Kicking off my Peace House summer

Ah, the proverbial introductory blog. Always a favorite, especially since I see that most of my fellow live it-ers (livers? global citizens?) have beaten me to the post (cue the groaning laughtrack). And that will be my last bad pun, hopefully!

This summer, I’m working at Peace House, an unconventional drop-in center in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis. I’ll write more about this neighborhood in a later post, but for now check out a basic intro here. Peace House is open from 10am-3pm every day, and serves as a welcoming and safe space for people marginalized in the urban space of Minneapolis, particularly people experiencing homelessness. Folks come to Peace House for a variety of reasons: the delicious meal served every day at 12:30, the strong and organic relationships and community built inside the doors, and (perhaps predominantly) for the 45 minute community reflection or meditation, an opportunity for everyone’s voice to be heard and for us to learn from our mutual struggle to be heard and be free.

The Peace House Mosaic

The meditation is a unique aspect of Peace House, and my work this summer primarily takes place within this structure, which in turn derives from traditions of popular education and pedagogy of the oppressed (if you haven’t read Freire, there’s never a bad time to start). I’ll focus my next post on the ins and outs of the Minnesota Voter ID ballot referendum, but for now suffice it to say that this measure, which would require all voters to present a valid and current Minnesota state ID or driver’s license in order to vote in future elections, is a thinly-veiled modern-day “post-racial” attempt at a poll tax. If passed, it would severely limit the voting ability of people experiencing homelessness, college students, recent MN citizens, people who move around a lot, and generally people with decreased access to wealth and power. My work this summer primarily consists of facilitating conversations during meditation at Peace House around this referendum. Using the proposed bill as a starting point, we’ll explore questions of citizenship, occupying urban space, and building power within the community to name and fight oppression and marginalization through a collective consciousness.

I’m bridging worlds between Peace House and the wider non-profit community as well. Today, for example, I went to the kickoff meeting of the Promote the Vote campaign, an effort aimed at non-profits who can work to increase voter turnout amongst their constituency. The event, hosted by the wonderful folks at the Wilder Foundation, buzzed with enormous energy; I came away with a ton of posters and buttons, information about upcoming events, and a sense of community/solidarity with others who realize the importance of preserving the power of the vote. MN Secretary of State Mark Ritchie spoke as well; I was particularly amused by his tales of what he called “Minnesota exceptionalism,” instances where our lovely state defies the norm in both positive and negative ways. I still can’t get over the 78% voter turnout rate–how is that possible??!!

Thus far at Peace House, I’ve accomplished some key institutional updates. These range from cleaning up the cluttered informational boards to challenging power held by older members of the community (some of whom don’t volunteer every day and thus only see one side of the organization). These small changes have led to a larger change in the form of meditation; I’ve created a process for ensuring that all who wish to lead have a chance to, and that all topics get linked to the experiences of those in the room, particularly around marginalization in urban space. The next steps will involve explicit connections between the voter ID bill and this process of empowerment within the organization–stay tuned for more soon!

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