Talking politics — and elections

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Who’s up? Who’s down? Who’s expected to win the next contest? If this or that candidate wins (or loses), what are the implications for the race going forward? These are the types of questions that mainstream media reporters and analysts are fixated on as another presidential race ramps up.

As entertaining as all of this speculation may be, the Twin Cities Daily Planet wants to steer clear of treating the election like a sports competition. When elections are viewed through a “horserace” lens, pressing issues that affect people’s lives and livelihoods—not to mention the futures of the nation, state, local communities, and the entire world—fall by the wayside. 

The Daily Planet recognizes that it’s not just the presidency that’s in play in 2012. Minnesotans will also be voting for one U.S. Senator, U.S. House members in all eight districts, and judges and local officials. All seats in the Minnesota House and Senate are up for grabs. Plus there are constitutional amendments and other ballot questions that voters will be weighing in on.

As part of the Daily Planet’s effort to remain focused on issues at all levels, especially state and local, we’re inviting smart, thoughtful, politically engaged people of various backgrounds to help guide our coverage. One of our goals is to cultivate a small, diverse core group whose members will attend all or most of a series of exchanges to be held periodically throughout the election cycle. This group will be joined by others who will pop in at least once to offer fresh perspectives and ideas.

Still a work in progress, we held our first meeting last Tuesday evening in the community room at Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in South Minneapolis. Over chai tea and naan, a group of eight voters from Minneapolis and St. Paul voiced opinions on the issues they’re most passionate about. Present for the conversation were:

Ben Schwanke and Colin Kloecker


  • Ben Schwanke: Augsburg College undergraduate from Lester Prairie, Minnesota, who recently ran as the Republican candidate for the open state senate seat in Minneapolis District 59. Schwanke plans to teach high school math.
     
  • Arvonne Fraser: Long-time activist, vice president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association, wife of former U.S. Representative and Minneapolis Mayor Don Fraser. (Don Fraser was present as Arvonne Fraser’s “driver.”)

Sheldon Mains and Arvonne Fraser

 

• Sheldon Mains: Twin Cities Media Alliance board chair, former chair of the Seward Neighborhood Group, one-time Minneapolis Public Library Board member, self-identified “shameless agitator,” technology consultant to nonprofits.

• Steve Clemens: Minneapolis resident and peace and social justice activist, has worked for Habitat for Humanity, serves on the boards of Pax Christi Twin Cities Area and the Iraqi/American Reconciliation Project, and belongs to the Community of St. Martin.

  • Marita Bujold: St. Paul resident and visual artist, a founder and board member of Parents United for Public Schools, holds a Masters of Arts Degree in Leadership from Augsburg College, is writing about food and bio-diversity.
     
  • Colin Kloecker: Milwaukee native, son of a gay parent, has background in architecture and design, serves as collaborative director of Works Progress, an artist-led public design studio providing new platforms for public engagement.
     
  • Shanai Matteson: Works Progress collaborator, grew up in rural northern Minnesota, creates public programs, exhibits and events, and was actively involved in the 2011 Equity Summit in Detroit, along with her spouse, Colin.
     
  • Metric Giles: Urban farmer in St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, has deep family roots in Chicago, works on community stabilization projects, fears that North Minneapolis has become an “urban removal,” not “urban renewal” project.

Through the exchange at Gandhi Mahal, the group was able to identify a number of issues that will become the focus of future conversations. One topic emerged as central in most people’s minds: the underlying assumptions about government that each of us carries with us. These assumptions, it was agreed, have resulted in debilitating polarization.

The home foreclosure crisis was the other topic that seemed most pressing to the group. 

Other issues stirring participants’ passions included: the economy; education; food and biodiversity; war and empire; Wall Street and the Occupy Movement; the prison-industrial complex; government’s disinvestment in national, state, and local programs; urban development; lawmaking through constitutional amendment; support for the arts; gay marriage; rural economies; electoral participation; re-stabilizing communities.

Because the TC Daily Planet wants more voices at the table, future meetings will take place in different locations throughout St. Paul and Minneapolis, and quite likely at different times of day. Plans for our next conversation are quickly taking shape. Check back for details—and consider joining us on-line or in person.