Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #139. First published in the St. Cloud Times online Feb. 1, 2019; in print Feb. 3

These days I sometimes say the title of a 1960s musical: “Stop the world, I want to get off!” Sometimes, with Martin Luther, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

Dysfunction, social erosion, crassness – it is easy to conclude this is what we’ve come to. Between the musical and Luther there is whiplash – both intellectual and spiritual.

I recently spent an hour in a setting where sanity shined through the murk and the mess, a space in which hopes and dreams were shown to be realistic, down to earth.

Two nonpartisan organizations, Growth & Justice and OneMN.org, held a joint press conference at the St. Cloud Public Library to launch “Thriving by Design – Rural and Urban Together,” a process to create the One Minnesota Equity Blueprint.

Both organizations have been around more than a decade. Experience backs up their claims.

The “&” in Growth & Justice is itself a declaration. It’s commonly thought that economic growth is at odds with social justice. G&J knows they actually go together.

OneMN.org’s mission is to engage and empower Minnesotans to establish shared sustainable prosperity and a shared vision towards racial equity, climate action, more opportunities for all our people in the bottom and middle, with a strong accent on a more inclusive prosperity for Greater Minnesota.

The key word is “shared.”

“Thriving by Design – Rural & Urban Together.” 

Notice: Together. This is not just rhetoric. For six months there were community meetings all across the state, involving more than 300 individuals and dozens of organizations. People were asked to share what ideas inspire them, concern them, need to be added.

The designing wasn’t done by theory or by PowerPoint. It was done in conversation together, by people directly affected every day by what happens in government and in our other interactions. They made real what is seen through a rural-urban, racial and socioeconomic equity lens.

The One Minnesota Equity Blueprint is coming into focus. It does not lay out a scattered collection of silos where the caretakers say “Here I stand, I can do no other.” The feature of the blueprint that most encourages me, makes me want not to get off the world (or at least the world of Minnesota), is its recognition that everything is connected to everything else. It’s a blueprint for the house we all live in, together.

G&J and OneMN.org readily acknowledge that we face huge challenges, but the challenges are “positive opportunities rather than crises to avoid. Innovative investments in human potential, equitable economic growth, physical infrastructure, civic engagement, and climate action present enormous and exciting new opportunities to build a Minnesota that is more prosperous and more fair than ever before.” 

The blueprint doesn’t join the countless other studies and proposals that gather dust on a shelf in some office somewhere. It is put squarely before the state legislature.

G&J and OneMN.org are saying to our representatives and senators: You are responsible for constructing the house we all live in. By electing you, we’ve issued you a contract to build it. Here’s a design that makes it one house where everybody feels at home – where nobody’s room is too cold or too hot, in disrepair, moldy. It’s not “If you build it, they will come.” We’re already here.

Like any blueprint, this one has foundation and floor plan and renderings and elevations and plot plan and specifications and section views. There are 11 components: Democracy and Civic Health; Criminal Justice Reform; Economic Development; Education; Health Care; Housing; Immigration; Infrastructure; Broadband and Digital Inclusion; Taxes and Budget; Climate Action and Environment.

Visit www.thrivingbydesignmn.org and study them all. You’ll see how each is part of the same blueprint for the same house – Minnesota.

Three of these I find especially compelling. All are comprehensive; I am singling out only one section of each.

On Democracy and Civic Health: “Ensure non-partisan redistricting and a permanent bulwark against gerrymandering through creation of a Citizens Independent Redistricting Commission.” Redistricting will take place after the 2020 census, but it’s not a moment too soon for the legislature to enact Senate File 582 (perhaps with amendments): “appointment of a commission to recommend the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts.”

On Education, Early Childhood through Post-Secondary: “Increase funding and incentives for local community-based education partnership models in Greater Minnesota and urban Minnesota.” A local initiative, Partner for Student Success (with which I volunteer), was featured at the press conference as a shining example of such a community-based education partnership.

On Climate Action and Environment: “Increase the Minnesota Renewable Energy Standard and pursue every available policy option to transition to 100 percent renewable energy.” Climate change affects every other dimension of the blueprint. This recognition is revolutionary – and true.

Get off the world? No. Stand alone? No. Thriving by design, together? Yes. Let’s build it.

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