Harry Davis, Mpls. School Board and Mayoral Candidate

Desegregation of schools and society, v. integration, equality, what does that mean? The fervor we’re seeing now against equality, the promotion of white nationalism, a “President” who proudly describes himself as a “nationalist,” is horrifying. It’s hard to be constantly horrified at the constant barrage of bizarre policies, statements, Executive Orders, budget proposals, and non-stop fundraising (those legal expenses are really mounting up), but there’s no other way to be informed than to track this train wreck. It’s equally horrifying at the silence from some quarters, admonishments to hush, of fear to speak out. What? That’s our job as citizens and as humans.

School desegregation (not integration, keep in mind there IS a distinction) came up the other day in a WaPo article about Brown v. Board and potential judicial appointments, which triggered a discussion about Minneapolis’ desegregation efforts in the early ’70s with a former Mpls. Central student, an activist that I didn’t really know then, but got to know through almost two decades of political campaign work. Turns out we both had testified at hearings regarding desegregation, white kids from outer Minneapolis schools who had transferred into Central and put our education where our values were and wanting to let the school system and public know how strongly we supported school and societal desegregation, and more importantly, integration.

Being white right now carries an imperative to be active, vocal, and to exercise our privilege working towards change, and to do it mindfully and respectfully. It’s not an easy thing to figure out what exactly to do, but tempered with a strong element of “JUST DO IT!” This is not a time for navel-gazing, it’s a time for strong and relentless action based on our internal moral codes.

Here’s the article that got me going and thinking, remembering:

Trump judicial nominees decline to endorse Brown v. Board under Senate questioning

In my world, desegregation of schools is post Brown v. Board, almost 20 years later in the early ’70s and linked with my days at Minneapolis Central High School, Harry Davis’ run for Mayor of Minneapolis, “Fischer 4th Hour” Comparative Education class, and the hearings held across the city regarding the NAACP lawsuit against Mpls. School District, Booker v. Special School District No. 1 (and there were state hearings too, I’ve since learned). That was when I first got active politically — the first time I testified at a hearing, first time I worked on a campaign (see post Harry Davis has died, I’d forgotten ugliness of that Mayflower Church Mayoral debate, UGH!), the classic stuffing of envelopes, lit drops, and putting up signs, showing up at meetings, education and action, it’s all connected, and that history shouldn’t be forgotten.

It’s personal for me and it all runs together, issues interconnected, in those formative years. I transferred into Central as part of the “Magnet School,” which brought in us white students, “Maggots,” ostensibly for educational options not available at other schools (that’s for sure!), but also as a way to bring white kids in to dilute the school’s black population as part of attempt to avoid the approaching NAACP lawsuit, Booker v. Special School District No. 1 (see also STrib: Minneapolis finds magnet schools don’t work to desegregate – note this says Magnet schools began in the 80s… ummmm, NO.). Mpls. Central provided us with a great high school education, for me much was independent study, in Creative Writing, a year’s Geometry in a few weeks, Psych (Algebra not so much), and challenging classwork, classes that required critical thinking and serious research, learning about nuclear power (much from my engineer father), world religions, the Reserve Mining lawsuit, the draft, Shakespeare, Civil Rights, AP Humanities. Despite working part-time and then full time beginning my junior year, I was still able to finish at 16 and graduate a semester early (even while spending a LOT of time playing sax in St. Lawrence marching band and Clete McGovern’s dance band).

It was great for education, the best a high school could offer, but legally, for the District’s purposes, not so much. Their unsuccessful efforts to avoid the lawsuit also included the Field-Hale elementary school pairing. It didn’t work, NAACP filed and the suit commenced, and there was a last minute settlement agreement in that case: Booker v. Special School District No. 1.

