Politics in America, Election 2016
The Political Activist — North Minneapolis
Last Saturday, around 10:00am, a man approached my north Minneapolis home. He was black, middle-aged, overweight. He wore clean khakis, wire-rim glasses, and a hat to cover his bald head; tattoos crept from his sleeves and collar. He walked up the steps and through the porch, then beat an unthreatening rhythm on the front door. When I heard the knock, I assumed it was Kaos, my eight-year-old neighbor who often comes over to play, work or learn. I had taught Kaos to knock in the same manner so that I’d know it’s him when he comes. I raced Audrey to the door and swung it open.
“Hi, I’m Kenny. Just out…” Audrey could sense his nerves, and she began barking incessantly. Kenny’s eyes widened as he glanced over my shoulder. “That’s a big dog,” he said. “That dog could do something to me.”
I hushed Audrey and apologized. We walked out to the front steps, and after a few vocal breathes, Kenny continued. “Like I said, I’m Kenny.”
I extended my hand. “Roman, nice to meet you.”
“Likewise,” he said, gripping my fingers. “I’m just out canvassing the neighborhood, making sure folks are aware of the upcoming election and answering any questions they might have. Are you planning to vote?”
I wasn’t planning to vote, and like many Americans, I’ve been extremely disturbed by this year’s political contests.
“Fuck them Presidents,” I said. “Vote? Because I’m lucky to live in a free and democratic society and it’s my duty and privilege? We have the choice between a lying, cheating, career politician who has publicly mishandled situations and information, and an old, born-and-bred one-percenter with a reputation for exploiting people and systems.”
Kenny paused but didn’t visibly react. He wasn’t here for that election. “Even if you don’t vote for President, at least vote for school board, and please, we’re asking everyone to vote yes for the kids. You a D-F-L-er?” He handed me a flyer.
I laughed through my nose, then glanced at the paper. “No,” I said. “Who’s running?” There was a picture of Kerry Jo Felder and Kim Ellison. “Is she related to Keith Ellison,” I asked, examining the flyer?
“Kim? That’s his ex-wife,” he said.
“I sent that bastard a letter when Jamar Clark was killed, asking him to consider creating or amending the law that defines acceptable police force in America. He never got back to me — probably because he’s super busy with all those finance committees.”
Kenny paused again, ignored the comment, and continued with his talking points. “Well, they’re both backed by the DFL, and they both support the referendum, which is asking for 74 million dollars — money the schools already get, but are gonna run out of— to keep classes sizes small.”
“How big are the classes now,” I asked?
“Minneapolis public schools have a 1 to 50 ratio…”
“No fuckin way.”
“I’m sorry, that’s how bad they could get without the funding. Right now they’re about one to 30. And most classes have a teacher’s assistant.”
“So basically one to 15? At a public school? That’s crazy. Even I learned with 22-25 other kids in primary school. How long have they been this small in Minneapolis? Clearly, small class sizes are ineffective in closing the achievement gap. Minnesota has one of the worst, if not the worst achievement gap in the whole country. And I’d be willing to bet we also have one of the lowest student-teacher ratios. One to fifteen!”
“You know man, I’m just a volunteer. I’m a single father of three. I just…”
“Why don’t we take that money and give these kids access to high-speed internet? I know schools already lend out computers to low-income students. How much internet do you think we could get for 74 million dollars? Give these kids a computer and Google, teach them basic academic use, and I guarantee you they’ll learn much better. The world lives and works online. If we are going to educate these children, if we expect them to live, work and compete with their counterparts, they must have the same access to information throughout their lives.
Or better yet, why don’t we pass a law that says if your child isn’t reading at grade-level, you’re guilty of child neglect, and you must take extensive parenting courses and go to family counseling; and you must attend tutoring sessions with your child, so that you can learn how to teach and encourage learning. How many el-ed undergrads you think we could pay with 74 million dollars? And fucking finance committee Keith Ellison’s ex-wife — who apparently kept his name — wants 74 million dollars to go to a classroom management program that has contributed to the largest education gap in history?
I’m not saying they shouldn’t get the money. I’m all for the kids. It’s just we should fund better programs. You can’t tell me that’s not bull shit, and that Kerry Jo Felder and Kim Ellison care about education or equal opportunity. Politicians only care about money. And it’s an easy fucking living.”
“Like I said, I’m just a volunteer. Please just vote, go to the forum. I gotta knock on the rest of these doors. You have a good one, sir.”
“You too, thanks for the info.”
I watched Kenny latch the front gate and went inside. Laura met me at the door. She had a curious look on her face. “What was that about?”
“Oh, nothing, ” I said sarcastically. “He just wanted to make sure I knew when and where to vote and to see if I had any questions. And that Kim Ellison and Kerry Joe Felder were running on the Democratic ticket for the Minneapolis Public School Board, and are supporting a referendum for the kids. And even if I don’t vote for the candidates, be sure I vote yes for the kids.”