There are really two questions I want to ask this afternoon:
- Where are we now, politically, socially, economically?
- Who and What are we in this historical moment?
So — Where are we now?
Look outside. Let’s take a lesson from nature.
We are in the depths of winter.
In Minnesota today, we are far beyond a winter of discontent — we’re in a winter of pain, violence, and destruction, of cold-blooded greed and hot-blooded zealotry. This winter is bitter, and it is causing real damage to our homes and our communities. And, as my friend and fellow TakeAction Board member Gary Fuller from Red Lake said recently, it looks sometimes like this winter is here to stay.
But this bitter winter I speak of is manufactured, not natural.
For example, it’s the result of corporate policies that throw workers into the cold in the middle of winter with no time to address the concerns raised – hundreds of Latino workers treated this way by the fast-food chain Chipotle alone. And it’s the result of corporate policies that throw people out of the chance to even get a job because of a record, a mistake from the past – an enduring remnant of Jim Crow policies that exists today in Minnesota and is part of this winter we are in.
It’s the result of structural racism that denies honor to Hmong veterans paid by our government to fight but refused recognition at the end of their days.
It’s the result of millions and millions of dollars of unmarked corporate cash flowing from our consumer pockets to corporate headquarters and from there into vicious right-wing attack ads and avaricious corporate no-tax, no democracy, no justice – “just us” — agendas.
As a result of the November elections, despite the rare example of victorious leaders like Governor Mark Dayton who ran strong and outfront on progressive taxation and fundamental health care reform, as a result of the elections, we see the far right ascendant in national and state politics.
I believe there are two major reasons for that:
One – unmitigated corporate power, and the failure of political leadership to address that reality head-on. Right now the global concentration of wealth and of economic control and political power has never, in the history of the human race, been so concentrated in the hands of so few, in the hands of the richest corporations ever to exist. But instead of being called out, they were bailed out. Unless we get real and expose and decrease excessive corporate power in our politics and in our economy, we will fail to name the real problem, we will lose the faith of the people, and we won’t get anywhere.
The second is deeply embedded structural racism, that denies people of color rights and opportunities, diminishing our ability to create and build and develop as a society and replacing the strength of the common good with the pervasive and debilitating weakness of racial injustice. Look no further than the defeat of the Dream Act for an example on the national level. Without getting real about building racial equity, we are divided and weak, and the far right takes over.
This is clearly a real challenge for TakeAction Minnesota, and for the movement for social, racial, and economic justice.
Because right now, people are in power in Congress and in the state legislature and in corporate board rooms from Minneapolis to Manhattan who want no part of our vision, who know of us and desire our defeat, who understand that we mean to contend for the power to govern and will fight us every step of the way.
That’s because what they want to do is repeal the federal health care reform and stop every attempt to forge a path towards a single payer system in Minnesota – and they don’t want us getting in the way.
That’s because they want to win and enforce voter ID in order to prevent people – especially people of color, elderly, disabled, low-income, and young voters – prevent people from voting, and keep themselves in power.
That’s because they want to pass laws to take away workers’ rights to organize, and give more power to corporations to stop and break labor unions.
That’s because they want to teach a history that does not embrace the fullness of the history of the people of our state, and so keep us uneducated, ungrounded, disconnected, and invisible.
That’s because they want to take away the human right of people who love each other to marry and to have the full rights and privileges that that carries in our society.
And perhaps most important of all, that’s because these leaders of the right want to keep their story going – that government can’t do anything of any good, that the cause of a white person’s economic hardship is a person of color’s easy entitlements, and that by cutting taxes on the rich and cutting public services for the rest of us, we’ll all do better.
What a crock! — But it’s the crock that each one of us and everyone in our country is eating from every day, from every radio station, every TV station, every commercial and every sitcom, every day and every way, and it will be that way until we replace it with our story, the people’s story, the way things really are and the way they can be.
So – Who and What are we now, in this moment in our history?
We’re here, presente.
We are connected to others that are not here that are our friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors that share our vision for a just and strong economy, democracy, society.
We are urban, suburban and rural – statewide.
We are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and straight.
We are Hmong, white, African-American, Native American, Somali, and Latino – among others.
We are elders, adults, youth, and children.
We are farmers, teachers and public health workers; entrepreneurs, organizers, and unemployed; packinghouse workers, students, and janitors.
We are the people.
We are the people committed to a better future for our children, ourselves, our communities, our neighbors, our land, our country.
We are made up of many clans, of many hearts, of many experiences, of many gifts.
We are committed to fight back against unmitigated corporate power and uproot structural racism that stand in the way of justice, of peace, of health and prosperity for all.
We are an organization, and we are part of a movement.
We are TakeAction Minnesota, and we’re stronger together.
Look outside —
The French Resistance fighter and writer Albert Camus once said:
“In the depths of winter, I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.”
Each one of us, and all of us together – we are needed.
That’s who we are.
This speech was given as the keynote address at TakeAction Minnesota’s Annual Meeting held in Eagan, MN on Sunday, January 30, 2011. Progressive leader Mark Schultz is a member of TakeAction Minnesota’s Board of Directors and the Associate Director of the Land Stewardship Project. For more information on Land Stewardship Project, please visit www.landstewardshipproject.org.