One Minneapolis: Mayoral candidates squirm while peppered with questions about racial equality

Candidates for Minneapolis Mayor met Thursday night in a forum focused on racial issues. Minneapolis, like the rest of the country, is becoming more diverse racially and whites are expected to be in the minority of city residents within a generation or so.Attending were candidates Mark Andrew, Jackie Cherryhomes, Betsy Hodges, Tony Lane, Doug Mann, Don Samuels, Gary Schiff, and Jim Thomas. Independent candidate Cam Winton was not able to attend. The forum was held at the Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis.Candidates to succeed three-term Mayor R.T. Rybak as the next mayor of Minneapolis who may have expected more feel-good questions about bike paths and “green” homes made a wrong turn last night and instead found themselves squirming in their seats at a raucous, passionate debate over racial inequality in a city that is fast-becoming more racially diverse. During a town-hall forum held at Sabathani Community Center in South Minneapolis, the candidates faced a youthful and racially diverse crowd insisting that Minneapolis isn’t the most progressive city in America, as it likes to tout itself but, instead, a city nearly buckling under the weight of racial injustice.(Watch a replay of the debate above.)An overflow crowd of over 500 shot pointed questions at the eight mayoral candidates (only independent candidate Cam Winton was not present) that focused on racial and educational inequality, police brutality, youth homelessness, jobs for ex-felons, the city’s policies towards people of color and the need for equitable hiring and affordable housing. Continue Reading

Macalester alumni protest college crackdown on students

Macalester College students Leewana Thomas and Rebecca Hornstein thought they were inventing a new social activism tool when they and 20 of their friends blocked the entrance in late April to the Weyerhauser administration building, which includes school president Brian Rosenberg’s office.Thomas, a rising senior, and Hornstein, who graduated in May, are part of the group Kick Wells Fargo Off Campus (KWOC), which tried unsuccessfully to convince the Saint Paul-based liberal arts school to divest its finances from the bank for its role in unfair lending practices and the housing foreclosure crisis.In fact, KWOC’s sit-in was vintage Macalester College activism in a Millenial package, strongly reminiscent of decades of protests now covered in honored memories. It’s just in the present that the college seems unable to appreciate protests.Macalester boasts a proud history of student activism on campus. Previous generations of students led demonstrations and sit-ins against the Vietnam War, against apartheid in South Africa, against nuclear energy and against sweatshop labor. Weyerhauser, itself, has been blocked before.But the punishment the college levied against today’s students was new. Disciplinary action handed down in early May by the college review board stipulated that any student who took part in blocking the doors won’t be able to hold a leadership position at the school next semester; they can’t participate in student government, lead student organizations, participate in theater or athletics, and they can’t apply to study abroad or hold internships.“We really feel like the purpose of this was to punish us not for breaking a rule, but to deter student activism and send a message to people that nonviolent protests are not welcome at Macalester anymore,” said Rebecca Hornstein.“It’s really troubling that, instead of acknowledging this long history of activism at Macalester, we are instead trying to move in a different direction and trying to show that students can only raise their voice when it’s ‘appropriate,’ ” said Leewana Thomas.When Macalester alumni heard about the school’s unprecedented disciplinary action, many were upset and threatened to withhold donations from the school. Continue Reading

Push for anti-foreclosure legislation wins abbreviated homeowner “Bill of Rights”

When the 2013 legislative session began, Minnesota anti-foreclosure groups and progressive lawmakers hoped to draft a powerful law that would hold banks and lenders accountable and enable homeowners to sue financial institutions if they misstepped. What they got was a watered-down bill that the banks approved after being deeply involved in the negotiating process.To some observers, the process proved, once again, the power that money holds at the State Capitol.Nevertheless, homeowner advocacy groups walked away declaring victory. They got a ban on “dual tracking” and a private right of action for homeowners. A third objective, mandatory mediation between banks and homeowners in danger of losing their homes, was a casualty of the banks’ involvement in drafting the legislation. Mediation, however, could re-emerge as an issue in next year’s legislative session.Compromise or no compromise, Golden Valley homeowner Rose McGee celebrated her birthday on May 28 with a soulful breakfast of grits and biscuits together with a handful of friends and fellow activists who, over the past year, helped her take on CitiBank — and Minnesota lawmakers — to keep her home.McGee’s struggle, chronicled along the way by The UpTake, played out in neighborhoods, synagogues, churches, banks and, ultimately, at the State Capitol before she reached a deal in May with CitiMortgage and Fannie Mae. Continue Reading

WWJD: What would Jesus do about homeowners’ rights? Local faith leaders still hope for legislative action

Holy Week isn’t just a school holiday when kids color eggs and dress up like bunnies. For progressive faith leaders who represent the ISAIAH coalition of churches and social justice believers, remembering the passion, death and Resurrection of Christ is a sacred time, and an appropriate time to call out sin and to come to the aid of those in need.

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Dancing for justice: A profile of Ananya Chatterjea

Ananya Dance Theatre’s performances are about more than entertainment. Their purpose is to make you think. To make you think about how oil companies are destroying the environment. To make you think about how environmental destruction hurts women around the world.Ananya Chatterjea, a 48-year-old native of Kolkata, India, moved to Minnesota in 1998 and founded Ananya Dance Theatre in 2004 to bring women of color together in a safe place and explore social justice through dance. Chatterjea believes her mission is to transport her dancers, and the audience, to uncomfortable places and force them to confront issues that society too often ignores, such as environmental destruction and systemic violence against women.“Dance for social justice entails that you constantly investigate your own process — that you figure out where you’re creating access, for whom, and why,” says Chatterjea, who serves as the company’s artistic director and choreographer. Continue Reading

Minnesota’s voting fraud menace: Margaret Schneider, crookster?

It turns out that the menacing specter of Voter Fraud — a nightmare scenario carried into every corner of Minnesota by conservative activists pushing for passage last fall of a Constitutional amendment requiring voters to produce photo identification — is real!Until now, proof of an active vote-frauding population – dead nuns showing up at the polls, escaped cons standing in line for hours to vote for judges who are soft on crime, that sort of thing – has been noticeably lacking. One result: November’s surprise defeat at the polls of a GOP-backed effort to put Photo ID into the Minnesota Constitution. But now, just four months later, a daring, nose-thumbing, crooked-vote casting scofflaw has been run to ground, proving at last that the problem is not imaginary, but all-too real. We are not talking unicorns. We are talking Margaret Schneider, pensioner.Somewhat disappointingly for the voter suppression crowd, however, the culprit was not an undocumented Latino immigrant, a militant Black Panther in North Minneapolis or a card-carrying Communist professor from Powderhorn. Continue Reading