Perspectives from the Anti-Authoritarianism 22nd Century Congress

The recent global 22nd Century Congress conference held in Minneapolis featured many days of conversations about how to address authoritarianism and co-create a more democratic system that supports a pluralistic society. Here are a few highlights from the conversations.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan: 2023 Legislative Achievements

The event included about 700 people for in-person and online participation from 33 states and 268 organizations, a majority of them women of color and half representing LGBTQIA+ communities. Participants included people from India, Thailand, Philippines, Myanmar, Canada, Mexico, and Kenya.

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan opened up the three-day session with an overview of a few of the progressive values the 2023 Minnesota Legislature acted on. She said: “People who are in positions of power change, but we the people will always be there. … [To succeed] we reassessed narratives. The reason we are here is because people were willing to be vulnerable to tell the truth and to step into their own power.

“More folks who are raised in the organizing ecosystem run for office and get elected,” she continued. “When they’re elected, they are pushing their community into the process. When you lead with love, and you lead with vulnerability, there is always space in the movements. With every reform or investment, we are seeking to make Minnesota a place where people feel safe … and proud to be working towards the future that we can achieve together.”

She listed these as some of the accomplishments of the 2023 session:

  • Re-enfranchised more than 55,000 Minnesotans as voters by changing policy around people released from prison, and reforms to improve and protect access to voter registration;
  • Universal access to free breakfast and lunch for every student;
  • Statewide paid family and medical leave program;
  • Improved access to abortion;
  • Banned conversion therapy and established Minnesota as a refuge state for trans rights;
  • Child tax credit to cut poverty in the state by a third for families;
  • Driver’s license for all residents, regardless of documentation status;
  • Reforms to one of the most aggressive eviction policies in the country.

Rep. Leigh Finke: Solidarity Among Communities

Minnesota Rep. Leigh Finke, elected to the House for District 66A in Saint Paul, is the first trans person elected to Minnesota state government, who became the first chair of the queer caucus. Her background is in intersectional activism and organizing.

Finke said in a panel discussion focused on Minnesotans: “I think we need to recognize that Minnesota’s authoritarian center is the same as it is across the United States — with a conservative party that welcomes violence and terror of people who are different. One of the things this conference is about is a pluralistic society and what that means. What does it mean to celebrate difference? [This year we had] the most diverse and the youngest House of Representatives that we have ever seen in the state of Minnesota. With [the accomplishments of] this past legislative session, you can see what it means to have representation like that.”

Finke said that before she was a candidate, she participated in movement building at George Floyd Square. “Those first couple of weeks were an unbelievable experience for a white girl who was trans, who had been involved in queer liberation but not in that space. The way I was welcomed in, it changed my life.”

Finke added emotionally: “The trans population is really small. We need you more than you can possibly understand. The current plan of the Republican Party is to trim us off the bottom, assuming that you’re not going to worry too much about that. The trans movement is facing annihilation.”

Robin Wonsley: Force the Vote

Minneapolis City Councilmember Robin Wonsley also spoke about collective power in Minnesota. “When we recognize that our collective liberation and our power is rooted in one another, those mountains [of opposition] begin to break. Don’t be afraid to take the initiative, because others are always taking initiatives with our lives.”

She noted that sometimes politicians need to be pushed: “So many times you’ll hear politicians tell you ‘this is not the right time.’ Make them take the vote on every key issue. With the land-back victory we just had with [the Little Earth] community farm, we had to take that vote over five times. [Those that publicly oppose what a majority want] will be on their way out. I don’t care if it’s Medicare for All, rent control, police abolition — make your politicians have to take the vote because that’s why they are there. We have to take tools at our disposal so that your needs are realized. Forcing a vote on your needs is just one of the tools.”

Panel Discusses Transformative Thinking

Doran Schrantz is executive director of the local ISAIAH and Faith in Minnesota organizations, which are statewide, community-organizing vehicles for faith communities, barber shops and beauty shops, and childcare centers. She says there is now a systemic strategy to respond to anything discriminatory in the community, small or large. “We have what we call internally a multi-racial, multi-faith response. [If there is a complaint that] ‘Muslims are infiltrating the Democratic Party process,’ which actually happened in a viral way, we have a press conference at a mosque that includes 300 people — white, Black and brown, Christian, Muslim and Jewish people. How do we equip people at every level to have a multiracial democratic public response to invite people to decide what side they are on?”

Schrantz offered a three-point strategy for creating a pluralistic approach.

“Are we doubling down on talking externally, to the people who are not ‘in’ already — not already politicized, the not-already-coming-to-the-meetings people,” she said. “How are we inviting people [without asking] Do you believe this — check, check, check. What do they want? What does it mean to operate in a collective? Do they want to have power? What does that mean? What has an experience of powerlessness taught? The point is, we need people organizing focused on those questions with everyday regular-ass people, at the PTA meeting or in the school. That’s number one.

“Number two,” she went on, “we have to build political strategies. Who is governing? How are we developing? The thing about this year’s Minnesota legislature, it was the most racially and gender-diverse legislature in the history of the state. And that’s not an accident. There were two formations: the people of color and Indigenous, and [organizing around] the Minnesota values project that reached into groups — from labor to medicine — over the last 10 years.

“Number three is public narrative,” Schrantz concluded. “How are we educating ourselves and our people and the multiracial, democratic, cross-gender, pluralistic base that we’re building?”

Shrantz indicated that stronger communications is needed to focus on regular people who are deciding whether to cross the bridge. “How do we actually understand what makes them want to be on this team” rather than on status quo, with white male leadership and corporate capitalistic interests prioritized over families? “People are conflicted.”