It wasn’t exactly a reprise of the photo of Farmer-Laborite Gov. Floyd B. Olson speaking to thousands in Powderhorn Park that helped to spark Ed Felien’s idea, but his attempt to organize a Minneapolis version of London’s famed Speakers’ Corner at least drew a few curious onlookers on Friday.
Felien’s open invitation to Minneapolitans to gather in the park for some old-fashioned July 4 oratory drew a score of speakers, and an audience that topped at 22, many of them those same speakers.
This being Minneapolis, and more specifically the Powderhorn neighborhood, the politics ran from left to lefter.
“Remember the Fourth of July as a time when people rose up and overthrew the most powerful system in the world,” said Kevin Nance of northeast Minneapolis and the Workers International League, a militant Socialist movement.
“I wish we could have a revival of the ‘60s, and people in the streets,” said Robin Broms of Longfellow, partway through a discourse that included putting solar panels on streetlights, the conservative Koch brothers and building underground tunnels to shuttle water from flooded to drought areas.
She noted ominously that President Obama was greeted in Minneapolis with perfect weather after forecasters had earlier warned of rain. “You can see the conspiracy,” she said. “You can see them control the weather.”
The speakout organized by Felien, 75, a community publisher who remembers political oratory in the park on the Fourths of his boyhood, was just one activity at the park Friday. Neighborhood organizers tried to beef up day programming in the wake of the neighborhood association’s decision to skip fireworks this year. It interrupted a tradition that goes back 122 years because of concerns over rowdyism last year, when the fireworks drew upward of 20,000 people. People could choose from lawn games such as croquet or bocce, paddle free canoes, and or listen to music that pulsed through the park.
“There’s more turnout that we usually have this time of day,” said Becky Timm, staff director for the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association. It’s activating an online neighborhood survey to collect ideas for next year.
Not every speaker was political. Pat Christensen of Phillips led off with a monologue on knitting as a means of sparking conversation among riders of her commuter bus to west Bloomington, followed by a paean to drying clothes on a line.
“Do you dry them outside at 30 below?” inquired David Tilsen from Powderhorn. On a day that attracted current or former political candidates like flies on roadkill, he had accomplished what the rest hadn’t — winning and serving on the school board.
“That’s called freeze dry,” Christensen shot back.
Bob Carney, most recently a candidate for Hennepin County Board, flogged his plan for more customized public transit. School board candidate Soren Sorensen called for protecting students from online ads that track their web use. Another school candidate, Ira Jourdain, called for a more preventive approach to special education.
One perennial school candidate vowed to keep pushing his platform. “This might be the year or 2024 might be the year,” Doug Mann said. Speaker Janet Nye sought signatures for a petition calling for a city charter referendum on requiring police to buy their own liability insurance.
Don Olson, a longtime radio host focused on progressive topics, critiqued American imperialistic tendencies, both in its westward expansion and abroad, at some length. “The bad news is there’s going to be a test. You’ll all get three credits for it,” Felien quipped afterward.