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ENEWS: Reflections on Veterans Day & Public Policy Activism 

Date Published: 11/12/2020

Author: Jane Leonard

Reflections on Veterans Day & Public Policy Activism 

In lieu of regular e-news this week, I share some reflections on two related events: Veterans Day and our upcoming MN Equity Blueprint Blast-Off sessions to prioritize a legislative policy agenda for the 2021-22 session (Nov. 18 and Dec. 16, both noon to 1 p.m. via Zoom). 

These events are related in my heart and mind because of my Dad, Rod Leonard, a Korean War veteran who died this past summer at the age of 90 after a long career in public service and public policy development. Dad served as press secretary for Governor Orville Freeman here in Minnesota in the late 1950s. He followed many other Minnesotans to serve in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations when Gov. Freeman became the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in 1961.  

I wasn’t happy about being uprooted from my beloved Minnesota at age 4 to live near Washington, D.C., but I got over it, and I came back to live every summer with my grandparents on our farm in Central Minnesota. I eventually moved back to Minnesota permanently with a healthy appreciation of rural-urban dynamics and the complexities of public policy development, especially how critical it is to have a diversity of voices, perspectives, and experiences in shaping sought-after change and shared progress. 

Governor Freeman was a veteran of World War II, and as a U.S. Marine officer was nearly killed in action in the first battles of the Bougainville Campaign in the Pacific Theatre.  A few years later, as an Army corporal, my father endured many months of bloody battles on the Korean Peninsula amidst endless extremes of cold and heat.  

They and other veterans – from across the political spectrum – came home to Minnesota determined to succeed and improve lives and livelihoods.  As my Dad recalled in his book, Freeman – The Governor Years (published in 2003 by the University of Minnesota Humphrey School), “if government could organize resources to end the Great Depression and win a world war, returning veterans had reason to believe that government could make the dreams of a peaceful world come true….they were confident they could set federal policies to provide resources for building new communities.” 

And they did just that. In Minnesota, Governor Freeman’s administration revitalized a moribund state government to be a catalyst and partner with local leaders and the private sector in community and economic growth. Moving on to Washington, working with U.S. Navy World War II veterans President John Kennedy & President Lyndon Johnson, they tackled crippling poverty with the creation of Great Society programs such as Food Stamps (also a boon to U.S. agricultural interests) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Secretary Freeman also began a renewed commitment to rural development and rural community investment programs, recognizing and strengthening the clear economic interdependence between rural and urban people and places. Alongside these actions originating in the USDA, an array of federal agency leadership, policymakers, and community activists, including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, pushed through cultural inertia and prejudice to enact the landmark civil rights and voting rights legislation of the 1960s. 

The triple pandemics of health injustice, economic injustice, and racial injustice today call upon us to protect, defend, and improve our democracy, just as the veterans we honor this week have done across the generations. It is sad and appalling that we must defend our democratic values against our country’s own toxic elected and appointed leaders who fuel the flames of hate and division rather than rally us together to collectively solve the problems we face. These autocrats are as dangerous to an open, inclusive, and vibrant democracy here at home as were the evils tamped down in world wars.  

Last week, thankfully, a majority of Americans chose an activist, compassionate, uniting government, over a divisive, corrosive, and corrupt one. We have many bridges of difference yet to build and cross, but we have given a “We The People” democracy a fighting chance again.  

For this week of Veterans Day and beyond, let’s honor the memory of my father and Secretary Freeman and other veterans who take their service in war and transform it into community building at home. Let’s recommit to carrying on their legacy. With a renewed sense of duty to one another, we can mobilize our ideas and solutions for recovery and renaissance, for equitable economic growth and social justice springing from the ashes of 2020. Take the next step on our journey together, starting November 18 and again on December 16, with the Minnesota Equity Blueprint Blastoff, to prioritize a 2021-2022 legislative and community agenda where Equity is our North Star, and we never leave anyone behind. 

Most sincerely, 

Jane Leonard, President, Growth & Justice 

Blueprint Blastoff: Help us draft priorities for this legislative session!

Growth & Justice will host Blueprint Blastoffs over Zoom on November 18 and December 16 from 12-1 p.m., where we will draft an agenda for the 2021-22 legislative session and update the recommendations of the Minnesota Equity Blueprint. We want your input— given everything that has happened over the last 8 months, how do you think we should reprioritize and update our recommendations? We'll be basing our recommendations off of the executive summary of the Blueprint, which you can read here. You can sign up for Blastoffs here— if you can't make it to both, you can still sign up to attend one and spread the word! Finally, if you do register, we ask you to please fill out this Google form, which will ask you to select your number one priority so that we can both organize breakout rooms and gauge where people's priorities are at prior to the meetings. Hope to see you there! 

Health Care for All MN Quarterly Meeting on Nov. 14

HCAMN's quarterly meeting is coming up on November 14 at 9:30 a.m., which will focus on priorities for heath care reform in Minnesota this 2021-22 legislative session. The meeting will feature a panel discussion with Senator John Marty, Senator-Elect Ann Johnson Stewart, and Rep. Jennifer Schultz. You can register here

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