Start with Why

I was in a meeting recently and the facilitator asked the group, ‘So, what problem are we trying to solve”?

I blurted out, “White Supremacy”.

Which I quickly followed up with, “Well, I guess it depends on how far back you want to go?”.

Because right, like anything, we have the choice to deal with the symptoms or deal with the causes of the symptoms. We can work to address issues of racial disparities and racial inequality by tinkering around the edges. Or we can go further upstream and get to the root cause. We can work to take the world as it is, and try to make it a little bit better, or we can work to change the way the world actually works.

This is the difference between static enhancement and transformational justice.

I see a lot of static enhancement in our region. I practice a lot of static enhancement. It’s not all bad.

The work of transformational justice takes more time, takes a deeper analysis, takes more sacrifice and costs (monetary and non-monetary) more. I would argue though, that any work we do in the here and now is better when it’s informed by the longer-term work of undoing and uprooting the root causes of so much of the oppression and marginalization present in our world today.

I am using this perspective as I look at the various municipal races happening in Minneapolis and Saint Paul this year. I’m not much of a party person, so I don’t know much about how the DFL works and operates, though at first glance it feels less than inspiring. In Minnesota, the label of being a ‘progressive’, is one people and groups choose to describe their politics. And then of course there is a continuum of ‘more’ or ‘less’ progressive that is always up for debate.  It’s a good debate, one we should be having as we work to advance more fair and just cities in our state.

If I had to make a continuum of ‘who is more left’ there are a few things I’d be looking for. Going back to what I wrote above, I want to see and hear from leaders who have a strong analysis and perspective of what it would take to change the way the world actually works while they are working to make the world as it is better. Listen, we are awesome about talking about ‘what’ the issues are, but we let our candidates off the hook when we don’t ask them deeper questions about ‘why’ these issues exist and persist.

I want to know what you think about why are wages stagnant? Why do low and moderate income people get left behind in a city that is growing? Why do we allow toxic environments to flourish in some communities and not in others? I want to know what you think about the exploitation and marginalization of people of color and Indigenous people and how that creates the problems we’re trying to solve for today.

If I designed a questionnaire for candidates it might go something like this:

  1. Why are people poor?
  2. How is our society organized to preference White people in our city? What are the consequences of that?
  3. How does a history of cultural imperialism, violence and displacement impact our racial, and economic inequalities?
  4. Where are people of color and indigenous people on the circle of human belonging? Why does it matter?
  5. Based on your answers, how will all of this impact your decision making and policy making?

Your answers to these ‘why’ questions are the meat towards me understanding your analysis and worldview. From there, I might get a better sense of the agenda you plan to set if elected and the decisions you’ll end making (or not making).

Most of our candidates can tell you ‘what’ the issues are. Wages are stagnant. Housing prices are rising. The police are too violent. The air isn’t clean. The transportation isn’t good enough. That’s easy. Most candidates can even probably tell you the 3-4 things they’ll do to address the issue.

I would argue though that letting them stay there is a low bar and a lost opportunity to understanding and pushing our leaders further.

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Comment (1)

  1. Jono Cowgill says:

    This is a fantastic post. Glad you’re blogging again! And please make that candidate questionnaire real. So straightforward and impactful. Looking forward to the next post!