When I was a child, I spent my early years and wonderful summers on my uncle's farm in central North Dakota . I experienced what people in the midwest like to call the lifestyle of The Heartland. Apple pie and Norman Rockwell images. A knowing your neighbors and your neighbors's neighbors. A place where help was always available in a pinch without even having to ask.
So when I decided to move back to the Heartland from the east coast where I had grown up, I didn't consider myself an outsider. In many ways, I had a common heritage, and I could still tell the difference between a field of barley and a field of wheat without having to be told. Nonetheless, in Barnesville, Minnesota, the governing body, the municipality's city council, considered me an outsider regardless of what I considered a common heritage.
In their eyes, I was an easy target for exploitation. I was a woman, and worse, unmarried. Most importantly, I had the temerity to speak up when I felt I was being asked to do what the governing body would not ask their friends and relatives to do. In Barnesville, a municipality chartered by the state of Minnesota, I soon discovered I was for all intents and purposes living in a banana republic. My behavior was a recipe for constant, deliberate stonewalling, and often even involved open and repeated violation of my individual rights.
The state of Minnesota, in the name of local control, deliberately and knowingly provides no protection of federal rights of individuals. Minnesota charters municipalities and then provides no oversight of these entities, even when individual residents of these municipalities bring to the attention of state agencies instances of violations of the law. In effect, the state of Minnesota makes no distinction between lawful local control and lawlessness.
The problems I have had with the city of Barnesville are many and cover the entire 12 years I have lived here, which makes the big issues harder and harder to distill from the details. It is only over time that I have come to realize that the overriding problem seems to be Minnesota's complete reliance upon local control to resolve issues, even when laws and individual rights are violated.
My long list of difficulties with the city of Barnesville, I believe, stems from the very issues Alan Dershowitz writes of in his recent book Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age. In this book, Dershowitz defines individual rights and explains how they are a protection from the majority in a democracy:
Rights are traditionally directed against governmental abuses. They are designed to limit the power of the state, especially the police. They are negative fights: "the state may not..." This conception of rights grows out of the lesson of history that teaches that in the long run, abuses by the state are far more dangerous to liberty and democracy than individual criminal conduct, dangerous and disturbing as that is. (p. 76)
Minnesota prides itself on being a democracy, and it's representatives, be they state legislators or state employees in various departments charged with administering state affairs, openly refrain from "interfering" with local control. This is a noble notion, but the reality is that this noble notion has been used to avoid holding municipalities accountable for their actions, even when laws and federally protected rights are violated.
Representatives of the state of Minnesota have told me there is no remedy for the violation of my rights because we live in a democracy and the majority rules. As Alan Dershowitz so elegantly argues, this is a formula for chaos and terrorism. Individual rights exist to protect individuals from the whims of the majority. Indeed, I believe Minnesota's fixation on the sanctity of local control illustrates exactly the kind of abuse of power Dershowitz says history clearly shows us evolves when there are no checks and balances:
It is precisely because rights are not natural-that it is not in the nature of most human beings to value the rights of others above their own immediate interests-that we need to entrench certain basic rights, continuously advocate them, and never grow complacent about them. (p. 12)
In the twelve years I have lived in Barnesville, I have collected an enormous amount of documentation to demonstrate to the state of Minnesota and it's legislators that local control in and of itself, without any checks and balances, creates a state of lawlessness that is little different from terrorism. I have presented my documentation to many state representatives and organizations, and their response is always that they cannot interfere with local control. To be quite frank, I found it mind-boggling that the state of Minnesota makes no distinction between lawful local control and lawlessness.
I believe it is time to look closely at the tyranny of misused power in the state of Minnesota when the state officially sanctions local control which is clearly shown to be lawless. As Alan Dershowitz notes:
Human beings have proved themselves incapable of governing without some perceived outside source of morality and rights. In the absence of such a source, there are no limits to what we are willing to do, and capable of doing, to each other. We need constraints and we need to believe that these restraints come from some higher authority and are objectively binding on us. (p.56)
Alan Dershowitz elegantly describes the role of individual rights in a democracy, a role the state of Minnesota, in the name of local control, refuses to uphold. That is, the state of Minnesota uses the notion of local control to avoid providing checks and balances, oversight, and accountability on the part of the entitities it charters, even when federal laws are violated.
It is my personal opinion that the state's holding no one accountable for violations of federal law, whether of individual rights or misappropriation of federal monies, creates a serious and potentially devastating vulnerability on the part of the state to qui tam action by the Justice Department The cost of such an action against the state of Minnesota would, I believe, be devastating. Yet I have been unable to locate anyone at the state level who understands this issue.
