A little more than a year ago, I was inspired to create what has been called “the definitive three-part [film] series about the people and culture of Saint Paul.” But the deep concerns about car storage that I explored in that series aren’t unique to Saint Paul. During the most recent meeting of the Minneapolis City Planning Commission, two pretty unremarkable development projects drew some remarkable concerns about parking. As a result, an unlikely YIMBY hero named Sharon was born.
Lucky for me, noted local documentary filmmaker, our public feedback process is designed to draw out a city’s most colorful characters. Hardly anyone ever spends a few hours at City Hall during the work day to say something boring like, “I’m not all that stressed about parking, go ahead and build that single story-retail building in my neighborhood!”
Both projects discussed in these videos were approved. In a few years everyone will forget the predictions of doom. Things will turn out just fine. And fortunately for fans of Channel 14, this will cause not one person to have second thoughts about spending a few hours at City Hall to testify against the next thing.
I watched the videos and am struck by the mean spiritedness of ridiculing fellow citizens who have taken the time and risk to express their views to a public panel. I see no value in this whatsoever.
I have to agree. Mocking the few people that take the time to show up an opportunity for civic involvement just because they have a different opinion or different concerns than you is not something we should be doing.
Bold words for someone who mocks housing choices he doesn’t personally choose as “stack & pack”
Given the context of this conversation, bringing up how everyone pretended to be offended by “stack & pack” might not help your point
Just saying, if we’re going to become tone police, let’s start with ourselves.
Someone Who Is Totally Willing To Be Unimaginably Rude
IMO let’s let that dog sleep forever.
I totally agree. Don’t complain if you can’t show up.
John Edwards is a long-time advocate for transit, peds and bicyclists. He “shows up” in many different ways. You should follow him via Wedge LIVE! to get a greater sense of his advocacy work.
He is using public media (people are broadcast on local TV when they speak) and due to the obvious use of sarcasm, the ethics of this video are fairly strong.
Just my 2 cents as a media scholar, media producer, and non-car advocate!
I agree. Your opinion only counts if you can take hours out of the middle of your day and show up at a city council meeting to say it over a microphone.
If people attend public panels and make controversial remarks, they should be able to handle critique on their absurd views, it’s an important part of public discussion. I would not have watched any of those panels if it didn’t have a humorous effect to it. The quality of that is another discussion. It may be mocking, but have you seen a discussion in the british parliament? Without showing stuff like this to the public these people have no one to tell them that it’s quite ridiculous that they find it disastrous enough to tell the city that they have to walk half a block when they park. Who is going to tell them that parking right in front of where you need to go can’t be a human right because of the logical problem that space is scarce?
These people can be quite dangerous. For one, they are a very homogenous group of people, who can’t possibly represent the people. They have also been known to create vast amounts of racial segregation because they are scared of color, and to support specific things only to improve their own property values. They say no to stuff that would benefit most people because they have non-representable views. It’s a waste of time and I don’t see how we can continue these panels the way we do without an online presence.
I saw very little “critique” of any of the views of these people; only mocking.
Ironically, the woman most mocked in one of the videos was making a point I assume the poster would have agreed with, had he taken the time to listen to what she was saying. She’s the one who said she moved to the city decades ago because she wanted a city experience. She made the point in one of her snippets that there is plenty of parking although you might have to walk a short distance to use it.
The problem with mean spirited videos like this is that the discussion ends up focusing on the method and motivation of the poster, more than the more important points people are trying to make. Just witness the comments on this thread.
Wait, people saw this as mocking Sharon? Sharon is now a YIMBY folk hero due to this video. I thought the point of the video was to honor Sharon and elevate her voice in this dialog. Walk it out, Sharon!
I agree. We critique positions, not mock people.
It’s work like yours, and alas the spirit behind it, that makes the struggle for sustainable futures more difficult. Great work self-congratulating yourself instead of educating others.
