Cancel all the debts and redistribute the land

This was my first article published in the Southside Pride, a venerable, fairly political journal based in a wide collection of South Minneapolis neighborhoods. I was asked to write an article on any topic I liked, as long as it led to a pitch for forming the new Minneapolis Farmer-Labor Association, as it came to be known. I am not totally happy with this article, but I continued to contribute to SSP and I think I am getting better. My articles are also picked up by a local non-profit news aggregator, Twin Cities Daily Planet. 

According to David Graeber, “Cancel all debts and redistribute the land” was the program of every revolution from ancient times up to the birth of mercantile capitalism. In the introduction to Graeber’s book “Debt: The First 5000 Years,”
he describes a scene at a fundraising party in Westminster. He is discussing his international anti-poverty work with a woman who works for a domestic anti-poverty charity. He explains about the predatory lending to corrupt leaders of impoverished nations and what devastation it has wrought, and she asks him what he believes should be done. The IMF must be abolished and the debts cancelled he tells her, and to his consternation this good lady says, “But they borrowed the money. Surely, everyone has to pay back their debts?” Snap! I had almost this exact thing happen to me—twice—in acknowledged leftist circles here in the Twin Cities when I suggested that perhaps not all student borrowers DO have a moral obligation to pay back their debts.

I have what it’s trendy to call “a takeaway” from this: Not only do we have to have radical change, but we need to change the terms of the conversation before even the leaders and activists for change can contemplate the needed transformation. Right now, the country is struggling not only with high unemployment, ongoing wars that harm our nation, looming irreversible environmental damage, and crises in education and health care that are destroying our very future. We are also wasting energy struggling against phantoms: the” fiscal cliff,” the “culture wars” and how to think about, for instance, over a trillion dollars in student debt (that of course must be paid back!
NOT). The first thing we have to change, and urgently, are the terms of the conversation. The whole debate including the one in our own heads has to be shifted leftward and made more radical. I have nothing against progressives; most of my best friends are progressives. But progressives need one thing they don’t know they need: they need cover on the left. They need not to be the closest thing to socialism on the spectrum of those working for results in the electoral and policy arena.

In the mid-1990s I was involved in an attempt to set up a third party with a similar agenda for change. It was not successful in the long run for reasons I won’t go into here, but the New Party had two guiding principles that I think still apply. 1)

Don’t waste people’s votes. 2) Start locally and grow organically. What this means is that the iron is now hot for a very specific and effective strike. Here in Minneapolis, there is an Occupy Homes movement garnering national attention, winning victories and changing the conversation. The recent national elections revealed a whole host of voters impatient with the acquiescence of the mainstream Democratic Party, including the DFL, but with nowhere else to go electorally. Here in Minneapolis we also have lively conversations going on in forums, clubs, churches, affinity groups and unions about what needs to be done, both locally and nationally. So, we have to work within the DFL to effect this needed change, and we have to organize to the left of the progressives to move the debate over and we need to focus, to start with, on our own city.

As it happens, there is a historical label that we can pick up and put on our banner: Farmer-Labor, the FL in the DFL. We are planning to launch a new caucus for the ward conventions and city convention of the DFL this year. An inaugural meeting will be held Monday, March 18, at 7 p.m. at the old Nordic Center, 4200 Cedar Ave. The meeting is open to all eligible voters in Minneapolis. Precinct caucuses will be April 16 and we hope to have a small army of activists attending these caucuses with a clear and cohesive agenda for change in Minneapolis. What will that agenda consist of? Join the organizing effort and you can help determine that. Among the exciting ideas on the table is having Minneapolis join the growing vanguard of cities that are taking the business of selling electricity away from profit-making corporations like Xcel and starting a municipally owned utility.

Another idea: local agitation for a foreclosure moratorium. Relief for underwater homeowners and protection for affected renters can be joined up with making sure the sheriff and police don’t act as enforcers for predatory banks.
Whatever your pressing local issues are, here is a chance to have them heard in a forum where they’re not crazy or utopian, but actually could be part of a platform for meaningful change.

Join the Facebook group or Google Group, both called Minneapolis Farmer Labor Caucus, and be a part of the discussion.