Today, I headed over to my neighbor neighborhood, North Minneapolis, to attend a meeting with the amazing folks at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. Since I arrived early to the 1100 block on Broadway, I of course had to stop in to stuff my face with cookies at the Cookie Cart, a few doors down from NOC headquarters.
Cookie Cart is a great place to order from if you ever need a giant batch of cookies for an event (they deliver!). They've got some awesome job training and other initiatives.
Yumminess for your tummy-ness. A nice space to sit and chat too!
Fortified with sugar and caffeine, I settled in at NOC. This particular meeting was about the Preemption Bill, which every Minnesotan should make their personal mission to understand.
Here are the cliff notes:
1. For two years, groups like NOC and Isaiah have fought hard to increase the minimum wage to something liveable ($15/hour) and get paid leave for sick time and emergencies for minimum wage workers. They succeeded. After a very long, arduous fight, the legislation passed.
2. Just as the bill was about to start impacting lives and deliver wage hikes and sick time, this "Preemption Bill" was whipped up by ALEC (the same creepy people who introduced the LGBTQ discrimination bill in North Carolina recently) and then introduced/sponsored by Pat Garofalo (R58B). Preemption bills are the height of b.s., in my humble opinion: Just when hard-fought progress is going to be made, the GOP launches counter-strike preemption bills to pull the rug out. It's happening in Minnesota, Colorado and a number of other states. You can learn more in this article.
3. The preemption bill (HR600/SF580) passed the house, and has not yet passed the Senate.
At this meeting, Tina Smith, Lieutenant Governor of the State of MN had agreed to come and listen to the concerns of the working people of North Minneapolis, and what the success of this preemption bill would mean if it passed into law.
By the end of the meeting, Tina Smith had gone on record for the first time, giving her word she would do everything in her power to stop this bill and that she would personally encourage Governor Dayton to veto. In addition she stated "Governor Dayton is a man of principle" and that he does not pander to corporate interests.
So what happened in the course of this meeting to result in such swift, decisive and unwavering commitment?
People shared their stories.
They shared the concrete, blood, sweat and tears of their lives trying to survive on minimum wage.
They talked about having an asthma attack, passing out on a bus to work and waking up in a hospital, only to be fired because of no sick leave. They talked of not being able to make rent because of an unexpected expense and facing homelessness – the inability to save for a rainy day on that type of wage. They talked about the stress of living hand-to-mouth. All of them talked about wanting something better for the next generation. "This isn't for me," one woman said, "I don't want my children to become used to this...to think that being broke is normal, a way of life."
So many times, the cycle of poverty showed up in these stories: No sick leave means you get fired. Getting fired means you lose your home. Not having a home address means no place to leave the kids with a sitter while you look for work. Sometimes all it takes is one missed day of work to set the cycle in place. If you don't have a dad you can ask for help, if you don't have an emergency fund, those knocks can flatten you and become a downward spiral.
The grassroots wage hike came from the people. It came from people not asking a lot, simply to be able to survive. The sick leave requested is extremely modest. What always amazes me about America is that so many people who are unwilling to learn about other realities still feel they have to right to govern it. 90% of legislatures are white, on all levels of government. It got my blood boiling to think about both the arrogance and the motives for this legislation.
After listening to the stories, Tina Smith added that on top of attacking those most vulnerable in Minnesota, this was also an attack on democracy and on grassroots progress: It's corporate interests hammering down on real change. She shared that throughout her career, she has only seen real change and progress come from the grassroots up, never top-down. In this case, it was the top slamming the lid down on a hard-fought win. So in addition to having devastating consequences on people's lives, this bill was a slap in the face to democracy.
I learned a lot at this meeting. First, NOC is an organization I want to support, and I encourage anyone to support. They are not messing around. They are smart, strategic, effective, targeted and incredibly skilled activists. Getting a minimum wage hike passed through legislation in MN is a harrowing task, and it was largely because of them. They've been at this fight a long time. If you have been wondering what you could do to ally with North Minneapolis, get involved with this group or donate. They are entirely grass-roots funded. No corporate dollars. So they really need support and every dollar goes toward their crucial work.
Second, the intersectionality of oppression was again affirmed to me. To fight worker suppression is also to fight the people trying to discriminate against the LGBTQ community. And although they may not realize it, there will be some low-income person in Wisconsin who may benefit enormously from the work of North Minneapolis activists. Our oppression is intersectional, and so is our progress.
Third, I got to hear people's stories, and remembered how important that is.
In these stressful times when it just seems like nonstop work is what's required, it's important to pause and just cry together sometimes. These are people's lives. This is not abstract legislation except to the wealthy. For many, it means homelessness or hope. It's having a shot, or a brutal life lived one day to the next with the constant trauma and stress of poverty. It means time off to be able to go to your daughter's funeral without worry, or getting fired for that very action (as one woman shared).
Sharing stories at NOC
I encourage people to thank Governor Dayton for indicating that he will veto the Preemption Bill. I sincerely appreciate that he is in office and can control the damage that the GOP is trying to inflict. I also commend Tina for her firm, unequivocal stance.
Governor Dayton's contact info:
Office of Governor Mark Dayton & Lt. Governor Tina Smith
130 State Capitol
75 Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55155
Or email him here.
The only other action item is to please spread the word about this bill and what the GOP is trying to do to workers in MN. A veto seems like a safe bet, but we'll be looking at which corporations are behind this bill; people need to know what these corporations are up to, and we may do a letter-writing campaign or partner with NOC on an action. Stay tuned on that.
P.s, Tina, if you run for Governor you've got my vote!