Our deep dive into the events at the September 7, 2016 Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) meeting wraps up with testimony in support of the 30 year Donation Agreement with the Loppet Foundation to build, program, staff, and maintain the Adventure Center Trailhead and the cross-country ski trails at Theodore Wirth Park.
Do not let the fact that the Affront Series features 3 parts focused on resistance and 1 on support for the Loppet Agreement distort the reality that supporter testimony outnumbered opposition, unless you count the people ejected and/or arrested on that day before they got their chance to speak. Part 3, Set the Record Straight, of this series partially addressed that injustice. It is Part 2, Open Time, that most bluntly opposes Part Four because we hear directly from those testifying against the actions of the MPRB, even beyond the agreement with the Loppet. Part 1, Rules of Decorum, forms the background of the Affront Series because it dealt explicitly with the rules that the Board President, Anita Tabb, cited to justify her clamp down on dissent. Parts 1 – 3 are about more than dissent with the Loppet agreement because it essentially privatizes public space at Wirth Park. It is but one example of how the MPRB responds more robustly and excitedly to the scent of money, than to the pleas of the public or their workers. That of course, is no surprise in the hypercapitalistic neo-liberal era of social philanthropy and meaningful ways of fulfilling a corporate mission to “give back” for “underserved” kids. Like the Nordic Ski Team that had been so unjustly deprived of a world-class training and ski center for all these years.
There are no reasonable arguments against anything the ski team members had to say. The benefits of well-staffed parks with programming that fills the needs of underserved communities were not the issue under debate. On those, everyone agrees – they are “super great”. The dissent began when people asked which communities will be enhanced, who will benefit financially from the improvements, and are the promised benefits worth ceding control of public works to private concerns. I hope that the youth testifying about the passion for outdoor sport and how it changed their lives for the better take a lesson or two from this experience. It is super great that hey took the initiative to stand and speak for what they believed to be the best solution – and ultimately, they won the debate. I commend these young men for speaking up on a contentious issue. If the least they learned is that not everyone agrees with them or sees the world from their perspective, it will have been a watershed moment in their lives. Hopefully, they learned that simply being earnest is not sufficient to carry the day. I wish they will think about it every time they ski these new trails. I trust more than a few will know what I mean.
The testimony in support of the Loppet agreement in these clips was given within 2 hours of the forcible ejection of many people and the arrest of 3 people. Tensions were high because after a summer’s long debate, the Board had scheduled the vote on accepting the Donation Agreement with the Loppet for this meeting. In fact, President Tabb had attempted to rush the vote before Open Time to blunt the dissenting voices. Commissioner Brad Bourn managed to delay until the hard stop for Open Time. President These clips show that Tabb routinely granted pro-Loppet speakers additional time without the immediate interruption she inflicted on those voicing dissent. The main beneficiary of her deference was Corey Brinkema, a founder of the Loppet and passionate advocate of marketplace conservation, AKA neo-liberal monetization of nature by partnership of private corporations and public boards. Pay special attention to the first speaker in Bonus Time for Branding, Anthony Taylor, and what he has to say about how the Loppet will change the neighborhood around Wirth Park. I fear he may be more correct than he intended.
Of course, the testimony on September 7, 2016 did not turn any votes because those had been decided from the outset. The goal of the MPRB was to make sure that the agreement went through as efficiently – and profitably – as possible. The process throughout the summer of 2016 was not about determining whether the Loppet was a good fit for the neighborhood around Wirth Park or with the unions representing the workers displaced by employees and volunteers from the non-profit. It was about building the Trailhead and making corporations pay for it. The Loppet has already failed to meet promised fund raising goals and the MPRB may end up subsidizing the Adventure Center Trailhead. Apparently, the Board had the money to do this project on their own, all along. Support for the Loppet, explicitly as a model for how public trusts can leverage private cash, is where these current events intertwine with larger concerns on the supporters side. In that way it parallels the concerns raised about racial equality at the Parks because both advocate that the stature of the Minneapolis Parks should be leveraged to create social/economic changes in our culture. Brinkema and his neo-liberal comrades are on the same page as Cynthia Wilson or Emily Flower. They understand that capital, land, and resources are the 3 legs that support sustainable mechanisms in the money-mad world where we try to survive. Look, to the extent that people like Corey can get amoral corporate entities to put any money into projects that benefit a community or two, I’m down with their projects. I mean taxation is a “public private partnership”. So is democracy. So is living together on a finite planet. I just don’t understand why corporate administrators should expect to profit from such an endeavor – especially at the expense of union workers and their middle class lifestyles.
I am encouraged by the obvious passion of the people testifying at Open Time captured in these clips. I’m confident that a functional Park Board dedicated to the notion of maintaining public control of public space could find a way to bring their drive to help their community and youth into align with a MPRB – run version of the Trailhead Project. In this way too, the Loppet supporters mirror the resistance. All speak from their heart about their desire to make sure that Parks work to enhance the lives of as many people as possible. For the most part, he differences are of perspective. It seems to me that the Board missed the point when they ‘negotiated’ this deal with the Loppet and not with the people in these videos. But that is how top-down hierarchy operates. The professionals and experts split the profits and the rest of us pay.
That’s it. The last installment of my analyses of the September 7, 2016 MPRB meeting at which the Donation Agreement with the Loppet Foundation was accepted by the Board. I understand that few are intrepid and interested enough to read the entire Affront Series, let alone watch all the associated videos. But that does not sway me from my goal of assembling these myriad pieces into semi-coherent narrative that kinda almost makes sense if you stick with it. I’m depending on the old saw that stuff on the internet never disappears. Because the Affront Series and the associated videos are a detailed study of how neo-liberalism works to subvert public desire to its profitable ends. This is the mind set that supports the status quo. Within it, I hope we can find a few points of agreement and a place to make a fresh stand.