Note: this is the text-only version of the oral history that can be found in the expanded, 2020 edition of our “Enough Is Enough” report.
What follows are a few questions about the MPD150 project, along with responses from a number of the core members of the collective. It’s important to note that the report and subsequent followup projects were very much collective efforts, involving the work of dozens of writers, activists, artists, designers, and supporters, over the course of four years. Not everyone who was involved was able to share their thoughts here, and some have chosen to remain anonymous. We’re endlessly grateful to everyone who helped make this work possible, in large and small ways, in public and in private.
An ongoing theme in the responses here is that the MPD150 project was not driven by ego or a desire for credit. We did, however, feel that it was important to tell the story of this work, especially if that story can be useful to organizers in other communities looking to do similar projects.
ORIGIN STORIES: How did you get involved, and what drew you to the project?
RICARDO: The possibility of a project like this came to me while having a conversation with Molly, who would be among the first core members and would later organize our exhibit. I was looking at the wall and noticed on one of my posters (made during the protests of Jamar Clark’s murder) a description of the MPD “protecting wealth and whiteness since 1867.”
It made me wonder if there was an organizing opportunity here. What if we could take control of the anniversary to tell a people’s history of the police and offer a bigger vision for activism than the tepid reforms that kept coming up as demands?
ARIANNA: I was one of the first onboard with Ricardo. There was the infamous email that he sent out to a handful of folks that was just “I have a project I want to tell you about, gonna be big, when can you meet?” I thought: there’s just very little information in there, and the less information, the more interesting it’s going to be with him, so of course I’m going to go.
I was a young organizer who was unbelievably burnt out by what was going on in the organizing community at the time, and in the political community nationally; there weren’t really sustainable models of changemaking out there. Folks were dropping like flies, and I was one of them; I was ready to quit. Ricardo had also, through a lot of other conversations, been talking about not doing anything that isn’t life-giving… the work shouldn’t kill you. So he and I met and he ended up just telling me that next year was the 150th anniversary of the Minneapolis Police Department and nobody seemed to realize that. So we started talking more about what a public history project could be. And I think this is something he pulled me in on because a lot of the work I do is really narrative-based; everything I do is to help people tell their own stories. We’ve always known what we needed, we’ve always known our own stories.
But it was that damn email!
NIKKI: I was doing a lot of direct action planning and organizing in the Twin Cities in response to police brutality and the murders of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile. I was drawn to this particular project because of the visioning emphasis that seemed more proactive and long-term. It looked like it’d be more about strategic thinking than responding to crises as they come up.
TONY: I was invited to join MPD150 as a paid report writer in June 2017. Multiple members had seen the abolitionist work that I had done as an organizer at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, and thought I would be a good fit to help coordinate the report writing project.
I had an interview with a few members of the core team, and it seemed like a great project and a great job, so I decided to get involved. I had met many of the organizers working on the project over the years, but didn’t have close relationships with many of them. The opportunity to get to know and learn from a huge variety of movement folks was definitely an added incentive to get involved.
I had just come from an organization very focused on turnout and public displays of power, which often felt exhausting and crisis- driven. The opportunity to try and create some resources that would shift the narrative was exciting, particularly given how much I love writing. I’m also a history nut, and had always been curious about the history of the department, especially of murders by the department. The opportunity to delve deep and excavate old stories was very exciting. Finally, I’ll just note that I was broke! When MPD150 brought me on, it was well-paid and interesting work on my own terms, something I desperately needed.
KYLE: I got involved wholly because of relationships. Police abolition, though something I supported in the abstract, was not an issue I saw myself diving headfirst into. So I got drawn into MPD150 first just because I happened to know Ricardo and Tony. I stayed with this work, though, because I found something extremely energizing and powerful about this kind of visionary, narrative-driven organizing.
UYENTHI: I got involved through my partner, a few months before the report was launched. There was a lot of energy and excitement in helping people in our community understand the history of policing in our city, and seeing that a police-free world is not only possible, but necessary.
MARTIN: I got involved somewhere after the start but before the report was fully written. My longtime friend Tony was working for and with the group on the writing process, and reached out asking if I’d be interested in helping keep track of the financials for the project. Over time, I ended up coming to core group meetings and being more involved for a good portion of the project.
I suppose what initially drew me to the idea, other than the involvement of people I trusted, was the idea of doing work that was both hopeful and imaginative. Particularly around issues of policing, a lot of the work we end up having to do is reactionary and crisis-driven, so the opportunity to do something that not only imagined a better world, but provided concrete steps for working towards it, seemed like a breath of fresh air.
