ST. PAUL LEGAL LEDGER CAPITOL REPORT
Darrell Young is an earnest young man from North Minneapolis who’s determined to lead a mighty throng in a “March for Children and Youth” on Sunday October 10th at the state Capitol in St. Paul.
Young is reverent and exceedingly polite, but there’s intensity in his voice when he describes a mission to bring thousands of Minnesotans to march on “10-10-10” and to make a statement about the need to invest in ALL of our state’s youngest citizens – and who also happen to be our poorest people.
“I feel God’s purpose in me to do this,” said Young, whose brother, Sterling Horton, 17, was killed in a still unsolved, apparently random shooting in North Minneapolis four years ago. “I believe it whole-heartedly… We need to set new standards for our young people… need to get everybody thinking about college instead of prison. I don’t want to see another person die without everybody trying to do what we can.”
Young believes, and so do I, that most Minnesota voters are longing to make an affirmative statement about our shared responsibility and governmental obligations to our children and youth. The mainstream political culture of this great state is all about fairness and equalizing opportunity. Our essential public policy strategy throughout our history has been to invest in human capital, and this wisdom has made us one of the most prosperous states.
But this distinctive Minnesota “brand” is under attack as never before, from an extremist anti-government movement that has poisoned too many hearts and minds in these fearful times. The fighting words and phrases that animate these angry folks often are openly self-centered, individualistic and cynical. Typical protest signs: “Leave Me Alone,” or “Get Out of My Way,” or “How’s That Hopey-Changey Thing Workin Out for Ya?”
So, those of us in this sensible majority, which has been too docile and largely overlooked in the face of the libertarian fad, need to get off our duffs and be there on “10-10-10,” just 23 days before Election Day, in front of the Capitol, with Darrell and thousands of others.
Young, 31, is the leader of a core group of young people organizing this statement, but his team is generating lots of institutional support. Although the specific concept of a “10-10-10” march actually was his brainchild more than a year ago, as part of the Young Advocate Leadership Training Program, the professional help for this event is being supplied by the highly respected and influential Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota (www.cdf-mn.org), a non-partisan nonprofit organization that has been on the front lines for children for decades.
Young said he wants the event, in part, to honor and embody the spirit of CDF’s legendary founder, Marian Wright Edelman, and of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And speakers celebrating those heroes will be featured. In addition, a gathering army of “10-10-10” marching partners includes dozens of other nonprofit groups. Those groups will be represented under 10 specifically themed tents at the event, with focuses ranging from early childhood, to health, to housing, to immigration, to public safety and to violence prevention.
Candidates for governor have been invited to speak and one or more major-party candidates are likely to show up for an audience this size. A speaker or two of national stature might be expected and Garrison Keillor has agreed to be a keynote convener. Local bands and music with a justice theme will be featured. A strong mainstream religious element will figure in, and the event is being coordinated with an interfaith effort called “The Children’s Sabbath.”
The event is a first, but Young hopes to replicate it in other cities and bring it to Washington D.C. by 2015. And it has the makings of becoming a memorable watershed event not only for this election season, but also as a permanent fixture in future campaigns.
There might be no better time or place between now and November 2 to stand up and be counted for an over-arching commonsense agenda that calls for renewed investment in our children and communities. Being there will help send a signal against proposals to further cut taxes and dismantle a public sector in Minnesota that has long been considered one of America’s cleanest and most effective.
And as we talk to our fellow citizens between now and Election Day, we need to bear in mind that most of what our state and local governments do is of immediate and direct benefit to children. Well over half of what’s typically dismissed as “taxes” or “government” in Minnesota is actually spent on behalf of children: public schools, colleges, student aid, special education, hospitals and health care, income support for disadvantaged families, and historically generous help for those with disabled children.
Meanwhile, the trends in our state and nation toward concentration of wealth in the topmost reaches of the private sector, and the widening economic inequality over the last 30 years, have not been good for children. Poverty rates are climbing again, and according to the Wilder Foundation’s Compass report, the poorest age group in Minnesota are those younger than 4 (13.4 percent in poverty), followed by the 5-17 age group (10.5 percent in poverty). The statewide average poverty rate for all age groups was slightly less than 10 percent. But those measurements undoubtedly have worsened since the economic collapse in late 2008, as unemployment has increased.
“The issues that our children and their families face are bigger than all of us as individuals, families and nonprofits,” says Jim Koppel, veteran leader of the Children’s Defense Fund-Minnesota. “It will take all of us coming together, now and after the election, to remind our political leaders that great results have come from good investments.”
A version of this column originally appeared in the St. Paul Legal Ledger Capitol Report on Monday, September 20, 2010.
Dane Smith is president of St. Paul-based Growth & Justice, a policy research organization that focuses on economics and state-and-local budget issues. He also spent 30 years as a writer for the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, where he delved into state, local and federal governments and politics.
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