In 2015 I had a chance to go with several other ISAIAH clergy to a meeting with Senator Tom Bakk, a DFL legislator from the Iron Range who at that time served as Senate Majority Leader. We were there to inquire about the demise of a payday lending reform bill. Payday lenders prey on low-income people, and in Minnesota a typical payday loan customer pays 277% interest. In 2014–at a time when the DFL controlled the Minnesota legislature and held the Governor’s office–legislators introduced a bill that would have capped interest rates on payday loans at 36%. As the Star Tribune reported, “At first the 2014 bill appeared poised for success and passed the House. But it grew weaker at every phase of negotiations, got bogged down in the Senate and died at the end of the session.” The clergy who gathered in Senator Bakk’s office a few months later wanted to know what had happened. “The political will just wasn’t there to get it done,” he said. The truth is that Senator Bakk and many of his colleagues had received tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from Brad Rixman, the CEO of Minnesota-based Payday America. Suddenly the “political will” to pass the bill dried up. And this happened at a time when the DFL had full control of state government.
This story has repeated itself over and over again, most notably in our fight for driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, and in our efforts to prevent passage of preemption legislation. Time and again, we who advocate for those in our communities whom Jesus called “the least of these” are thwarted not just by those we expect to stand in our way, but also by those who claim to be on our side.
About a year ago, leaders with ISAIAH decided something needed to change. Our repeated efforts to protest or petition for policies were having limited effect. We realized we needed to do something new.
Introducing Faith in Minnesota
In the fall of 2017, ISAIAH members hosted over 200 house parties in cities and towns all across the state, where people gathered to talk with one another about the issues impacting their lives. Out of those conversations emerged a “Faith Agenda” that called for a democracy that honors every person’s dignity and a caring economy for all.
Around the same time, members of the Muslim community were searching for ways to advance their political aspirations and defend their community by building public and political power rooted in faith. Those Muslim leaders and the leadership of ISAIAH realized we were on parallel paths and decided to bring those two paths together. Together, we launched the Muslim Caucus of ISAIAH.
In late 2017, ISAIAH created a a sister organization, Faith in Minnesota, to be the vehicle for Minnesotans of faith–especially Muslims and Christians–to live out our call to more powerfully participate in building a new kind of politics. Hundreds of leaders accepted the challenge to get themselves elected delegates to the 2018 DFL state convention, where the party will endorse a candidate for governor. Those leaders recruited over 3,000 others to join them–first at precinct caucuses and then at Senate District and County Conventions, where they elected 132 “Faith Delegates” and another 70 alternates to attend the DFL state convention. Those participating in the Faith in Minnesota path as Faith Delegates now comprise over 10% of the total number of delegates.
Those of us who are attending the DFL state convention as Faith Delegates are committed first and foremost to the path we are on together, and the vision we share for our state. When it comes time to cast our votes to determine the DFL’s endorsement for governor, we have pledged to vote as a bloc–even if the choice of the collective is different from our own personal preference. We know that our power at the convention–and with whichever candidate emerges from the convention–will depend on whether we stay together as a bloc. All the forces in our culture and at this convention entice us to vote as individuals–to put my own interests first. We have a different vision of a community who shows up together committed to our collective liberation and the concerns of our neighbors.
Our North Star
Throughout the campaign, Faith Delegates and alternates have been evaluating the candidates through a twofold lens. First, we’re looking for the candidate who is most open to being in a co-creative relationship with us. No longer will we be resigned to wealthy CEOs and powerful interests buying influence that thwarts our agenda. We want a governor who sees us as partners and works together with us to tackle our shared priorities. We want a co-creative relationship with the next governor of Minnesota.
Second, we’re looking for the candidate who shares our theory of the election. We are convinced that a DFL candidate for governor in 2018 wins not by appealing to political moderates and winning so-called “independents” (an increasingly rare population), but by energizing the progressive voter base and expanding the electorate–motivating to vote those who have most often stayed home on Election Day, hopeless and frustrated. We believe the path to victory lies in proposing progressive policy solutions that are big enough and bold enough to meet the challenges faced by Minnesotans across the state.
Faith in Minnesota is creating a new way of doing politics together, by determining that we are called to act not as individuals seeking what serves our own interests but as a collective on behalf of our neighbors. We are following a God who has called us to lead in new ways, to show up with and for one another, and to demand bold solutions to the crises we face. We have Faith in Minnesota.