Minnesota Sounds and Voices: 'Stand Up!' author traces Minnesota's protest tradition

Meatpackers strike
A 1921 strike by South St. Paul meat packers brought out National Guard troops equipped with bayonet fixed rifles.
Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

As far as Minnesota protest movements go, the Occupy movement is nothing new, writer and historian Rhoda Gilman at the Minnesota Historical Society says in her new book, "Stand Up! The Story of Minnesota's Protest Tradition." Her work charts the roots of the state's protest tradition and speculates where it may be headed.

Minnesota Sounds and Voices reporter Dan Olson caught up with Gilman ahead of a reading tonight at The Mill City Museum to mark the book's publication.

In a way, the protest tradition here began in 1857 over the writing of the state constitution and whether free black men in Minnesota would be allowed to vote. And Gilman cited protest leader Ignatius L. Donnelly as an example. A former Minnesota congressman serving not long after statehood, Donnelly found his way into the Populist Party after stints as a Republican, Democrat and Independent. Donnelly supported the Farmer's Alliance, and inveighed against the fortunes being amassed by timber, railroad and milling barons of his day.

"The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes unprecedented in the history of mankind," he once said. And others followed.

Striking Minneapolis seamstresses in 1888 angry over pay and working conditions successfully convinced customers to stop buying clothing made by a Twin Cities textile company. Labor protests and anti-war sentiment swelled in Minnesota just before the U. S. entry into World War I. Two people died in a 1934 Minneapolis trucker's strike where two protesters died and dozens were injured. "No sale" songs and chants rallied supporters of Minnesota farmers facing foreclosure during the 1983 farm crisis. In 1986, farmers drove tractors to Albert Lea in support of striking meat packers. A 1988 Minneapolis protest against U. S. military actions in Central America turned violent.

And this year, Occupy Minnesota Homes activist Susan Kikauchi rallied support for a moratorium on foreclosures similar to events in 1934.

"This model is based on foreclosure and eviction resistance that happened during the Great Depression," she said. "We want to break the cycle here. We don't want our grandchildren to be fighting this battle in 80 years."

Gilman says the rise of feminism, environmental activism and government surveillance all influence contemporary protests in Minnesota. A Quaker and a Green Party activist who supports the Occupy movement, she concludes that the power of protest is our most precious asset because it is the tradition of uniting against injustice.

Gilman discusses "Stand Up, The Story of Minnesota's Protest Tradition" tonight at the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.