The Super Bowl Is Taking Over Minneapolis and Residents Are Mad as Hell

Sarah Lahm

Residents are planning to protest Super Bowl LII when it comes to Minneapolis. (Gian Lorenzo Ferretti/Shutterstock)

Mel Reeves is a long-time human rights activist based in Min­neapo­lis who describes him­self as a writer, orga­niz­er and a human being who stands for everybody’s rights.” When Super Bowl LII rolls into Min­neapo­lis on Feb­ru­ary 4, Reeves will be ready. He is part of a grass­roots nation­al group called Take a Knee Nation, ded­i­cat­ed to keep­ing police bru­tal­i­ty and racism front and cen­ter. He has, there­fore, been part of plan­ning both a nation­al con­fer­ence and a protest ral­ly — to be held in Min­neapo­lis on the same week­end as the Nation­al Foot­ball League’s biggest par­ty of the year, the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl pro­vides a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to place the spot­light on the prob­lem of police vio­lence,” Reeves point­ed out in a recent phone inter­view, recall­ing how the 2017 NFL sea­son was shaped by con­tro­ver­sy over whether or not play­ers mak­ing mil­lions of dol­lars,” as Don­ald Trump put it, have the right to take a knee in protest. The play­ers who did get down on one knee as the nation­al anthem was played, draw­ing both crit­i­cism and sup­port, were doing so for two main rea­sons: to call atten­tion to police vio­lence and to demon­strate their right to protest.

Reeves says that protest is what the nation­al Take a Knee con­fer­ence will be built around. The event will begin on Feb­ru­ary 3 at Minneapolis’s Augs­burg Col­lege and include pan­elists and pre­sen­ta­tions ded­i­cat­ed to the inter­sec­tion of race and class,” along with the his­to­ry and cur­rent real­i­ty of police vio­lence. Among par­tic­i­pants will be fam­i­ly and friends of those recent­ly killed by police, includ­ing the sup­port­ers of three peo­ple who lived in Min­neso­ta — Jamar Clark, Phi­lan­do Castile and Jus­tine Damond — who were gunned down in sep­a­rate, high-pro­file incidents.

Local and nation­al youth who have tak­en a knee have also been invit­ed to the con­fer­ence, which will cul­mi­nate in a pre-Super Bowl protest ral­ly on Feb­ru­ary 4.

We are try­ing to keep the issue of police vio­lence in the pub­lic eye,” Reeves notes. In con­trast, the area sur­round­ing Min­neapo­lis’ U.S. Bank Sta­di­um, where the Super Bowl will be played, has been turned into a hyper-mil­i­ta­rized zone. For weeks, local media out­lets have been report­ing that streets near the sta­di­um are clos­ing, while bar­ri­ers and fences are going up.” There will be snipers on hand, and the area will be scrubbed of home­less peo­ple, accord­ing to mul­ti­ple reports. Gov­ern­ment offi­cials have even asked that the nation­al guard be deployed, a now-com­mon Super Bowl enhanced secu­ri­ty measure.

These kind of prepa­ra­tions, done on behalf of the rul­ing class,” as Reeves puts it, haven’t gone over well with the oth­er local union and com­mu­ni­ty groups that are also plan­ning to protest the Super Bowl. A broad list of orga­ni­za­tions, from Native Lives Mat­ter to Women Against Mil­i­tary Mad­ness, has joined forces, call­ing itself the Super Bowl Anti-Racist and Anti-Cor­po­rate Coali­tion. This group has planned a ral­ly for Feb­ru­ary 4, to be held in the shad­ows of the hulk­ing, bil­lion-dol­lar U.S. Bank Sta­di­um — a new­ly built behe­moth that was con­tro­ver­sial­ly fund­ed, for the most part, with tax­pay­er money.

Using lan­guage that is decid­ed­ly not Min­neso­ta Nice,” this Coali­tion has made its pur­pose clear. On Feb­ru­ary 4, 2018,” an announce­ment from the group reads, Min­neapo­lis will host a protest against racist police bru­tal­i­ty and the sell­out of our city to greedy NFL own­ers and cor­po­rate spon­sors.” There will be a ral­ly and a march that is, like Reeves’ Take a Knee event, designed to call atten­tion to the point that, Dur­ing this year’s foot­ball sea­son, play­ers, and in some cas­es entire teams, have spo­ken out against racism, police bru­tal­i­ty, and white suprema­cist violence.”

Brad Sigal is the Sec­re­tary of AFSCME Local 3800, which rep­re­sents cler­i­cal work­ers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta. His union is part of the Super Bowl Anti-Racist and Anti-Cor­po­rate Coali­tion, and even though Sigal says he loves foot­ball,” he will par­tic­i­pate in the planned protest for Super Bowl Sun­day. For Sigal, it’s about sol­i­dar­i­ty, since NFL play­ers are also part of a union, the NFL Play­ers Asso­ci­a­tion. Many of the union­ized pro­fes­sion­al foot­ball play­ers, like Col­in Kaeper­nick, have already tak­en a risk by speak­ing out against racism, police bru­tal­i­ty and cor­po­rate greed,” Sigal says, not­ing that he wants to help make their voic­es heard.

