In mid-July, Counterpunch published, “Minneapolis Ballot Measure to Dismantle the Police Will Test the Strength of Our Movement,” authored by Robin Wonsley & Ty Moore. Intrigued by this article, I contacted Robin, and less than a month later, I interviewed her for my podcast. But already the proposal—which had attracted so much national attention—was dead, killed by the city’s undemocratic and bureaucratic process. Robin and I talked in depth about how this happened, including how the activist community sabotaged itself by giving away its power to the City Council.
The movement against racist policing in Minneapolis is certainly not over, but a battle was lost, and Robin’s analysis will be helpful for that movement, not just in Minneapolis, but around the whole nation. What follows is a transcript of the first portion of our conversation, edited for clarity. The full interview can be heard here.
Robin is a labor organizer with Education Minnesota, a Black socialist, and plays a leading role in Twin Cities DSA. She was previously a staff organizer with 15 Now Minnesota and helped organize the fight to make Minneapolis the first midwest city to win a $15/hour minimum wage.
Kollibri: I noticed that there’s been some changes in what’s been happening there in Minneapolis. The article that you wrote in Counterpunch was talking about how the City Council had prepared something to go in front of the votes, but then I guess that something called the Minneapolis Charter Commission has now prevented that from happening?
Robin: Yep. So, basically, the proposal that City Council members agreed to pursue, basically dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department, was not able to move forward without having approval from the Charter Commission because it required changing the city’s constitutional amendment process. Based off our current charter, it requires a police department to exist, and to have a certain percentage of police officers there.
So, because of that constitutional bylaw, in order to move things forward, there’s this bureaucratic process to get these things changed; you have to go through the Charter Commission… All of these folks are appointed, they’re not elected and basically they get to decide whether or not amendments that should go to a public democratic vote can even make it to the public. In my experience in organizing in Minneapolis, they seem to be a city process designed to actually block transformative amendments or initiatives that are trying to get moved through the city process, especially from external groups, [such as] workers who are looking to address this city’s deep inequities. And time and time again, without fail, they constantly block those efforts be it through a charter amendment, or through a ballot petition.
So I was quite unsurprised that they basically “delayed” it. They didn’t vote down the proposal but delayed it so it wouldn’t be able to be voted on in this coming election. So that’s where we’re at right now. They delayed it for another 90 days to review. It’s likely that the city is going to move forward with their own diluted process, having a year-long study and having community conversations around what alternatives to policing or reforms to policing can look like, as a means of creating what they think is a democratic ordinance versus actually adhering to the more than 60% of Minneapolis residents who actually support a policy change. Or not even necessarily a policy change, but to vote on making policy changes around policing in our city. So they’re just bypassing the whole public vote and democratic process at this current moment.