Yeah, this is probably the worst thing I’ve seen on this site. So glib and unfunny. Plus, I suspect many of these people you’re mocking here were probably living in the city back when most writers here were still toddlers out in suburbia…
I’m not convinced that living in the city for forty years is more virtuous than growing up in the suburbs and deciding to move to the city in your twenties.
Yeah, it’s not. But moving someplace and making fun of the people who have been there for awhile is poor form.
Yeah, it’s not. People can be crazy even if they’ve loved in the same place for awhile.
True enough, boss. But maybe mocking people’s concerns and calling them “crazy” isn’t the best way to persuade them to embrace change.
I don’t know if the point is to make converts out of people who flush $100,000 away in a futile effort to halt a demolition, or who let tires out of contractors’ cars at construction sites as protest. I think the point is to make it so anti-housing activists’ dangerous views do not spread further, and to make it dangerous for politicians to act on those anti-housing views.
*electorally dangerous, of course.
I’m a fan of housing and density, for sure, and think people who automatically oppose it are wrong. But I also think recent events show that it is not at all “electorally dangerous” for politicians to side with people who hold narrow, traditionalist, change-averse viewpoints. Nor is particularly difficult to demonize those who bring newer, more progressive thinking as smug elitists imposing their sinister whims on long-suffering “real Americans,” and these kinds of videos only make it easier to do that.
I don’t like knee-jerk anti-change thinking, but I don’t think the way to defeat it is to take a ridiculing, “we’re right, you’re silly and backwards” stance.
So this comment thread was interesting and we yesterday had a conversation at the board / editorial level about it. Generally speaking, the verdict is that these videos are probably not the right tone for streets.mn, where our goal is to foster conversations about the built environment.
There was some disagreement about whether or not it’s fair to highlight public testimony, though, and I personally feel like bringing public comments into the broader eye can be a good thing to do, as many of these comments (in my experience) have factual flaws or expose troubling biases. And I also personally value John’s community advocacy work, video editing skills, and sense of humor, all of which are in quite short supply in this world.
Certainly worth discussing and thanks to everyone for your thoughts. We’ll bring it up at the next board meeting on 8/12 and loop in the Editorial team.
Tuning in to Wedge Live! content has been fairly eye opening for me. I realize that these videos have a satirical bent to them and are heavily edited, but that led me to watching and listening to public hearings so that I could hear those (frequently hyperbolic) statements in their full context. If you’re looking to foster engagement and conversation, I think this is one way to do it. People have every right to express themselves publicly, but highlighting the sometimes bizarre arguments that can influence public policy is worthwhile.
I agree completely. The first time you go to a public meeting and see this kind of testimony “live”, it’s quite eye opening. Thus the great public service that Wedge Live provides.
I agree with you. It may be mocking, but have you seen a discussion in the british parliament? Without showing stuff like this to the public these people have no one to tell them that it’s quite ridiculous that they find it disastrous enough to tell the city that they have to walk half a block when they park. Who is going to tell them that parking right in front of where you need to go can’t be a human right because of the logical problem that space is scarce?
Hey folks whether you want to admit it or not these people in the videos and people like them have shaped housing and parking policy ex. redlining, exclusionary zoning, racists deed restrictions, parking minimums, etc. Documenting what people say is not name calling. It’s worth it to highlight the arguments people make at public meetings.
Anyways every day StreetMN becomes less relevant when you give in to pressures of the people in these comments who are butthurt and have no sense of humor. Also as a POC I find it offensive that you keep propping up a certain racist Trump supporter who contributes to you site, hint he left a comment in this post. So fix that. Both sides for life.
When you have a conversation I hope you include that racists tweet someone tweeted about only white people needing sunscreen during your picnic. Happy to provide the screenshot.
Yikes can you send that to me? firstname.lastname@example.org
Sent. Whoever did it apologized and immediately deleted it when I sent them a message about it. Not trying to get this person in trouble, just trying to point out there seems to be a discrepancy in the kinds of things the Board is willing to be outraged about. Highlighting the public comments of white homeowners seems to be the red line.
I appreciate the feedback. We’re trying to make board conversations more transparent but we have capacity limitations b/c of the all-volunteer nature of the organization.