JAE HYUN: I came onto the team after the report had been released, in the run up to the exhibit in 2018. I heard Ricardo speak about it at the Abolish Border Imperialism convening as part of the keynote panel and it’s the first time I remember someone putting the phrase “police abolition” in front of me. It instantly clicked as something I want for our community and as something that I have gotten to experience.
I’ve been fortunate to live in a few different countries and have experienced policing/enforcement through different cultural lenses as well as through the different kinds of documentation I’ve held or been perceived to hold. I’ve been able to see firsthand that safety in communities takes different forms and has existed without formalized policing for generations. I wanted to be part of that conversation as it continued to build in our city and left info to volunteer on the MPD150 website to get connected.
SHEILA: Tony was the first person who brought me into the project in late summer 2017. We actually first worked together in a restaurant years before, and I had worked on some city budget “safety beyond policing” work with Tony in 2016, and I was looking for a way to get into organizing. I was pretty new to organizing, and thought that because of my lack of experience, I didn’t necessarily have much to bring to such a revolutionary group. My background is in administrative assistant things, and Tony, at our first meeting, told me, “OMG. We really need someone to help with our doodle polls and keeping our shit organized!” My job at the time was doing program evaluation, and I was desperate for more radical work, so getting to support a people’s performance evaluation of the police was truly a dream.
MOLLY: As Ricardo mentioned, he pointed out that we were approaching the 150th anniversary of the Minneapolis Police Department during a meeting the two of us were having about ongoing work regarding the intersection of trauma and organizing. I walked away from that meeting with questions circulating, but what stood out was the way it felt to imagine a hopeful future. I tend to view responsibility as serious and necessary work. This challenged me to consider if responsibility also includes being a part of creating space for envisioning and revisioning our future world. And how that, too, is necessary work.
FIRST STEPS: What sparked this idea, and how did that spark grow into something specific?
RICARDO: I reached out to a few activists to run the idea by them and the response was enthusiastic. At first, people came to meet with me one-on-one, but soon folks who had gotten the overview from me were initiating people they knew. I wrote up a concept sheet that could be shared with potential recruits. At this time it was understood that we would begin the work with person-to-person recruitment and no public profile in order to keep the police from getting wind of it and initiating their own commemoration.
ARIANNA: The first thing that we talked about was who else we could contact that would be interested in supporting this or being involved. I thought of a few different organizers, a few former mentors, even one of my professors from college (who ended up being one of the first people to get a stack of reports when they were ready).
The question was, “What do we want this to look like and who do we want to bring in?” We wanted to make sure that we were developing a model of work that’s really different. We wanted to make sure that the project was going to be sustainable and that it was going to be really lateral—that anyone who needed to take a break could, and the work would go on. And to have it be okay.
RICARDO: Our first group meeting was in October 2016 at Boneshaker Books, organized via email invitations to people who had already had an initial conversation. The meeting started with finding out what had brought people there, exploring the concept and strategy, defining next steps, and choosing task forces to be part of. It was agreed that the project was unapologetically abolitionist in outlook, anchored in the history of slavery, racism, and class. It was also agreed that our report, whatever form it took, would be delivered to the communities, not aimed at policy-makers, the media, or the police.
It was also decided that we would be a grouping of individuals, not a coalition of organizations. Members of other groups were welcome but organizations could not join. It was noted that we were not forming a new permanent grouping, but rather seizing the moment to change the political chemistry around policing. Our hope was that we would be able to steer clear of past rivalries, turf jealousies, and other baggage attached to existing organizations. An initial discussion was held about security, access to shared documents, etc. Tori took on a coordinating role at that stage, posting meeting notes, coordinating meetings, etc. That role would pass to others at later stages.
What really struck me at that time was the observation that people came into this project leaving their egos behind. There was a great deal of openness and listening rather than grandstanding or jockeying for leadership or status. People divided into task forces around fundraising, interviews, and research, primarily. Social media and other publicity was not yet relevant.
NIKKI: I remember who was in the room, where we were. I remember the brilliant minds gathered at our first meeting at Boneshaker. I remember feeling connected and inspired. There were a lot of folks that were on the edge of burnout, if not in full burnout mode. It was clear that we needed to be shifting energy away from only putting out fires and into something that gave us hope, that felt empowering and responsive vs. solely reactive.
We agreed right away that we would focus on narrative, that we were not the group that was going to be directly shifting policy. I remember wondering in the beginning how that was going to go.
