Minnesotans brave snowstorm to demand ‘Drivers license for all’ on day one of legislative session
Saint Paul, MN – On Tuesday January 3, more than 50 immigrant rights activists and supporters braved a snowstorm to gather on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol demanding “Drivers license for all.” The rally was called by the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee (MIRAC) on the opening day of the Minnesota legislative session to demand that the new Democrat-controlled state legislature pass the bill for drivers license access for all in Minnesota in this legislative session. After years of gridlock due to a divided state legislature in Minnesota, immigrant rights activists are demanding again that now is the time to finally pass this bill.
The protest began with a speech in both English and Spanish by Sarah Silva, a member of MIRAC. Silva began by telling the crowd why she got involved in organizing: “I need to stand up for my parents, myself, and my community. Being here I see my father, I see my mother, I see my siblings. Everyone that is showing up today is showing up for my family.”
Jaylani Hussein from The Minnesota Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) spoke next, telling the crowd: “It is time for the Democratic Party, who have said that they cared about so many of these issues, to actually prioritize those things and make it happen.”
Jae Yates, a speaker from the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice for Jamar and Minneapolis for Community Control of the Police spoke on the connections between the fight for community control of the police in Minneapolis and the role that the policing system has on funneling undocumented immigrants into deportation.
Near the end of the rally, Pablo Tapia from Asamblea de Derechos Civiles, who has been involved in the struggle for drivers license in Minnesota for two decades, energized the group after stating he would speak in Spanish, the language of his community. “Están listos para ganar licencias para todos este año si o no?” which translates as “Are you ready to win licenses for all this year, yes or no?”
A statement was read on behalf of Minnesota State Senator Zaynab Mohamed, who is the author of the driver's license bill in the Senate. Senator Mohamad said: “Our economy depends on the labor of immigrants, yet our government prohibits them from driving. Restoring immigrants’ right to obtain a driver’s license isn’t just the right thing to do – it will also benefit our economy, make our roads safer, and make life easier for our undocumented neighbors and their families.” Her statement ended with the promise to work on the legislation to ensure it becomes a reality.
The crowd also heard from Minneapolis City Councilmember Aisha Chughtai; Veena Iyer, the director of the Immigrant Law Center of MN; John Banda from the Interfaith Coalition on Immigration, and Eva Lopez and Brahim Kone from SEIU Local 26.
David Gilbert Pederson of MN Workers United spoke in support of drivers license for all, and also announced a new People's Agenda platform, which includes a broad range of demands on the state legislature. Activists noted that as the Democrats now have full control of the state government and a massive budget surplus, they can't blame financial hard times or blame Republicans if they don't pass bills and a budget that addresses and fully funds working class and oppressed people's needs. Organizations and individuals are being asked to sign on to the People Agenda platform.
The crowd chanted, “What do we want? Drivers license! When do we want it? Now!” across the capitol steps before the last speaker urged participants to make their way inside for a press conference organized by some of the other organizations that are also fighting for drivers licenses for all.
The group was also asked people to save the date for the first two committee hearings for the drivers license bill in the House next week, as MIRAC and other groups will be mobilizing community members to keep the pressure on through the whole legislative process until the Drivers License for All bill is passed this legislative session.