Pandemic Journal (# 30): More Days in the Pandemic

One of the objectives of this Journal is recording what it is like to live during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is another such report.[1]

First, here are the latest pandemic statistics as of September 27 (2:06 p.m. EDT). The world has 32,892,000 cases and 994,400  deaths. The U.S., 7,119,400 (the most in the world) and 204,400; and Minnesota, 96,786 and 6,938.[2]

Now to more positive news from my wife and me, both grateful to continuing to be healthy.

Last Wednesday (September 23) we started our first excursion outside the City of Minneapolis and nearby western suburbs during the pandemic by driving 237 miles from Minneapolis to Tofte on the North Shore of Lake Superior.

Our initial drive on Interstate 35 from Minneapolis to Duluth was blessed by a beautiful sunny day and by listening to classical music on the Symphony Hall channel of SiriusXM on our car radio. I especially enjoyed the last movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with its joyous choral music. Although I do not know the German words that the choir was singing, I know the melody and enjoyed singing the melody along with the choir. Hearing this symphony again reminded me of its  thrilling performance  by the Minnesota Orchestra in Soweto, South Africa in August 2018.

We also listened to Mozart’s oboe concerto and a Haydn symphony. All of this music reminded me of the genius of these composers and their ability to continue to thrill us today.

Moreover, this music relieved my mind from obsessing about the many problems facing the U.S. and the world.

When we got to Duluth we stopped at a Dunn Brothers Coffee Shop on London Road to buy one delicious chicken sandwich on cranberry/wild-rice bread to share. Then we went up the hill in the city to the Hawk Ridge Nature Reserve, where we have been many times, hoping to see migrating hawks and other birds. Unfortunately for that objective, it was very warm with little wind and hence no birds.

After Duluth it was northeast on State Highway 61 along the North Shore.

In the town of Silver Bay we stopped to buy a bottle of wine, but could not find the store. In a parking lot I asked two masked women where we could find such a store. They did not know. Although it is often difficult to recognize people who are wearing masks to protect against the pandemic, one of the women’s distinctive hair enabled me to recognize her as a friend from my Minneapolis church, so I called out her name, and I was correct. She said she thought she had recognized my voice. Another woman, whom I did not know, then directed us to the nearby store, and a bottle of wine was secured.

When we arrived at Tofte we drove north on County Road 2 (the Sawbill Trail) to go west on Range Road 166 (Heartbreak Ridge, which is named for early loggers’ broken hearts for their inability to haul logs up or down the ridge during the winter). After arriving at Range Road 343, we turned around and went back to the Sawbill Trail, seeing beautiful fall foliage both ways.

We then returned to Tofte and checked into the AmericInn in the town, where we have stayed before. Because of pandemic restrictions, there was a more limited free breakfast designed for take-out or eating in your room. There was no servicing of our room during our two-night stay so that the two of us would be the only ones in the room. The motel clerk said they had had an extremely busy Fall, which confirmed our earlier unsuccessful attempts this summer to go to the North Shore.

The first night we ordered take-out from the Bluefin Grill across Highway 61; the salmon and salad were acceptable.

On Thursday (September 24), after breakfast at the motel, we returned to the Sawbill Trail to drive north in order to go east on Range Road 164 (the Honeymoon Trail), which is famous for its colorful fall foliage. Indeed, the yellow leaves of the poplar trees and the red of the maple trees were gorgeous.

At the end of the Honeymoon Trail, we turned and went north a short distance on the Caribou Trail (County Road 4). Then we turned right and went east on Murmur Creek Road (Range Road 332) and Pike Lake Road (County Road 45) to see more beautiful fall foliage. Then it was south on County Road 7 to return to State Highway 61.

We then drove northeast on Highway 61 past many places we had seen before—Lutsen Resort, Cascade River State Park and Grand Marais—to Judge C.R. Magney State Park, where on a beautiful early afternoon we hiked uphill along the Brule River and the easier downhill hike back.

Afterwards we returned to Grand Marais and stopped at our favorite restaurant—The Angry Trout—for a wonderful meal sitting outside on its deck overlooking the Harbor on a beautiful (but breezy and cool 49 degree) day. My wife had a white fish dinner while I had a bison steak dinner.

Then it was back to the motel in Tofte. The next day was colder and rainy so we left to return home. We were glad we had been to the North Shore again, had seen the beautiful fall foliage and had excellent meals. Indeed, we did not recall the intensity of fall colors on previous trips to the North Shore, and we learned afterwards that the birch and poplars in their fall yellow finery were a week or so early. We were lucky.