The issues involved here go to the very core of the values of our country's founding fathers, values they risked their lives for and worked hard to protect in the drafting of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. To see history repeating itself, to see these protections ignored in the name of local control, is what I find so disheartening about the situation I find here in Minnesota.
This is a state founded by immigrants who only a few generations ago fled many of the very violations the state allows to go unaddressed today. Minnesota's myopic fixation on local control as the only legitimate undefiled strain of democracy, with no checks and balances, no accountability, and no protection of the individual from the state creates far worse situations than individual criminal activity. As Alan Dershowitz reminds us, history clearly shows that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
I am not a lawyer and my personal analysis of the operation of what I have chosen to call the banana republic municipalities in the state of Minnesota is not intended to be legal advice. Rather, I would like to draw attention to this situation so that the issue can be addressed and discussed openly. If you live in a municipality in Minnesota, your individual constitutional rights are unprotected by the state. There is a complete disconnect between the rights guaranteed you in the United States Constitution and what can actually happen in Minnesota's municipalities -- if the local governing entities in municipalities choose to ignore the laws.
The midwest is seeped in the notion of populist government, of local control. North Dakota is one of the few states which still has a strong populist flavor throughout it's government. If you approach the state of Minnesota about municipal problems, state representatives will tell you that it's your responsibility to elect new municipal officials, your responsibility to solve your problems. They loudly repeat and proclaim this is what democracy is all about. From my perspective, these state officials have conveniently forgotten that we live in a republic with demoncratic elements, not a pure democracy. There are many discussions on the web about the difference between a republic and a democracy , but William R. Thornton's in his Lawnotes essays is a good one to start with.
On the east coast, I never had the kinds of problems I have had in The Heartland, even when I moved into rural towns where I was definitely an outsider. When I wrote to my elected representatives on the east coast, I always got a polite answer and suggestions about where I could turn to help solve whatever the problem was. If I contacted a state official about local problems, the problems were always addressed and corrections made. With this kind of experience, I was totally unprepared for the attitude of many of my elected representatives and the state officials in Minnesota.
Oliver Libaw does a good job of explaining how difficult it is to define terrorism. Minnesota's unwillingness to hold municipalities accountable for their actions, even when the city councils of these towns repeatedly break the law, creates a state in which the local governing bodies are held answerable to no one. The end result can be rampant lawlessness. Municipal governments which are held accountable to no one can easily become for all intents and purposes terrorist regimes. While this may seem an exaggeration, but a search of the the army's General Dennis J. Reimer digital library contains manuals which define terrorism to include generally lawless behavior. The state of Minnesota's default response to an individual's inability to deal with municipal lawlessness is "you can always sue." This puts the total responsibility for protecting an individual's rights in the hands of the individual who is wronged. Suing does not solve the fundamental problem, and in fact, may worsen the issue (see my timeline, final section, Court Dates).
I have also written an essay outlining my personal viewpoint about the ominousness of the Minnesota's refusal to provide any sort of oversight of the municipalities it charters when repeated violations of the law by these entities can be demonstrated. It is my personal belief that there is a vulnerability on the part of the state for not protecting my individual and civil rights in the municipalities it grants charters, although many of the state officials I talk to deny any vulnerability there.
Let me end my remarks on a positive note. The people in The Heartland are generally good, hardworking citizens who make fine neighbors, friends, and supporters. The small towns like Barnesville can be wonderful places to raise children and feel a kind of security we all long for.
However, many of the residents in The Heartland are aware of places where local governance has gone awry. They have simply been unable to change things for the better because the state of Minnesota provides individuals no tools for putting local governance in municipalities back on track, and deliberately refuses to become part of the solution to the problems -- all, of course, in the name of democracy.
I am unabashedly seeking journalists, news groups, student law groups, or organizations interested in studying or addressing the issue of the rampant violation of civil rights in Minnesota's banana republics or elsewhere in The Heartland. If interested in additional documentation, please e-mail me.
Essay on Minnesota's Banana Republics
The Devil's Advocate: FAQ
Timeline of Events in Spite Fence Issue
List of Violations
Additional Rights Violation Incidents
Links Related to Civil and Individual Rights Issues
The caption to the picture says:
From Joel Dorman Steele and Esther Baker Steele's A Brief History of the United States, 1885.
From Joel Dorman Steele and Esther Baker Steele's A Brief History of the United States, 1885.
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