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North-South Unity Rally Demands: "Stop the Land Grab"

by Kim DeFranco |
October 1, 1999
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Leola Seals, Reverend Herron, and Jim Anderson lead protest
Leola Seals, Reverend Herron, and Jim Anderson (right, holding banner) lead protest down Highway 55 towards City Hall (Fight Back! News/Kim de Franco)

Minneapolis, MN - More than 500 people came together September 25 under the slogan "Stop the Land Grab!" The protest was organized by opponents of the Highway 55 reroute and activists who have been fighting against the demolition of public housing on the North side of Minneapolis.

The rally started at the Glenwood-Lyndale public housing project, which the city is trying to demolish. The Rev. Herron, Zion Baptist Church, led protesters in the chant "The people united will never be defeated!" Herron is one of the Hollman 14, a group of African-American ministers and community activists arrested earlier this fall while blocking the destruction of public housing.

Led by Native American drummers, the rally took to the streets for a 2 mile march to City Hall. There speakers from endorsing groups denounced social and economic injustices. A skit showed the destruction of Minnehaha Park and sacred sites if the reroute of the highway goes through. Protesters hung a banner reading "Stop the Reroute of Hwy 55" from the roof of a nearby parking ramp.

The City Hall rally was led by Leola Seals, past president of the Minneapolis NAACP, and Jim Anderson, Cultural Chair of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community.

Said Anderson; "We're all here for a reason, and that's for justice for the people. The people in the communities are not being heard. The politicians and the money people are pushing us around and we're tired of it. We taking back the streets to show them that it's not just a small group of people here, or a small group of people there - it's the people together and we won't take it anymore!" Spike Moss, vice-president of The City, Inc. spoke to the crowd, "MN is a winter state and if we don't fix the problem of getting more affordable homes now, many people, including families, will be in desperate situations soon. So, it's very important to help our families and we have to do more. This is where people should be. We need to understand that America has moved away from 'the concern about the poor people' and turned towards to 'the concern about the rich.' We need to turn that around."

Peggy Watkins of the Twin Cities Welfare Rights Committee, told demonstrators, "Back in the day Minneapolis would give you good square meals, a decent place to live, great medical care and vouchers for clothing and furniture. This was a good thing. A helping hand until you could get on your feet. We were prosperous. Now Minneapolis wants to tear everything down. Your dreams, your ambitions, your homes."

In his speech, Steve Walsh, of the Northside Neighbors for Justice told the crowd, "It is bad to be born into a country where you are considered nothing."

After the rally at City Hall, the march continued 5 miles to the encampment near Minnehaha Park, where protesters have been living to protect land that is sacred to Native Americans. This is where the MN Department of Transportation plans to destroy a part of Minnehaha Park and sacred lands in order to reroute the highway at the cost of about $548 million. People who live in the neighborhood have been fighting road projects for over forty years.

Two Powerful Movements

The September 25 "Unification March" had two powerful movements at its core; the struggle against Highway 55 reroute, and the fight for housing which has been centered in the African-American community.

With a 1% vacancy rate for affordable housing, and homelessness rising, the destruction of public housing at Glenwood-Lyndale has become a focal point in the struggle for housing.

Mayor Sales-Belton was forced to stop the demolition process when a group of Black pastors and community activists were arrested blocking the heavy machinery that was being used to tear down the projects.

The pastors demanded that the projects be rehabbed to house the homeless. In the following months of negotiations and court proceedings, it was impossible to reach an agreement with the city that would save the housing project. At this point the city is saying it will resume the demolition in the near future.

The struggle at Highway 55 has been sharp. Last December, more than 600 police attacked an encampment of protesters. Recently, arrests at the project site are an almost daily occurrence.

Organizers of the Sept 25 march stress the need for more unity in the face of a common enemy.

Organizations that sponsored the rally and march included; Stop the Reroute Coalition, Northside Neighbors for Justice, Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Community, Welfare Rights Committee, Twin Cities Coalition to Defend Mumia Abu-Jamal, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and the Anti-War Committee.

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