Regular reader, occasional poster, and agree with this comment. 💯
Opposition to bike lanes, housing, progressive housing policy, parking restrictions, etc., are the default view. It’s worth highlighting the absolutely bizarre stuff people say to prevent these positive changes. “Shadows on a patio! noo! Sex shops! Noo!” It’s actually pretty offensive the things people will list at meetings to deny this, and not a lot of it gets heard if you don’t attend the meetings.
Documenting this is crucial. I have to wonder about anyone who is offended to see this all documented: why don’t you want to see us discuss the racist views that people bring up in planning meetings?
Personally, I’d love to see a post elaborating on the link between racism and public meeting comments.
I say this as a frequent reader, commenter, and writer for streets.mn.
streets.mn is all about expanding conversations, so here’s one:
White homeowners people have used zoning, neighborhood organizations, public process, and more as both explicit and implicit means of economic and racial segregation and personal wealth creation for decades. The crazy stuff people say deserves scrutiny if we want to break the barriers that exist to accessing housing, jobs, education, and other opportunities. If it takes a little ridicule to get people to watch videos of things they’d otherwise never attend or view – not unlike how the Daily Show or Last Week Tonight presents issues with commentary – then so be it. It’s not the beginning or the end of the conversation, or even with all the right people, around land use and transportation. But it’s definitely a part of it.
As one who also frequently participation, let me say: what Alex said.
Furthermore, if any of these people would like space to respond, I bet that can be arranged.
Also add: as one who frequently commits a lot of typos.
I hear you on that, and agree on the need to confront the entrenched privilege that holds society back, but I’m not convinced snark (whether the Daily Show or the videos presented here) really has any purpose beyond allowing like-minded people to salve the pain of their struggles in the policy/public sphere with a bit of in-group ridicule of their opponents. As in, “Our goals are being thwarted or threatened by these people we dislike, so let’s make ourselves feel better by laughing at them among ourselves.” That might have a purpose, and God knows I’ve done it myself. But I don’t really think it does anything beyond making bands of allies feel better about themselves. Maybe it rallies the believers, but it doesn’t break barriers.
Counterpoint: I wasn’t one of the “in-group” here, had never watched a city council meeting, and didn’t know about my neighborhood association prior to encountering WedgeLive in 2014. John provides an entertaining entry point to a lot of important stuff that many people are completely unaware of.
I think you underestimate salve, then.
As a naive college student, I tried to get involved in my neighborhood org back in the early 2000s. I had neighbors I’d just met turn on me yelling expletives in my face, complete with spittle, when I dared to suggest that we didn’t need *two* parking spots per unit in a proposed development a block from five bus lines, two of them high frequency, a half mile from downtown. I left that meeting feeling like I now viscerally understood the concept of “mob mentality.” Combined with what was already a pattern of exclusion from the NO, I disengaged from local politics–I felt scared, voiceless, powerless, unwanted, unwelcome, and excluded. I felt there was no place for someone like me in Minneapolis’ governmental structures (I stayed politically active, but not within local government or quasi-government).
I didn’t even think of trying again until more than a dozen years later, after I started following local political Twitter accounts. A few months ago, I was again sworn at by a person who’d already derisively and rudely interrupted my comment during the meeting (tangent: three strangers came up to me after the meeting ended to thank me for speaking and say they felt too scared to say anything (for two, it was their first ever public meeting)). I’d ended up standing behind her as she also waited to talk to the public officials and I introduced myself, because I didn’t like the divisiveness of the meeting and I didn’t want to leave with that as our only direct interaction. I tried to find common ground and we were doing well, I thought, despite her put-downs based on my housing (renter), wealth (not a home-owner and certainly didn’t own as many units as she did), and transportation mode (carfree). She barked at me to “shut the [expletive] up” after I suggested that, with our current climate crisis, I and many of my peers who’re having kids would prefer safer biking/walking over preserving public parking spaces. Again, I didn’t know what to do; I said I was done talking, turned my back to her, and tried to blink back tears at being treated like that.
