Still praying, still protesting


Char Madigan will be praying for peace during the RNC this year, a continuation of a career of prayer and protest that goes back more than thirty years.

On July 4, 1976 in the Phillips neighborhood, near Portland and Franklin, Char Madigan started her peace activism. Out of her own apartment along with Rita Steinhagen and Laura Geyer, two other sisters of St. Joseph’s of Carondelet, she gave her personal phone number to the police and Chrysalis, a battered women’s shelter, to help anyone in need in her neighborhood … people on the run, new in town, etc.

Hope Community
This brief history is taken from Hope Community’s Web site.
Hope Community began as a place for people to gather in community. Our original shelter and hospitality house was a respite from the isolation and pain of homelessness. When drugs and violence overwhelmed the neighborhood and others focused on the negatives, Hope took a stand for community and children. Over the last 10 years, we designed and built the two-square block Hope Campus in a neighborhood a mile south of downtown Minneapolis – a recognized model of affordable residential place making. Hope now owns and operates a thriving multi-cultural community in 126 low-income rental units.

Building Sustainable Community — Relationships with area residents ground all our work. Our overriding goal is to revitalize community for the long-term, as culturally diverse, low-income residents develop roots and long-term stability.

Our Neighborhood — Hope Community is located in a neighborhood just south of downtown Minneapolis that has almost 20,000 residents and a long history of minority and immigrant residents including Native American and African American communities. About 70% of the residents are people of color–the increasingly diverse population includes many more Latino and African immigrants. The median income in the neighborhood is about a third of the median income for the metropolitan area.

Gentrification —In the neighborhood where Hope is working, there is clear evidence of gentrification dynamic ( as developers become increasingly attracted to properties so close to downtown Minneapolis. Current residents stated over and over in Hope’s listening sessions that they fear they will be completely displaced in the near future by housing they can’t afford. Low-income people of many cultures who are creating the future of this neighborhood tell us they want to stay in the neighborhood.

“Over 30 years ago, I was teaching religion to high school students in the Phillips neighborhood and I was telling them to do community service works, even though I knew what they had to face when they went home and they knew that I knew.” said Madigan. “Then I decided I needed to start doing service work for this community and one of our biggest hurdles was housing. Rent could take up over 50% of a minimum wage earner’s salary. With the help of many volunteers and donors we bought up houses on two blocks. Some sold for $1 or $30,000. We used a lot of duct tape to fix a lot of repairs.”

Portland Enterprises evolved out of buying two house then four houses. One thousand individuals and 50 corporations donated money, including Virginia Binger from McKnight Foundation.

In the late 1980s, sellers of crack cocaine popped up on neighborhood sidewalks. Madigan tried to discourage the sellers by going up and down the streets at 4 p.m., which was high traffic time, with posters that read, “down with dope, up with hope.”

“But the dealers would march with us with their signs reading, “up with dope, down with hope.” said Madigan. “We had shootings, killings, and stabbings in our neighborhood.”

“We outgrew our apartment and moved into a house with six bedrooms which we called St Joseph House. It was run from the attic where the sisters lived. It was the beginning of what is now called Hope Community.

“We soon learned that people needed to rely on their own power and strength by gathering together, saying what they needed, and then acting on their goals.”

Community dialogues with more than 1,000 diverse adults and youth of immigrants, Native Americans and African Americans proved fruitful. Hope’s tenants and people of surrounding neighborhoods participate in leadership opportunities, Hope Learning Center, and a thriving multicultural community of 126 low-income rental units.

Madigan began to see a connection between money spent on the military expenditures as connected to the poor of the Phillips neighborhood.

“We condemn people for being homeless or poor when our wealth goes to Honeywell. Supporting the military is not about patriotism … it is about greed,” she says.

Honeywell, a Minnesota company, made cluster bombs and missile guidance systems. Char Madigan participated in protests of the Honeywell Project and, later, of AlliantAction, which protests against Honeywell successor company AlliantTech.

From the Honeywell Project to AlliantACTION
by Mary Turck
The Honeywell Project was founded in the late 1960s, targeting Minnesota’s then-leading military contractor, the Honeywell corporation. Honeywell manufactured cluster bombs and guidance systems for nuclear missiles. The group’s initial focus was the Vietnam War. Its focus shifted to anti-nuclear protests and to protests against weapons testing and against cluster bombs.

In 1990, Honeywell spun off its military contracts to Alliant TechSystems. Many of the original Honeywell Project protesters continue with weekly vigils at the Alliant Tech headquarters. The vigils are held on Wednesday mornings, regardless of rain, snow, subzero temperatures or scorching summer heat. They have been held every week since 1996. For more information, see the AlliantACTION Web site.

According to AlliantACTION, “although the vigils and demonstrations have focused on different weapon systems over the years, the main theme has always been to reduce the military budget, funding human needs, peace conversion and advocating for nonviolent alternatives to violent solutions for complex problems.”

“Our system has to change,” says Madigan. “Every Wednesday morning I would go out to Honeywell with a banner and a prayer. They would lock us out or we would lock them out. I got jailed 50 times for civil disobedience and 12 years later I was known as a civil resister.”

“She makes us look good,” said Sister Virginia Webb, an acquaintance of Sr. Madigan since their early high school days. “She is faithful to her cause of peace. We were lawbreakers since the 17th century, the beginning of our Order of Carondelet Sisters in France. Some of can be activists, others cannot, and then some of us are just indolent.”

Madigan learned from an early age from the example of her father who said when bringing food to a hungry family, “This isn’t charity, this is justice.” Even though her mother was embarrassed to have her daughter arrested for her views, she never saw the priest nor mayor as having more power than her or her family.

During the Republican National Convention, Char Madigan will participate in Peace Island, a team of people trained to defuse any potential violence during the convention. She will lead a prayer vigil as close as she can get to the convention.

Jeanette Fordyce contributes regularly to the Daily Planet.