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Everyday Politics

October 15, 2009

Annie Mae Krapek is finishing her last semester at the University of Minnesota, where she is majoring in child psychology. She wrote this guest post about how she has applied skills she learned in a community organizing class (Public Affairs 1401) taught by Center for Democracy and Citizenship staff Harry Boyte and Dennis Donovan. The class will be offered again in spring 2010.

I am proud to report that my personal organizing efforts were a success! The city council of Columbia Heights, Minn., under the influence of the city planner, were considering placing stringent regulations on smoke shops in the city. Approval of this resolution would likely have put the city’s two hookah shops out of business. I care deeply about this issue because I am close friends with an owner of one of the shops and I know how much it means to him to run his own business. Furthermore, I thought the proposed ordinance was short sighted and irrationally restrictive and did not accomplish the rationale that was set forth by city staff. I also believe that there were strong underlying sentiments against a perceived “them” — namely Muslims and the growing Middle Eastern community that have become very active in the local economy.

Last month, the city council was going to vote on the smoke shop ordinance. Working with local businesses and other organizers, we organized a calling campaign that was so effective that the city had to shut down their voice mail system. We had a great turn out for the council meeting attended by a huge variety of stakeholders. We had two local pastors, an influential imam, the hookah shop owners, an employee from one of the businesses, several customers, and concerned citizens who were not patrons of the shops but cared about restrictions on private businesses. A Republican Party county chair also spoke on our behalf.

The council was initially unyielding, especially on the legal/legislative arguments. However, by the end of the night they voted 3 to 2 to drop all of the language we were opposed to and voted 4 to 1 to approve an ordinance which no longer posed a threat to local business.

The meeting was incredibly tense, but it was really enlightening to see democracy in action. I felt like the meeting was a true reflection of the civic process, engaged citizens, and bipartisanship.
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