"Some people say we have to keep our heads down and get through these four years," Linda Anderson says. She disagrees. "It may be an overstatement, but that's what people said before the Nazis went on their rampage .... we can't. We have to keep our heads up and keep doing what we can do in our own small ways."

For Anderson, living in northwestern Minnesota, "doing what we can" means organizing, communicating and protesting.

Protesting on a street corner in a small town in rural Minnesota is a tough go, she acknowledges. "The most people we've ever had is 10, but mostly there's four of us standing on a street corner in Park Rapids, holding our signs. It's amazing how many people will give us the thumbs up. And equally other fingers. But people take pictures out of their car windows. You are not alone. It's the message that you are not alone, and we are not going to go down easy. We are going to be here and try to be strong."

Leadership paths

Linda Anderson has had a lifetime of practice in staying strong. Her working life includes four career paths, as a teacher and principal; in Dayton's corporate management; as a nonprofit administrator for Big Brothers and Sisters and for United Way; and as director of Health and Human Services for St. Louis County; and then deputy commissioner, and eventually commissioner of Human Services for the State of Minnesota.

Her time in the Jesse Ventura administration, "working for a governor I didn't vote for," was especially tough. She stayed on because people told her she could minimize the damage in the cuts in funding and services that happened, but it was tough.

"It really tore at my soul, because I had been at the county level," she says. "I know the people on the street. I knew what these cuts were going to do." She returned to St. Louis County and had to implement the cuts she had made as commissioner. "It was and still is heartbreaking," she says.

After 11 years in government, she decided to retire. She and her husband had taken turns following their careers, and his career took him to a position as a priest at the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. At that point, she needed "time to heal my soul."

Part of the healing came in caring for her grandson, while her daughter was in seminary and her son-in-law in medical school. "It was a blessing," she says, and "such a gift to see the world through a four-year-old's eyes."

She helped to begin a street church during her time in Washington, D.C. A small "gang" from her church met in the kitchen on Tuesdays to make lunches, then piled the lunches in shopping carts and wheeled them five blocks to a park where many homeless people lived. They would have Eucharist in the park and then serve lunch to 40-75 people. "This was a holy time for me," she recalls, "and another really healing time."

Strong beginnings

Anderson grew up as the oldest of five children near Detroit Lakes. Her father left the family when she was 13 and the youngest was 3 years old. "Mom raised five of us on her own," she says. "Her family said, 'You can't take care of them, put them in foster care.' There was no way she was going to do that. She worked harder, worked nights."

Her mother's example inspired her life and her activism, Anderson says. "I think that strength came from her. Watching her do the impossible. We grew up so poor - and all the kids graduated from college, three with master's degrees."

After her children were grown, the church would call Anderson's mother, and tell her about someone who was living in a car, and she would invite them into her home to live with her.

Her mother would not say she was a feminist, "not in a million years!" But, says Anderson, "she mentored lots of women in her life as a nurse. She showed kindness and goodness. She was a strong woman, filled with love and compassion for the world.

"She is still an inspiration," Anderson says. "I think that's where it came from - there's always something we can do and we must do it."

Anderson is keeping on, "because I can't not do it," she says. She has organized an in-person Great Decisions discussion group, as well as an online Indivisible action group. Whatever the impact, she's keeping on, one day at a time, one action at a time.

"Nothing I am doing is in any way extraordinary," Anderson insists. "I'm in the woods on a lake in northern Minnesota, trying to stay connected, speak truth to power and focus on the common good."

Great Decisions fpa.org/great_decisions "Fabulous opportunity for a small group of people to dig in deeply to foreign policy issues that always lead us back into local, state and federal politics in the U.S.," Linda Anderson says.
Indivisible indivisibleguide.com Moveon.org

The profile appears in every issue of the Minnesota Women's Press. It reflects our founding principle and guiding philosophy that every woman has a story. Readers are welcome to submit suggestions for profile subjects. Email your ideas to editor@womenspress.com.