To me, that’s what being in a union is all about — join­ing togeth­er to con­front injus­tice, con­front the pow­er­ful, and change soci­ety for the bet­ter for the vast major­i­ty – the work­ing class,” Sigal insists.

The work­ing class, after all, will be doing much of the heavy lift­ing to make the Super Bowl a suc­cess in Min­neso­ta. The Cen­tro de Tra­b­jadores Unidos en Lucha, based in Min­neapo­lis and known local­ly by its ini­tials, CTUL, is also orga­niz­ing against the Super Bowl, but they are hop­ing to stave off an actu­al game-day protest by secur­ing some con­ces­sions for work­ers before the big event. As a work­ers’ advo­ca­cy group, CTUL has been orga­niz­ing low-wage work­ers of col­or for years and has some impor­tant vic­to­ries to show for it. Recent­ly, the group helped pass both a $15 per hour min­i­mum wage man­date and a Sick and Safe Time ordi­nance in Minneapolis.

Now, CTUL is pur­su­ing groups like the Min­neso­ta Cham­ber of Com­merce for fur­ther work­er pro­tec­tions in advance of the Super Bowl. Veron­i­ca Mendez Moore, co-direc­tor of CTUL, said her orga­ni­za­tion has been in con­ver­sa­tion with the Cham­ber of Com­merce to get them to agree to cre­ate a bond that will ensure low-wage work­ers get paid—even if their Super Bowl employ­ers try to stiff them. We know wage theft occurs at these large sport­ing events,” Mendez Moore said, espe­cial­ly because so many fly-by-night” groups pop up and then leave town with­out pay­ing workers.

CTUL, along with oth­er like-mind­ed union and com­mu­ni­ty groups, is intent on seiz­ing what they say is an unprece­dent­ed oppor­tu­ni­ty to high­light the glar­ing dis­par­i­ty” rep­re­sent­ed by the Super Bowl. Cor­po­ra­tions and the wealthy think noth­ing of invest­ing and mak­ing mil­lions” off the game and all of the events sur­round­ing it, Mendez Moore argues, while work­ing fam­i­lies con­tin­ue to strug­gle to make ends meet. These same cor­po­ra­tions often then turn around and block advance­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties for work­ers. The Min­neso­ta Cham­ber of Com­merce, for exam­ple, has filed law­suits against the city of Min­neapo­lis over both the min­i­mum wage increase and the new paid sick time ordinance.

One par­tic­u­lar­ly strik­ing exam­ple of this comes from the Franklin Street Bak­ery, locat­ed just a short dis­tance away from U.S. Bank Sta­di­um. Work­ers at the Franklin Street Bak­ery have been try­ing to union­ize for sev­en months, in sol­i­dar­i­ty with the Bak­ery Work­ers Local 22, accord­ing to a recent report. Yet employ­ees say the bakery’s own­ers, Wayne Kostros­ki and Mark Hau­gen, have blocked their attempts, and insists on pay­ing pover­ty wages that leave work­ers unable to afford health care or cov­er the cost of food for a month. In 2016, Kostros­ki and Hau­gen told the City Pages that the work­ers’ claims were out­ra­geous.” (This labor-man­age­ment dis­pute has been going on since at least 2016, when work­ers’ sto­ries were doc­u­ment­ed in a video pro­duced by the AFL-CIO).

Here’s the iron­ic part: Kostros­ki is also the founder of the Taste of the NFL, described in a Labor Notes arti­cle as a star-stud­ded, opu­lent fundrais­er” for local food banks that has been at every Super Bowl since 1992. This year, though, work­ers from his Franklin Street Bak­ery orga­nized their own Taste of Jus­tice” in response, as a stark con­trast” to Kostroski’s pub­lic persona.

Whether or not work­ers at the Franklin Street Bak­ery suc­ceed in their attempts to union­ize, they are part of a wider effort by unions and com­mu­ni­ty groups to pierce through the PR blitz sur­round­ing this year’s Super Bowl. News reports are cast­ing doubt on how much mon­ey the Super Bowl will actu­al­ly bring to the local econ­o­my, with Min­neso­ta Gov­er­nor Mark Dayton’s ini­tial rosy fore­cast of $500 mil­lion now seem­ing quite unlike­ly, thanks to real­i­ty checks that have emerged.

The Super Bowl Host Com­mit­tee, made up of large, wealthy cor­po­ra­tions like Eco­lab and U.S. Banks, has said that it wants to leave a last­ing lega­cy” on Min­neso­ta, beyond the Feb­ru­ary 4 main event. On the morn­ing of Feb­ru­ary 3, this Com­mit­tee is a hold­ing a Super Bowl Break­fast” at down­town Min­neapo­lis’ swanky Hilton Hotel. In response, groups like the Min­neso­ta Women’s March are ask­ing advo­cates for racial and eco­nom­ic jus­tice to gath­er out­side the Hilton in protest, in order to make this point: If the Host Com­mit­tee real­ly wants to leave a long last­ing pos­i­tive lega­cy in our com­mu­ni­ties, they must invest in local pol­i­cy that sup­ports chil­dren and their families.”

Sarah Lahm is a Min­neapo­lis-based writer and for­mer Eng­lish Instruc­tor. She writes the Mid­west Dis­patch col­umn for the Pro­gres­sive mag­a­zine, and her work has appeared in oth­er local and nation­al outlets.

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