What the future civic engagement will look like in Minnesota

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
“The Future Of Civic Engagement” panel at the Minneapolis Foundation’s Futurist Conference

“Sometimes you have to shake, rattle and roll until you get the results you want. You have to challenge people who are not used to being challenged.”

So said law professor and president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP Nekima Levy-Pounds Friday afternoon, in her opening remarks at “The Future Of Civic Engagement” panel at the Minneapolis Foundation’s Futurist Conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center. 

Along with fellow panelists Peggy FlanaganVina Kay and Anthony Newby, Levy-Pounds painted an exciting and inspiring picture of growth and consciousness-raising via activism and questioning authority towards a more inclusive city and state.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
The panelists, from left to right: Nekima Levy-Pounds; Peggy Flanagan; Vina Kay; and Anthony Newby.

“Knocking on doors and knocking down the doors of power is what we need to do,” Levy-Pounds told the packed conference room. “We know that things are not going to be okay without affirmative action. We need to use our voices to change the status quo, and to challenge those who created these systems.

“There’s not one system in this country that I can think of that’s been built by people of color. And yet those are the folks who suffer within those particular systems. That means we have to think outside the box and get creative about civic engagement.”

Time and again over the course of the 85–minute session, the panelists talked about the proverbial table that people of color have historically been excluded from. The group spoke about their experiences, without mincing words or making Minnesota Nice.

“We need [white allies] to give up their seat and give it to someone else,” said Levy-Pounds. “I don’t know how many rooms I find myself in where I am the only African-American, and there’s nobody there who has had that experience. We need to create alternative tables, where we’re transferring wealth and power to some of these communities. How much would change?”

“Our state and our community is rapidly changing, and unless we have leadership that reflects that, democracy will not reach its full potential,” said Flanagan. “In 20 years, I hope we’re at the table asking who’s missing, who’s not here, and who can I get to take my place?”

Another hot topic was education and the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues minority communities, with Newby predicting that in the coming years “the sphere of influence will come from the non-traditional, like the incarcerated and powerless.”

To challenge the traditional powers-that-be, all four panelists agreed that community organizing, investing in people of color by the business community, and social activism via door knocking and social media can create substantive change.

“Can we create a paradigm shift?” asked Levy-Pounds. “Sometimes you have to dismantle the system and start fresh. We have to shake things up. Sometimes we have to get more radical. We have a lot of work to do. If we’re willing to use our voices, we can change things. If we’re willing to get out of our comfort zones, if we’re willing to hold our elected officials accountable, we can change things. Let’s move to a paradigm shift and put the power in the hands of the people.”

At that, Levy-Pounds received a standing ovation from the roomful of organizers, activists and civic leaders, and for the moment the future of civic engagement in Minneapolis and beyond looked very bright indeed.

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Comments (27)

  1. Submitted by John Appelen on 09/19/2015 - 10:30 pm.


    “We know that things are not going to be okay without affirmative action.”

    I am always amazed that those who say they want an end to discrimination, prejudice and racism seem to be the strongest advocates for treating people differently based on their race… It seems to me that they are simply looking for villains, rather than working to improve the beliefs, behaviors, etc of those who have a hard time succeeding in American mian stream society.

    This is not a race issue, this is a knowledge, beliefs and behavior issue.

    • Submitted by Brian Stricherz on 09/20/2015 - 11:44 am.

      You make it seem like….

      … American mainstream society doesn’t have racial biases. If it didn’t, then what you said would be on the mark. But the American mainstream society *does* have very obvious and clear racial biases. Affirmative action is an attempt to offset those biases. If you are unable to see or acknowledge the biases of American mainstream society (which have very much been a hot topic in the mainstream lately), then you are a part of the problem.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/20/2015 - 03:11 pm.

        Agree and Disagree

        Mainstream American culture welcomes anyone who wants to learn, improve, work and fit in. There are many successful Black, Asian, Native American, Hispanic, etc people living happy and successful lives in America.

        Mainstream American culture does not welcome folks who choose to squander their free public education, who seek to rebel against that culture, who seek public assistance rather than work, etc.

        This is why there are poor people fron every race including White. I agree that some people have a bias, however most just want smart responsible good employees, tenents, students, neighbors, etc who take responsibility for the choices and strive to succeed and get ahead.

        • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/21/2015 - 08:31 am.

          What’s funny is…

          “Mainstream American culture does not welcome folks who choose to squander their free public education, who seek to rebel against that culture, who seek public assistance rather than work, etc.”

