St. Cloud MN: My Take

Here’s the headline: 

NYTimes article sets off firestorm, puts St. Cloud MN under the microscope of refugee resettlement controversy. 

I’m thinking the main characters in this tragedy are all bound to the wall of the cave, only able to see the shadows from the fire burning brightly in the background. Only seeing the shadows and not the substance. I cannot claim to have been released from bondage myself but I have seen these shadows often and for many years.

I have shot from the hip regarding controversial public issues for a very long time. These days I’m more inclined to reflect before I say anything. And I believe in this instance my hesitation has served me. The shadows are familiar and clear enough.

This latest hot button item is local but made the front page of the NYTimes and subsequently plenty of local and regional media outlets. We are on the map now, an example of a national phenomenon that while always bubbling underneath the surface has recently surfaced in all its ugly glory.

Not inclined to reveal too much about myself personally, probably out of some form of cowardice, I nevertheless have a need to say something about these events, numerous opinions, and rants circulating about my hometown, St. Cloud MN. My commentary about this narrative is pouring out of my consciousness only. It should not be construed as any sort of absolute truth. But it is my truth and I stand by it.

The controversy: St. Cloud and surrounding area has a long history of white supremacy, racism, religious discord. And recently, islamophobia, anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiment. It has been called White Cloud and it has often been assumed this demeaning kind of people were in the majority.

I’ll start with what might be seen as unrelated background noise. I think it speaks volumes. I haven’t heard it brought up in relation to the solid foundation of this problem, a should be condemned building, whose cornerstone is more than mere white supremacy.

St. Cloud and most of its metro area rest in Stearns County, a place that has been the subject of plenty of rumors, conjecture, myth, and controversy over the years. It’s residents have been accused of enough socially unacceptable behaviors to blanch the skin of any god fearing soul. But I need to deal with facts, and the fact is the area was settled in the mid 19th century, primarily by German Catholics.

Across the street from the church that was the central nervous system of the hamlet was a single building, a combination bar and grill, city hall, police station, and a jail that mostly served as a reckless driving overnight hotel and drunk tank. Young boys were said to buy beer pretty much as soon as they could reach the bar top with their money. As the sheriff was normally a favorite son his head was turned the other way from many of these ‘minor’ transgressions. 

Were I to use one word to describe these settlers it would be parochial. They kept to themselves and lived much as they had in Germany, preserving their culture and rituals. The unusual thing about these settlers is they preserved their cultural norms and traditions much longer than most other immigrant cultures. Very few ever ventured beyond their township. They married from trusted, neighboring farm families, with eventually all in the enclave related somehow. They maintained their language and spoke it at home and in the community, rarely needing to use English unless they nervously ventured to the ‘metropolis’ of St. Cloud for some needed item. For many that was as far from home as they ever ventured.

Their mistrust of any except their own meant a fierce protection of their ‘turf’. Outsiders were quickly shown they were not welcome. Granted, this was more out of fear of the unknown rather than true malice aforethought. Seen from some on the outside there was a perceived innocence there that led them to find the folks of these communities ‘unique’ and ‘folksy’, as long as you left them alone.

So this micro environs stayed pretty much the same for the better part of a century. Assimilation was not really on the menu. To whit, here is a personal example. At a St. Cloud high school in the mid 1960’s I fancied a beautiful young woman and asked her for a date. She had soft blonde hair and warm eyes and spoke in an interesting clipped consonant style. 

When I picked her up it confirmed my suspicion that she lived on a farm in Stearns County. Her whole family spoke with that clearly German accent. They all looked at me warily. I later learned her parents were reticent to let their daughter to go out with that ’St. Cloud city boy’. I also learned that she had spoken only German in her home until she went to elementary school and basically had to learn English on her own, at five years old.

Slowly, over the years, the youth of the area began to venture out into the world, mostly to St. Cloud. Some wild risk takers settled all the way to the wicked Minneapolis. As St. Cloud began to grow its base population was largely these German and other Catholics, mostly Poles. St. Cloud at this time was @70% Catholic. These are the people who now have been here for several generations. Their turf is now St. Cloud. They protect their turf. They still fear and don’t trust outsiders.

I must admit that my assessment of these things is purely opinion and there is a real chance I am wrong about some things. But the essence is true. For decades these German settlers and their descendents remained isolated, holding dear their old world cultural traditions, language, their mistrust of strangers, and fear of the unknown. 

The irony in all of this is that many of those who oppose refugee resettlement and secondary immigration accuse the Somali Muslims of the same things their relatives and friends did for so many years just miles away. Somalis are said to refuse to assimilate, won’t learn our language, insist on maintaining their culture, and stay isolated from mainstream society, mostly out of fear of discrimination. Where have we heard this before?

