The People’s Congress
On Saturday, December 12, over 500 ISAIAH clergy and leaders spent the day at The People’s Congress at the Minneapolis Convention Center with 1,000 leaders from 15 other people’s organizations to help shape an emerging people’s movement.
Together, we created a space where we could share our pain and resolve and where we could break free from the limits of a movement compartmentalized by issues and unite around a power compass that allows us to see all of the work we do as part of a larger effort to transform our state. We not only imagined a new world, we created a space where we acted on our imaginations as well.
This is no small accomplishment, especially given that there are so many forces that divide us, by faith, by race, by class, and by geography. So many things keep us apart, and yet we still came together and committed ourselves to finding common ground and acknowledging our differences. We still came together to align around a common belief that we could build a better Minnesota where the dignity of every person is not only protected, but nurtured. There is no denying that there is much to do to ensure that this belief translates into reality. And we can celebrate that we are not alone in our desire to make that work our work.
All of this got the attention of powerful people. We sent one very powerful message on Saturday: we are united around a common compass, and you cannot divide us. The Governor’s office, the St. Paul City Council, and Target are all used to dealing with our organizations individually, often around one or two issues. For the first time, they had to negotiate with all of us, together, on a variety of fronts. And it clearly made a difference. Governor Dayton’s administration made a deeper commitment to criminal justice reform, a commitment they would not have made three months ago. Jim Rowader publicly praised the relationship we’ve built with him and Target and agreed to help lead a panel that will advise the city on paid sick leave, a panel made up primarily of leaders from our organizations. And three members of the St. Paul City Council—President Russ Stark and Council members Dai Thao and Jane Prince—came to tell us that paid sick leave would be a priority for them in 2016.
All of this transpired because we brought 1,500 people from across 15 organizations together. And it happened because those 1,500 people represented thousands of others who could not join us that day. Little, if any of this, would have transpired if we had not linked arms. Imagine what we might accomplish, moving forward, now that elected officials and corporate leaders at U.S. Bank and elsewhere see us acting in concert together.
Public officials were not the only people who noticed this new development in Minnesota’s political landscape. 70 people from national organizations and people’s organizations from other states joined us because people across the country think that what is happening in Minnesota is extraordinary and they want to learn from it. They were in awe of us. What we are building is unique and something many say is even impossible.
We have work to do as ISAIAH to integrate the Compass we ratified on Saturday into our work and to define how we will evolve to be an even more powerful force in our state. We will use 2016 to move into deeper relationship with the most powerful corporations in our state to move our agenda forward. We will redouble our commitment as an organization to dismantle racial oppression and to be an authentic vehicle for leadership of color at every level. We will enroll more and more people of faith and faith communities into this path. And we will continue to deepen our partnerships with NOC, CTUL, SEIU, TakeAction, and others.
There are also concrete ways to move this work forward in the weeks and months ahead. In early 2016, we have the chance to move paid sick leave forward in both cities. And we will begin efforts to build a community bargaining table with Xcel Energy to ensure everyone has access to clean energy. The legislative session provides us countless opportunities to translate our values into action.