FREE SPEECH ZONE | Voter Rights: 1965 and 2012

On the evening of Saturday November 3rd, an enthusiastic mix of Somali-American citizens and DFL Senate District 48 regulars gathered at the Eden Prairie Community center.  Educational reform activist Ahmed Jama, Anisa Hashi, Mohmed Farah, former school board chair Kim Ross and I had begun planning the get-out-the-vote event in early September.Our superb slate of moderate, legislative candidates Laurie McKendry, Tori Hill and Yvonne Selcer were joined by Congressional candidate Brian Barnes, Congressman Keith Ellison and Senator Amy Klobuchar spokesman Siad Ali.  If those Congressional District 3 voters who choose Amy and Barack hang in there for Brian Barnes, he will win a surprise victory against right wing incumbent  Eric Paulsen.Each speaker urgently reminded the gathering of the importance to vote NO on the voter photo ID amendment.  I was swept up by a quiet, internal storm of nostalgia.I spent the summer of 1965 with some 800 hundred other college students working on an educational program for undernourished school systms.  The program was administered through (then) Tuskegee Institute. Greater numbers of activissts were concurrently registering new voters throughout Alabama and the rest of the south at a time when the Ku Klux Klan was quite active, when folks were prevented from voting because they could not read or couldn’t afford to pay a poll tax. Continue Reading

Connecting to tell a different story about farming and food systems

As a local foods organizer in the Big Stone Lake region of western Minnesota, Rebecca Terk has come to appreciate the power of new media tools.In Terk’s work for the Land Stewardship Project (LSP), her Big Stone Bounty blog entries, tweets, and Facebook posts serve multiple purposes. They amplify the voices of farmers and other rural area residents, circulate important information about proposed development, and connect and organize citizens to help them determine what’s best for their communities.Terk told a group gathered at Gandhi Mahal restaurant for a Get Connected! meeting on October 10 that new media tools allow her to hold a mirror up to a wonderfully rich culture.Chipping away at dominant narrativesTerk’s work contributes to one of LSP’s core goals: challenging the dominant narratives about family-owned farms and rural towns in an era dominated by corporate agribusinesses.Dominant narratives being promoted by powerful interests are that factory farms are “state of the art,” that they represent “the future of farming,” that “the family farm is dead” and that rural communities are “old” and fading away.Megan Smith and Rebecca TerkChipping away at those narratives requires sharing more and alternative stories of rural communities, said Megan Smith, LSP membership assistant.Telling different stories, showing people that they have choices as consumers, and revealing the implications of policies being promoted by corporations and their allies, are among the things that can be achieved, in part, through smart use of media tools. Bringing the voices of rural people into areas where they are not typically heard is another part of the work. On its website, LSP profiles new farmers who have been through Farm Beginnings, “a farmer-led, community based training and support program aimed at getting more farmers on the land farming sustainably.” There been more than 500 graduates of the program, said Smith.Local control requires democratic participationCreating food systems based on community needs, not profit, is a primary aim of LSP, a private nonprofit organization, said Mike McMahon, its director of individual giving.Mike McMahonIn a blog post, McMahon wrote:We know what happens under unchecked corporate power—the people suffer. That’s why family farmers across the Midwest organized in the 1890s, and the 1910s, and 1930s, and the 1980s—building farmer co-ops, passing public policy that reigned in corporate power and assisted family farms, and establishing farm organizations to fight for the well-being of family farmers, rural communities, and the land.LSP sees the U.S. being in the thick of another such period, with big corporations taking control over our seeds, livestock, milk, land, and public assets. Continue Reading

“I have a bullet in my foot from trying to vote!”: Voter ID and the value of the vote

I’m sitting in my office, catching up with a former client. A member of the political opposition who fled Cameroon and sought asylum nearly a decade ago, she had stopped by to show me her new U.S. passport. Our talk turned to the November elections—she was so proud to finally be an American citizen and to be voting for the first time in the United States. Continue Reading