MOLLY: The meeting at Boneshaker Books was full of powerful organizers and leaders— activists, artists, tech- minded folks, and truth tellers. We were each asked to identify our skills and imagine what our role in a project like this could be. The room was full, and there were so many people who were not in it. That thread has continued to weave through our work together. We have a core team of brilliant minds and there is also so much community brilliance dedicated to other ongoing work. This work is a piece of the larger framework. It became clear early on that we would focus on vision and narrative shifting. People spoke to how significant it would be if police abolition became a part of the broader municipal and national conversation. I think we’re seeing that happen more and more now. The conversation is shifting to what Black, brown, and Indigenous voices have been calling for for years.
TONY: When I came on board, we knew that the idea was some kind of report, but it was still relatively unclear what that report would look like. We had discussed the possibility of a report card, interviews, and historical content, but still weren’t sure how long it would be, what information it would contain, etc. When the soft launch happened, I think we started structuring out the report a lot more. The workgroups, particularly History, Interviews, and Alternatives/Transition, started to figure out exactly what they wanted their final products to look like, and how much space it would require. Then I think the rest sort of fell into place as we set a date for the report and scrambled to get it done on time.
ARIANNA: We also started talking with some of the bigger community players right away. That’s when Voices for Racial Justice got pulled in; they were hosts of ours right away, and they continue to support our work. Of the first group of twenty or so people who we pulled in, maybe five of those folks ended up becoming a part of the core team, but everyone else was making suggestions of people to contact. It was a lot of information-gathering about how to do this really quickly because the need and the want were there; we just wanted to make sure it was sustainable… and that we got the upper hand. And we did.
SHEILA: I came in maybe a month before the launch event. The research team was finishing up their work, and we were trying to get all of the writing done for the report, while also planning this big launch event. Things were honestly pretty bananas, but what struck me when I first got involved was how much laughter was in the meeting.
I absolutely did not expect that when joining a group that was researching the history of police violence and failed reform. It was the beginning of my understanding of what police abolition really means, which is thinking about what we need to create a healthy, safe, joyful world. I also learned about the deep importance of snacks and cinnamon tea when under a tight deadline.
JAE HYUN: Because I came in later than the rest of the group, and wasn’t already in people’s organizing circles, I had different initial steps to getting involved. And I definitely had moments of feeling like the new kid; so much work had been done and I had a more limited view of what that grounding felt like in real time. After I submitted the online interest form I initially had a one- to-one with Martin, then met with the other folks focused on fundraising. From there I just started going to core meetings and plugging in where I could.
DOING THE WORK: During those early days, what was the approach? How were decisions made?
NIKKI: Decisions were typically made collectively, by consensus. I feel like consensus was fairly smooth to obtain in the group, even with people coming in and out. There were some sticky things that came up, of course, but we were able to work through most of them in respectful ways. I think our guiding principles really helped give us a strong foundation.
TONY: I loved that everyone was committed to working cooperatively, and that no one “owned” the project. It felt very powerful to me as an anarchist and recent émigré from an organization with lots of problematic power dynamics. From a philosophical perspective, the idea was always that the process was more important than the product, and that we should prioritize people’s sustainability over their productivity. People were invited to step in and out of the project as they needed to, and many did. To make sure that the work continued anyway, we kept up bi-weekly, then weekly, core team meetings where we could identify what big work needed to happen and what decisions needed to be made, along with the workgroup meetings where work actually happened.
Decisions were usually made by the folks more directly connected to the decision (e.g. interview group members making decisions about which interviews should be included), with bigger decisions being made by the core team via a consensus decision-making model. In those cases, someone would usually bring up a partnership opportunity, challenge, or idea to the group, and we would chat about it for as long as we needed to to create consensus. Where there wasn’t consensus, we didn’t move forward with the idea.
Maybe the most salient version of this was when we were trying to decide if we wanted to respond to meeting invites from the Mayor and Police Chief. We discussed our options for quite a while, and though some members were open to it, we decided that MPD150 wouldn’t get involved in policy work. And that, to me, was great decision making: individual members were welcome to chat with policy makers (but not cops), but we collectively decided that MPD150 wasn’t the right container for that work. And I think it was the right decision.
MARTIN: Tasks were divided out into working groups, which had a rotating cast of folks working in them as their availability allowed. Detailed decisions got made by the people close to the related work, and larger decisions were made by the core group. This worked well in a lot of ways, as it made room for everyone to contribute and have some level of control over decisions, while keeping the detailed decisions from becoming larger than they needed to be and making sure the right people had the right input.
