On Thursday morning, the sun was shining as people began converging on the Minnesota State Capitol for Voices for Racial Justice’s annual rally for racial equity. There was determination in the air as people climbed the steps of the newly renovated capitol building.
Our rally typically happens at the beginning of the Legislative session and brings people together around a racial equity agenda that Voices develops in collaboration with many community partners. The last two years, we were forced to hold the rally at Christ Lutheran Church across the street from the Capitol, due to the renovations. This year, we were back in the beautiful Capitol Rotunda.
There are issues with the Rotunda. The acoustics are terrible, with speakers’ voices echoing around the marble columns and floors and rising up the tall rotunda. The space is busy with activity—coming and going, just passing through. Side conversations are always happening during the event.
But there is something powerful about filling up that space with people who do not typically walk the halls of our State Capitol. This building is the people’s house, our house. But too often ordinary people, and especially marginalized people, do not feel welcome here.
Yet, the education opportunities, health, economic well-being and freedom of our communities are being debated inside these solid walls right now. We should be present for these conversations that include:
- How Minnesota honors tribal sovereignty through environmental protection and preservation of Dakota and Ojibwe languages.
- Upholding civil rights, like protection from police profiling and violence and restoring voting rights to formerly incarcerated people.
- Increasing economic opportunity through small business development assistance and workforce training.
- How to support pathways to teaching careers for aspiring teachers of color, who will guide our growing population of students of color.
- How better data collection practices can improve our responses to health disparities.
- Expanding access to healthy foods.
- Protecting the safety and wellbeing of our immigrant communities who bring economic and cultural vitality to towns and cities across the state.
- Addressing the overcrowded prison system so that our friends and family members are treated with the dignity they deserve: bring back an ombudsman, end solitary confinement, and offer better mental health care.
So we filled up that space with our faces and voices, our stories and experiences, and our vision for what Minnesota can be. We stood together in support of a racial equity agenda that is strong even though we may feel weary, that is hopeful despite any despair, and that is courageous in the face of fear.
See the 2017 Racial Equity Agenda on the Voices for Racial Justice website. Stay connected—we will have more ways to stay engaged at the Capitol this session. Most of all, let’s stand strong and together, because that is the answer to any threats to civil rights and human dignity, and that is the way to live fully in our house and our communities.