Red River Valley, ND & MN
North Dakotan by choice, dirt poor rural Minnesota kid by birth. Survived Clinton-era welfare reform and got a union job.
I opened up the local paper, and I saw a face I recognized. I’m from a small town, and I still live in one, so seeing people I know in the paper isn’t all that unusual. Growing up, I lived in a trailer park. The familiar face I saw in the paper was a young kid who used live in the corner trailer up the street from mine. He was same age as my little brother; in fact, they were childhood friends. He was in the paper that morning because he died of a fentanyl overdose. This isn’t all that unusual, either. Lots of people around here overdose. It hurts, we all feel it.
Today, I have a good union job (Minnesota public employee, MAPE 1502) in the public sector as a software developer. But I still see lots of faces of people I grew up with in the paper-- you may have seen them too. That woman who got drunk, maybe a little high, and was bitten by a tiger? We hung in the same scene growing up. You ever hear about that guy who fled police in a car chase all the way to Canada in order to avoid going to a US prison? He was one of my best friends when we were kids. To most people, my friends and neighbors are nothing more than punchlines for bad jokes.
Sometimes my family is in the paper, too. My brother (jail, drug charge). My nephew (drugs). My brother again (parole violation, contact possession of a firearm, warrant for arrest). My half-sister has her shit together, but she didn’t always. My eldest sister’s problems are too mundane, too depressing, all too common on reservations for the news to bother covering. My wife of 12 years and I have a daughter who two years ago at age 6 decided to become a vegetarian on purely ethical grounds. I look forward to her teaching me all the ways I’m wrong as she grows older.
I am radicalized by these circumstances, by the people in my life. It’s been a slow boil that I never fully noticed until Donald Trump was elected president. I want to fight harder, do more. Like you, I’m trying to figure things out along the way. That’s why it’s important to anchor ourselves in meaningful work on issues of material importance to people today.
When I was a teenager, I considered myself a radical but I didn’t have much exposure to real world politics. Then, the anti-gay marriage ballot initiative was launched in North Dakota. I was in college, so I responded by helping organize my campus to action. We held marches and protests. We built a base of young opponents to the ballot measure. In the end, we lost. 73% of voters approved the measure.
That was my first major learning experience as an organizer. It’s not enough to get 100 of your closest friends to a punk show at a dingy venue. It’s not enough to make signs and show up for protests either. Those things I realized are base-builders, but they don’t capture power. Power requires building broad support through a network of interpersonal relationships.
These days, most of my political action happens at incredibly local levels. I’ve been on committees for everything from food cooperatives to arts programs to historical preservation projects. My latest organizing work has been around election reform that would expand the Fargo city council and introduce new, better voting methods. We are extremely close to being the first city in America to use approval voting.
I have also organized around regional issues in North Dakota. We fought back—and won—against a measure that would have allowed corporate farming in ND. We fought back—and won—against a measure that would have granted personhood to fetuses. Progress is winning in North Dakota while the Democrats continue to lose. I understand that there is hope in the face of a daunting task.
Barbarism is here and it’s getting worse. I see it in the tragedies in small towns like mine. We have to organize to win. I am running with a slate of candidates, Praxis on a platform explicitly focused on two things: building capacity and building diversity. First, small chapters and new chapters need representation in the NPC. We need to learn from one another. We can do that by building a national culture of leadership. Second, we must be intentional in how we grow. We must consider leadership that can work on an array of issues, across a variety of different geographies, in many different of communities. Our ultimate goal shouldn’t be merely a 50-state strategy. It should be a strategy of millions of individuals working collectively. How we get there takes work through building meaningful connections with people and working side-by-side through collective struggle.
I believe deeply in an organizing philosophy that acknowledges that we all have incoherent politics at times, but we can work together to sharpen our ideas. Analysis is an incredibly important tool to understanding the world as it is and how we wish it could be. Yet, I also believe in order to build solidarity—mass, global solidarity—we must also deeply understand what drives us personally and what motivates everyone around us. As socialists, we must be laser-focused on capturing power for the many. To do that, we must be effective at drawing people to our vision of a better world and then getting them to move towards it.
Like a lot of other new members, DSA feels like home. I’ve never been so exhausted from the work yet spiritually fulfilled and constantly inspired by any other political organization I’ve ever joined. I am here because you are here. Let's get to work.