On the other hand, the drawback to not having a clear leader is that some folks are simply willing to speak up more than others, which led to some moments of minor conflict. Overall, though, I think that system of decision making worked well for us and we managed to keep everyone’s voices involved.
ARIANNA: There was a core team, but it wasn’t a closed core team—it was a “right now” core team. It was a “do you have time for this? Is this something you want to be doing?” core team. And other folks were doing complimentary work (art, history, a group that was looking into a film project, etc.). So they would report in, and that made it easy to delegate tasks out that way… which isn’t something I’ve found in other organizing, where there are a lot of folks who end up looking at things from a top-down perspective, and need to have control over every moving piece.
MOLLY: From the beginning, people were focused on getting the work done. We were on a somewhat short timeline. There is a lot to consider in this work and many of us were coming in with different philosophies. This work itself didn’t build broad community power, but it did distill a history and narrative that could be used to build power. One thing that stood out to me was how decisions were made. At meetings, we would talk in depth about certain aspects of the work as well as how it fits into the broader context. There were many times we did not agree. Sometimes in big ways, sometimes in smaller ways. We always led the conversation back to getting things done. What’s trendy in an activist world isn’t always aligned with what’s grounded and accessible. That continues to be true. There were times I walked away from meetings frustrated, but what kept me coming back was the mutual respect in the room and the absolute commitment to getting the work done.
RICARDO: I don’t recall explicitly setting out a formal decision-making process. Our practice was to weigh the possible ideas and come to agreement collectively. I would say that it was understood that a unified group was more important in most cases than winning a particular decision. We also set up security protocols, a tactical statement [see p.73], and came to affirm some more general attitudes— for example, that people should participate to the level that felt sustainable, could pull back as necessary, and rejoin when possible. It was also emphasized that anyone who could not fulfill a commitment should either pass it on to someone else, or let the group know so that it would not fall through the cracks. Continued recruitment was also on our radar, with care to think about whose involvement would be useful given the stage we were at, which called for patience and discretion.
DOING THE WORK (Pt. 2): Describe the process of creating and distributing the report itself.
RICARDO: The MPD150 process unfolded in stages, each marked by a public event. The initial stage of under- the-radar research, interviewing, and recruiting lasted until May, 2017. At that time we met with Shay Berkowitz, representing a radical family foundation, the Still Ain’t Satisfied Fund (co-led by Phyllis Wiener and Maya Wiener Berkowitz), who convinced us that in order to effectively fundraise we would need a higher profile—and that in any case, the MPD was not equipped to counter what we were doing. This led to planning for an invitation-only “soft launch” at CTUL (Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha), in August. Using a creative format suggested by Arianna, we set up tables around the areas of work, had members share how we each had been attracted to the project, and let people circulate to the task force tables that attracted them. This expanded our outreach and allowed us to crowd-source fundraising to match a grant from the Still Ain’t Satisfied Fund. It also inaugurated our social media presence and the creation of zines.
TONY: At the soft launch, we set the goal of releasing a report before the end of the year, with the workgroups and core team and writers working together to identify what needed to happen to meet that goal.
RICARDO: Our next major landmark was the launch itself in November 2017, also at CTUL, at which three hundred people packed the hall for a creative presentation of the report—which had been rushed into production to meet the deadline. This was followed by a growing number of conference appearances, classroom and workshop presentations, merchandise, and the production of an audiobook version of the report.
SHEILA: At our launch event, the presenters were not just core group members. We did a cabaret-style event where we had people who had been involved in MPD150, in ways big or small, perform poems, share history and findings from the report, sing songs, and offer proposals for the next steps in dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department, along with space for the 300+ audience members to talk with each other. It truly felt like an event created with, and for, community.
KYLE: The launch was a pretty incredible event. The poetry, the music, the conversation (and the turnout!)—it was cool to see so many people energized by the work. That being said, it was also a stressful day. The original run of the report had printed with a cover photo that prominently featured a community member’s face. Because of the rush toward the end of the process (a major lesson learned: don’t put yourself in the position to have to rush), we hadn’t had a chance to notice or discuss that. The community member raised some concerns, so we, on the day of the launch, printed a few hundred “alternate cover” stickers, and a bunch of us applied them to the first big batch of reports as people arrived at the event.
