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Minneapolis climate justice rally engages community to fight environmental racism

By Whitney Wildman

East Phillips residents hold a banner that youth in Little Earth painted.

Minneapolis, MN – On January 29, 70 activists, community members and supporters held a rally and healing circle in response to the Minneapolis city council’s recent vote in favor of continuing their legacy of environmental racism in the city of Minneapolis. The East Phillips Neighborhood Institute and the Climate Justice Committee organized the rally.

The city council voted on Thursday, January 26 to demolish a former industrial site, the Roof Depot building, against the demands of the community. The building is currently trapping arsenic below the soil and keeping it out of the lungs of East Phillips, a majority oppressed nationality, working-class neighborhood in Minneapolis. East Phillips is also home to Little Earth, a housing complex with the largest concentration of indigenous people in the city.

Residents have asked the city to provide a remediation plan for the arsenic that would be released by demolition, but the city has yet to formalize any sort of plan to reduce harm in the neighborhood. Worse, the city plans to increase harm with their post-demolition plans, by using the empty lot as a refueling station for all of the city’s diesel trucks. Due to industry and heavy traffic already concentrated in East Phillips, the neighborhood has a shocking 12% asthma rate. Arsenic released into the air and diesel trucks are the last thing this community needs, and folks came out on January 29 to express their responses to the city council’s devastating vote.

The mic was open to anyone in the crowd, and many East Phillips residents shared experiences of having loved ones with respiratory issues due to the pollution of East Phillips. One lifelong resident, an Ojibwe mother, spoke through tears, saying, “I have two children that have disabilities because we live in this neighborhood,” adding, “the doctor said he thought my last was born with that heart disease because of living here.”

While people coming to the mic expressed frustration with the city government, none showed any sign of throwing in the towel and forgetting about the Roof Depot struggle. Community members made it abundantly clear that they will not back down from this fight.

Little Earth resident Nicole Perez, said, “We have a lot of residents that are willing to step up for this. We don’t want this to happen to our community. It scares us very much and we will fight till the end!” Another supporter in the crowd, a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, seconded this sentiment, declaring, “If I were back in Pine Ridge they would come from all entities of our land on horseback here, just like they did in Rapid City. And I am going to ask them to come here if we have to because this is affecting our children, our tribe!”

Katherine Gould of the Climate Justice Committee summed up the perspectives of the crowd when she said, “Thursday’s decision brought a lot of clarity, clarity that we are the ones who save us. It’s not city council or regulatory agencies or legal systems sweeping in. It’s not a city that will ignore its own guidelines whenever it becomes inconvenient or expensive or just costs the city profits.”

As the rally concluded, the crowd expressed their unity and unending support in the struggle for clean air in East Phillips as they chanted, “When Minneapolis attacks East Phillips, what do we do? Stand up, fight back! When Minneapolis attacks Little Earth, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

#MinneapolisMN #EnvironmentalJustice #ClimateChange #environmentalRacism