The biggest difference between these two incidents? In the second one, I wasn’t alone. Others who witnessed it verified that I didn’t deserve to be treated that way and offered to walk me home so I’d feel safe. I was able to see milder versions of the same strange parking entitlement play out in the video clips John has made from public meetings, helping me realize that it wasn’t about me. I’m not laughing at them as people, but at the absurdity and cognitive dissonance of these claims.
So yeah, that’s salve.
Very good points. And I’m sorry you were treated badly, Julia. I’m not morally opposed to mockery of ridiculous, mean people. It’s more a tactical objection for me. But maybe I’m lucky enough to live in a bubble where well-meaning, smart people come together and discuss their differences in good faith.
For me, it comes down to some critical issues happening right now–locally, nationally, and globally. On most progressive fronts, there is significant opposition by people who have entirely different priorities and resist change intensely. Oftentimes, these people’s attitudes are rooted in prejudice and defended with venom, and they’re not likely to change anytime soon (if ever). In saner times, “elites” of one manner or another could simply bypass these people through their own authority.
However, with the rise of populism, the internet, and other social trends these people have been weirdly empowered to flip the script: they’re highly privileged, but now they see themselves as the oppressed minority being persecuted by urbanists, immigrants, globalists, etc. So that creates a backlash, and the progressive goals become more and more challenging. And I worry that media–with whatever good intentions–that plays into their prejudices (that their progressive opponents sneer at them as simpletons or lunatics and “think they know what is right for them”) will simply give heft to a regressive, populist backlash.
But I get what people who differ have been saying in this thread.
We’re not talking about rural Trump voters here. “These people” have already been driving housing policy for decades. If anyone’s flipping the script here it’s people like John bringing in young, previously unengaged people to an opaque system that has generally been dominated by people who are older and more well off.
Videos like this, which contrast the hyperbole about traffic and parking with the ordinary-ness of the project help expose the ridiculousness of the complaints, and lead the watcher to naturally question the motives (or the sanity) of the complainers.
It’s not going to interest everyone, but it is absolutely a valid way to make a point.
These videos are edited to make them digestible and, for some people, entertaining. But the statements made here aren’t any less ridiculous if you watch them in the unedited context of an entire Planning Commission meeting (not that anyone has the time for that). They are remarkable statements. If it’s uncomfortable for some people to watch, that’s perhaps not entirely the fault of the editor. Privileged people making absurd arguments affect public policy every day, in every city across the country. So I think there’s some value in highlighting the absurd.
Oh man, Sharon is the bomb.
I like Sharon too.
Satire and ridicule have long been a part of American politics, and the politics of robust democracies more widely.
Like any political tactic it’s worth asking what the conversion rate is, whether you lose more people who are offended than you gain from people whose eyes are opened or newly engaged to push for their beliefs.
But the persistence of satire and ridicule as political tactics, however risky, in lots of contexts suggests it probably works, and is worth trying. It’s the viewpoints and opinions that are being mocked, not the people.
It is with supreme pleasure and privilege that I begin this comment knowing full well it will inevitably end in a quote from Frank Zappa. You have been warned.
As a musician, I think I bring a specific perspective here linguistically that is worth noting. Video editing is a lot like music and follows a lot of the same creative forms. In my opinion, it therefore follows some of the same ethical forms and some of the same ethical questions can be asked of video as can be asked of music.
Historically, musicians have either embodied their own individuality by expressing their own original notes in improvisation or by interpreting other composers written works. In my very esoteric world of jazz, it’s the difference between playing standards and playing originals. Both require originality and both are widely respectable. John Coltrane did both. He played songs he didn’t write with Miles and he played songs he wrote (and dedicated to God no less) with “A Love Supreme.”
But video editing is a modern art form.
And as such, it is best comparable to sampling, a technique that originated with Hip Hop pioneers such as Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc etc.
With sampling, musicians found the ability through technology to literally use exact ideas recorded out of context to create new ideas. Some musicians chose to make wildly new ideas.
