The measure of a patriot

True patriotism, one might argue, has less to do with spreading freedom and democracy to foreign lands and more to do with preserving those ideals in one’s own community. That was a theme raised at last month’s meeting of Metro Property Rights Action Committee at the Martin Luther King neighborhood center in south Minneapolis. MPRAC’s mission is to build a community of Twin City residents who will identify and discuss abusive actions by local government and stand up to them.

Right now, governments both in Minneapolis and St. Paul are “cracking down” on legitimate businesses such as bars and convenience stores which city officials say “condone” crime. Never mind that local law enforcement is unable or unwilling to control the situation; it can be dealt with through the inspections process. If a building is peppered with work orders and condemned, then the crime at that location goes away.

Politicians love to celebrate victories of this sort, sometimes with raised champaign glasses. (Council member Don Samuels did that when the Big Stop convenience store building was torn down last week.) Few dare point out that it is the elected official, not the property owner, who is shirking his or her crime-fighting duty. Blame-shifting is the order of the day.

A frequent response has been that the owners of such businesses engage the service of attorneys, including ones with close ties to elected officials, and fight the city in court. Typically hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent in attorney’s fees; and, in the end, the city usually wins. Minnesota courts are reluctant to overturn the policies of local government. The Attorney General’s office does not wish to become involved in such disputes. The local newspaper, the Star Tribune, is unsympathetic. So the targeted property owner is hung out to dry, emotionally and financially put through the wringer. That’s how the system works.

Metro Property Rights Action Committee is committed to another approach: fighting in the court of public opinion. It does this through a weekly cable-television show (which is aired on MTN, channel 17, at 7:00 p.m. on Saturdays and at other times) and through the Watchdog newspaper. Additionally, MPRAC has engaged in direct action to protest abusive city action. It has picketed city halls both in Minneapolis and St. Paul, picketed police precinct stations, distributed literature, engaged elected officials in public fora, and, once, disrupted and shut down a meeting of the Minneapolis City Council.

Direct action does not require obtaining permission from the community’s power brokers. People just do it. This course of action can be dangerous if it crosses the line into illegality. Protesters need to remain law-abiding; but, at the same time, they cannot tolerate continued encroachments upon the rights and liberty of Americans in the face of often illegal actions by city government. Community residents and taxpayers need to fight back, sometimes in creative ways.

Today’s public appears to be complacent and submissive when faced by abuse from their own government. Perhaps we belong to the TV generation, mesmerized by flickering images on the screen, persuaded by consistent messages that come from the corporate media again and again. The old spirit of community and common sense has escaped us. While considering ourselves to be patriotic Americans, we passively allow our country to slip away. King George III would continue to rule America if our forbearers had been persons such as ourselves.

A generation ago, there may have been more fighting spirit. I recently read of a man who lived in Bloomington in the 1950s when that community was starting to grow. It seemed that city government had hired a dog catcher who was quite zealous. He would go around the city looking at dogs who were not properly leashed, including those that ran loose in fenced-in yards. Either he would take the dog to the pound or he would issue a ticket to the dog owner carrying a $25 fine - equivalent in today’s money to several hundred dollars.

Well, this man, Michael Berg Sr., had received a ticket from the gung-ho dog catcher. He was ordered to appear in court on a certain day. His pregnant wife appeared in his place. Hundreds of other people who had also received tickets were lining up to enter the crowded court room.

Mrs. Berg’s name was called early in the proceedings. The judge looked at her and asked if she wanted to pay the $25 fine or else spend three days in jail. “I’ll take the three days in jail, thank you,” she said. The court room grew still. Then a voice rang out from the crowd: “me, too”. Then others volunteered to spend time in the jail.

The judge ordered everyone to clear the room. That was the end of it. No more summons were issued and no fines. The truth was that the city of Bloomington did not then have a jail. The “law” was just bluffing.

What about the dog catcher? That’s the amusing part. It seems that there were two “bachelor brothers” who farmed in the area. Their dog had also been taken by the dog catcher. These two men showed up at the dog pound and said: “Vee vant our dog.” The city bureaucrats refused to surrender it unless a fine was paid. Two days later, the dog catcher was found locked up in the one of the kennels.

That was the end of Bloomington’s dog-catching program for many years. City officials had learned their lesson at the hands of their citizen “teachers” - ordinary citizens like you and me who refused to tolerate abusive city government. We would be lucky to have patriots such as them as our neighbors.

Mr. Berg and his colleagues look back with amusement on that incident with the dog catcher in 1957 or 1958. This is the sort of thing that kindles community spirit. Even if there was no financial benefit in it for anyone, it was the type of life experience that makes life worth living.

And that’s how we at Metro Property Rights Action Committee also see our mission. Though often reviled by the political establishment and the media, we see ourselves as fighting for good government against the petty tyrants who staff so many city councils and city bureaucracies. Some in government try to do well; but some are too much into their egos - persons who try to micro manage everything in the city, not because they are any better at management than the owners of these businesses but simply because they can. They’re higher on the food chain.

I hope that persons in the community who have been affected by bad city government will join us. The first step is to tell your story. Be bold and tell it in public. Personal testimony is one of the most powerful tools for fighting abusive government known to man.

Be assured that if you do not tell the rest of the city about the situation you have experienced, you will not find any stories in the Star Tribune about it. Take the initiative yourself to let the public know what is happening. You have credibility that the newspaper and other establishment figures lack.

MPRAC basically maintains a “free-speech forum”. Our specialty is issues relating to housing and crime. You can come to our monthly meetings, held on the third Wednesday of each month, starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Martin Luther King neighborhood center, 4055 Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis, and make your statement at our open mike. You can also write us at MPRAC, P.O. Box 3944, Minneapolis, MN 55403 or send me an email at

Although the word “patriot” is often misused, we invite the victims of bad city government to overcome their fear and their shame and offer true testimony of a personal experience. Only if others know what city government has done can we mobilize public opinion to fight the abuse. The willingness to disclose yourself to your community in sometimes painful ways is one measure of a patriot.


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