Some reflections on the current election cycle


It’s a bit early for full-throated prognostication, but looking at historical context isn’t at all dilatory.

Please travel with me back to the time of my arrival in Minneapolis.  In 1969, total clearance urban renewal was in full swing. There were huge gouges in the earth to cross when I was helping the Swanson kids get from their home on the 1600 block of Elliot Ave. S. to a rather impudent free school –the Phoenix Free School – located about Jonah’s Whale on the West Bank. Cedar-Riverside was boisterous, to say the least. 

A year later the Phoenix School was no more. The City had found a way to close it down. Several  free schools were under relentless attack by City officials in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Urban renewal plans on a broader scale had erased built environments and destroyed extant human settlements with sometimes cruel  indifference,  particularly when those affected were essentially powerless to resist dislocation. Bulldozers ruled, as it were.

The federal government had been rattled by assassinations and riots at the end of the 1960s and even the usually quiescent middle class across our fair land was increasingly restive.

By the summer of 1970, I had been chosen by my neighbors to be the chair of the Nicollet Island – East Bank Urban Renewal Project Area Committee (NIEBURAPAC) and architect Peter Hall had persuaded the Feds to establish the St. Anthony Falls Historic District – a length of the Mississippi River traversing what would become the birthplaces of the old City of St. Anthony and of  Minneapolis itself. Not that the recently arrived Europeans were all that careful of their responsibilities – that too is another story.

In 1970, new federal regulations came into play as local people realized that public decision-making about the fate of their parochial whereabouts had created an opportunity to influence how such decisions were reached. This is a fascinating narrative and I’ll come back to it in due course.

Here in 2013, ever so much later, we are back to a scene where official obfuscation is again in vogue. Shadowy influences appear to be dominating our public processes – rapacious developers , crony capitalism, the flood of special interest money that floods our governing institutions and rules by proxy, abuse of official authority with apparent abandon, deteriorating physical infrastructure exacerbated by dubious and very expensive  preoccupation with  sports palaces and a sprawling convention center that taken as a whole  ultimately  cost more than the income they produce – a national verity , by the way, for those who look beyond the hucksterism  and casuistry we have seen time and again in the 44 years  I’ve been underfoot in this city.

Minneapolis  has become an intriguing example of irregularities in governance that have blossomed like so many weeds in what is otherwise a lovely garden, blessed with lakes and major waterways, framed in the 1890s by a burst of responsible stewardship in the most prosperous circles of a first round of European hegemonists in the “Gilded Age” despite ominous rumblings when the Panic of 1891 transpired.

The problem with these erstwhile financial and political empires is that they don’t last. Do you not think, for example, that is reasonable to have denied the voters of Minneapolis to express their  collective opinion about the latest grand design planned for downtown Minneapolis when in fact the very probity of the latest gamble is in doubt?

Is it responsible governance to have committed the future resources of the city so unreservedly when the possible collapse of the national economy is right before our eyes? Must two future generations of our offspring and new neighbors be shackled with debt while schools, roads and bridges, power generation systems, potable water and waste water systems , and other elements of our natural ecology  – when these vital infrastructure elements are so clearly in decline?

Do we really need to have heavily armed law enforcement more suited to actual warfare than to usual civilian tasks? Are we being protected and served when criminalization becomes the handiest tool for dealing with disparities in race, ethnicity, and class? When summary execution actually happens, when surveillance capacities are used to vacate constitutional guarantees of free speech and the right to assemble peacefully without prior restraint, when unlawful entry has become a dead letter …

The implications in 2013 are far more dire than they were in the 1960s. Now dissent is being redefined as sedition as if we had all traveled back in time to 1919. Now the term “treason” has been taken far beyond the constitutional intent of that nomenclature and the harsh reality is that unfounded accusation becomes truth in a resurrection of the 1950s and tools of repression now include vanishment  – not just banishment, as in “The Man without a Country”, but disappearance as in the practices of the most egregious of Central and South American dictatorships whose military personnel  have been trained in large part by our own American military.

Ah so. It goes without saying that the abuse of caucus and convention processes in the Minneapolis DFL have not been helpful. Nor are the increasingly odd profiles in the GOP driven as they have become by the magic reality presumptions of the Tea Party. 

All I’m really suggesting here is that “you snooze, you lose” is no throw-away line. When the value of money is discredited because it does not serve the good of the whole, voting according to one’s own enlightened best interest becomes ever more important.  I’ve written political spin for a half a century now and I know all sorts of things about manipulating language to specific ends.

To thine own self be true.  Or as the Romans put it “”suum quique “ [to each his own]. And have a nice day.

Fred Markus