The WaPo article got me thinking about that time, and I was wanting to know more of the story, and ain’t the internet grand, rummaging around I found this very well done recap of those days in Minneapolis primarily, and also statewide:

Here’s another one, from Myron Orfield, this one more narrow: Choice, Equal Protection, and Metropolitan Integration: The Hope of the Minneapolis Desegregation Settlement

And a brief overview lite: Integration, Desegregation, and the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Now, watching the uprising of white supremacist vile and bile, the idea of judicial appointments dissing Brown v. Board is not surprising, but it’s jawdropping, that these appointees would be considered fit for the bench. Things have changed, we’ve made some progress, but clearly not enough. We need to remember that integration, segregation and desegregation remain primary issues in this country, from multiple perspectives, and yet now race based restrictions are outwardly, openly, promoted. WHAT!?!

It’s not just schools, as housing tends to lead the trend in segregation, and employment too, of course. We’ve eliminated the housing covenants, but redlining remains, and efforts are strong to focus on renting rather than home ownership, that “home ownership isn’t for everyone,” much like the “college education isn’t for everyone,” which without funding and opportunity de facto prevents people from getting an education, prevents de facto people from having an investment in community and family, and pulls the safety net of the protections of length of foreclosure process that home ownership offers to weather a financial crisis and recover without losing their home. There’s strong resistance to paying a living wage (it just recently dawned on me that $15/hr = $32k annually, DOH!).

It’s all connected, and it’s an economic class issue more than race, though race is too easy an identifier for those opposing equality, and racism fuels the resistance. Why class as issue? Because we turn away from identifying economic class issues in this country and latch on to race as the divider, avoiding the reality that we have pronounced class stratification. Unfortunately, it’s easier for people to use race to set out a class, and to set out a class that is visibly identifiable as “the other,” and it’s a way to gain support, to keep whites above “the other,” and to posture it as a zero sum matter, that equality for all means “less for me,” particularly for those on the lower rungs of class stratification. Why lower class whites often vote against their interests? There ya have it! So racism foments, ferments, and becomes a rallying cry for too many frustrated people who can’t get beyond the day-to-day struggle to survive in our society, and for all those who have bought into our economic structure as the norm, not realizing that there are other ways to do it. This divide works well for those who have, so they encourage it, as blatantly as our Nationalist-in-Chief incites people at his rallies. This is not news, this divide has been incentivized and been ongoing for generations.

In this “facts don’t matter” time, I struggle with what to do, how to do it, how to have an impact. My paid work is strictly utility regulatory work, and it’s hard enough to have an impact in that venue. As an attorney, for sure a privileged position, I have a sworn obligation, along with a moral obligation as a human, to do what I can to fix this mess. What does that mean? I’m wrestling with this, because a part of it is education, keeping informed (Dog, how depressing!), getting word out, daily missives to elected officials at local, state, and federal levels, and standing up visibly, publicly. That alone is a full-time job. And that’s the easy part (well, not considering keeping up with tRump’s Executive Orders, which I tried to do on a focused blog, but it was completely overwhelming, a full-time demand that I had to give up and instead focus on a few issues.). What more? Well, there’s “think global, act local,” which here in Red Wing is doable. Yes, I’m on the Charter Commission again, and I’ve applied for appointment to County Board for vacancy, plus there’s an option to run in the Special Election. But organized government is probably one of the least effective ways toward change. Statewide, much is happening with the legislative session winding down, and there are a couple of important rulemakings happening NOW in my little realm, i.e., the Power Plant Siting Act and Certificate of Need rules (PUC Docket 12-1246) that are mired in agency inaction; the rules governing environmental review mandatory and discretionary categories with some silica sand rules wrapped in. It’s my area of expertise, but there are other developments brewing…

This administration’s attack on education, from DeVos at Dept. of Education, to funding cuts, to shifting of resources away from public education to private education, to cuts in student loan and grant funding, it all serves to widen the gaps in racial and class equity. To diss Brown v. Board? No, just NO! We are not going to backslide…

What all are you doing? This work needs to be done each day, every day. Every day, do SOMETHING! That’s what we’re here on the planet to do, to devote our unique talents to doing what we uniquely can do to make this a better place.

I so want to know what that girl is doing now!!!

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