RICARDO: A year after the launch, we opened an art exhibit at New Rules on the North Side, which featured illustration panels of the report, commissioned art, and panels and discussions. The panel discussions were made up of leaders and activists who were not MPD150 members, in line with our strategy of expanding alliances and buy-in, rather than taking up the spotlight. After each of these events, we met to assess and set the stage for the next period. In January 2019, we held a community council of allies to help us evaluate where we’d been and what to do next. In a group meeting after that, we decided to embark on a final year of the project, initiating projects that would extend the impact of our work past our organizational sunset.
Less public moments of significance included our decision not to issue public statements in the wake of police crimes; to remain purely narrative in nature and not engage in policy proposals; to redefine ourselves from a general membership organization to a collective in order to prevent being overwhelmed by white volunteers; and to set a time at which the organization as such would cease to exist.
MOLLY: How do you strike a balance of naming and honoring those who have been doing this work for generations, all of the questions that may arise as we move towards abolition, all of the moments in the history of policing that exist in the pain and grief of Black, brown and Indigenous people, and make it something that can be shared and read reasonably quickly? Those are questions we’re still asking. Kyle, Felicia, Ricardo, Sheila, Tony, UyenThi, and others who wrote and designed content, FAQs, shareable images, and info sheets did amazing work.
The report itself focused on constructing a timeline of policing and reforms grounded in the present work of community members following the murders of Terrance Franklin, Fong Lee, Jamar Clark, and Justine Damond in Minneapolis. The future section talks about what we already have, what people have created to take care of each other, and asks us to consider what we need to continue to create.
I think the most valuable part of that is how clearly the future section illustrates that it is a matter of perspective and priorities. After years of organizing and narrative shifting by so many BIPOC voices, people can no longer say a future without police is not possible.
LESSONS LEARNED: The Process
KYLE: I’m super excited about the possibility of people in other cities replicating this work— diving into the history of their police departments, and working to change the narrative around safety, policing, and what healthy communities look like. I’m also thinking about how important it will be for that work to not be a linear, one- to-one copy of ours, since every community is different. For example, we were able to pay our writers and researchers, because we exist in a community in which there are both funding opportunities for weird, radical work like this, and qualified, cool people to do it. That landscape will look different in different places, and the approaches may have to shift.
JAE HYUN: Having a clear scope for the project worked well. I came in after this had been established, and it was something that would get brought back up as we were making other decisions after the exhibit, including when we decided to sunset.
NIKKI: One of the biggest things I appreciated about this group was the ability for people to move in and out of the project. With a long-term project like this, it felt super important for people to be valued for what they were able to bring to the group when they were able to bring it. From my perspective, folks were always affirmed and supported in decisions to step out, to flow in and out as needed. It was asked that people do their best to be very clear about what they felt like they could contribute and what their capacity was. When there’s a project with a lot of moving parts, we need to have clear communication. There was a lot of trust with the group that the work was being done, and things were moving along outside of our meeting and check in times.
UYENTHI: Like any group project, working alongside other humans can be challenging. I think this group did a pretty good job at keeping up good communication and accountability with each other. Individuals would, for the most part, let each other know what their capacity was with certain projects, or if they needed to step back from the work and come back at a later time. I think that honesty and transparency really helped us keep it moving, even if we had to pause and re-convene a few weeks or months later.
TONY: Time-limited projects are an amazing way to limit burnout. I’m surprised at how much less tired I’ve been during periods when we were sprinting toward an end goal, as opposed to previous organizing efforts which were intended to go on indefinitely.
Allowing folks to step up and step back as their capacity required actually made us more resilient and sustainable, not less, because everyone felt a great deal of love and care for the project.
RICARDO: All that being said, in the final stages of report creation, and in the creation and coordination of the exhibit, we left key people insufficiently supported and having to take on too much of the burden of ensuring successful outcomes.
LESSONS LEARNED: Security
MARTIN: Nothing we did for this project was illegal, so security concerns weren’t our highest priority. That said, we did a fair amount of things to limit who had access to real resources (the website, money, community interviews before names were either cleared or removed, ect). This was mostly to ensure if we had anything that could have put someone in danger, or put the project at risk, it was in the hands of people we knew and trusted. Knowing who was in the room was important, and knowing what our group policy was as far as public engagement helped here as well. But, as has been said above, since we were focused on narrative work and didn’t have any direct actions or the like, our risk level was pretty low.
TONY: By choosing an organizing modality that wasn’t centered on illegal action, we were able to reduce most of the risks of infiltration or prosecution. Even if the cops had come after us (and we had contingency plans if they did), it would have ultimately been a public relations defeat for them. Doing our organizing out in the open made it more difficult for them to counter effectively.