          Try to explain the concept of: “stereotypes” to people who say stuff like this, go ahead try.

        • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 09/21/2015 - 05:39 pm.

          JA we probably agree on this one

          The answer(s) are not simple, everyone has a part to play in achieving success. Example, it isn’t just the public sector, what about the private sector? Meaning, the real $ are in the private sector and sports has clearly proven that in a competitive environment race does not have a very large dimension, its performance. So to with business, technology, perhaps not as well in mature industries seems they develop nepotistic tendencies, such as monopolies, oligopolies, and public administration. So the general point is, there may not be as much racism as there is cultural collision that keeps people from success. There are a lot of things going on in any job, if you make the company money, and don’t necessarily tick anybody off, you will probably do OK! But that also means you will need some pretty good credentials and cultural compliance. Point being, 60% of a job is getting along with the co-workers, hopefully the 0ther 40% is actually getting something done, you don’t get hired so that the entire company has to stand on their head to accommodate you because of x-y or z, accommodation W/I reason, and as with all, reason is in the eyes of the beholder. So lots of folks tell us what society has to do, however we hear very little on what they have to do! Message “Invictus” ” I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/22/2015 - 03:41 am.

            Success Factors

            The question is can one sanction and adopt these valuable lessons?

            Or does one choose to be a rebel / victim?

            And I don’t chastise poor single mom’s to judge them, it is simply a reality that the kid’s raised in most of these poor households struggle. There is a reason we call it generational poverty, and that someone created the saying… “The apple does not fall far from the tree” My point again… This is not a race issue.

            Until the folks in these demographics choose to want to learn, work, conform, etc. There is little that can be done to help them.

  2. Submitted by Dan Berg on 09/21/2015 - 07:47 pm.


    The”public” or government sector comprises 41% of GDP. Any one sector of the private economy is insignificant by comparison. The degree to which racism exists is largely due to government action, not in spite of it.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/22/2015 - 08:53 am.

    Again with the “private” “public” sector stuff?

    These attempts to make some kind of point by looking at public sector GDP percentages is always incoherent.

    The Government does a much better job of complying with civil rights and labor laws than does the private sector, which is why so many government workers belong to the labor unions these people are always whining about. The only coherent point you can make about the government and GDP as far as minority participation is concerned is that the more people the government employs, the more minorities will be working. The government promotes diversity, this is WHY our erstwhile conservative are always whaling on about reverse discrimination.

    • Submitted by Dan Berg on 09/23/2015 - 06:58 am.


      It seems fairly straight forward. Government directly controls a massive amount of the economy and indirectly controls another large percentage through regulation. This has been the case for many decades. The degree to which the economy is deemed unfair is due, at least to a large degree, to government action, not in spite of it.

      The government in general does not promote diversity, it rewards political power. It creates and enforces regulations which by definition make regular the behavior of the people the rules cover. True diversity is messy and can be as ugly as it is beautiful full of people and groups which are diametrically apposed to one another in beliefs and actions. Diversity is about allowing this mess and accepting the fact that we shouldn’t force people to behave between a narrow set of guide posts that those in power would prefer. The term diversity in how it is most often used now refers to something different. It refers to carefully regulating behavior based on what are generally superficial and political categories. Providing payback for political loyalty above all else.

      p.s. Aren’t unions ment to protect employee’s from unfair labor practices by employers? Why if government is so altruistic would their employees be the ones most often in need of that protection?

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/24/2015 - 06:20 am.

        Excellent Comment

        I always find it amusing when the folks on the LEFT preach tolerance and accepting others while trying to force another group to change.

        And I love the part about unions. The public employees insist that they need Unions to protect themselves… The reality is that the unions would be significantly smaller if the Government had to compete. Instead they just raise taxes to pay for the waste and ineffectiveness.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/24/2015 - 04:39 pm.

        Just Out of Curiosity

        Remind me who it was who said that “government is so altruistic.” Anyone?

        I didn’t think so. In a democracy, “the government” is not some brooding omnipresence that came into being somehow, and that exists independent of our wills or efforts. A government is a reflection of society and its actions will reflect those values.

        The right in this country falls into a way of thinking that is jaw-droppingly simplistic. Government is bad, or at least suspect, in their view. Therefore, those who are not conservatives must necessarily regard all government as inherently good. You do not agree with me, therefore your opinions must be the polar opposite of mine in everything. One sees this way of “thinking (or is it more properly thought of as “reacting?”)” in a lot of the comments here, with questions about why liberals don’t like this because it’s a tax increase (conservatives hate all taxes means liberals must like all taxes. QED).

