Windows are being boarded up in south Minneapolis today, amid the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding Election Day 2020. Along the city’s Lake Street corridor, fresh sheets of plywood are being tacked up at grocery stores, liquor stores, and restaurants, right next to windows that have remained covered since late May, amid the protests that erupted here after the murder of George Floyd.
There is good reason to be afraid, however.
A recent article in The Washington Post described how Atlas Aegis, a private security firm based in Tennessee, was attempting to recruit former special operations officers to protect Minnesota’s polls “from looting and destruction,” brought on—in the words of the company’s founder, Anthony Caudle, by “antifas.”
Floyd’s death, the unrest that followed, the burned out buildings across Minneapolis, the call for “poll protectors,” and Kroll’s pro-Trump stance helps me understand why Minnesota is considered a battleground state in today’s election.
Atlas Aegis canceled the request after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison launched an investigation into the company’s operations, including an inquiry into who asked them to seek election-related security coverage in the state.
Then, just days ago, a lawyer from the Trump campaign reached out to the Minneapolis Police Federation, asking it to recruit retired officers to serve as “Poll Challengers” and be the campaign’s “eyes and ears in the field and call our hotline to document fraud,” as the Star Tribune reported.
“We want people who won’t be afraid in rough neighborhoods or intimidating situations,” the Trump campaign email read.
Bob Kroll, head of the Minneapolis Police Federation, reportedly complied with the request by forwarding it on to federation members, asking whether they were “willing to assist.” Kroll is a deeply polarizing figure in the Twin Cities, having appeared at a 2019 Trump rally in Minneapolis, decked out in a bright red Cops for Trump T-shirt.
When Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers, Kroll struck a combative tone and attempted to deflect blame by casting Floyd in an unfavorable light.
All of this—Floyd’s death, the unrest that followed, the burned out buildings across Minneapolis, the call for “poll protectors,” and Kroll’s pro-Trump stance—helps me understand why Minnesota is considered a battleground state in today’s election.
At issue is how we, as a state and nation, address institutional racism, savage economic inequalities, the militarization of our police forces, the way marginalized communities are cast as “rough neighborhoods” in need of a short, sharp, shock to keep people in line.
The truth is, Minnesota is a battleground state. It is a place where the content of our collective character is being tested in real time.
In October, I wrote an article about a local election that I will be keeping an eye on. It’s taking place in Worthington, a small city in the southwestern corner of the state, just across the border from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
There, two women of color, Leticia Rodriguez and Aida Simon, are each making their first bids for elected office. Rodriguez is seeking a spot on the Nobles County Board of Commissioners, serving the greater Worthington area, while Simon is vying for a seat on the Worthington City Council.
If they both win, they will each be the first person of color to serve in either role. This is important for obvious reasons (both are women of color stepping up to represent their communities), but also because the Worthington area is in the midst of a rapid demographic shift.
Farming and meatpacking jobs are prevalent in the area, thanks to the acres of farmland that roll on for miles here. This work has attracted immigrants and refugees from around the world, who in turn have helped these industries expand, thanks to their labor.
By coming to Worthington from Central America, Africa, and other places, these new residents are becoming the majority in what was, until quite recently, a mostly white, English-speaking town.
They are buying homes in the area, helping expand the public school system, and otherwise adding vibrancy, entrepreneurship, and life to this rapidly diversifying slice of rural Minnesota. Rodriguez, Simon, and their fellow citizens of color are the future of this state and the whole country, according to many observers.
The question for Minnesotans will be whether or not we see ourselves in these newer residents, whose stories of resilience and survival likely match those of our own ancestors, or whether we want to align with the Bob Krolls and Donald Trumps of the world, who seem bent on keeping us separate and afraid.
Our lives are reflected in the lives of the immigrants and refugees who have kept the pork processing plants in Worthington and nearby Sioux Falls, South Dakota, operating, even during the COVID-19 pandemic—the worst of which is likely yet to come.
I am not personally worried that Minneapolis may erupt in protest over the 2020 election, nor am I afraid that some sort of goon squad will show up to intimidate voters either here or across the United States.
It could happen, as have many once-unthinkable things over the past four years. But mostly, I am increasingly aware that elections are only the beginning. Whether it is Biden or Trump in the White House, we have work to do, here in Minnesota and across the United States, to become a place where everyone feels welcome and protected.