February 1st marked four years of living in Minnesota, and so on Sunday, February 4th, I took my Four-Year Minneversary Walk. I’ve been doing these since the one-year anniversary – long walks (12-22 miles) on semi-planned, rambling routes through the Twin Cities. The goal is to celebrate another year’s perspective on my newest city of residence, and to add a different kind of perspective to that experience: the world is different, as seen on foot, as it is from the window of a car or even a bike seat. A long urban hike lets you see things in slower motion, chat to people, connect a thread through your city. You can have this experience too! All you need are some comfy walking shoes.
It is a little bit of a bummer that I moved here on February 1st, and not, say, July 1st. I got tremendously lucky for the first three walks, with temps above freezing, but Sunday it hovered in the single digits, with wind chills below zero. If each year’s walk has had a theme, year one was the differences between Saint Paul and Minneapolis; year two was water (Minnehaha Creek, the Mississippi, and the Chain of Lakes); year three was a comparison of Minneapolis neighborhoods; and this year, year four, was a study in old-school, classic, Minnesota winter – with a denouement of social and racial justice and bad-ass activism.
I got a pretty late start, due to an excellent birthday dinner/wine party the night before for a new (ish) and already dear friend, and then a long breakfast at a way-too-busy cafe with Niko and the Sunday crossword puzzle. (Does this all make me sound like, totally urban and millennial and hip, or more like a super nerd?) This year’s walk was way shorter than the three years’ previous though, thanks to the Super Cold – about 12 miles by the end of the day. Some concessions had to be made.
I started near downtown Saint Paul and trekked west. It was negative two degrees when I started; by mid-afternoon it was maybe ten degrees warmer. It was a brilliantly sunny day, one of those frigid days without cloud cover to trap any warmth, and a deceptive blue sky. We’d gotten about two inches of fresh snow the day before, and it was Sunday and Super Bowl Sunday at that, so almost no one had shoveled. The sidewalks were lumpy and white, and at intersections I sometimes had to step up and over berms of plow-pushed snow. I picked through the touseled inches of snowfall, sometimes skidding on hidden layers of thick, clear ice hiding underneath, in boots with two layers of socks. There was almost no one else out; the people I encountered were people I snuck up on with their snow blowers running, and when they noticed me they started and mouthed an apology and I tried to smile through my buff. I had a hat pulled low over my ears, my buff up over the back of that hat and my mouth and nose, and my big green hood of my outermost coat over everything. There are some big hills in Saint Paul, and when I summited one, a long and slow trek through a line of barely tamped-down snow, I wasn’t even sweating in my layers.
I did meet and pet two friendly dogs, have some good conversations with people who I ordered lunch and tea from, learn the history of the bridge I crossed the Mississippi on, and watch several four or five year olds, bundled almost to the point of that they were unrecognizable as human beings, enthusiastically attempt to shovel a sidewalk.
But for the most part, it was a lesson in thinking about winter. I thought about how cold my face was. I listened to the crunch and squeak of the snow under my boots. I saw frozen red berries clinging to branches and rabbit tracks across otherwise bare swaths of snow, watched cars take turns slow and quietly judged people who ran from their cars into shops without jackets or hats on. It was a quiet walk, for the most part, except for that crunching, frozen snow underfoot.
Until 4 pm.
After ten miles or so, I made it to Peavey Park in Minneapolis and met Niko, a couple of our friends, and a few hundred other people. We were about a mile south of the US Bank Stadium, where the 52nd Super Bowl would begin in two and a half hours.
The group was organized by a collection of racial and social justice, economic justice and anti-capitalist, and pro-immigrant rights groups from across the Twin Cities. They called themselves the “Super Bowl Anti-Racist Anti-Corporate Rally,” with a web page explaining that the rally was in support of “Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennett, Marshawn Lynch, and all athletes – from the NFL to local high schools – who’ve used their voices to demand justice,” and in protest of police brutality and killings of young black men. The group was also calling out US Bank – the stadium sponsor and namesake – for their support of the Dakota Access Pipeline (while refusing a funding request from St Paul Public Schools), and protesting the city’s decision to temporarily limit the use of the public light rail to Super Bowl ticket holders only. The group wrote:
“Areas of downtown will be designated “clean zones,” allowing the National Guard and the Department of Homeland Security complete control of the areas, posing a special danger to our immigrant neighbors; they are removing the homeless from our streets & shelters; mass transit systems are being privatized for use by Super Bowl attendees only… these efforts make our city unlivable and whitewash the realities of poor and working people in our city.”
For a half hour, the group of us stomped our boots on the pavement to keep our feet from going numb, practicing chants and listening to speeches from a group of likable activists standing up in the bed of a big truck. “We kneel! We stand! We fight!” was a big chant. So was, “We don’t get no justice? They don’t get no peace,” and the always classic, “Show me what democracy looks like! THIS is what democracy looks like.” Occasionally the activists with their microphones would lead us in jumping up and down, to keep from what felt like literally freezing. It was now somewhere around zero degrees. We passed around hand warmer packets from boxes in the back of the truck (later I heard that the Minneapolis Chief of Police had donated them.) Everyone was holding signs that said, “There is a time to kneel. There is a time to stand. Now is the time to fight,” or “Black Lives Matter,” or, “US Bank Stadium, your white supremacy is showing.”
Finally we started marching. I was so cold, I did almost the entire route in a weird high-knees marching hop to try to stay warm. We had a police escort – they stayed back and didn’t make eye contact with anyone. (I saw one marcher give the lines of officers the middle finger once, and was angry at him – I’m infuriated by police racism and violence, but obviously many of our police officers are wonderful people, often hampered by poor or nonexistent training, and those people assigned to work today in the freezing cold by monitoring our march didn’t deserve vitriol or hand gestures. Doesn’t further the cause. Anyway.) People along the sides of the roads took photos and video, or waved from porches.
Once we got within a couple blocks of the stadium, we were required to leave the truck and carry on without vehicles. The three hundred or so of us walked the rest of the way to the stadium, all lit up in purple lights. We formed a crowd around the entrance, so that ticket holders had to squeeze their way through us to get inside. There, with one young man reading off the names of other young men who have been killed by police, we all sank to our knees on the snowy, frozen concrete.
And thus I marked four years in this city, this state. There’s no better way I could have done it. This state is complex. It is quiet and it is loud. It has its tragedies, its horrible mistakes, its evil; and it also has its crowds of good people, kneeling for justice despite the cold, and loving their city and trying to do the best they can. In short, at its core, it has a lot in common all the other states out there – except, perhaps, with more bitter winters.