About 20 activists barged into House Republican offices on Thursday demanding to meet with Speaker Kurt Daudt, saying he repeatedly rebuffed their requests for meetings to talk about a package of legislative proposals aimed at improving the lives of black Minnesotans.
They clashed with the legislative staff while Daudt and other representatives were on the House floor debating an $800 million bonding bill – and vowed to stay until the speaker’s legislative assistant reached him and scheduled an appointment.
“We’ve presented all these solutions to them … and they’ve just ignored them,” said Wintana Melekin, civic and political engagement director for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), which is part of a coalition called United Black Legislative Agenda.
Trailed by two men touting video cameras, Melekin and other activists confronted Isaac Schultz, the speaker’s legislative assistant, at his desk on the fourth floor of the State Office Building.
“When will the meeting be?” Melekin asked Schultz.
He explained that he couldn’t talk to Daudt while the House was in session.
“We have the worst disparities in the entire country,” she said. “We’re literally failing black people at a faster rate than anywhere else.”
The scene was chaotic at times, as members of the group talked over one another and confronted staffers walking through the office. One activist told Schultz she pitied his soul. A call to the Sergeant of Arms led to a Capitol Security officer stepping in, though he left after concluding that the group was only trying to schedule a meeting.
Melekin and other activists at NOC said they met this week with Gov. Mark Dayton, House DFL Leader Paul Thissen, Rep. Joe Mullery, Senator Jeff Hayden, Rep. Peggy Flanagan and others to discuss what they called the United Black Legislative Agenda. They said Daudt declined to join.
Melekin said the speaker’s office had rejected their efforts to meet three times. But even after Schultz took down her phone number and emphasized that he would request a meeting, the group said it would stay in the office until a time was officially scheduled.
The agenda includes the creation of a capital fund to support black businesses, a ban on private prisons, the restoration of voting rights for people released from prison, and more job training and educational programs for Somali residents, among other measures.
“I didn’t feel like it was chaotic – I felt like it was beautiful,” said Melekin. “People wanted to have their voices heard.”
She said people of color had to keep pushing until someone listened to them.
“I’m not going to stop coming,” she said. “Nothing will deter me.”