St. Cloud City Councilman refuses to speak to #unitecloud

People in St. Cloud hate me. But, I’ll tell you more about that in a second.

Just in case anyone was unaware, I am human. This morning proved that many times over.

5e966671-2efb-452a-bff8-5de2bef0797dWhen I was talking with Steve Notch  (chair of the Stearns County Commisioners Board) about our testifying this morning, I confirmed that we were supposed to come to the Stearns County building in Waite Park – the one past Mills Fleet Farm. I recall saying “I live in Waite Park. It’s the one by me, right?” but, I could be remembering it wrong.

Unfortunately, this was not where the meeting was held so we missed our moment to testify. This board meets downtown St. Cloud and, at 8:50am, we were clear across town. We realized the error and drove down Division St., shaking our fist at every red light. We arrived at the correct building at 9:10 and the resolution in support of the bill passed with unanimous support before we arrived. If you aren’t aware of our opposition points to this bill, take a look at our last article.

I walked out defeated, apologizing to Haji, when we were met by a group of about 10 people, many of whom I recognize from local anti-immigrant meetings.

“Well, hi guys!”, I said – smiling, ” We went to the wrong Stearns county building (sigh). I’m assuming you were here for the same reason we were?”

“We don’t want to talk to you, Natalie. We don’t ever want to talk to you.” one woman said.

“Yeah, Natalie. Get out of this building.” a man said.

“Ummmmm…this is a public building?” I said.

“Yeah, well, this a private meeting and you’re not invited.” the same woman said.

Thinking to myself….a private meeting in the hallway of a public building. OK???

To my left stood Jeff Johnson, a St. Cloud city councilperson. I tapped Jeff on the arm and say “Jeff? You and I talk on a regular basis – and you are a city official. Can I talk to you?” Jeff said nothing and dropped his gaze.

“Get out of here Natalie.” “We don’t want anything to do with you.”  “Do you hear us?” challenged the mob around Jeff.

Haji, in all of  his wisdom urged us to leave because the mob was clearly uninterested in a conversation.

Rewind back a couple weeks.

I saw Jeff Johnson in Starbucks and said hi. He laid into me about how “there were only Muslims on the MPR panel at the library” a while back, and that “didn’t represent our city.”

“Jeff”, I said, “that MPR panel was a part of a series called ‘Muslims in Minnesota’, sooooo…”

“Well, we’re going to start looking into things. At a city council level. Like what all this is really costing us.” Jeff said.

I should have taken him at his word. Jeff testified in favor of the resolution at the St. Cloud commissioner board meeting today.

Ever since I started #unitecloud, I have made so many good friends but, many more vicious enemies. My intent is to understand and stand up for groups of people that don’t have a voice in this town. Democracy is everything in this country. Whenever a group of people is made to be silent out of fear, democracy perishes.

There are many ways to silence people. But, in St. Cloud, we do it the old fashioned way – by refusing representation.

About the Author

Natalie Ringsmuth

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Natalie grew up in Central Minnesota and received her Music Education degree from Concordia College in Moorhead. She taught middle school choir in Georgia and worked in the church sector for over a decade. She now works as Executive Director of #unitecloud, a non-profit working to reduce racial, religious, and cultural tensions in Central MN and is a trainer with the CARE (Community Anti-Racism Education) Team at SCSU (St Cloud State University). She is a member of multiple boards, including the St Cloud School District 742 board, the United Way Community Impact Team, and the United Way's education initiative, Partner for Student Success. In her spare time (haha) she loves to spend time with her husband and 3 children, making music and playing games.