Last month the working class of Minneapolis saw a vivid display of what neoliberalism looks like. The neoliberal Democratic–Farmer–Labor (DFL) majority of the Minneapolis City Council voted 7-6 to demolish the Roof Depot Building in the East Phillips neighborhood, a diverse working class area that’s also home to the largest urban indigenous population in the U.S. In its place the city aims to build a parking lot and service center for water works equipment, thus adding a large amount of vehicle pollution to the neighborhood. Lurking underneath the building is soil heavily contaminated by arsenic and other toxic substances. With demolition, that arsenic will be released into the air and into the lungs of thousands of Phillips, Seward, Corcoran and Longfellow residents. East Phillips is already a neighborhood plagued by industrial pollution, and children there suffer abnormally high rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments.
Neighborhood residents, for their part, have been offering an alternative to the city’s plan for nearly a decade. Instead of tearing down the Roof Depot, the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI) proposes to turn the building into an urban farm, training center, and affordable housing. Sounds like something that a mayor and city council that give lip service to the Green New Deal and racial equity would be overwhelmingly in favor of. Right? Nope. They have steadfastly resisted community plans for the Urban Farm.
Why? There is an alternate site for the city facility near the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood, but that location is coveted by developers because of its location. Developers view it as an important piece in the gentrification of the city. Jacob Frey, the developers’ darling, is only too happy to go along with the plans of his friends. His door is open to them but not to Somali, Oromo, or Indigenous workers.
City Council President Andrea Jenkins was one of the seven who voted for demolition. Only a few minutes earlier she had presented a resolution honoring a local social movement activist. She then made a presentation to Black municipal leaders in recognition of Black History Month, draping herself in the struggle for Black equality. This did not stop her from then, with her vote, stabbing Black, brown, and indigenous people in the back, condemning their children to health problems and early death. The height of hypocrisy, you might say.
This is the power structure of Minneapolis at work. The developers, the Downtown Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Multi Family Housing Association make their plans, then pass them on to their friends in the DFL (like Jenkins and Frey). The DFL cloaks itself in progressive rhetoric and talk of equity and then steam rolls over the city’s working class.
A bright spot in all this was the resistance and leadership shown by our DSA caucus of Aisha Chugtai, Robin Wonsley, and Jason Chavez. It certainly underlines the need for strong working class advocates in the City Council and the need to elect more this November.
By Kip H.