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On The Mark: Stay politically engaged

Lately, I’ve been reading about American political history since World War II. Prominent topics include the civil rights movement, the Congress of American Indians (founded in 1944), the women’s movement beginning in the late 1950s, and the anti-Vietnam War movement of the 1960s. I’ve learned a great deal. One of the most amazing insights is how important it is for us as citizens to be engaged in the political process and especially to organize with others to share views on priorities and to support political change.

With my fellow students and friends, I participated in some of these movements. As college freshmen in Washington, D.C., my classmates and I joined the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, along with 200,000 to 300,000 marchers, 75- to 80 percent of whom were African Americans. In addition to prominent African Americans, Walter Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers was the highest-ranking white organizer. The following year, Congress, with the support of President Lyndon B. Johnson, passed the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

In 1968, the spring of our graduation from college, we participated in the final stage of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign, which brought hundreds of marchers, mostly from the South, to reside in a tent camp on the National Mall. It was a rainy cold (for Washington, D.C.) spring, and many of us cut classes to help out: driving campers to showers and baking bread on site. I remember listening with awe to the young Jesse Jackson give a strategy and pep talk to campers.

That same year, every man in my Georgetown University class had to face Vietnam. Many had enrolled in ROTC and were committed to serving. We began to participate in protests about the war, including the march on the Pentagon, where we stood, peaceful and scared, face-to-face across barbed wire fences with young armed men of our own age.

The women’s movement had begun to flourish in the U.S. by the late 1960s. While going to graduate school in economics and living in Lansing, Michigan, I attended women’s consciousness-raising groups, where we began to face the rampant discrimination in education, jobs and journalism that clouded our own futures.

Living in large cities for most of the following decades, it wasn’t easy to connect with the political activity of local precincts. The women’s movement was an exception. Women’s marches sprouted everywhere — periodically, for me — culminating in my joining the Women’s March on Washington in early 2017, the day after newly elected President Trump’s triumphal march, along with my niece, Carrie Markusen, and daughter-in-law, Kate Chua.

Living in large cities also made it harder for me to get involved with local political organizations and campaigns. I don’t remember being approached, or making the effort, to find out how to participate in local politics as a citizen and voter.

Rather, I wrote about economic development, taught about the troubled steel industry in California and the future for its workers, and researched the military industrial complex. I worked on major research, testimony shaping and writing for the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2013-14 with House Democrat Ryan Winkler, chair of the bipartisan Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs. We co-wrote the result, Making Work Pay, which provided a blueprint for improving jobs, work life and compensation for working Minnesotans, including sequential phased-in increases in the state’s minimum wage.

All of the politicians I’ve worked for and with as an economist — including Chicago mayor Harold Washington on his Task Force on Steel and Southeast Chicago and Michigan Speaker of the House Bill Ryan — I found to be intelligent, caring and long-suffering. Not all politicians live up to our aspirations for them (or, for that matter, to their campaign promises). But most are hard-working, especially since they must balance their own views with those of their constituents and colleagues.

February 1 is precinct caucus evening in Minnesota. At the caucus meeting — which in our case is at the Cromwell-Wright School — you sign up and state that you consider yourself a party member and are not an active member of any other political party. You must be 16 years old to participate in precinct caucuses. To be elected as a delegate during the caucus meeting, you must be at least 18 years old and eligible to vote in the next election. All are welcome to participate. I’m not sure how the Covid-sensitive format will go for the DFL this year, but it’s no reason to stay home. I especially encourage young voters to join the thousands of other Minnesotans whose issues, insights and preferences will be shared and shaped into party platforms at or following these precinct meetings.

For those who have never been, hopefully it will be the first of many precinct caucuses you attend, and help build your party from the grassroots upward.

Columnist Ann Markusen is an economist and professor emerita at University of Minnesota. A Pine Knot board member, she lives in Red Clover Township north of Cromwell with her husband, Rod Walli.

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