Protesters storm Highway 55

by Max Rust

From the west, Highway 55 enters Minneapolis and cuts across the city’s north side before traveling through downtown and diagonally across south Minneapolis to Minnehaha Park.
Along this road were born and exist two of the largest protest movements Minneapolis has ever seen.
On the north side, enraged neighbors and housing advocates charge the city with pushing lower-income people out to the suburbs to make way for a development they say caters to higher-wage earners and beefs up the city’s tax base in what is known as the Hollman settlement.
On the south side, die-hard protesters have been camped out for more than a year in hopes of blocking government officials’ plans to re-route Hwy. 55 onto land considered sacred by Native American tribes.
Though Minneapolis city officials separate the locations of these two conflicts, activists on the front lines hear each other loud and clear.
About 1,000 of these activists brought their messages and demands from one end of Hwy. 55 to City Hall and then to the other end Saturday in the Unification Rally and March to Stop the Land Grab. The march and rallies were the first action by a recently formed coalition of more than 30 activist organizations in the Twin Cities.

Common struggles
The coalition’s overall message was for government bodies to stop taking land from the people and forcing them out of their homes, one of many aspects shared by both the Hollman and the re-route struggles.
“We think it’s more or less ethnic cleansing of the neighborhoods,” said Jim Anderson, the cultural chair for the Mendota Dakota community and long-time reroute protester. “They’ve been ethnically cleansing the Native people for a long time, and the Hollman neighborhood now is realizing what that’s all about.”
The Reverend Curtis Herron from the Zion Baptist Church on the city’s north side said government oppression is what brought the groups together to raise the activist voice.
“The city uses the same tactics with the Hwy. 55 group that they use with us: the delaying tactics, the denial, the belittling of those of us who protest as if we’re just fanatics,” Herron said.
Herron was among several north-side activists who spoke at the first rally, held on the north side at the corner of Bryant Avenue and the portion of Hwy. 55 known as Olson Memorial Drive. From there, the group assembled and made their way downtown to City Hall.
The placid quietness of the plaza outside City Hall was slowly crashed by the beating of a drum, chanting and eventually the stream of protesters who overtook the plaza within minutes.
Two horses led the stream. On one sat a Native American man named Sky who had travelled more than 700 miles from Nebraska to be there. Sky had a hand print of blue clay on his face symbolizing “a prayer raising a hand to the creator saying ‘Thank you'”.
Many signs stood high in the air. Some were scrawled with the phrases: “Pity the City That Paves it’s Sacred Parks,” “Homes Not Roads” and “Hell No, We Won’t Go… (To the Suburbs).”
A large number of people held signs which denounced City Council President Jackie Cherryhomes, who has come under fire for her policies on the Hollman issue.
Some people were signing a petition for Anybody But Cherryhomes, a group committed to ousting her from the City Council.
Speakers from all kinds of activist groups throughout the Twin Cities made their causes known on a platform in the middle of the plaza.
University graduate student Rebecca Hill spoke about oppressive aspects of the criminal justice system. She is a member of Behind the Wire, a group that protests the use of the criminal justice system to oppress and remove people from neighborhoods with tactics like mandatory minimum drug sentences, the death penalty and the Minneapolis police tactic known as CODEFOR.
The CODEFOR program is a computer-assisted police tool that identifies crime trends by neighborhood and allows police to concentrate their presence in those areas. Critics of the police strategy say residents are stopped by officers, searched and issued citations for misdemeanor crimes like jaywalking.
Hill said CODEFOR takes away the citizenship of minority residents living in those areas, since they are considered suspicious just for walking down the street. The result, she said, is the removal of those people from the neighborhood, or gentrification.
“We have to fight CODEFOR, because a fight for CODEFOR is a fight for our control of our neighborhoods,” Hill said.
For a few minutes, all eyes turned to the top floor of a parking ramp across the street from the plaza. Some protesters were hanging a sign that read “Homes not Roads. Stop the Highway 55 Reroute.” The crowd cheered as the banner unfurled.
Sandwiches, granola bars and fruit were provided by the Student Coalition Against the Reroute, an organization of students from several area colleges.

Signs of Solidarity
Kristin Lawson, member of SCAR and the Macalester Peace and Justice Coalition, said the march was a good show of unity.
“It’s really important to have coalition work where different groups can come together, because eventually that’s what we have to do,” she said.
Theatrics grabbed the crowd’s attention during the rally at City Hall and featured the character King Road, a nine-foot puppet with a highway for skin and a street light for a head. King Road began pushing the other characters around and then swiped their sign that said “tax dollars.” But in the end, a group of actors with small trees attacked King Road, sending him to the ground.
After the rally, the coalition moved out of downtown and then south to 32nd Street before linking back up with the stretch of Hwy. 55 known as Hiawatha Avenue. They chanted: “The people, united, will never be divided” and “Sacred sites/housing rights!”
Adding music to the movement, a group of American Indian elders sang songs while beating a large drum they carried.
The protesters passed a large tree near an area where construction machinery is clearing the way for the reroute project. A canvas nest containing some people who are protesting the reroute project hung in the tree. One woman poked her head out and smiled at the people moving down the street.
The marchers took up a lane of the road, slowing down the line of cars travelling next to them. Some of the motorists honked, raising cheers from the marchers. As the group approached the park, a man in a white sports car yelled from his window: “Go home!”
A marcher replied, “We are home.”

Max Rust covers the community and welcomes comments at [email protected]