James Yancey, for those of you who have not been born again into the art of hip hop, is in my opinion, a modern master. His album Donuts, recorded on his death bed as he was dying of lupus, tracks in a perfect circle as if it is a metaphor for the infinite which Dilla was peering into and about to become one with. He bends samples with the spirit that Coltrane blew air threw his horn.
And some musicians are arguably worthless hacks that just steal cool Queen/Bowie licks and rap poorly over them. See “Ice Ice Baby.” It’s truly terrible.
It saddens me that in music, the out of control corporatism of the major labels and out of date copyright law has used legislation to beat the creativity out of sampling. Kanye and Jay still have cultural relevancy mainly because they retain the capital to continue sampling.
Regardless, what John is doing is remixing the public commons as samples to make a statement all his own.
This is cool because:
a) these videos are common property. They may be remixed at will. This is increasingly rare in our legislative society. And although this is uncommon on Streets.MN, I can say within the area of my academic expertise that John is using these video samples fairly as public comment videos are the definition of the commons.
b) John is doing this in the spirit of how sampling originally was used. Wu Tang used sampling to make political statements. Run DMC used sampling to make political statements. Immortal Technique did. Kool Herc did. You can make a very strong anthropological argument that sampling was born in political statements and artistically thrived best within the context of political statements. Just look at Kendrick Lamar’s seminal “To Pimp a Butterfly” for a modern example.
For better or for worse, sampling is here to stay and sampling is to music now what citing sources is to academics: inextricable.
I would argue this applies to video sampling as well.
So as we talk about source material and how it can be decontextualized through sampling, I wanna “loop” back to my second favorite sample off of Dilla’s Donuts…
(Full disclosure: my favorite sample is the Three Degrees doo wop “Maybe” sample that comes in at the tail end of the record with “Hi.” Because dear GOD my softie heart just can’t. handle. the beautiful romanticism of a funky romantic encounter at a bus stop. It’s perfectly in all ways, especially in how it hides the original composition’s soul explosion into one smoky nostalgic moment. Baby Baby Baby indeed. But I digress.)
…which is the bizzare “Mash”: built out of Frank Zappa’s song “Dance Contest.”
Frank Zappa, as some of you may recall, had some beautiful things to say when he was called to the stand by Congress to defend freedom of speech in music. He described rating or censoring music as “treating dandruff by decapitation.” I think our current situation is similar here: We are asking ourselves if we should silence an entire artistic discourse namely because of minor discomfort.
If you would like to read his Zappa’s testimony (as it is historic in it’s own right) you may do so here: http://downlode.org/Etext/zappa.html
Personally, I think it is over-reaching in the advocacy discussion to shame someone and tone police them for sampling public testimony. I think Zappa would agree.
In regards to whether or not this sampling exercise is appropriate for the medium of Streets.MN I will leave that decision up to the board. It is as Dan Deacon once said, “Not my chair.”
But I will say that this sampling discourse is entirely valid and entirely artistic in it’s own right. It is, in my opinion, composed out of common materials and formed into a new idea attributable to it’s author/editor’s creativity. And because of that I give it respect and I am grateful for it’s existence.
This was great.
Brilliant, amazing, and hilarious. We live in a world where our taxes pay for mass murder in other countries, we have a judicial system designed to deliver mass incarceration of Americans with a dark skin tone, women live every day with the fear of sexual terrorism, our capitalist consumerism is resulting in the destruction of animal habitats, and we torture and kill billions of animals a year for a burger. If you are deeply concerned about someone making a light hearted joke about people obsessed with parking then I don’t understand your perspective.
Satire’s an old and good thing in political discourse. Sometimes it’s the last tool of the powerless. Other times it’s the hard-to-watch tool of the powerful. Using satire to point out the shortcomings of people living their daily lives would be mean. But satire in a political setting is fair game. It’s often the most effective messaging strategy available–especially when the targets are cringe-worthy. Mr. Edwards daylights what happens when we avert our eyes to the circus of the electeds, or when public process becomes the domain of the fringe. So where’s the problem, with the satire or the speaker?