Brett Grant, Research & Policy Director
“ We Are What We Imagine. Our Very Existence Consists Of Our Imagination Of Our Selves. Our Best Destiny Is To Imagine, At Least, Completely, Who And What, And That We Are. The Greatest Tragedy That Can Befall Us Is To Go Unimagined.” -N. Scott Momaday
In 2017, Voices for Racial Justice, in collaboration with community partners, created the our mnisota policy agenda. We use mnisota in lieu of Minnesota to honor the original Dakota words Mni Sota Makoce, a term that, according to Dakota elder Chris MatoNunpa, translates to “land where the waters reflect the clouds.” We believe that our goal—racial justice and the end of all racial disparities—isn’t possible without first acknowledging the history of the land that we occupy: land which was stolen from Dakota people, people who had lived here since time immemorial and were killed or forcibly expelled in order for us to live here today.
2017 Racial Equity Agenda
Little of the 2017 our mnisota agenda was achieved during the 2017 legislative session. Of the issues named in last session’s agenda, the legislature passed the following proposals:
- Supporting an increase of Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota. For an overview of final signed 2017 Legislation visit this link.
- The Urban Agriculture Bill (HF 1545) was funded $250k/year for 2018-19. Additionally, $250k/year was appropriated for the Good Food Access Fund.
- The legislature passed a 2-year extension for the Driver Diversion Program in the Public Safety bill, which helps people get their driver’s license reinstated.
- The legislature maintained ongoing annual funding for the Capacity Building Grants and the Minnesota Emerging Entrepreneur Fund programs. The MN Emerging Entrepreneur Fund is a revolving loan program for small businesses and the Capacity Building Grants support small, culturally focused, workforce and economic development nonprofits.
- The legislature lowered the age requirement for eligibility for the Working Family Credit for households without children from 25 to 21, beginning in 2020, and added $7 million for certain married couples, starting in 2019. Additionally, the legislature passed a provision that makes more people from the American Indian community who earn income on reservations eligible for the credit.
- The legislature required the creation of a disparity impact note for any proposed legislation upon request of the chair or ranking minority member of any committee if it appears enactment could significantly increase or decrease disparities (HF 142/ SF 295).
There were also a number of proposals that threatened racial equity, such as:
- A number of bills that would have increased the penalty for protesters intentionally obstructing a highway, as well as “unlawful assembly” legislation that would have authorized governmental units to sue to recover for the “public safety response costs” related to unlawful assemblies and public nuisances. All of these bills were designed to restrict the right to protest by making protesting punishable by fine (HF 55/SF 148; HF 1066/SF 918; HF 322/SF 679; HF 26).
Protesters at the 4th Precinct Occupation in Minneapolis.
- A statewide preemption bill (HF 600/SF 580) designed to strip local governments of their authority to improve state or federal workplace standards. According to a recent MinnPost article (February 17, 2017), “Preemption laws are the latest version of a pernicious strategy: changing the rules as soon as they actually start to work for people of color, women, immigrants or the working poor.” (https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2017/02/statewide-preemption-most-dangerous-bill-you-ve-never-heard)
- School disciplinary action modifications that would allow educators to remove students from the classroom for acts they deem inappropriate or unsafe, without proof that the student had intended to cause harm or intended to violate school policy (HF 905).
Mónica María Hurtado at November 21, 2017 budget hearing at Hennepin County.
- Immigration injustice proposals that sought to prohibit and/or reduce aid for cities with sanctuary ordinances (SF 881; HF 1664); and language was included in the public safety bill barring administrations appointed by the governor from ushering in driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants without legislative approval.
2018 Legislative Session
There is a lot of work to do in 2018 to cultivate seeds of racial equity in Minnesota. Our policy team will be watching closely the following bills and proposals:
- The Academic Balance Bill (SF 2487) introduced this session works against racial equity. It “prohibits school employees from requiring students or other school employees to express specified social or political viewpoints for the purposes of academic credit, extracurricular participation, or as a condition of employment.” The bill also prohibits public education from engaging in “political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination.”
- This session, the legislature has the opportunity to restore voting rights to approximately 51,000 Minnesotans who live in our communities but cannot vote due to felony convictions.
- Working Family Tax Credit – the legislature will consider Governor Dayton’s proposal to provide a roughly $50 million/year expansion starting in 2019 for working people and families across Minnesota.
- Renters Credit/Property Tax Refund – the legislature will hear proposals regarding this tax refund for Minnesotans who earn low wages and/or who are on fixed incomes, and struggle to afford the cost of housing and other basic necessities. HF 4183/SF 3796 would protect these tax refunds from cuts that would occur because of how it interacts with federal tax law changes.
- The bill that ends the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic tickets (HF 3356/SF 3389) was included in State Representative Linda Runbeck’s omnibus policy bill. Representative Runbeck is the Chair of the House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee.
Voices For Racial Justice New Direction in Policy
After being around for nearly 25 years, Voices thought it important to pause and hear from communities about the effectiveness of our policy tools. Our policy team will work in collaboration with community partners to determine how we are going to engage with communities and legislators in this review of our policy tools. This is important because after over a decade of grading legislators, we found that while the number of racial equity champions has increased at the Legislature, racial equity in Minnesota has not.