LESSONS LEARNED: Fundraising
MARTIN: Early on, I wasn’t entirely clear on what the scope of the work I was expected to do was, particularly considering doing financial work for a group without a clear definition of who was allowed to spend money or where it was coming from. I attribute this more to my own familiarity with hierarchical organizations and more rigid structures than the group’s setup. After being involved for a bit and figuring out how our finances were going to work, I came up with systems for myself—both to keep people informed, and try to control the flow of money in a responsible and consensus driven way so that the work wouldn’t get held up by that constraint.
ARIANNA: I would encourage folks to apply for fellowships and grants a lot more. A few of us applied for Soros, for Headwaters, for other things. Some we got; some we didn’t. It is really time-consuming to do grant writing; that is the unfortunate part. But that is one of the fundraising things that I wish that we would have had more support from folks in community to do, in hindsight: grant writing. We also found some really awesome pots of money from folks trying to redistribute wealth. I also wish we would have had something more concretely organized for finding “secret white people money.” I will say: money never felt like a problem, or a stress; money was never at the core of this. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about: I really wish we could have done the film project we discussed, but we needed $20,000 to do that. But that’s what I mean: dream really, really big and keep pushing for that.
NIKKI: Being able to have paid workers at times for larger- scale deadlines was crucial. We got better at checking in with each other about making sure needs were met and people felt valued for their work. We need each other to stick around and sometimes that looks like paying folks for their brilliance.
MARTIN: We benefited quite a bit from the availability of grant funding for strange radical projects like ours in Minneapolis. That might not be a resource that’s available everywhere, so being inventive with how you get funding is useful. We did a couple of online crowd-funding campaigns, and while they were effective, it was clear you can only do that so many times before people are burnt out on it. House parties, events, and direct asks were also effective—both at fundraising, and at increasing community engagement and awareness.
TONY: We chose not to host administrative staff, and only hired folks for time-limited project work. This meant that fundraising took up relatively little time, but we could still benefit from the increased capacity of having full-time workers. We also had two paid workers dealing with outside issues step back from the project unexpectedly. Being careful about hiring in a context without administrative oversight is important, and requires a lot of trust.
Also, fundraisers hosted by friends and group members were very useful both for raising money and for creating more public awareness around the project. Grants were also incredibly helpful, as we asked for support for work we had ongoing, rather than developing projects to take advantage of grant opportunities.
LESSONS LEARNED: Outreach and Promotion
TONY: Remember: if the content isn’t accessible to folks without a college education, it’s not powerful. The tools that are the most accessible are those that get used the most. It’s far easier to get people to become abolitionists than you would think. The way you present the narrative depends on who you’re speaking to—leftists, liberals, conservatives, police—but there’s a way to speak to it that’s accessible to almost everyone. Don’t be afraid to be strategic about which narratives around abolition you deploy in which places.
KYLE: Writing the report was a lot of work; getting people to read the report was also a lot of work. I think we’ve done a good job allocating resources to both sides of that framework. We’ve had a consistent social media presence, managed by people who actually understand how Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook work (something a lot of activist groups struggle with). Those channels are places we can plug the report, but they’re also places we can spotlight all kinds of other resources, campaigns in other cities, and beyond—social media, when it’s done right, can be a powerful platform for political education, discussion, and community-building.
We’ve also had numerous well-attended, well-organized events to keep our profile up. We’ve had a media strategy, including traditional press releases and letters-to-the-editor, alongside email blasts, fundraising campaigns, and all the other tools that keep work fresh in people’s heads. We created an audio reading of the entire report. We’ve also had a website that, aside from our own materials, features a big, powerful bank of articles and readings for people who want to learn more. That can help drive people to the website for years to come.
SHEILA: A challenge in this sort of anniversary-based project was the question of what to do after the report was out, when the anniversary year was over. We knew we wanted to get it into the hands of as many people as possible in Minneapolis and around the country, in classrooms and living rooms, and on the streets, but we didn’t necessarily have a structured dissemination plan. That plan emerged over time, and also brought in new mediums (we turned the report into an audiobook and an art exhibit), but I think it would have been helpful to have more of that dissemination plan mapped out ahead of time so that we could help spread out folks’ capacity after the sprint of getting the report finished, and bring on new people as some folks needed to cycle off after the research and writing were done.
RICARDO: The continual use of different communication channels and methods—printed report, zines, videos, exhibit, audiobook, social media platforms, workshop and classroom outlines—provided opportunities for wider exposure and engagement.
