BY ELINA KOLSTAD
In the month of November, Gov. Walz made two missteps that should cost him any chance at reelection. His administration deployed excessive force to a protest on I-94 and approved the 401 water crossings permit for the Enbridge Energy Line 3 pipeline replacement project.
On Nov. 4, 2020, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar held a protest as part of a national call for protests no matter who won the election. They were kettled by police and Minnesota State Patrol troopers, and 646 people were arrested. For perspective, this is more than double the number of protesters arrested on the first day of the RNC back in 2008. Protesters have been “taking the freeway” or marching on the freeway and blocking traffic to bring attention to unarmed Black people brutalized and murdered by the police for a number of years now. Instead of working to solve this problem, Gov. Walz would seem to see the protests themselves as the problem. Instead of stopping the murder and abuse of his citizens, the people who elected him, he sees the need to criminalize protest and erode our First Amendment rights.
Many reading this might assume that there isn’t much that the governor can do to address the concerns of groups like Black Lives Matter, but there are many areas where he can have an impact, such as advocating for criminal justice reform and policies of decriminalization and/or legalization of substances like marijuana at the state level. At the very least he could not have the Minnesota State Patrol troopers aggressively target those fighting for racial justice.
Just over ten days after the incident on I-94, Walz’s administration approved a Line 3 water crossings permit, thereby moving the Enbridge Energy project forward. This move puts the health of our waterways at risk, harms tribal communities, and will increase greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that this approval was given in Native American Heritage Month seems a bit like an added slap in the face to this outsider. Even Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan had to distance herself from such shameful action on the part of her administration.
The environmental and human costs of the proposed pipeline are numerous. From an environmental perspective they span everything from inevitable leaks from the pipeline into waterways to the increased greenhouse gas emissions that will result from the movement of tar sands fuel into the market. The human costs are more devastating. Indigenous populations in the U.S. and Minnesota specifically have been especially hard hit in our current pandemic, in large part due to historic and systemic mistreatment at the hands of the U.S. government. Enbridge will bring hundreds of workers into northern Minnesota. These workers will be coming from all over the country and many will bring Covid with them. The influx of workers from out of state also increases the risk of kidnapping and human trafficking to Indigenous women in the region. As far back as 2016, Patti Larsen, of Mending the Sacred Hoop, said, “Follow the pipeline through, you follow the construction workers, you follow the money, you follow the oil—you’ll start seeing where the trafficking will follow that.”
These two actions on the part of Gov. Walz’s administration in November demonstrate his support for white supremacy and colonial capitalism. He has demonstrated his preference for order over justice, for profits over people, and corporate interests over our collective future.
As a part of the 2020 presidential election, we saw a massive mobilization to get out the vote spearheaded by people like Ilhan Omar. As a result of these efforts Joe Biden won more votes in Hennepin County alone than Trump got in the entire state of Minnesota. The governor’s term will be up in two years. That happens to be the perfect amount of time for someone to start working to challenge Walz, whether as a primary challenger or as a third-party candidate. The Democratic party establishment may not want to listen to the voices of people of color, but between urban voters in Hennepin and Ramsey Counties and the tribal communities in outstate Minnesota the power is with the people!