Monday, October 5, 2009

Is South Minneapolis Burning?

We knew the Nazis would be there Saturday because Barbara’s farmers’ market is across the street from the YWCA, and Sam and Marissa called, offering to be bodyguards. The Nazis were four sad sacks from Austin, Minnesota, birthplace of Spam, and home to several of those trailers where they turn stolen Sudafed and lighter fluid into methedrine. Which is not to say that Nazis are meth-heads -- I’d guess they’re temperate -- just that both have sucked from the same breast.

Two women were presenting an anti-racism workshop at the Y. The Nazis had gotten wind of that, and Minneapolis’ current crop of hippie radicals had gotten wind of the Nazi’s plans. Reservations were for ten.

The workshop presenters were Susan Raffo, “a writer, community organizer and craniosacral therapist currently studying with Suzanne River in Global Somatics,” and Heather Hackman who “teaches courses in social justice and multicultural education, heterosexism and homophobia in the US, race and racism in the US, and oppression and social change.” The workshop was for “white people who already have an understanding of white privilege and white supremacy (WP/WS) and want to learn more about how to dismantle WP/WS through embodiment work, education, visioning and practical action.”

I’m sorry. After Friday’s blog, I promised myself I’d tell the story instead of pulling quotes from somebody else, but I wanted to use the presenters’ own words to make sure it was absolutely clear what the White Privilege workshop was about.

Our little permaculture patch is four blocks due south of the farmers’ market, so let me tell you about our neighborhood. Tom, who made the pergola with the peace sign, is a retired university professor, Margaret used to work at the same energy conservation organization as I did, Bood is refugee Laotian military, the East African guy and the American blond own a duplex, their renters are Latino, this guy’s gay, she’s a lesbian firefighter, he’s got a “Flat Broke Indian” bumper sticker, our congressman is a Muslim, our city councilman is gay and he’s worried about the Green candidate. Not a one would hurt a fly, but we’re not exactly the cast of Triumph of the Will.

I walked up to the demonstration in a light drizzle, a little before ten, carrying a small sketchbook, with a camera in my pocket. Police cruisers blocked the twenty-one hundred block of East 31st at both ends. A couple hundred neighbors stood on the north side of the street. The Nazis faced them from the south, dressed in black, arms folded or in Hitler salutes. They had two American flags, a megaphone, and a cardboard banner saying, “Help the White race.” I appreciated the offer. I’m of a certain age, and my game knee knows when it’s raining, but I’d managed to hobble up on my own.

There were a bunch of equally bald-pated young men, a little more tattered, a little more colorful, with spikes coming out of their shoulders, and slogans lettered on their jackets. They were on the Nazi side of the street, chanting, “No hate, out of state.”

I started drawing quickly, frustrated by the rain on my page, and sensing somehow that this wasn’t going to last long. It registered with me that a cop was talking to the Nazis, and I drew faster. Then the color guard rolled up the colors that don’t run, and the jack-booted thugs just walked away, one giving us a last sieg heil. The crowd escorted them to their car, and I went to the farmers’ market, which was practically rained out, and where Barbara was shivering and trying to stay dry under her tent. It still wasn’t ten.

After a while, Sam and Marissa showed up, and I walked with them to meet a friend of Marissa’s, Eric, a skinhead who bemoaned the fact that one of the Nazis was, as is Eric, an Irishman. And we all know how tolerant the Irish are. Eric said he had spoken with one of the Nazis who was only eighteen, and told him he had his whole life ahead of him, and he didn’t have to do what he was doing. I met Aaron, another skinhead, who was two-point-ninety-nine sheets to the wind, and said he was a Jew who beat up Nazis, as he crushed a Budweiser can for the recycling into his jacket pocket. Eric and Aaron bantered with Vic, a towering guy with nary a hair on his head, save for eyebrows and two huge mutton chops. I liked it that Vic had pointed out to the cops that the Nazis were terrorists according to some provision or other of the Homeland Security Act. The difference between Nazis and anti-racist skinheads is that Vic has a sense of irony.

On our walk, I had told Sam and Marissa that I’d like to tie one on with a Nazi, and do a little anthropological interviewing. Marissa lived in Germany, and had tried that very experiment, herself, once upon a time. He threw a beer bottle at her. Among the anti-racist skinheads, I knew I couldn’t expect to learn how Nazis think, but I still wanted to know why what looked like a peaceful confrontation had broken up before it was supposed to start. I asked questions.

Eric said that there had been a scuffle before I arrived. “There was some shouting, and somebody shoved somebody else. I guess the cops told them it would be better if they left.”

Later Marissa said, “I know Vic, and he started it.”

You know, everybody -- except maybe the cops, who were at work -- had a good time. The Nazis got to show off in front of us deluded traitors to white supremacy, and they got a nice drive, maybe stopped for breakfast in Owatonna on the way up, and at the outlet mall or Cabella’s on the way back. The local skinheads managed to clean up the town, and show that a shaved head doth not a racist make. The South Minneapolis neighbors also rejected the racist contagion. The workshoppers got to do whatever the heck they were doing, and probably bowed their heads silently for a minute, wishing for the conversion of the deluded. I got a drawing, such as it is, and this post.

Barbara even got something out of it. It was a nothin’ day at the market, until the demonstration broke up. That boosted her sales into the respectable range, and she got to give samples to people who had never heard of Barsy’s Almonds.

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