MARTIN: In terms of outreach, one thing to keep in mind is who you have in the room. It’s incredibly easy to get a room full of white liberals in Minneapolis. With a project like this, addressing issues that affect BIPOC communities so much more directly, it’s important to make sure the right voices are given room to speak.
KYLE: On one hand, it’s important that the work isn’t entirely driven by people who are not the primary targets of police violence. On the other, though, it’s important to make use of the energy and resources that that demographic brings to the table, so that the burden is not 100% on poor communities of color to do everything all the time. That’s a balancing act. When we pay writers, designers, visual artists, and researchers, that process creates space for ensuring that there’s real representation beyond tokenism. The money itself expands the pool of who has access to getting involved, too; it’s not just well- off, white twenty-somethings or whatever.
Having robust fundraising efforts also creates spaces for those white liberals to plug in and contribute to the project in a meaningful way. They can bring us to their churches or colleges, or donate to help cover printing costs, or show up to events to learn more and then take that knowledge into their peer groups.
MOLLY: In this work and in any work, it is necessary to continually ask who is represented and who we are making the work accessible to. That was my biggest concern from the beginning. Do I think we succeeded in reaching everyone we needed to reach? No. Do I think that we created a tools and resources that can reach the people we need to reach? Yes.
LESSONS LEARNED: Narrative Organizing
NIKKI: I appreciated staying with our commitment to be a narrative-focused group. There were a lot of opportunities to speak to local politicians, police, and other people in power about police reform. In the moment, that would seem very tempting, but I valued our ability to stay focused on our work and trust that there were other groups and communities in the Twin Cities who were better suited to take on those roles.
KYLE: Because we were pretty clear from the beginning that MPD150’s work would be about narrative-shifting, and not necessarily the nuts-and-bolts of policy-changing, that also has positioned us in a useful way—we’re not the “leaders” or primary catalysts of building a police-free Minneapolis; that work will be driven by larger movements of the people most impacted by the issues. We’re just contributing some resources, some tools, and some perspective. Other organizations and entities, from neighborhood groups, to city council campaigns, and beyond, can run with it.
RICARDO: This work felt different from much organizing because it was built around a really big goal presented as not only practical, but inevitable. Having the report made clear that a future without police abolition would not be viable. It was hope-based, in other words, not reactive. I think that the support we got both internally and from outside was in part because we tried to model the world we were fighting for in how we centered grassroots community and treated each other humanely.
Patient work set on a shared purpose has paid off in the impact that our narrative shift strategy has had in local politics. This includes the interjection of police abolition as an issue in local elections even before the report was released, and the success of the Reclaim the Block coalition in shifting allocated funds away from the department. It has also contributed to increased resistance to police expansion proposals.
A narrative perspective on organizing is fundamental to shifting the balance of power. By targeting the very legitimacy of the police, we challenged what they have always seen as their strength and which they are not well prepared to defend.
The willingness of even resistant people to accept the possibility of police abolition—after a little discussion— was shocking. The turnout and response to the report launch was something we could foresee as a goal but I would have expected after five or more years of consistent work—not within a year of having started it!
TONY: Over the course of a year or two, we seriously shifted the narrative of the left in Minneapolis around policing. Projects like this, a deep dive into solutions around a given issue, have a real possibility of influencing leftist thought in a city and refining a narrative, as long as the people doing the project are well thought of by folks across the community.
Do you have any stories or memories from your work with MPD150 that might be illuminating, symbolic, or just cool to share?
UYENTHI: I’ve loved seeing how artists have contributed their creative work to this process. We designed a few simple t-shirts to help fundraise and plant this idea that a police- free world is possible, and did a call for artists to contribute designs. Through Arianna, I got connected with DeLesslin George-Warren (Catawba Nation), who contributed a design that read “There was a time before police and there will be a time after.” Via the artist statement: the design was “created using an image from a 2017 protest on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where tribes literally occupied the Capital using structures that pre-date the formation of the United States. Although DeLesslin’s tribe did not and does not use tipi, Catawbas are one of the many, many communities that existed before the advent of violent policing and we will be one of the many communities that survive it. A better world is possible because a better world has existed.”
TONY: Two stories come to mind: one is when the organization Pollen released their voter guide, and a ton of city council and mayoral candidates said that they could envision living in a Minneapolis without police. That was a few months before we released the report, and we could already tell that the conversations we were having were making an impact, and that the report would just cement it.
The second is when I talked to a person who was doing research on police abolition across the country, maybe six months after the release of the report. They mentioned that they had interviewed some abolitionists from Oakland, the home of Critical Resistance and other incredible abolition work, and that they had asked them the question, “where do you think the police will be abolished first?” They answered “Minneapolis,” and in that moment I was sure that we would. Not today, or tomorrow, but someday.
