Hot Protest in an Ice-Cold Super Bowl City

There are two contests taking place in Minneapolis–St. Paul this weekend. One, of course, is the Super Bowl, the NFL’s reward to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf for getting taxpayers to hand half a billion dollars to build his football arena, the aptly named US Bank Stadium.

The other contest involves local unions and a wide array of social-justice organizations attempting to be heard over the hype and din of Super Bowl week. Their battle pits them against the under-discussed economic and social trauma that the Super Bowl brings. Their plan is to “disrupt the narrative” that what the Super Bowl arrives with is not only acceptable but something to be celebrated.

As Veronica Mendez Moore from the Twin Cities Centro De Trabajadores Unidos En Lucha (CTUL) said to me, “It’s not about being anti-football. It’s about being against a corporate party that’s extracting from our communities and creating an environment of militarization, while increasing wealth at the top at expense of those at the bottom.”

This isn’t just about leveraging the glare from the big game to spotlight local issues. There are real dangers for working people, immigrants, and people of color that come with hosting the Super Bowl. It’s the danger that arrives with a massive expansion of closed-circuit television surveillance, hyper-militarized policing and the free entrance of ICE into a space that normally is a “sanctuary city.”

Hani Ali from from the Black Visions Collective said to me that, while there are a wide variety of organizations taking part in demonstrations, they have coalesced around a series of specific demands.

It starts with transparency: “The city and the Super Bowl host committee decided to not make public the deal that they made, the amount of public dollars that went into bringing this into our community. We’re just asking them to reveal that bid. We want to know exactly how much of our money is going into this. We also want going forward a commitment in transparency and decision-making oversight for other large-scale events.”

There is more. They are also demanding “local law enforcement not cooperate with ICE, so no reporting [undocumented people] to ICE agents. We’re also asking that sex-trafficking victims be treated as victims. We’re going to see, with the Super Bowl. an increase in sex-trafficking incidents…. And also we want the decriminalization of sex work, in general. We’re going to see an increase of violence to people who do sex work on a daily basis, because of the people, the misogyny, the toxic masculinity that these types of sporting events bring to our communities.”

Mendez Moore says that these demands speak to the urgency that communities are feeling and they also “unmask the reality of what comes with 10 days of corporate parties. The cities will be a playground for the rich, while others are suffering poverty, facing homelessness [in freezing temperatures], and we need to put forward that the way resources are being invested could be so very different.”

The organizers in the Twin Cities are teaching the rest of us a hell of a lesson as well. Whether it’s Super Bowl week in one city, or the way this Trump administration makes all of us feel like we are facing a fusillade of injustice from every possible angle, it can be difficult to know what issues upon which to focus and where to build the most effective citadels of resistance. But the young activists of the Twin Cities are practicing old-fashioned solidarity to knit together their different issues and push forward as one.

As Michael Moore, local labor editor of The St. Paul Union Advocate said to me:

Local unions and worker groups have been organizing around the game for months. Transit operators authorized a strike during Super Bowl week, leverage they used to force management into addressing concerns about safety and restroom access. Teachers in St. Paul launched a social media campaign shaming corporations like US Bank and Ecolab for spending over $50 million to lure the NFL and its billionaire owners to town, while avoiding local taxes that fund our schools. Bakery workers, retail janitors and fast food workers will be in the streets outside Super Bowl events next week, lifting up their own campaigns for better wages and working conditions—and standing in solidarity with local movements for racial equity and immigrant rights. Super Bowl boosters told us an event like this would bring people together and showcase the best of our community, and in an ironic way they’re right. It’s going to be a very powerful display of solidarity.

In so many ways, if we will heed the lessons of their organizing, they’ve already won.

Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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Contact him at edgeofsports@gmail.com