April 4, 2023

By Dane Smith 

Most of us know that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King gave his life fighting against segregation and securing basic human rights that had been denied for centuries to African-Americans.

Many are not aware that  toward the end of that life Dr. King had broadened the movement into an equity campaign for ALL people in America who had been persecuted or excluded, including other people of color, women, low-income workers and poor people in all our regions,  and for  environmental justice too.

“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated,’’ King famously said.  “We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’’

In that spirit of embracing interrelated mutuality, the Thriving by Design Network was created two years ago.   The chief organizers were  Growth & Justice, a policy research organization that seeks a more equitable prosperity for Minnesotans, and OneMN.org, an advocacy group that has been working for almost two decades for shared sustainable prosperity and economic development among communities of color, led by North Minneapolis activist  Brett Buckner.

We sought to answer this question:  What are the policies and local practices that reverse our widening inequalities — racial, regional, economic and environmental?    After 18 months of listening to 300 Minnesotans at more than a dozen gatherings from North Minneapolis to northern Minnesota, and consulting scores of other groups seeking similar answers, our network has produced The Minnesota Equity Blueprint.

The Blueprint is a 170-page guidebook with a detailed set of 140 recommendations for the consideration of all our residents, local community organizations, business and non-profit leaders, and of course, state and local policymakers.  The Blueprint will be rolled out at events starting February 27, at the Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) in North Minneapolis, and simultaneously by video tele-conference  in five other communities along the Mississippi River.    These include Winona, St. Cloud, Brainerd, Grand Rapids and Bemidji.

The Blueprint is one of the most comprehensive, practical and constructive policy frameworks our state has seen in recent decades.   It also is one of the more ambitious attempts to fully integrate policy and local practice around both equity and environmental action.  It inflects strongly on racial and overall economic inequality and integrates that predicament with rural distress and regional disparities.

Among key strategic principles and recommendations in the Blueprint:

  • Attack racial discrimination everywhere, but especially  in the criminal justice system, shutting down the school-to-prison pipeline, reforming police practices and undoing many of the collateral consequences that accrue from discriminatory enforcement and economic hardship.
  • Respect the sovereign rights of our Indigenous people and protect tribal lands and wilderness areas, delaying for further study or rejecting proposals for pipelines and mining.
  • Drive toward racial equity in educational attainment by hiring many more teachers and staff of color in the education pipeline, from early childhood through post-secondary institutions, and increasing social supports crucial to student success.
  • Reduce and reform regulatory burdens to encourage more entrepreneurship and small business development among communities of color and immigrants, opening up access to capital and supporting the Minnesota Emerging Entrepreneur Program, and helping immigrants and people of color toward farm ownership.
  • Ensure livable wages  and benefits, requiring employers to provide paid family leave, and investing state and local resources in more affordable health-care, housing, child-care and higher-education. 
  • Welcome immigrants and newcomers of color by supporting pathways to citizenship, issuing drivers’ licenses regardless of immigration status, and supporting the federal Dream and Promise Act.

The authors are not dogmatic about each and every solution in the Blueprint.   It is intended as a draft and a living document, and over time we may discover that some solutions may not work, while no doubt many sound ideas are missing, or will germinate later.   But as the new decade begins and the 2020 legislative session convenes, the Blueprint serves as a place where a full range of ideas and options for a more equitable Minnesota can be considered.      

And finally, we know also from hard experience that equity doesn’t come easy, that reversing the tides of inequity may take years, and that patient persistence is imperative.   As the 19th Century racial justice champion  Frederick Douglass said:  “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

Dane Smith is Senior Policy Fellow and President Emeritus of  Growth & Justice, a research and advocacy organization that seeks a more equitable and environmentally sustainable economy for Minnesota.   The Minnesota Equity Blueprint can be downloaded  on Feb. 27, at www.growthandjustice.org

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