Voices for Racial Justice is on a journey to build creative approaches to grassroots policy that tend to the soil of our movements and that honor the culture and healing of our communities. We ask, what does grassroots policy look like that is life-giving, shifts culture, rooted in beauty, real governance, and bridges the divides within our communities? In response to these questions, we will hold space for communities of color and Indigenous communities to share their stories & experiences. These stories will move us through our commitment to center trust-building across issues and cultural groups in our movements. The values that will continue to inform our work during the 2018 legislative session are listed below. This is a broad agenda which sets an important framework that goes beyond this particular session:
Arts and Culture
Estefania, Youth Organizer.
Minnesota has a unique history of cultivating major artists who have influenced people all over the world. Legislators can build on this legacy by investing in the emerging artists of today who will influence the future. It is artists who allow us to heal and who give creative expression to what it means to be human. Our state must recognize how art and culture influence every aspect of life and support legislation that elevates the value of the arts in all of our communities.
Minnesotans are proud of our state’s reputation of being one of the most progressive states in the union. But that pride is overshadowed by the dramatic racial and economic disparities in our state. Building a racially equitable state means working with communities of color and American Indian communities throughout our cities to restore integrity and trust in our civil rights institutions and police departments, and practices, including the right to protest. We ask legislators to pass bills that honor every person’s right to protest and that promote a climate of care and intergenerational respect in our communities.
The health of our state’s economic future depends on the economic well-being of all Minnesotans. Given the epidemic of rental apartment conversions to market rate properties and “flipping” by speculative real estate firms, the state needs to respond with urgency to a chronic shortage of affordable housing options across Minnesota. U.S. Census data show that most communities of color in our state have median incomes significantly less than that of white Minnesotans. We ask legislators to promote economic opportunity by supporting legislation that offers technical support to assist entrepreneurs in launching or expanding a small business or a co-op, especially small business owners who are men and women of color, working class, veterans, and/or people with disabilities.
Educators for Black Lives rally, 2016.
A statewide vision for equitable schools would include: increasing the number of teachers of color and American Indian teachers in K-12 schools in Minnesota, establishing government subsidized living wages for teachers, the creation of meditation and mindfulness programs in schools, ethnic studies pilot programs in K-12 schools throughout the state, programs that re-engage children who are no longer in school, and programs to enable elders from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds to work in schools. We ask legislators to support bills that make this vision a reality in our state.
We are in solidarity with indigenous voices and tribal nations across the world struggling to protect the sacredness of the environment. For example, state and national attention around water has increased in recent years. Water is the lifeblood of the universe that nourishes every person, every plant, and every community. Water can be still, it can be peaceful, but it can also be a powerful force for change. Just like us. We can transform, and in that process transform the environment around us. We ask legislators to support and pass bills that honor and protect the sacredness of water and the environment.
Everyone in Minnesota deserves to live in a community where the health and wellbeing of each individual should not depend on their race, identity, education, gender, place of origin, or where they live. In order to advance health equity, efforts need to be intentional in addressing structural racism. Therefore, health care policies must pay attention to the social determinants of health, and must be developed in partnership with impacted communities, including communities of color, indigenous communities, and incarcerated communities. We ask legislators to pass bills that support the health and wellbeing of all Minnesotans, including men and women who are incarcerated. Voices will be sharing a report on the impact of incarceration on health in the coming months.
Minnesota flourishes when people who come to our state from other countries are able to live in dignity and peace, and contribute to our economy, democracy, and culture. Yet immigration policies and practices continue to negatively impact immigrants disproportionately. Despite federal threats to immigration justice, including increased deportation and expansion of detention centers, Minnesota should take the lead in state level reform.We ask legislators to pass bills that make our state a model of immigration justice for the rest of the nation. Furthermore, we support the efforts of a recently formed multiracial immigrant coalition of peoples who are asking legislators “…to commit to a long-term relationship and partnership with Minnesota’s immigrant communities… As constituents and as community organizations, with directly impacted membership and who experience first-hand the implications of anti-immigrant policies, we urge [legislators] to include us in the decision-making process, and not to make any commitments bargaining with ours and our families’ lives without consulting with us first. Additionally, as a gesture of good faith to our communities, we request town hall meetings in our communities as we move forward.”
Justice for People who are Incarcerated
Minnesota’s correctional facilities continue to impact Native American communities and communities of color disproportionately. The rates of disparity for youth of color in the Minnesota justice system are both higher than national levels and more severe in magnitude than those of many comparable states. In order to advance justice in our state’s correctional facilities, we ask legislators to pass bills that: Treat people who are incarcerated as human beings, including offering nutritious food and adequate health care; reinstate the office of prison ombudsman as a way to give people who are incarcerated a way to address grievances; restrict the use of solitary confinement; ban placing youth in solitary confinement, as the federal government has already done; eliminate all private prisons in our state; and allocate more funding for alternatives to incarceration, including more funding for chemical dependency treatment, mental health treatment, and other forms of treatment.
Minnesota is home to eleven tribal governments – seven Ojibwe Bands and four Dakota communities. Minneapolis has one of the largest urban American Indian populations in the country, representing a diverse array of tribal citizens from many of the 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States. Tribal sovereignty refers to the inherent rights of American Indian tribes to govern themselves and their lands, to define their own membership, and to regulate tribal commerce and other domestic relations. We ask legislators to pass bills that honor tribal sovereignty among American Indian communities in our state.