So what does this all have to do with St. Cloud’s once and present fractured community. I believe this history provides some backstory that has value in helping us see more of these issues more clearly. I’m not certain why, but I have yet to see anyone address the St Cloud area’s past. Having been born and raised in St. Cloud I have experienced examples of this insulated worldview. It is quite real

Now, while tangible and not insignificant these problems are not as prevalent as some would want you to think. Click bait headlines and superficial journalistic works that depended on sources with agendas have shone a brighter light on our bad behavior than good. The majority of St. Cloud’s predominantly Christian citizens have, as admonished by Jesus, welcomed and accepted the immigrant as children of god. Besides, unbeknownst to many, as is shown by people’s comments, it is said that Muslims worship a different god than Christians, which is patently untrue. This only one of the sad misunderstandings we suffer. 

Prominent among the complaints is that Somali Muslims are ‘stealing’ our hard earned tax dollars by getting ‘free’ stuff while our unfortunate veterans are homeless and poor white people get nothing from government. While these things have been proven by professional investigation to be untrue the narrative refuses to die. Unbeknownst to many, as is shown by people’s comments, it is said that Muslims worship a different god than Christians, which is patently untrue. These are only several of the sad misunderstandings from which we suffer. 

The fact that the Muslim community spends most of their money locally, helping many of our small businesses thrive, and contributing to the tax base is lost on many. The Somali entrepreneurial spirit thrives. These positive contributions of the Somali community to St. Cloud far outweigh their perceived harm.

It is these misconceptions that non-profit organization such as Unitecloud and the many other white, Christian friends of the mostly Somali Muslims look to clear up. There is a conscious and concerted effort to bring the leaders of the not so thinly veiled anti-immigrant groups such as C-Cubed together with Muslim leaders and white allies for open, honest and respectful conversation.

This dialogue between people who are equal in the eyes of god can only lead to a better understanding of each other and bring St. Cloud closer together, perhaps only modestly but in a meaningful way, and point us toward the kind of equity needed not only here, but nationwide.

I find it sad looking back on what I have said here. I find myself angry about spending most of my time talking about both real and alleged damage done to St. Cloud. Damage wreaked by any number of people, many of whom could still be considered to be without rancor.

Sometimes I am overtaken by grief and despair by all of this, unable to see an exit from the anguish felt by so many in this city. But on other days I see the light of hope peaking in. St. Cloud is filled with talented artists and musicians, aspiring students, dedicated professionals in many fields, skilled artisans and accomplished hard working essential workers. It is truly a good place to live.

These are all good people and I love them, as do a large majority of us love each other. I work very hard at loving even those frightened souls who disparage those they do not know or understand. I work very hard to discover and change the biases and privileges inside me, living just underneath consciousness, that keep me apart from others and sadly rear their darkness, diminishing me.

I intend to keep fighting for joy and justice.

Everybody gets their say and so do I.

Faced with what they perceived as the crisis of a failure to establish their ideology as dominant in American politics, the radical conservatives of the 1970’s took to a new strategy. Rather than appeal to the people directly, which wasn’t quite working, they chose to use their money to create a middle man who would influence the people in a more subtle, indirect way. They began to buy up media outlets and established think tanks that employed bright young minds with the sole task of creating strategies and policies, plus the language that would effectively promote their ideology through those same media outlets. A wise and effective plan.

Why do I bring this up at a time when there are plenty of things that are devastating our democracy to think about. It’s because there are so many things threatening to destroy our democracy we must do something about. We on the left need to do a similar thing as was done by the far right nearly 50 years ago. We need a new strategy. We need to create positions for bright young minds to concentrate solely on finding a synthesis of viable solutions to the myriad existential problems we face. We need to point ourselves to a better use of persuasive language. And we need to facilitate the infrastructure and resources needed to pull this off.

Now, unlike the conservatives of the Nixon era, we don’t have the financial resources to both do this and purchase those means of distributing our ideas to the public. Besides, the conservative owners of major media in America aren’t about to hand over their powerful tool of communication to any “Libtards”. So to establish a majority will of the nation to force government into embracing workable solutions we must find a more organic means of persuasion. This organism can only be formed by the people, who, as in many times past, will use their true, pure power to gently help enough people reconnect with the values that have AMAG (Always Made America Great).

The resources, both financial and human, have always been there. We just need to quit being whiny egoistic babies and agree that no one issue is greater than any other. We must accept that the many critical issues that face us, when looked at collectively as they must, can only be addressed by working on them synthetically, as parts of a whole, rather than analytically, as just parts.

I ask if the actual rather than imagined demise of life on the planet is worth, metaphorically, having 100 people speaking with one voice rather than 100 people speaking in a Babelesque hundred voices. Frankly, I have had it up to beyond here. As you know, I am not immune to this behavior. Far from it. I am one of it’s most virulent practioners. To succeed, what I need to do is sequester myself away with some coffee, Laphroaig, and pizza (and more Laphroaig) until I am able to take a course of action. (Action is a type of actually doing something instead of just talking about it for those of you unfamiliar with the concept).