        For my part, I know of no one who thinks that government (or taxes) is inherently superior to private effort. I’m sure that, in the fullness of things, there are people who believe that (is Lenora Fulani still around? She was SCARY!), but their thinking is far out of the mainstream. There is no sector–private, public–that is always going to be superior to the other in everything. I wouldn’t want to buy clothes at a state-owned haberdashery, but I’m not going to take that as meaning public schools are necessarily bad, or we should let private developers build and operate highways (how are those private prisons working out for us?). We should look to how something can be done the best without making blithe, simple-minded assumptions that someone necessarily must do it better.

        • Submitted by Dan Berg on 09/25/2015 - 07:09 am.

          Attempted direct response

          I was attempting to respond to the comment by Paul Udstrand where he had suggested that government, in general, was a force for good in that its employment practices were beneficial to “diversity” and that their practices in general made it a better employer. Then saying that if this for some reason unions are most popular with pubic employees. Me effort was to call out this apparent contradiction specifically. The rest of your post seems to be a general cliched statement about how you think conservatives (whatever that means to you anyway) are simpletons and not a response to anything specifically posted.

          I have never considered myself a conservative and have been interested in politics and social structure for a majority of my life. Even as a sophomore in high school I helped run a group that organize debates around the 1988 election. It was a crazy set of candidates that included the local Democrat mayor, the Green Party, Republicans and even David Duke. My first published comment on politics was in the Strib and was something along the lines “David Duke reminds me of Hitler, very charismatic but with evil ideas and intent.” Yup, the “Hitler” argument before the internet existed. In my defense I was 15 years old and David Duke’s beliefs are ones that likely deserve the sentiment.

          Yes, I believe government is suspect. I believe that is a duty and that those who don’t aren’t being good citizens because it simply means you don’t believe it is possible for the massive power inherent in the system to be used poorly. This suspicion is a big reason I was very much against the Iraq war, something that a vast majority of people supported at the time. I believe the militarization of the police forces, drug war, civil forfeiture and general corruption of police forces disproportionately impact poor community and even more so poor communities of immigrants and of color. I believe climate change is real and largely due to human activity. I am an atheist that feels churches should pay the same taxes as everyone else. Do those opinions make me a conservative to you and therefore a simpleton?

          I also think after centuries of democratically sponsored state racism and oppression that state power might not be the best mechanism for enforcing “diversity” or “fairness”. Given your main complaint seemed to be that I (a conservative) am not capable of responding to complexity and that I make assumptions of others beliefs not supported by their statements it is strange that your entire post follows that exact structure.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/25/2015 - 08:37 am.


            Unfortunately… “You are a foolish government hating conservative” is a typical response to anyone that comments from the middle and states that government waste / ineffectiveness is likely.

            I mean we have a government that rarely works to make itself less complicated or smaller. And politicians are motivated to get something passed, something funded, something regulated, etc so the their constituents will vote for them again. It is kind of a mindless blob with laws, departments, etc from decades ago that just stay on the books and grow.

            I really wish that all laws only lasted 10 years or something… This geometric growth model is a killer.

            • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/25/2015 - 09:31 am.

              Both Sides Now

              You first paragraph decries those who would use “You are a foolish government hating conservative” as a “typical response to anyone that comments from the middle and states that government waste / ineffectiveness is likely.” Fair enough, although I would say that your term “likely” shows that you are not above the easy stereotype yourself. Is waste/ineffectiveness more likely in government than in the private sector? We learned this week, as if we did not know already, that business is capable of its own special brand of evil. Does it not indulge in waste and ineffectiveness (Saying that it’s not taxpayer dollars that are being wasted or spent ineffectively does not answer the question).

              Your next paragraph then elaborates on that very sort of thinking. “It [What? I presume you mean government, but feel free to correct me] is kind of a mindless blob with laws, departments, etc from decades ago that just stay on the books and grow.” Tell me why that is not a reflexive, if not foolish, hatred of government.

            • Submitted by Dan Berg on 09/25/2015 - 12:39 pm.


              I don’t know if I would say typical only because of the baggage the word carries in that is tends to attribute behavior to a particular group. I would agree that it seems unfortunately common for people of all political ideologies to use unproductive generalizations when speaking to none another about big issues.

