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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

December 4, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dec. 1

We’ve reached a watershed moment for women and men

The barrage of sexual misconduct accusations are cascading down so rapidly they feel like assaults themselves, as each day brings fresh charges against powerful figures suddenly laid low. Minnesotans have been particularly buffeted, watching first two state legislators, then its junior U.S. senator and most recently a homegrown radio star and author, now disgraced.

What’s taking shape is one of those intensely uncomfortable societal moments when a mirror is held up and the reflection is not pleasant. The ugly, hurtful nature of the accusations in some cases bumps up against treasured images of revered figures that are hard to discard, whether it’s a legislator who represented you, a morning anchor you watched for years, a senator you voted for or even a president.

America has had such moments before. What marks this as different — and hopeful — is the reaction. Instead of being dismissed, women are being heard and, with a speed some have found disconcerting, consequences are being delivered. Social media is playing a large role here, with the (hashtag) #MeToo movement giving voice and a platform to those reluctant to share their stories until now.

How different from 1991, when a respected law professor found herself brutally questioned under oath, belittled as being “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” for having the temerity to accuse then-U. S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual misconduct in the workplace years earlier. Anita Hill was savaged in public. Thomas still sits on the bench. In 1999, Juanita Broaddrick came forward with the allegation that President Bill Clinton had raped her years earlier, when he was a state attorney general. Broaddrick was vilified. There are other instances, too numerous to list, that reach right up to the 2016 candidacy of President Donald Trump, who was accused by more than a dozen women and famously caught on tape bragging that rules of decency didn’t apply to celebrities.

That finally may change, if this country is willing to seize the opportunity and do the hard work needed to make this a positive, lasting cultural shift. For that to happen, Americans must acknowledge that sexual harassment is not a problem confined to celebrities, politicians or media elites. It exists at every level — on college campuses, in workplaces, in the military and elsewhere. Too often the tendency has been to dismiss lesser offenses — groping, unwanted touching, aggressive propositioning — as “antics” or “bad behavior” by those seeking to trivialize transgressions that are anything but trivial to victims. Resist those who say it’s time to “move on,” who raise the specter of a witch hunt or other tactics used to push women and their stories back in the corner.

Look, change is hard, but it’s not impossible. There was a time in this country when a man could openly slap his wife without fear of interference, when butt-pinching at the holiday office party was par for the course, when charges of sexual assault more typically brought reprisals against the victim.

The calls for sexual awareness training and even legal penalties are good, but more is needed. Women and the many good men in this country must work together to make this their common fight, to change the attitudes that allow some to think they can, with impunity, force themselves upon another. If this instead deteriorates into another “women good, men bad” discussion, it fails and another opportunity is lost.

Everyone, regardless of gender, has the right to be free from sexual harassment and assault, whether it occurs at work, at school or just walking down the street. That does not mean the end of “flirting” or other nonsense peddled by those defending the status quo. It simply means that such behavior must be consensual. Treat people in your professional lives professionally. In your personal relations, get permission before touching. It’s not that difficult, and the benefits will be manifold.


Post Bulletin, Dec. 1

Lesson learned: Don’t mess with school lunches

What have we learned from the Stewartville school lunch debacle, which wrapped up this week with the school board rescinding policies that led to what some say was “lunch shaming” in their cafeterias?

Don’t mess with children’s meals: There’s a powerful constituency for children’s basic needs. That constituency is just about everyone who’s ever been a child.

Food is a basic right: In light of this and other “lunch shaming” incidents, some people say that public schools should simply provide lunch for all students. That’s an argument worth having.

Kids really do learn more and stay on track better if they’re not hungry: Teachers will tell you (if you listen) that food is a learning tool. If we want the best education possible for our children, make lunch time a positive experience.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to collect a debt. This was the wrong way: The district will work directly with parents on balances due, rather than punish children or use them as pawns. Good move.

Don’t mess with children’s dignity: Embarrassing a child in the lunch room — intentionally or not — because his or her parents aren’t paying their bills is hard to defend. The same applies in the classroom, on athletic fields and in gyms.

Taxpayers aren’t always right: The Stewartville schools heard from some people who said it’s wrong for tax money to be spent on resolving school lunch debts. Fortunately, they didn’t take those comments to heart.

In the grand scheme of things, we’re not talking about a lot of money: In Stewartville, it was $10,000 in unpaid bills. Every dollar counts, and parents need to be accountable, but playing Scrooge rarely works, especially at Christmas.

Schools are hyper-local: All politics is local, but nothing compares with school politics. Rarely do city or county issues set off a firestorm like a good old-fashioned school controversy — again, because it’s about our children.

The term “lunch shaming” was tailor-made for social media: It’s appropriate but it’s also click-bait, easily memed and demagogued for greatest outrage on Facebook.

Be patient with your local school board: School boards aren’t supposed to be involved in day-to-day operation of schools. They make policies, and those policies can be misinterpreted, implemented incorrectly or have unintended consequences. The Stewartville district and board responded quickly and appropriately when the lunch payment problem was called out.

The Legislature probably doesn’t need to get involved again: In 2014, it approved a law that prohibits demeaning a student whose lunch balance is in the red. It shouldn’t be necessary to go back into the law and threaten districts with a loss of funding. More information and common sense would do the trick — as would more money for free and reduced-price lunches.

People are generous: A GoFundMe page was set up to raise money to make up the Stewartville deficit and it raised $9,685. Amazingly generous people will always come through for people in need.


Minnesota Daily, Dec. 4

Minnesota should take tangible steps to improve Native rights

Recently, President Donald Trump welcomed three veterans of the “code talker” program to the White House for an event honoring their service. After one of the survivors and a former chairman of the Navajo Nation gave a brief address, President Trump made some garbled comments and insulted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., by calling her “Pocahontas.” This undoubtedly was offensive to many Native American people. Many Republican senators even showed their disdain for the president’s comments made during the event.

While this national story around Thanksgiving indicated the clear insensitivity toward Native Americans within the highest office of the country, it shouldn’t permit complacency at the local and state levels of government. The Nawayee Center school in South Minneapolis, a Native American alternate school, was trashed and vandalized over the Thanksgiving weekend.

While these two clear violations indicate stand-alone events that violate the rights of Native Americans, the truth is that most human rights violations are far more infrastructural than stand-alone events. These problems transcend individual action and dominate institutions. That is why the Minnesota Legislature and city councils should do everything possible to eliminate the institutional challenges facing the expansion of Native American rights.

One easy step that can be taken by Minnesota is to prevent the construction of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. According to numerous environmental reports, the project will have harmful impacts on many Native American communities in Minnesota. While the pipeline does not cross any established reservations, it does cross ceded treaty lands and wild rice beds. The degradation of the rice beds and watersheds impacted by the any sort of construction and spill from this pipeline would disproportionately affect Minnesota’s Native American populations. These impacts should not be treated as a simple afterthought, and the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission should rule against the construction of the pipeline.

The Anishinaabe community, a group of culturally related Indigenous peoples in Canada and the U.S. that includes Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, Chippewa and many other important tribes, prepared a report, titled the Anishinaabeg Cumulative Impact Assessment, which outlines clear recommendations for the pipeline’s future. They urged a critical assessment of the pipeline, and recommended against the pipe’s construction. In support of Native American communities impacted by the construction, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., also spoke out against the pipeline.

With this much support against the construction of the pipeline, we urge that lawmakers and public officials in Minnesota consider the impact of the pipeline’s construction. Abiding by the recommendations made by the ACIA would indicate a willingness to improve the rights and amplify the voice of Native Americans in Minnesota.

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