NIKKI: There were so many times in random conversations that people would bring up MPD150 and the idea of abolition. It was cool of course to hear random people talking about a group they didn’t know I was part of, but more importantly, it showed that our work was igniting conversations and imaginations around the Twin Cities. There is also an amazing group called Reclaim the Block that began in 2018 who works to organize the Minneapolis community and city council members to shift money from the police department into other areas that promote community health and safety. It’s really encouraging to see other police abolition and reform work sprout up throughout the Twin Cities over the past three years.
RICARDO: The Reclaim the Block campaign around police funding is a good example of what we hoped for: on-the-ground organizing independent of us but obviously fed and inspired by our narrative framing and making ample use of the research and analysis in the report.
KYLE: My work puts me in touch with a lot of people who are new to the idea of abolition, and our “frequently asked questions” zine has been super useful. Right away, on the very first interior page, it clearly, concisely lays out the argument that “Police abolition work is not about snapping our fingers and magically defunding every department in the world instantly. Rather, we’re talking about a process of strategically reallocating resources, funding, and responsibility away from police and toward community- based models of safety, support, and prevention.”
That argument, at least in my experience, is really persuasive for people who might otherwise be suspicious or outright hostile to the idea. The logic is difficult to argue with. We should invest in the organizations and structures that prevent harm, not just punish harm after it happens.
Whether people read the whole report, or have a deep understanding of the roots of policing, I think that argument is a key piece of really shifting the narrative, and it’s deeply related to encouraging systems thinking around other issues too, from sexual assault prevention, to the climate crisis, and beyond. How do we pivot? How do we make sure that we’re not just “doing good work,” but doing the work that means that we don’t have to still be doing the same work fifty years from now? I think MPD150 has asked these questions in a very elegant way, and that people are more open to new, visionary, radical answers now than I’ve ever seen.
MARTIN: I have been in school for the duration of this project. Shortly after the report was published, I had a class that was focusing on political movements around the globe. During the unit on movements focused on criminal justice in the United States, our professor used the MPD150 report as an optional reading, and had copies available for the entire class. I’m not sure how many read it, but seeing something that we worked on, and particularly the topic of police abolition, brought up in a college classroom was an incredible feeling and really highlighted the potential impact of this type of narrative work. I know at least a few students from that class attended our exhibit launch event.
ARIANNA: Some of my favorite memories are us eating together all the time. In the final days of finishing the report, I had brought over wine and chocolate because we were… there was a reason we were going to be having an exceptionally long night—we all knew it. So I brought that, and it was the one photo I took from the early crew. And I was just happy about it, I don’t want to forget this; this is something that is really special.
I remember our launch event: there was a point where we actually had to turn people away; the building was completely packed, even the overflow room in the basement. And I remember getting numbers about how many people were watching the stream online, and I’m like “holy shit.” Looking at the Unicorn Riot stream the next day, there were something like over 2,000 individual viewers. It was incredible to see that, to see the interest. And I know that because of all this, we pushed this conversation forward in Minneapolis; the 2017 mayoral candidates had to answer a question about this work, and it’s still a part of the conversation. And we absolutely made space for silliness and joy.
MOLLY: Our work is not done, but the work we came together to do as a group has been completed. We evaluated the 150-year history of policing in Minneapolis, presented a comprehensive report of historical events, cycles of reforms, and the resources that exist and need to be created, collaborated with artists to host an exhibit, and created resources for pop ed. The vision for a police-free future exists, the argument for abolition has been clearly laid out, and now it’s time to do the work of building and dismantling.
SHEILA: In 2019, it was two years after the report had been released; we had presented tons of workshops, friendraisers in people’s living rooms, school visits, tabling at street fairs, etc. I was sitting in Minneapolis City Hall, and someone got up to testify during the city budget hearing about a proposed $9M increase in the police budget. And in the beginning of their testimony they said, “I want to thank MPD150; their report has taught me more about policing and the history of the Minneapolis Police Department than I ever knew.” And then this person continued on to demand that the city council divest from the police department and invest in housing, opioid response, and meeting people’s basic needs. And this is someone whom I had never met before (the Minneapolis radical scene isn’t that big). And in that moment I thought, “this is it; this is the point of this work.” It’s about getting people to learn that history in a powerful way, and taking that knowledge to the people in power and demanding that we start dismantling MPD one million at a time!