Each term, one participant from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Elle Nelson is HECUA’s student blogger for the Inequality in America program this fall. Elle is a student at Bethel University, majoring in Biology and Reconciliation Studies. Read on her for first post!
I’m following my phone down sidewalks lined with urban buildings as I make my way towards Minneapolis City Hall. I see my supervisor, Michael, and the other intern, Andra, waiting for me on the steps. Their attention shifts, from people loading the Green Line in front of them, to me. I wave eagerly and say good morning even though I’m out of audible range. Our first stop is to witness a city council meeting and later a visit to the Minnesota State Capitol.
Andra and I follow Michael through the marble halls taking untraceable rights and lefts; we may have even taken the stairs, but I was too busy standing up straight, to match the atmosphere of the building, to remember the stairs.
It’s the second day of my internship with HOME Line and we are headed to a Minneapolis city council meeting where they are expected to pass a housing ordinance that will signify movement towards equilibrating the power difference between landlords and tenants in Minneapolis. HOME Line is a non-profit organization that is most widely known for their free legal help hotline that serves renters across Minnesota. Additionally, the organization seeks to work toward changing housing policy in Minnesota in order to change systemic factors that essentially keep their hot-line running. This is where I come in. Michael, my supervisor, is the dedicated lobbyist at HOME Line.
So, we care about the policy being passed. I sit between Michael and Andra in the front row of the meeting room. My feet barely touch the faded red carpet that, I’m sure, was classy at some point. I stare at the huge river painting on the wall that seems to strike me as out of place in this rigid and legal space. Everyone from the audience in support of the new ordinance says so with stickers stuck to their shirts that say “Renter Protections Now!” There are people holding signs staggered throughout the back of the room showing their support, or in just one case, their opposition. We all watch the meeting churn in front of us waiting for the final vote on the housing ordinance. The talk of the council members is fast, but the process is slow. Finally, after the fascinating back and forth between council members, the vote was taken. Sure enough, it was unanimous.
The dormant energy in the room came back alive as people gather their things and head to the halls. The portion of the meeting that we came for ended.
We follow Michael’s lead out of the meeting room and back into the marble hallways. He’s debriefing us on the meeting while simultaneously leading us to the next thing, the press conference. We gather with other organizers in front of microphones and cameras that are ready to capture the immediate reactions and testimonies post-vote. The excitement in the air is contagious as organizers finally feel the highly anticipated release of having their work pay off, even though it’s a small step.
I’m proud to have been a part of this moment, to share in the excitement, to witness how policy work can pay off. Not to mention, I even made it on TV!
Once again, we quickly changed direction. We strode back through the maze of marble halls to our next stop, the Minnesota State Capitol.
Actually, we stopped at the Minnesota State Office Building first. We all tap into our youthful nature that comes when you scuttle down a hallway, testing every door knob to find the one room that is unlocked, waiting to be explored. We find one. Michael opens the door and we all spill into the room filled with the aura of lawyers. We search every wall, hoping to find the light switch. We never do. So, we eat our lunch in the dark. We game plan the rest of our day, finish our food, and head up to the floor holding the esteemed Minnesota Representatives offices.
We’re walking down the underwhelming halls when we just so happen to bump into Representative Alice Hausman, she’s a straight up queen with her calm disposition, authentic ability for connection and her commitment to honorable politics. She even invites us into her office and blesses us with her presence. We talk the talk of state level politics and once again we’re on our way.
I find myself following Michael once again. This time we’re wandering through an underground tunnel that is taking us under the street and straight to the State Capitol. The holy grail of policy and lobbying work. Michael shows us around the building pointing out big rooms with expensive decor and a lot of chairs. It seems as if Michael has a thrilling story of lobbying in just about every corner of the building. He tells of real changes he has witnessed and helped bring to fruition. His stories are inspiring and give me hope that making real changes in the world is possible.
I’m sure by now you’ve noticed a theme here in how fast we move from one thing to the next. It won’t surprise you, then, that we changed route once again and headed across the street to the new building that the Senators are in. Again, we shuffle down another hallway, shaking door handles, checking to see if maybe there is just one that is unlocked. This time we don’t get so lucky. Not to worry though, next on our agenda is to scope out the senators’ offices. Michael knows Senator Marty, so we head that way. Our luck is back. Senator Marty is in his office and invites us in. We go through quick introductions and chat a bit. We leave with business cards in our hands and a sense of power in our steps. We’ve gotten the royal treatment all day and feel empowered to make changes in our state.
As we’re walking back to the car I ask, “So, Michael, you’re saying this isn’t what every day is like?” He looks at me with slightly wider eyes than normal and his jaw drops just a bit. He laughs, “Yeah, things never usually go this smoothly.” All three of us laugh and take a moment to appreciate all that we experienced. I drove home that day feeling empowered to deeply engage with politics, something I’ve previously shied away from, and privileged to be working with such a high impact organization, HOME Line.