Last weekend the DFL and the GOP each held state conventions to determine which candidates would receive endorsements for positions ranging from governor to U.S. Senator. While it is clear that both political parties considered everything from electability, to fundraising ability, to maturity and experience, what is not clear is the degree to which a candidate's commitment to equity was factored into the equation.
“We all do better when we all do better”
As someone who has participated in a political convention in the past, I found it disturbing that issues of racial and economic justice were either not on the table at all or were seen as issues of marginal importance in the grand scheme of electoral politics. The practice of relegating issues that are important to poor folk and communities of color to the sidelines is detrimental to the health and well-being not only of those groups, but to all Minnesotans. Seemingly gone are the days in which we openly declare and act upon the sage reminder that Senator Paul Wellstone made years ago that, "We all do better when we all do better."
Since moving to Minnesota in the summer of 2003, I, like many other newcomers to the state, have been left to piece together his message and his hope for more equitable outcomes for folks in rural communities, people of color, immigrants, the working poor, and laborers to name a few. I have learned that not only was Wellstone a man of the people, but he used his power, influence, and position to fight for the rights of those who experienced oppression, inequality, and economic injustice. I was also inspired to learn recently from Dane Smith of Growth & Justice that Wellstone even opened his campaign at Sabathani Community Center as a way of demonstrating his connection to everyday people and showing that his election would not be 'business as usual.'
We must run the next leg of Wellstone’s race for equity & justice
In reading Wellstone's words and learning about the courage he exhibited in the fight for social justice and equality, I am left with a desire to see a revitalization of his legacy and the realization of his hopes for our state. In light of Minnesota's rapidly-changing demographics and unprecedented levels of racial and ethnic diversity, there has arguably never been a more important time to pick up the torch he left behind and to run the next leg of the race in championing the cause of equity and justice. It's a sad fact that too many of our poorest residents do not have the basic resources they need to live a decent quality of life. Too often they are struggling to find affordable housing, even temporary shelter, access to quality health care and mental health services, and jobs that are accessible through public transportation and that pay a living wage (as was the discussion at a recent community meeting about equity and transit referenced here in Finance & Commerce). These are tough battles to win, but necessary battles to fight. For as Paul Wellstone said, "If we don't fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don't really stand for them."
So what do we really stand for and what do the people we elect stand for?
In this day and age, it's relatively easy for politicians to craft messages that will appeal to the masses or to get volunteers to knock on doors to secure pledges to vote. This happens far too often in economically-disenfranchised communities in which politicians begin appearing within months of an election and then disappear after the votes are cast; thereby creating a negative cycle in which communities of color come to expect broken promises and ultimately lose faith in the political system as a result of failing to see any real change in their communities over the long haul. Sadly, after most elections the poor remain poor and locked out of access to economic opportunity, their voices are rarely heard, and they are often seen as pawns in the electoral process rather than as assets who can positively contribute to the well-being of our state.
Use the Power of the Ballot for Equity
Thus, during the next election cycle, I would urge us all to carefully consider where each candidate for political office stands on matters of equity before casting a vote. I am taking cues from the work of Dr. Bruce Corrie, who in the spirit of justice is encouraging communities of color and their allies to vote for candidates who agree to help develop a plan that promotes equity and asset-building within communities of color. (See www.alanaassets.org). Regardless of where one stands politically, it’s important to take ownership for advancing the cause of equity in our state and not leaving it up to others to do the work. By taking ownership and holding leaders accountable, we may not be able to change the whole world, but at least we can begin to shift the paradigm in Minnesota. In the words of Paul Wellstone, "Sometimes the only realists are the dreamers."