If I can’t be the point of the spear, for which I have never been hard enough, I will enter the crucible of surrender to truth, and temper myself into a functioning part of the strong shaft.

I owe it to you all out of respect for the divine gift of conscious occupation of this, my form that I lease from the universe.

None of us can afford to break the terms of our lease on life.

A Case of Invisible Sexism

Recently an airline pilot was heroic in bringing in an airline’s broken plane that had struck one passenger with mortal injuries and threatened the entire crew and passengers with the same fate. This pilot’s ability to perform under extreme pressure, ultimately saving lives, was rightfully praised. Bravo to the ex-navy fighter pilot with “nerves of steel”.

Tammie Jo Schults was this cool, calm, collected pilot. I will admit media coverage wasn’t atrocious. Coverage of the near tragedy itself did not particularly single out Tammie’s gender. Journalists are making efforts to catch up with the curve

But when women do something outstanding there is still the strong urge to emphasize the fact. I am an aging middle-class white cisgender male. My limited understanding of the gender issues of today tells me that the eventual goal of those fighting for women’s equity, in all areas of society, is for coverage of events of this nature to be virtually the same. The only changes between the woman hero and the man in the article or broadcast would be the names.

It seems modern journalists can’t seem to avoid overcompensation. In the midst of good treatment of the fact that the protagonist of the story identifies as female, they are compelled to find something somewhere to go on and on about.

I have read numerous accounts of this striking news story and a large number of them went off on the fact that the modest pilot didn’t want her name out in public and they had to go to passengers and relatives to find out who she was.

They also made a big deal of how she was among the first female fighter pilots in the Navy and how she had tried to get into an Air Force program but was rejected because she was a woman. They went on and on. This portion of the articles was usually made the main focus and took up more column inches than the description of the incident itself.

I’m not saying that a male pilot’s background would not be appropriate for inclusion in this sort of article. Far from it. The back story is an important part of any human interest story.

I am simply contending that if this had been a male pilot the segment on his background would have been one or two paragraphs, a simple exposition of facts. It would not have been a major part of the article.

As we move into a new phase of understanding a more subtle and invisible sexism people will have to continue digging deeper inside themselves. Even women won’t escape the uncomfortable awareness of truths that are buried in the subconscious. We will all have to listen carefully to the women who have liberated these truths and dedicate themselves to educating an evolving world.

This is hard work. You meet a part of yourself you don’t want to know. And it’s not the only work you are called to do. We have to manage somehow to live together with many who think these efforts are a bunch of BS. We have to search inside and find our racism, our religious prejudices, our unique and shameful treatment of natives, our support of the inequities of economic hierarchies, our faith in a flawed original constitution. and more.

I am always careful to include disclaimers in my works. My posts are my observations and visions and are not intended to be a claim of authority. They are my relative truths and never designed to be the absolute truth.

I am certain I have a mountain of things to learn about this topic. Please get in touch with me if I have totally screwed up somewhere. My opinion is mine alone. But the truth that serves everyone must be shared.

Knowledge is power.

Now you don’t. Now you see it.

We always knew it was a good album. We had worked hard, rehearsing and playing a few gigs at popular venues. We had a small but loyal following. It was unfortunate, but as many artists, we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not so much a place to live, we all loved it here. But the wrong place and time to ply our trade. We were a power pop group complete with almost Brill Building like songs, three-part harmonies, a clean, 80’s white boy look and no niche in the area scene.

Our city was in the national spotlight. There was a funk and beyond superstar here and several loud sloppy nationally influential pre-grunge rock bands with great songwriters and au courant images. Pretty much all the local groups affected one of these styles or the other. That was allegedly what the big left coast labels were looking for, the next this or that, and several coattail groups did see the national stage.

We didn’t begrudge these guys their success. (Back then performing musicians were over 95% male.) Lots of them were our friends and it was great to see acts from our flyover hometown getting some props. Sure we wanted to be successful. We weren’t so driven as needing to play arenas to consider ourselves successful. But it would have been nice to tour and play mid-sized venues and have a few people know the words.

We recorded what we knew to be a really good album of its genre. And we got some airplay here and there. Nothing went viral. (They didn’t use that word back then.) The album was released on vinyl, barely ahead of the CD revolution. Folks everywhere were putting their turntables in mothballs, captivated by the convenience of the smaller software and quantum leap in dBs of signal to noise ratio. Not that many people even knew what a dB was, but the change was noticeable. Vinyl quickly fell out of favor.

