Falling short on racial equity


The legislature is still not doing enough to address racial equity in the state of Minnesota, staff members of the Organizing Apprenticeship Project told more than 50 community members and non-profit leaders on June 26, as they presented findings of the 2007 Minnesota Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity. (See file attachment at bottom of story for full text of report.)

The Organizing Apprenticeship Project (OAP) is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving racial equity in the state of Minnesota. They do this through an apprenticeship program for community organizers, and through events that bring Minnesotans together on issues of racial justice. One such event last year, “No Legislator Left Behind,” convened legislators, community leaders, activists, and artists to talk explicitly about race.

OAP also publishes the Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity. Researchers at OAP identify bills that positively impact racial equity in the state of Minnesota. The report then gives the legislature and the governor a grade for passing legislation that would specifically impact racial equity in the state.

The legislature and the governor received a D for racial equity legislation in the 2007 session. This is a step up from the 2006 session, when the legislature received an F.

Jermaine Toney, lead researcher for OAP says that while it is important to recognize positive steps towards racial equity legislation, the report still focuses on the amount of legislation passed during the session. “It’s important not to just talk about intentions about race, but rather to the outcomes of our legislative policy that is supposedly trying to get us closer to an equitable society,” Toney said.

Various community members at the meeting wanted to know what to do next with the information in the report card. “In some ways we are preaching to the choir. How do we get this to be an issue with other members of the legislature?” one member of the audience asked.

Toney acknowledged this is a challenge. Only 23 members of the legislature got a grade of an “A” or a “B” on the “honor roll” for passing racial equity legislation on last year’s report card. Only one of these was Republican. All six minority legislators were on the honor roll, making up nearly 30% of those named. The next step, Toney agreed with the audience, was to get more legislators talking about the honor roll and racial legislation.

Julia Grantham, OAP Senior Organizer for Racial Justice Organizing, also recognized the importance of making the report card resonate with the wider body of legislators. One solution, she said, is to bring more transparency and active community participation into the legislative process, instead of only looking back at the legislative session.

“We want the report not to be an, ‘I gotcha tool,’ but more of a proactive tool so that you can go to the legislature and say ‘we want this to happen,’” Grantham said.

Lisa Peterson-de la Cueva (peterson.delacueva@gmail.com) does community outreach for the Twin Cities Daily Planet and contributes reporting.