I woke up this morning thinking about the Yeson2 campaign in Minneapolis. The campaign, instigated and organized by people I adore, was a call to replace their municipal police department with a Department of Public Safety. It was visionary, comprehensive and timely. And they got 44% of the vote.
And I want to say as an outsider, supporter, and abolitionist why I am feeling so inspired by this campaign.
1. The center of the campaign is in movement and community, not in the electoral process.
I have said before that electoral spaces cannot be our political homes. One story of this year’s election is that at this incredibly high stakes moment for our species, the Democratic Party, in an underwhelming repeat of most of its existence, took the road most traveled by (run towards the center right!) and now expects people to be surprised that they ended up in the same place of lost political ground. We live in a corrupted electoral system meant to serve whiteness, serve our nation’s elite, and even as we watch this campaign we know others throughout the nation were shady. As India Walton said of the Buffalo mayoral race, “Every dirty trick in the book was tried against us. We knew that would be the case. When you take on the corrupt and the powerful you can’t expect them to play fair.”
But the heart of Yeson2 was not centered in the electoral process – the electoral process is a way to see tangible results from all the other culture shifting work to demand a humane system of care, protection and justice, work that has been unfolding for years, escalating in the wake of George Floyd’s May 2020 murder. This multipronged work will continue.
2. The campaign used a multitude of tactics and strategies that allowed for broad participation and alliance in solution thinking.
The same energy that took people into the streets last May, confronting the mayor and demanding justice, ran all the way through this campaign. That period of massive protest was informed by both lived experience and by excellent research and historical grounding on the 150 years of punitive policing specifically in Minneapolis. There was well-informed grief and rage in the uprising, and it was harnessed into cultural and political strategy. It was harnessed into visionary organizing that helped people see beyond the righteous NO at the root of last year’s uprisings, through to a possibility, to a YES that would actually make everyone in Minneapolis safer.
3. It was a locally grown experiment advancing a national conversation. The abolition of prisons, policing and punitive justice is a dream that has moved through generations, and Black organizers have escalated it in the face of this past decade of police brutality and killings. In order to take the next steps, we need to create a possibility for people to look at, practice, borrow from and be inspired by. The Department of Public Safety is such a solid proposal – a shift that allows for many experiments to emerge, that focuses on responding to those in mental health and economic crises with compassion and care instead of violence and punishment.
4. It was a pleasure. It was irresistible.
Again, I am speaking as a comrade from afar, but I couldn’t resist this campaign. Everyone I know was excited by it, and many people found ways to participate from a distance, or went to be on the ground. I supported a fun, well organized phone bank with my friends Junauda Petrus and Miski Noor, and, inspired by Junauda, I made a not-tik-tok. I watched well informed, creative videos from Lizzo and Ryan Ken and many others. It was an easy campaign to say yes to and support and to feel great about participating in.
5. The data is clear.
Now the organizers understand exactly where to focus their efforts, who still needs to be invited into this vision, and where the tendency to cling to a dysfunctional system is still stronger than the desire to cocreate something that works. The city is an organizing map, and the cultural shift will continue both in the city and all over the country. When we are working at the level of systems change, we don’t get discouraged by a loss in our first attempt – it’s data.
Understanding just how outstanding the organizers of this work are to have made all of this headway in such a short period of time, I’m thrilled to see what they will do with this data, what pleasurable visionary spaces they will invite us into next, what local experiments they will devise to practice in the here and now with that 44%, what complex strategic community they will build, and how they will continue to grow the center of transformative justice through and beyond the cycle of elections.