Column: “Safety Now Minneapolis” is Something We’ve Seen Before

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By: Andi Cheney, Celeste Robinson, and Robin Wonsley Worlobah

The movement to direct the 2021 Minneapolis municipal budget towards non-police public safety is stronger than ever. Thanks to the work of Reclaim the Block, Black Visions, and MPD150, along with dozens of community groups and tens of thousands of diverse Minneapolis residents, there is a growing public mandate to fund affordable housing, mental healthcare, addiction and treatment services, youth programs, restorative justice and conflict mediation services, domestic abuse support, and more—instead of continuing to pour unlimited funding into the deeply unpopular, violent, and racist MPD. 

Now, like all successful social movements proposing substantive change, we face opposition from beneficiaries of the status quo. 

As leaders during the successful fight for a $15 minimum wage in Minneapolis, we saw exactly what corporate-backed opposition to social movements looks like. And we can tell you it looks just like the pro-MPD organization “Safety Now Minneapolis” that sprung up last month. 

Safety Now is strikingly similar to Pathway to $15, the campaign by the Minnesota Restaurant Association to weaken the minimum wage policy and delay its implementation.

The MRA launched Pathway in direct response to the impending success of the movement for a $15 minimum wage for all Minneapolis workers. Pathway claimed to support the wage increase, but insisted on “nuance” and “thoughtfulness” it alleged was absent from the proposal under consideration, which already had overwhelming support amongst Minneapolis residents. The “nuances” the Pathway campaign championed were actually carve-outs and delays. The public discussion of the issue had lasted for years at that point, resulting in a clear public mandate $15 for all workers—but this consensus, while widely popular, threatened corporate profits. 

Sound familiar? Safety Now, despite its vague claim that it “supports police reform,” exists explicitly to resist the mandate for fundamental change demanded by the George Floyd Uprising. Minneapolis residents and the City Council support a fundamental reordering of our budget priorities: An August 2020 Star Tribune/MPR News/KARE 11 poll found that 73% of respondents believed Minneapolis should “redirect some funding from the police department to social services, such as mental health, drug treatment or violence prevention programs.” But Safety Now is making a last-ditch attempt to halt progress in the interests of a powerful minority, just like Pathway to $15 did.

Employing a strategy that corporations and the right wing have used effectively for decades, Pathway presented false and frightening premises as unquestionable fact, warning of a future where fairly compensated workers would lead to restaurant closures and lower take-home pay, inciting unwarranted panic about “unintended consequences.” There was never credible data backing those claims and that future never came to pass.

We can expect the same from Safety Now Minneapolis. Their fear-based rhetoric is hardly subtle; the opening line of their website proclaims: “Minneapolis is in crisis. Gunshots. Carjackings. Assaults.” They appear uninterested in abundant data confirming that crime is alleviated by affordable housing, living wages, mental healthcare, and more. Instead, they inaccurately tout further investment in MPD as the only path to public safety.

Pathway to $15, despite its claim of grassroots support, was funded by corporate anti-regulation lobbying groups, and led by business owners anxious about lost profits. Safety Now similarly implies widespread community support with stock photography featuring diverse groups of smiling people (including the first hit on a Shutterstock search for “Somali woman”). However, their most visible representative, Bill Rodriguez, is a national executive of franchised gyms and “architect of the Snap Fitness marketing plan.” We wouldn’t be surprised if Safety Now shares many of the same corporate backers as Pathway to $15.

If we learned anything from the Fight for $15, it’s that corporate interests don’t need data on their side if they’re well-funded, organized, and willing to foist propaganda on a captive audience. Remember when restaurant owners started handing out Pathway to $15 pamphlets in diners’ checks? Property owners are now encouraging their tenants to support increasing MPD’s budget.

The Star Tribune, owned by billionaire Glen Taylor, published multiple editorials opposing $15, including one that encouraged readers to align with Pathway to $15. This time around, they have already used their platform to oppose substantive redirection of public safety funding in favor of increased investment in MPD, citing their alignment with the Minnesota Business Partnership, a corporate lobby group devoted to massive economic deregulation and tax cuts for corporations and the rich. 

Just like the Fight For $15, we are going up against the status quo and the big business interests behind it. And like the Fight for $15, we know we can win because we have the data and majority support on our side. Pathway to 15 gave the appearance of long-haul advocacy for workers, but only appeared when the corporate bottom line was threatened, and vanished as soon as our movement succeeded: Pathway’s last Facebook post was in June of 2017; its website is decommissioned. For all its talk of defending service employees, it hasn’t made a peep during ten months of pandemic layoffs and closures. They only existed for the short period when they saw a credible threat to the corporate bottom line, and when our movement succeeded, they vanished. 

If the movement for holistic public safety can keep up our energy and focus, Safety Now won’t be around for very long, either.

Andi Cheney is a nonprofit finance director, social justice advocate, and queer artist in south Minneapolis.

Celeste Robinson is a union restaurant worker with Unite Here Local 17 and a community organizer in Seward. Robinson is a member of DSA and live in Minneapolis. 

Robin Wonsley Worlobah is a labor organizer, restorative justice practitioner, and a candidate for Minneapolis City Council in 2021. Worlobah is a member of DSA and lives in Minneapolis.

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