*Minneapolis Federation of Teachers / Education Support Professionals, the union representing educators in the Minneapolis Public Schools
A sharp battle has erupted in Minneapolis between the working people of East Phillips and the City’s rulers. East Phillips is historically one of the most polluted neighborhoods in Minnesota, with a highly diverse population and the largest urban indigenous community in the US. Yet the City has pushed forward with plans to demolish the Roof Depot building and in its place build a Public Works parking lot and servicing depot. This would add even more pollution to an already overburdened community by releasing an arsenic plume into the air, water, and soil of surrounding neighborhoods, not to mention the exhaust from the 800+ vehicles that are part of the City’s plan.
In an effort to expand support for the fight of the East Phillips residents against the demolition of the Roof Depot and for an urban farm, the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers (MFT), through its Eco-Justice Working Group, held a solidarity event on February 26 that gathered a broad coalition of over 100 educators, union members, environmentalists, and community activists. All of the speakers drew out the commonality of their struggles against the same enemy and how we are stronger together in the fight against them.
The Roof Depot building crisis in East Phillips stems from the rich elites of Minneapolis valuing profits over people. Developers, chambers of commerce, and lobbyists, arm-in-arm with City leaders, think nothing of piling on to the daily hardships of working-class (and especially Black, brown, and Indigenous) residents whenever money figures into the picture. It is no secret that the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood from which the current Public Works site would be moved is prime real estate that’s ripe for gentrification. In other words, the Roof Depot demolition stands to enrich and empower developers, the politicians whose campaigns they support, and all the people adjacent to them, while further depleting the health and welfare of East Phillips residents.
Speakers at the event represented a diverse and powerful range of affiliations and interest. In addition to Delaney Russell and Karen Clark from the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute (EPNI), who apprised us of the current state of the fight, Delaney read a letter from EPNI organizer and leader, Joe Vital, who had been scheduled to speak but was delayed by travel. We also heard from Jason Chavez, Minneapolis Ward 9 City Councilmember, Robin Wonsley, Minneapolis Ward 2 City Councilmember, Greg Nammacher, President of SEIU Local 26, Marica Howard, Teacher and First Vice President of MFT, Nazir Khan, Co-Founder of MN Environmental Justice Table, and Jessica Garraway, Teacher, MFT Board Member, and Co-Founder of the MFT Eco-Justice Caucus.
It will take a strong coalition of residents, community organizations, unions, and environmental justice groups to defeat the forces of greed in this fight. And the battle extends well beyond the Roof Depot building. It requires people from different races, neighborhoods, and industries to come together around their shared interest in stopping the 1%’s project to slowly but surely wring more health, time, and money from the rest of us—all while simultaneously and systematically diminishing our quality of life by privatizing public goods and services such as education, affordable housing, and access to clean air and water. If you work hard, play by the rules, and live in the right neighborhood, the City seems to be saying, you can afford to have these things. Otherwise, as in the case of East Phillips, you’re SOL.
Working people are fed up with being squeezed from both ends and still not getting their fair share. That’s why we must stand with residents of East Phillips to begin building a powerful, broad-based coalition that can demand (and win) working peoples’ rights not just to survive, but to thrive, regardless of ZIP code, skin color, or ethnicity. The East Phillips community’s alternative to the City’s plan for toxic harm, a cooperatively owned and wholly sustainable urban farm whose benefits flow back into the community, is exactly the type of better-world solution we are all seeking for our workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, and planet.
By Cynthia S.
Facilitator Jessica Garraway closed the meeting with an original song she wrote explicitly about the East Phillips fight. You can check that song out both here on Facebook or on SoundCloud here.