A New Politics

We need a fundamentally new politics that's not about doing FOR people, but doing WITH people. We don't need one big revolution, but hundreds of smaller revolutions around the state over the real challenges that people face in their lives.   

 In the months since the November election, I took the opportunity to travel around Minnesota and talk with many of you about our future as Minnesotans together.   

The question I’ve asked myself on those long drives and have heard from you more than any other is “What do we do now?” But on reflection, I think that’s the wrong question. The proper question I believe is “Why do we do this work of politics?”

Because that question gets us beyond tactical questions of adjusting our message, poll testing ourselves to death. It gets us beyond identity politics, beyond questions of moderate or liberal, rural or urban.

The question “Why do we do this?” points us to the real solution which is that we need a fundamentally new politics.

WITH AND NOT FOR

We need a politics that is not about doing FOR people, but doing WITH people.

I know from experience as Speaker of the House that the victories we’ve achieved at the Capitol – raising the minimum wage, moving to equal pay for equal work, All Day kindergarten, a nation-leading solar standard, the first substantial public investment in rural broadband, marriage equality and more were not achieved by folks inside the Capitol. They were achieved by all of you who worked so hard outside the Capitol, in living rooms and cafes, on streets and doorsteps. What we achieve we only achieve together.

OUR VALUE AS PEOPLE

A new politics starts by recognizing that fear and anxiety come out in public looking like anger. And no wonder people are fearful and angry. We’ve gotten to a point in our politics and our economy and our culture where individual people are too often measured solely by their value to the corporate bottom line. And that is wrong. Everyone one of us knows in our hearts that we are all much, much more than that. We work hard. We are parents to our children, sons and daughters to our parents, husbands, wives and partners, neighbors, coaches, volunteers, members of our church, synagogues and mosques. That is our true value. And a new politics must keep that front and center.

A new politics acknowledges that we all have grievances that need to be heard, respected and addressed. But it also means that we accept that my grievance is no more important than yours and that we cannot ignore or diminish either.

PRIDE OF PLACE AND LOCAL POWER 

A new politics understands patriotism and pride of place. I was so moved recently when an organizer for the Land Stewardship Project spoke about the motivation for her work in southeastern Minnesota and wisely observed that the local landscape, rivers, hills, lakes and valleys as well as the history and heritage of our communities shape who we and what we are. And we’ve ignored that for too long. But it contains the seed of an answer.

The biggest challenge we face as Minnesotans – that our democracy faces – is that too many people feel disempowered. People fear – and communities fear – that they can no longer control their own destiny. And the solution to that will not be handed down from Washington DC or from St. Paul. It will come from broadly agreeing on common goals and values but then giving local communities, local institutions, the support and tools they need to shape their own future, seize their own destiny, and to trust each other that the work will get done. It’s turning our hierarchy of governing and politics on its head. A new politics realizes that we do not need one big revolution, but hundreds of revolutions around the state over the real challenges that people face in their lives.

LIVE WITH DIFFERENCE 

It’s a politics that does not rest on platitudes like “One Minnesota.” Rather it frankly and straightforwardly acknowledges that differences of geography, race, gender, poverty do exist. Because they do. And our challenge as citizens and leaders – and as progressives – is to sit with that reality and listen to those differences with humility and, yes, love for the other person sitting across from us.

DARE US TO CHANGE THINGS

And finally, a new politics starts first and foremost with a moral vision. People don’t want to be just entertained, but they’ll take it if that’s all that’s offered. I believe people want to be dared with the reality and truth of their own lives and the lives of those around them and challenged to take responsibility for changing what need to be changed. We need to offer each other a bolder vision. Not more partisan, but more real.

There are things we all know we need to address in Minnesota: reshaping our workplaces for the new economy so (as Joe Biden says) people can put bread on the table and yet be around the table for dinner with their kids; tackling the scourge of addiction and unmet mental health needs; doubling down on Minnesota rich tradition of technological innovation in new ways for the 21st century; facing head on and legitimately addressing the systemic and institutional racial, poverty, gender and geographic opportunity gaps that continue to plague us; making sure we harness the economic and quality of life value of our clean water; and throwing open the doors and windows of our government and campaigns to the sunlight of transparency and accountability. We don’t need listening sessions to know these things. But we do need to listen to each other to solve them.

And what I am seeing across this state – and in the resistance across this country – brings me hope and joy. Spending time over the past few months with other Minnesotans in banquet halls and school cafeterias and community centers continues to bring me great consolation and inspiration. The challenges we face don’t seem insurmountable knowing that if I work on my little piece and you work on yours and the neighbor next door works on hers, pretty soon we’ve made amazing progress. That’s what this new politics looks like.

But true progress, true leadership demands that we move beyond resistance to action and that we use our power to deliver results for real people. That’s the only measure that really matters.

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