              I think the fact that there is so much on the line with politics, back to the issue that over 40% of GDP is directly controlled by government. The other piece is that those most drawn to the tribalist framework or politics are the same that gravitate to the use of generalities when describing those with whom they disagree.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 09/25/2015 - 11:34 am.

            Well, now

            Saying that a particular line of thinking is “simplistic” is a long way from calling someone a “simpleton.” You are putting words into my mouth (keyboard?) that I did not say.

            It looks like you are reading more into Mr. Udstrand’s comment than I did, but I will leave it to him to address your reading of it.

          • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/25/2015 - 11:39 am.

            Force for good eh?

            “I was attempting to respond to the comment by Paul Udstrand where he had suggested that government, in general, was a force for good in that its employment practices were beneficial to “diversity” and that their practices in general made it a better employer. ”

            Yeah, the worse thing the founding fathers ever did was create a government for United States. We could be living the dream just like Somalia today if weren’t for those jerks. And then having created a government, they go and hire a bunch of people to work for it and pay good wages and provide solid benefits, oh the evil… pure evil. Why don’t people see the evil? Maybe it’s the difference between hysteria and vigilance.

            • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/25/2015 - 06:15 pm.

              Too Much of a Good Thing

              Nobody that I know wants to get rid of government or thinks that government in and of itself is a bad thing. The argument is how much government we should have and what their roles / responsibilities should be.

              Some people like yourself believe that more governmental control / expense is good, other disagree.

              Who exactly do you think wants to abolish our governement and become like Somalia?

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/25/2015 - 11:00 pm.

                People like myself

                One reason “limited” government reactionaries can’t form a coherent agenda or narrative is that the oppose “people” that exist only in their own imaginations.

                The only people who tend to “believe” in more government control for the sake of control are would-be dictators who ironically, look more like the people reactionaries tend to vote for than the “Liberals” they claim to be characterizing or disagreeing with.

                In the REAL world, people believe in adequate government, not simply “more” government. These people also tend to realize that government, even inadequate government, isn’t free and has to be paid for. Rather than rely on some kind of magic, responsible citizens pay taxes.This is democracy, we decide not how large or small a government should be, such calculations are impossible. We decide what we the government to do and not do, and then we pay for it.

                • Submitted by John Appelen on 09/26/2015 - 12:45 pm.

                  I agree

                  The people will decide. I just find it pointless when you label fellow citizens that disagree with your views as “”limited” government reactionaries” or bring up Somalia… Instead of just saying that you disagree with their views and that you think more government, more wealth redistribution and more taxes would be better for America. In our society there is plenty of room for differing views, I am just not sure that name calling or exagerations are necessary or helpful.

                  By the way defining the roles, responsibilities, goals and budgets are necessary when running most large entities. That way the managers, or bureaucrats in this case, can make the necessary tradeoffs to optimize the solution. I can not think of one large organization that “just decides what to do and pays for it.”

                  Some engineers I know would like a blank check, they could find 100’s of tests to run just to be even more sure… Of course, no one would be able to afford the product.

              • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/25/2015 - 11:08 pm.

                Oh, and about abolishing government…

                Look up all the republican’s who signed a pledge to follow Norquist, who’s goal is to drown government in a bath-tub.

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/22/2015 - 08:57 am.

    Two comments…

    First, I just hope some people around don’t think THEY’RE inventing civil disobedience for the first time. New passion and participation, and different emphasis are great, but reinventing the wheel is a good way to waste time learning lessons already learned.

    Second, I’m glad these guys seem to have given up on the idea of having demonstrations in the dark of night. Since then I don’t thin there’s been a single injury or serious conflict with the police?

  5. Submitted by Jay Willemssen on 09/25/2015 - 02:10 pm.

    Government is less than 18% of the US economy – not 41%

    Among the 32 high income OECD countries, the US ranks 29th in government share of its economy. The only countries with smaller shares are Korea, Chile, and Switzerland.

    Globally, government share of the economy declines by income category – ie, lower government footprint in an economy is moving in the direction of being like a poorer country.

    Out of the 50 US states, Minnesota ranks 46th in government share of its economy.

    If one is going to make macroeconomic arguments about government’s role in the economy, it’s advisable to learn how national accounting works and getting one’s facts straight. Otherwise, one will likely make poor arguments based on wildly inaccurate assumptions – like believing government is exceptionally large in the US or in Minnesota.


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