As election day draws near, we complain about carbon-copy candidates and long for the days when activism meant something. Could such civic nostalgia actually have merit? Is the Person Who Gives a Shit nearing extinction? Let's hope the only thing Minnesotans have to fear is a harsh winter--that and guilt-by-reason-of-ramp-meter-insanity.
When seeking out those who are passionate about social change, one naturally heads to the nearest organic grocery or college campus. The Minnesota Green Party has made it easy by holding its informational meeting at St. Martin's Table, a nonprofit bookstore/restaurant/meeting place on Riverside Avenue between Augsburg College and the North Country Co-Op.
Co-op worker and Nader-LaDuke backer Liz has her hands full making sure the affair runs smoothly, organizing literature and serving up organic apple juice and "fancy potato chips." A dozen people shuffle in, resembling a pamphlet on diversity and sporting every look from vegan coed to over-50 biker. "What's the video?" shouts an older gentleman, spotting the projector at the front of the room. Liz tells him it's Ralph Nader's appearance at the University of Minnesota's Willey Hall. "That's the video?" he snorts. "I already saw it. I was there."
Before the disgruntled gentleman can make a scene, a bearded man in khakis and a cardigan addresses the assembled. He is Ken Pentel, organizer of the Minnesota Greens and former (political) opponent of Jesse Ventura. In a kind yet emphatic voice, Pentel fills us in on the history of the Green Party. Everyone--even the jaded senior in the back--hangs on his every word (with the momentary exception of a woman who answers her cell phone without leaving her seat). Pentel has a predilection for wild hand gestures, especially when punctuating solemn declarations such as, "The Greens have arrived!" and "The Greens said NO!"
After the lesson Pentel makes us go around the room introducing ourselves, junior-high style, telling who we are and why we're here. Momentary panic on the part of yours truly is ameliorated by everyone else's revealing admissions. "My worst fear is that Bush becomes president," confesses Julie, a middle-aged massage therapist. "I'm voting for Nader because I want my children to be able to breathe without a gas mask," says Mary Jo, her declaration underscored by one of said children, an adorable little girl who runs around the room fueled by organic juice. Libra, an Ethiopian ineligible to vote, has come to learn more about American politics and show his support for the democratic process.
Pentel excuses himself from the gathering but leaves behind free bumper stickers and yard signs, inciting a riot of sorts around the literature table.
ANOKA COUNTY, JUST northwest of the Cities, is one of the fastest-growing and most socioeconomically diverse counties in the state. A representative cross-section of women--and a smattering of men--have turned out for Alexandra House's sixth annual candlelight vigil in memory of the 12 Anoka County women and children who've lost their lives to domestic violence. Representatives from the battered-women's center wear ribbons pinned to their clothing to symbolize awareness of and hope for the battered woman. A clothesline, from which hang white T-shirts hand-painted with messages about domestic violence (e.g., "Daddy Why Do You Hit Mommy?"), hangs festively in front of the floor-to-ceiling window beside the stage.
Seated in front of 13 cutout silhouettes of women and children--12 for the aforementioned; one for the unknown sufferer--are more than a hundred women decked out in every conceivable fashion, from evening dresses and suits to heavy-metal T-shirts. There are office girls with big streaky hair and fake nails, single moms in sweatsuits accompanied by their rambunctious offspring, adolescent girls in hip-hop gear, and elderly women sporting madras and polyester. With the exception of the children, those gathered are silent and serious, moving only to drink from travel mugs and Gatorade bottles stashed beneath their seats and smiling only when keynote speaker Sheila Wellstone walks to the podium.
Wellstone's address is brief and well received. Family, friends, and survivors of the 12 memorialized women step up one by one to tell the story of their loss. They remain poised, their voices unwavering as they describe the incidents leading to the death of their loved one. Their composure adds to the tension in the room; many fidget nervously as eyes begin to water.
After lighting a large candle for each silhouette, organizers invite each attendee to light a small, white votive in a glass jar in memory of those whose silhouettes stand, and of those who still suffer. Two women play acoustic guitar and sing the Williams Brothers' "Can't Cry Hard Enough," as emotions ranging from gratitude to bewilderment flash across the faces of this oddly unified group.
IN AN ATTEMPT to find homes for every inhabitant of Golden Valley's Animal Humane Society shelter, volunteers have donned sleepwear and extended their hours until midnight. The Pet Pajama Party and Adopt-a-thon is either a sign of devotion to a noble cause or further evidence that humans and animal tranquilizers just don't mix. Clad in everything from a knee-length summer robes to leopard-print slipper-boots, volunteers from twentysomething to seventysomething are busy doling out puppy chow, keeping children from playing too roughly with kittens, and attempting to convince guests of the many benefits of pet ownership.
The volunteers aren't the only ones ready for bed: A yuppie couple in matching monogrammed robes checks out adult cats while a flannel-swathed preteen swoons in ecstasy upon discovering the rabbit cages. South Minneapolis sisters Lori and Linda came in to adopt a kitten, unaware that sleepover togs knocked $15 off the price of a new pet. "Quick, take off your pants!" Lori suggests. "I usually sleep in jeans and tennis shoes," Linda ventures, but when they rescue a tiny stray they immediately name "Weezie," the two must pay full price.
It may not be much, but seeing a septuagenarian staying out past 10:00 in her pj's in order to save the life of a kitten, our fear of ambivalence can sleep in.