The struggle to overcome years of urban neglect and “resegregated” education at the hands of Minnesota’s twin parties of war and plunder has been taken up. On February 17, the Fifth Congressional District of the Minnesota Green Party endorsed two incumbent Green Party members and a one socialist in the upcoming 2013 Minneapolis elections: Cam Gordon, incumbent, for Minneapolis City Council Ward 2; Annie Young, incumbent, for Minneapolis Parks Commissioner; and the Socialist Alternative candidate, Ty Moore, for City Council Ward 9. Gordon and Moore are white men, and Young is an African-American woman. Gordon and Young are members of the Minnesota Green Party. All three have been known for their community activism and alliances with important struggles beyond the framework of community or city politics. Moore, as a member of Socialist Alternative since 1998, is most recently known for his significant involvement in the early stages of Occupy Minnesota and one of its more successful offshoots, Occupy Homes–Minnesota, a movement against home foreclosures and for the reclamation of vacant homes.
Gordon is a long-standing left-liberal activist considered friendly to many social struggles whose primary activities have involved improving recycling. Young, in her endorsement speech at the Green Party, spoke against the Keystone Pipeline and noted: “I have been invigorated by seeing uprisings all over the world, as we try to make things right.” Young is a longtime activist in the environmental movement and was first elected to the Parks Commission in 2009 as a member of the Green Party.
Minneapolis elections are officially nonpartisan. But city politics have historically been dominated by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), the Democratic Party’s state affiliate. In the upcoming elections, slated for November 5, only one declared Republican has decided to run — unendorsed. Social and political life in Minneapolis under DFL rule is marked by income disparities and the deterioration of public education despite the existence of a strong union base and a legacy of labor struggle exemplified by the historic Minneapolis Teamster organizing drive and strike battles of the 1930s. For example, White flight to the suburbs and exurbs surrounding the Twin Cities has resulted in significant concentrations of Black, Brown, Asian, and American Indian communities within several of the 13 wards that compose Minneapolis proper. Income inequality exists not only between these neighborhoods and the suburbs but also within the city, as pockets of gentrification in the urban core have developed through “resegregation”—the emergence of previously diverse multicultural communities becoming exclusively non-White owing to suburban flight or exclusively White owing to increased housing and living costs in some neighborhoods — within the Twin Cities metropolitan area. This disparity is doubly reinforced by segregation and the disproportionately higher cost of living and housing among the poorest neighborhoods.
The disparity takes its greatest form in the Minneapolis public schools, where the vast majority of teachers and administrators have historically been white, yet two-thirds of the students are of color whose educational achievement has remained at chronically low levels. As the drive to privatize education through ineffective charter schools threatens to worsen school segregation and inequality, (see “Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities”, Orfield & Luce, 2012) public education and its connection with income inequality in the city have become a source of ongoing but often publicly muted outrage.
Ty Moore’s campaign has emerged as a rare opportunity to merge the outrage lying just beneath the surface of oppressed communities in the Twin Cities with the promise of Occupy. The potential is also there for socialist and revolutionaries to connect with this campaign and plant seeds of greater resistance by educating working people and youth in how to challenge the bankers and billionaires’ representatives in the DFL. Many can learn from Moore’s campaign that politics, economy, education, and our civil rights are anything but “nonpartisan” and that what we need is determined, independent political action on the part of working people, the youth, and oppressed communities of color.
That kind of political work is already under way. Occupy Homes–Minnesota (OHMN), for example, has created a movement where homeowners in working-class Minneapolis have joined to fight to keep their homes by direct action and political organizing, pressuring the banks to negotiate with them for better terms on their mortgages, to prevent evictions, and, recently, to reclaim vacant foreclosed homes with families. The activists of OHMN have made connections with liberal city council members and portions of the labor leadership through organizations like Minnesotans for a Fair Economy.
As a result, homeowners and activists have been successful in winning some temporary reprieves from foreclosure for desperate families, and a growing coalition has begun to emerge in the process. Moore’s campaign in Minneapolis Ward 9 is part of his and Socialist Alternative’s role in working with OHMN to initiate the recent Foreclosure and Eviction Free Zone, a community-organizing effort to create homeowner resistance to the banks as vulnerable families fall in danger of bank action on their homes. Moore has shown through his activism that “we can’t be satisfied with partial victories won through protest,” as he puts it.
“As long as political power remains firmly in the hands of the 1%, whose profit-driven interests run counter to the needs of our communities, the injustices we face every day will persist. Our aims are far bigger than winning this election. We want to win a new world, a socialist world where the economy is democratically controlled and the needs of people and the planet are prioritized over the profits of the 1%. We want a society that works for everybody and a stable economy with opportunity for all.” (Ty Moore Statement “Why I am Running”).
Of course, the opportunity is also there for this campaign to unite socialists and revolutionaries in Minneapolis, who can support it and help broaden the appeal and, ultimately, to build a mass movement. Indeed, perhaps the most significant opportunity of a socialist election campaign for any office is to show how socialists can work together with the people we are actively trying to reach and to educate about the connections between local “civic” issues and the wider national and world issues. Such a democratically controlled — and expanded — campaign can provide activists and emerging revolutionaries significant and current examples of how to attract people to socialism and of the democracy that only it is capable of producing.
In the coming months, I and hopefully more activists will follow and participate in this campaign to maximize the effects of building the socialist movement in the neighborhoods, communities, and schools of Minneapolis. Through showing that struggling to keep families’ homes, preventing the banks from leaving existing homes “fallow” for the sake of greater profits, and struggling to prevent economic and social disparity in working-class communities are the real framework for a democratic society — a socialist society — revolutionary socialists will be using the pretext of democracy in these capitalist elections to promote the veritable democracy where all have a say, all are satisfied according our needs, and all participate according to our abilities.
I say that these are the opportunities involved in this and any socialist election campaign. But to take advantage of these opportunities requires the will to engage in unified revolutionary support and the fortitude to realize that none of us —alone or in a group — can complete the dual objectives in conducting a socialist campaign inside a capitalist election process: (1) to confront the voices that defend the system of bankers and profiteers who benefit from their control of a capitalist economy and (2) to exemplify what it means to counter such a system with struggle and democracy.
A socialist campaign for Minneapolis City Council will be very plain in its support and understanding of the local fight against foreclosures and keeping homes with families, but it will also show the connection between that struggle and the fight to prevent further devastation of the environment for the sake of capitalist profit, as exemplified by the Keystone Pipeline. A socialist campaign will connect the fight to defend the planet from the capitalist ravages of forests and lands for profit with the need to create schools that educate historically and chronically underachieving youth to read and “write” the world in their interests. That campaign will show how we cannot successfully defend homes in neighborhoods without defending the homes and neighborhoods of children and families against the wars of conquest and plunder in which the U.S. is currently engaged worldwide. Neighbors and families will see, not read about, how socialists can unite to support each other and promote democracy by running a democratic campaign that is opened to the public for inclusion and discussion of those necessary connections.
In future contributions, I will be writing about my experiences as a socialist candidate of the Socialist Workers Party in the 1970s—our successes, our mistakes, and the lessons for socialists that we must draw if we are to make good on our promise of, in Moore’s words, “a society that works for everybody and a stable economy with opportunity for all.”
Manuel Barrera, PhD is Associate Professor of Urban Education at Metropolitan State University. A revolutionary socialist and political activist for over 40 years, he is a former member of the U.S. Socialist Workers Party and Young Socialist Alliance where he ran for numerous political offices including U.S. House against Barbara Jordan (1972) and Sheriff of Los Angeles County (1977) on a one-point program to abolish the Sheriff’s Department.