Hopefully everyone has been following this series over the past few days. It’s time for the third and final letter from the Urban Currents series “Dear Mayor-Elect … Congratulation, Now The Work Begins” Urban Currents series event. The author, Eleonore Wesserle, is Director of Narrative Strategy with Line Break Media, where she helps build the capacity for organizations and individuals to tell their stories through traditional and digital methods. Coming from an activist and organizing background, Eleonore is passionate about using story to create transformative social change. In service of that, she works with individuals and organizations to build their strategic narratives, frame compelling campaign messages, supercharge social media engagement, and create inspiring video pieces, all in service of the change they are seeking to create in the world. Eleonore is Secretary of the Board of the Twin Cities Media Alliance, the organization that runs the Twin Cities Daily Planet, represents Line Break as a member of the national Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), and most recently produced video and other digital content for Jeremiah Ellison’s successful campaign for Ward 5 City Council.
Recap: this series of articles has published the three letters that were written for and read at Urban Currents. Though the dialogue has hopefully started and will continue in the other articles, the similarities and difference in the letters would be a great spark for the conversation here. Where do people agree with all three authors? Was something missing in all of them?
Dear Mayor-elect Frey,
I did not rank you first, or second, or third on my ballot. I tell you this because my hopes for how you would move forward in your new office are inextricably linked to why you did not earn my vote. You see, I’m not a policy expert, and while I am more familiar with the workings of government than your average bear, the activists and organizers I support and break bread with run circles around me with their knowledge.
What I am is a communications professional. I work at the intersection of imagination and social change, facilitating clients to either recover or enhance their power to express their dreams in service of their progressive campaigns. I believe, and have the research to back up, that speaking dreams to power is both an unavoidable step in transforming our society towards justice, equity, and sustainability, and is also the step that justice and peace loving people often seem to miss. This miss is no accident, it’s a strategic advantage for our opposition. I repeat this quote to my clients and anyone else who will listen: the most successful thing the dominant culture has ever done is to limit our imagination of what’s possible.
In Minneapolis’ weak mayor system, what I really see when I look at the mayor’s office is a bully pulpit. I see the power to set an agenda, not only for city government but for the city’s population. The ability to spark, and hopefully fuel, people’s dreams for a better Minneapolis. The opportunity to expand our imagination of what’s possible.
And herein lies both my core critique of your candidacy, and my urging for your office.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve seen Cool Hand Luke. What we’ve got here, though, is not a failure to communicate – you’re quite practiced at that. What we’ve got here is a failure of imagination. And not just any sort of imagination, but specifically the ability to imagine and articulate a Minneapolis of true justice and equity – by race, gender, ability, of economics, environment, education, and more. A Minneapolis of generosity, where we care for each other in the diverse ways the many populations of our One Minneapolis need and want. A Minneapolis that feels abundant and connected because we have abundance and connection. A Minneapolis that builds towards the future by repairing and healing the persisting harms of the past. You communicate well on these issues, but it’s clear that you currently do not exercise the imagination and vision it takes to step out of your experience and honor and elevate the dreams of others.
Let’s take as case study your response to the thisismpls.com voter guide question, “Do you believe that we could ever have a city without police?” Your answer: “No.” Follow up question: “What would you do, as an elected official, to bring us closer to police abolition?” Your answer, to paraphrase, was that if government were to do away with police, rich people would simply hire private security forces to protect their interests, and the risk of violence would increase.
It is incredibly telling to me that, when presented with this thought experiment, you immediately jump to a Mad-Max type dystopian scenario of increased violence and disparity. This is a failure of imagination on two levels: First, that you can’t even conceive of a Minneapolis where we’ve changed conditions for the better enough that a police presence would not be necessary. And second, that you can’t think of any other method for us to keep each other safe than police or privately hired thugs. (I mean…that’s it? Not a Minneapolis where everyone’s needs are fully & fairly met? Not a Minneapolis where men and cis people have ended harassment of trans and cis women? Not a Minneapolis where Black & Brown & Indigenous people have no fear of profiling, deportation, or other white supremacist violence? Just…either police or private security forces? That’s all that comes to mind?)
Let’s contrast this with a quote from Council member-elect Jeremiah Ellison, from a Facebook post where he expands and follows up on his affirmative response to that question (full disclosure, I worked on his campaign):
“I absolutely dream of a world without police. A world without violence. A world without state abuse. A world without punitive ‘justice.’ I dream of this world, because we will never get to a different world without dreaming of it first. That is core to my campaign.
There is this saying among [community] organizers, it goes ‘organize yourself out of a job.’ The saying forces you to envision a victory, a world where income inequality is solved because of the work you did. A world where racism no longer exists because of the work you did. A world where women are no longer systemically underpaid, overworked, and harmed.
When your job is to manage pain and alleviate danger, I hope you too can imagine a world in which your job no longer exists.”
Now, before you jump to any conclusions, let me really hammer my point in here: I, too, dream of a Minneapolis without police. On days when I feel like we can be really ambitious, I think of that Minneapolis occurring 50 years from now, in 2067. On days when I feel more tempered, I take the number of years that the Minneapolis police have existed – a mere 150 – and look forward to a police-free Minneapolis in 2167. On days when I feel more discouraged, I recognize that the institution of policing has existed in this country for around 300 years, beginning with the first slave patrols, and look towards Minneapolis 2317. But for me, as for Council member-elect Ellison, the possibility is always there, and that’s what makes the difference.
Mayor-Elect Frey, I do not expect, nor do I really want, you to eliminate the police in the short amount of time of your mayoral term. That would be incredibly foolish and likely harmful. But if you were actually able to believe in the possibility of a police-free Minneapolis, then you’d have to consider all that it would take to get there. Let me reiterate that I chose this question as a case study – of all of the rhetoric that you used during your campaign, I believe this response is the one that most clearly showed your hand. So my urging to you includes the issue of policing, it is not limited to that one issue. Rather, my urging for you is to grow the skill within yourself to take the challenges that people put towards you as opportunities to expand your thinking outside of your bubble. My encouragement to you is to partner with the most marginalized members of our community to craft the most imaginative possibilities of justice, equity, and sustainability for our city. And my hope for you is to use your office to uplift a visionary destination towards which we can navigate, together, on this and all other issues that our Minneapolis needs to tackle.
Thank you for your time,
We invited the Mayor-Elect to respond to these letters and I will pick up from here if we receive a statement from him. If you’re interested in learning more about Urban Currents, click here or email rnash(at)cuningham.com.