia Lyle (Toni) Stone was the first female professional baseball player in the Negro Major League; Stone also played for the Indianapolis Clowns, a Negro Major League Team. The Great American History Theater celebrated the Toni Stone story in a world premiere production of Tomboy Stone in 1993.
  • John Francis Wheaton (1866-1922) was elected by white voters of the Kenwood neighborhood to serve as the first African American to serve in the Minnesota Legislature (1898).   A native of Hagerstown, Maryland, Wheaton migrated to Minnesota where he put himself through the U of M law school by working as a hotel waiter and railroad porter. Wheaton was the first African American to graduate from the U of M law school, and only the fourth to earn a U of M degree.
  • The name of Roy Wilkins (1901-1981) who spent his early years in St. Paul is best known to Minnesotans because of the St. Paul civic center that honors his name. The honor is bestowed on Wilkins because of his lifetime of leadership in the African American community and the civil rights movement.   After graduating from the University of Minnesota in 1923 Wilkins worked as a social worker in Kansas; his leadership in the NAACP led to his appointment as W.E.B. DuBois’ successor as editor of The Crisis, the national publication of NAACP. From there Wilkins moved up the ranks to serve as Executive Director of NAACP, a position in which he immersed himself in legal action, the effects of which changed the nation’s laws. Among Wilkins’ countless tributes is the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, bestowed in 1967 by President Lyndon Johnson.

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Articles in MNOpedia also chronicle events that reflect the times and tell the stories of the African American experience in Minnesota.

  • One article I particularly enjoyed is the story of the “Journeymen Barbers.” One of the fascinating notes in this article is the description of the ways in which these African American men played a role in passage of Minnesota’s Sunday closing law in 1894. The Journeymen also worked for passage of the nation’s first barber licensing laws. The Journeymen barbers union continued until 1980 when the United Food and Commercial Workers Union assumed jurisdiction over union barbers.
  • The story of the Sixteenth Battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard will capture the attention of students young and old.   A century ago the U.S. military was segregated in practice, racist in its recruiting. African American Minnesotans petitioned then Governor J.A.A. Burnquist to form an all-African American battalion of the Minnesota Home Guard.   The MNOpedia article offers a great summary of this unique story – the bibliography suggests a wealth of resources that will illuminate the lives and contributions of African American military volunteers a century ago.
  • “Black Suffrage in Minnesota” is an article that traces the story of abolition as it unfolded in Minnesota – a development that did not follow the Southern path. After the Constitutional Convention of 1857 Minnesota politicians were slow to take bold action, supporting Lincoln’s emancipation policy but reluctant to expand the rights of African Americans.   Ultimately, Minnesota joined Iowa as one of just two Northern states to call for suffrage on the national ballot in 1868. Iowa and Minnesota eventually become the first two post-Civil War states in the North whose electorate approved Black voting when both Houses voted to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment which finally passed in 1870.

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MNOpedia is designed and supported by Minnesotans to tell the unique stories of Minnesotans with every Minnesotan. February is longer than usual this year, a quadrennial opportunity to spend those extra hours learning and sharing stories about African American places, people, events and things with Minnesota ties.