On Nov. 7, 2020, the day the Associated Press called the election for President Elect Joe Biden, nearly a thousand people gathered in front of the former Third Precinct police headquarters at Minnehaha Ave. and E. Lake St. for “Together We Rise: March to Decide Our Future,” a rally and march along E. Lake St. to Mercado Central.
CTUL (Centro de Tabajadores Unidos en la Lucha), one of the 34 organizations co-hosting the march, described the event like this:
“Together we rise from the ashes from the presidential election, the police killing of George Floyd, the COVID pandemic and the unfair systems that led us to this moment. It is clear that we cannot go back to normal but instead we must create a future where all of us – people of color, workers, tenants, immigrant communities – have a voice and our families can thrive.”
In addition to demanding President Donald Trump honor the results of the election, demonstrators carried signs and cheered for workers’ rights, living wages, affordable housing, rent control, climate solutions, an end to police violence, and justice for Black, Indigenous and People of Color.
Holding a sign featuring the Statue of Liberty that read “Count Every Vote,” MN350 Volunteer Joan Hughes said she was there for many reasons.
“Mainly that democracy counts, the voice of every person counts,” said Hughes. “We really need to make some structural changes along racial, social, gender, climate lines. I want a chance to move forward on all that.”
Speakers called for a seat at the table to chart a new course for the future.
“We don’t want to go back to the normal that was before the pandemic of racism. What we really want is to build something different so that Indigenous people, African Americans, People of Color, immigrants can feel safe here,” said Meena Natarajan, artist and executive director at Pangea World Theater. Natarajan is also part of Longfellow Rising, a collaboration of community groups and businesses impacted during the uprising who are part of developing the process of rebuilding the neighborhood immediately surrounding the site of the former Third Precinct building. She called for creating a framework that could serve as a model for the country that has peace and justice and equity “at the very bones of what we build.”
The People’s Mandate
A few days prior on Nov. 4, the National Day of Protest took place in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood, which ended in the largest mass arrest in Minnesota history.
The protest, organized a month in advance and co-hosted by an additional 34 labor, anti-war, racial and social justice organizations, called for every vote to be counted as well as for a people’s mandate to address the triple pandemic of racism, COVID-19 and the recession.
Following a banner reading “All Power to the People: The Whole Damn System is Guilty as Hell,” demonstrators chanted and marched up Cedar Ave. and onto I-94. As the group approached the next exit at Riverside, they were met by law enforcement officers in full tactical gear who – despite chants of “Let us through” – did not allow anyone to leave.
Instead, hundreds of officers closed in on the crowd from the back and sides, trapping them on the freeway, shutting down both directions of the interstate and detaining community members for more than five hours.
Throughout, demonstrators remained peaceful – leading chants, listening to speeches, and, when a DJ cranked up the music on one of the support vehicles, holding what became an hours-long dance party.
At a press conference outside the Governor’s mansion the following day, Nov. 5, Michelle Gross of Communities United Against Police Brutality said people were demonstrating to demand democracy and a people’s agenda - no matter who won the election. It was, she said, an opportunity for people to express their views.
“This is unacceptable in a democracy,” said Gross, of the 646 people now facing charges. “We are not gonna tolerate this kind of police state conduct… People were not rioting. They were not throwing anything. They were involved in just a peaceful disobedience.”
According to a Nov. 6 social media post by State Rep. Aisha Gomez, many city and state representatives were on the scene or on the phone trying to get people released. Twenty-nine elected officials signed on to a letter sent to Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan that day expressing concern about the actions of the multi-jurisdictional operation under the leadership of the Minnesota State Patrol.
“The decisions made by your administration were the opposite of what we want in response to a protest: police and troopers escalated the situation rather than de-escalated it… these choices wasted public resources and added further strain to the fragile relationship between police and community members, especially in this part of South Minneapolis located just blocks from the 3rd Precinct.”
Signees included all state representatives and senators in the area served by the Messenger as well as County Commissioner Angela Conley and Council Members Cam Gordon and Jeremy Schroeder. Council Member Andrew Johnson was unavailable the morning the letter was circulated but gave this comment in a follow up conversation: "I agree with the sentiment of the letter and don’t believe the law enforcement response was helpful or productive, but was instead unnecessarily punitive. They should have ordered protestors off the freeway, or better yet, blocked them from entering in the first place (as they’ve done before). I hope it’s handled differently next time." His office had also participated in a call with others to Minnesota Department of Safety Commissioner John Harrington the previous morning, expressing their concerns.
In his Nov. 6 email newsletter to constituents, Council Member Schroeder wrote, “…Exercising our constitutional rights in these difficult times shouldn’t be met by an over-reaction by law enforcement. Peaceful protesters should be given clear, repeated warnings to disperse before their detention. They should be given an exit path…”