We had some face cards stacked against us. But I for one was proud to have three songs, of my composition, recorded and released on a real, albeit smallish record label. It had been a goal of mine for many years and it was satisfying to have accomplished it. I wasn’t too concerned about it making a big splash. Our style of music was not only a little out of phase with our local scene. It was considered mostly the turf of British groups and few American bands sounded like that. I didn’t expect much.

Now, as usual, my lengthy explanation of things has left me hopelessly far away from what I really want to say. And it will undoubtedly take even longer to get there. One is supposed to reveal their main topic in the first paragraph, often repeating it as many as several times in different ways. Gotta grab those readers by the ____.

But….

To make a short story long the owner of our ancient but nascent record label, thinking of new and unique ways to make a little money off his catalog, began shopping the label’s music to brokers, who placed music in films and television shows.

After a time several of the songs were given slots in shows. Our band had a song placed in an episode of a middling, streaming service series. No big deal but we all thought it was pretty cool and the songwriter splashed down some of his royalty money on wings and beer for the band. We hadn’t all been in the same place for a while. A good time was had by all.

Time marched on and the fun was pretty much forgotten when I got an email from the label owner stating that we had a song placed in a series called Stranger Things. I nearly fell out of my chair. Although no one else involved knew anything about the Netflix production, I, as a sci-fi fan, was very aware, I knew that it was one of the most anticipated series releases of the fall and had a huge, fanatical following.

I told the rest of the guys, who seemed to be underwhelmed but intrigued. I am subject to hyperbole and everyone knows it. I wasn’t swift to tell the world, although I knew this was very cool. These things can be, as Mike, the songwriter said, the equivalent of an audio walk-on.  I knew about this, having once spent 8 hours on a movie set in full costume and make-up only to be onscreen for 5 seconds with several hundred other aspiring actors. I didn’t expect much.

Yes, I was excited. No, I wasn’t looking for anything substantial. I’m Bi-Polar and as such need to stay away from manic highs. I tried to keep an even keel. Eventually, as the release of the second season grew nearer and promotion ramped up I decided I had to tell people. I was proud of my past work, and it seemed kind of miraculous that this was happening. I posted on social media and got quite a response. My daughter lost it and told everyone she knew. It was fulfilling to hear her say she was proud of me.

Lest my friends and family, and even a few people I didn’t know, would be disappointed I made certain that people knew our song might only be on for a few seconds. But Stranger Things has a reputation for featuring a who’s who of 80s music and there are nearly as many aficionados of the series music as there are of the series itself. I hadn’t really considered that fact, all the while expecting a very short appearance on the show.

Of course, I was right about the song. It was onscreen for less than ten seconds, in the background under dialogue. I apologized to my posse. (It isn’t really a posse, more of a curious few.) I received some encouragement. “It was still pretty cool” etc.. I felt kind of foolish at building up folk’s expectations. But the horse was out of the barn and obviously, I couldn’t change things.

Well, I hadn’t considered the music mania. More than a few websites published all the music from every episode, regardless of how long it was onscreen. There were links to all of the songs and often blurbs about the performers. We were always called an obscure unknown band. I didn’t mind. One blurb I particularly liked was from a British magazine which said we hadn’t bothered to visit the UK charts. But the song itself got a lot of praise. I was amazed. I mean come on, we were on a Spotify playlist with Motley Crüe, Duran Duran, and Ted Nugent.

Counting various streaming services, Youtube channels and a cool public access video shot in 1986 we’ve had over 125,000 streams and counting. We were featured on local network news, the largest local newspaper, and the top local alt radio station. We are featured on more than a few private Youtube playlists. We have been added to regular rotation on both internet and broadcast rock radio stations, some with international audiences of over a million listeners.

Are you kidding me? It’s kind of surreal. Really though, it doesn’t make me feel all that special. I mean everyone has something they do very very well. Would that they were widely recognized for it. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work that way. But it brings me to the thing that I have been reminded of by this whole crazy experience, the thing I hope to leave you with if you have read this far.

All art is a real expression of someone’s soul. And all art is beautiful, even art most people consider ugly. There is always someone somewhere who appreciates it.  There is also very beautiful art and exceptionally beautiful art. Some of this art is recognized as exceptional in its time. Some is not seen as remarkable until after its time. And some is never recognized as great.

Yet, art is created beautiful and remains beautiful. It retains its beauty regardless of any other factor. And for the creator of the art, it is enough to know their art is beautiful, even if appears not to be.

Perhaps they depend on their art to make a living and can be disappointed it isn’t selling well enough to support themselves. They can become despondent that their art is not appreciated. They can abandon their art for whatever reason.

But I am certain that on their deathbed, should they be cogent, they look back lovingly on their creative process, their joy in giving something unique to the world. Something that is beautiful in their eyes and in their soul. Something that will always be beautiful.

It is their legacy and they are proud of pouring their being into it.

It is enough.

And we must remember.

It is something that is always available, to be revered.