An American Indian drumming and dance performance began as hundreds of people gathered in the gymnasium of the Minneapolis American Indian Center February 17 for a buffet dinner and the third HIRE MN (Healthcare, Infrastructure and Renewable Energy) town hall meeting.
HIRE was founded by Louis J. King, president of Summit Academy OIC, a community-based vocational training and job placement center. HIRE is working to ensure that people of color and low-income workers will benefit from newly created green jobs and transportation projects that are incipient for Minnesota. HIRE is a coalition of diverse community organizations. King said they are trying to “organize across boundaries and bring together groups usually not associated with each other.” Each affiliate organization has their specific focus, but they are coming together around the common goal of eliminating poverty while creating environmentally sound communities.
Clyde Bellecourt, one of the founding members of the American Indian Movement, led an opening prayer. The panel hosts were leaders of the Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota, the MN State Baptist Convention, the Minnesota OIC State Council, the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Catholic Charities Office for Social Justice, the Will Steger Foundation and HIRE founder Louis J. King. Each host addressed the audience and rallied the crowd by shouting HIRE slogans like, “If we do nothing, we will get nothing!” and “Be prepared, be heard!”
The HIRE hosts urged participants to call their elected officials and tell them to support House File 680, a bill approving and outlining the use of federal weatherization funds for Minnesota. HIRE also wanted everyone attending the event to sign postcards that would be given to decision-makers at the MnDOT state hearing the next day to show them the number of community members paying attention to who they are giving transportation jobs to.
Among the organizational activists and large crowd participating in the event were a few government officials including State Representative Karen Clark, Minneapolis Councilmember Robert Lilligren and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin.
McLaughlin explained that Minnesota will be receiving millions of dollars from the upcoming federal economic stimulus package, but that there must be “mechanisms in place” to make sure the money helps create jobs for people who need them most. He said government officials and communities must work together to create ways to make that happen. If new construction and transportation jobs are created, organizations need to train people to do that work so they can “feed people from the community to newly created projects and positions.”
King said that the purpose of the town hall meetings is to inform and mobilize communities. They want to make the meetings accessible to everyone and really “take on the spirit of the community that they are visiting.” They hold the town hall meetings in different neighborhoods and make that specific ethnic culture and leadership very prominent at the event. For this event it was American Indian Culture. The previous two HIRE town hall meetings were held on 12/16/08 at the Minneapolis Urban League and on 1/27/09 at the Lao Family in St. Paul.
King later said that this third town hall meeting with the American Indian community drew the largest crowd yet and the number of community supporters is constantly growing.
Alessandra Williams, the HIRE Coordinator, said that over 200 people from the meeting signed the post cards for MnDOT decision makers and that hundreds of people also attended the MnDOT hearing the following day.
Mysti Strege is a student at Hamline University and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.