We thus re-emerged in the turmoil of U.S. politics: Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett  to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court and Senator McConnell’s intent to orchestrate an immediate Senate confirmation of Barrett, even before the November 3 presidential election; Trump’s continued threats to not abide by the results of that election; and more. These issues will be discussed in future posts.

This morning I attended the virtual worship service at my Minneapolis church (Westminster Presbyterian). The sermon (“The Wonder Table”) by Rev.Tim Hart-Andersen, Senior Pastor, was based on Exodus 7:1-18 and Luke 13:10-21. He called for us to have a sense of wonder and curiosity to see what else there might be beyond the immediate situations of life. He also pointed out that people with hard hearts like the Pharaoh in the passage from Exodus will protect their power at all costs and that Jesus called out the hypocrisy of the synagogue leaders in the passage from Luke.(After the text of this sermon is available, another post will explore its message.)

This sermon also quoted from a recent New York Times column by David Brooks, who has spoken several times at our church’s Town Hall Forum.[3] Brooks said in  his column, “I came to faith in middle age after I’d been in public life for a while. I would say that coming to faith changed everything and yet didn’t alter my political opinions all that much. That’s because assenting to a religion is not like choosing to be a Republican or a Democrat. It happens on a different level of consciousness.”

Brooks continued, “During my decades as an atheist, I thought the stories were false but the values they implied were true. These values — welcome the stranger, humility against pride — became the moral framework I applied to think through my opinions, to support various causes. Like a lot of atheists, I found the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr very helpful.” He also added the following comments on his personal journey of faith:

  • “About seven years ago I realized that my secular understanding was not adequate to the amplitude of life as I experienced it. There were extremes of joy and pain, spiritual fullness and spiritual emptiness that were outside the normal material explanations of things.”
  • “I was gripped by the conviction that the people I encountered were not skin bags of DNA, but had souls; had essences with no size or shape, but that gave them infinite value and dignity. The conviction that people have souls led to the possibility that there was some spirit who breathed souls into them.”
  • “What finally did the trick was glimpses of infinite goodness. . . .Divine religions are primarily oriented to an image of pure goodness, pure loving kindness, holiness. In periodic glimpses of radical goodness — in other people, in sensations of the transcendent — I felt, as Wendell Berry put it, “knowledge crawl over my skin.” The biblical stories from Genesis all the way through Luke and John became living presences in my life.”
  • “These realizations transformed my spiritual life: awareness of God’s love, participation in grace, awareness that each person is made in God’s image. Faith offered an image of a way of being, an ultimate allegiance.”
  • “I spent more time listening, trying to discern how I was being called. I began to think with my heart as much as my head. . . . But my basic moral values — derived from the biblical metaphysic — were already in place and didn’t change that much now that the biblical stories had come alive.”
  • “My point is there is no neat relationship between the spiritual consciousness and the moral and prudential consciousnesses. When it comes to thinking and acting in the public square, we believers and nonbelievers are all in the same boat — trying to apply our moral frameworks to present realities. Faith itself doesn’t make you wiser or better.”
  • “In a society that is growing radically more secular every day, I’d say we have more to fear from political dogmatism than religious dogmatism. We have more to fear from those who let their politics determine their faith practices and who turn their religious communities into political armies. We have more to fear from people who look to politics as a substitute for faith.”
  • “And we have most to fear from the possibility that the biblical metaphysic, which has been a coherent value system for believers and nonbelievers for centuries, will fade from our culture, the stories will go untold, and young people will grow up in a society without any coherent moral ecology at all.”

I thank David Brooks for speaking so eloquently about his spiritual journey.

Here ends this report on several days of this individual’s life during the coronavirus pandemic.

=====================

[1] See also List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: Pandemic Journal.

[2] Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2020); Covid World Map: Tracking the Global Outbreak, N.Y. Times (Sept. 27, 2020).

[3] David Brooks Speaks on “The Role of Character in Creating an Excellent Life,” dwkcommentaries.com (May 16, 2015); Brooks, How Faith Shapes My Politics, N.Y.Times (Sept. 24, 2020).

Pandemic Journal (# 29): Current Reflections on COVID-19 Pandemic

As of 8:48 CST on September 20, more than 6,790,500 people in the U.S. had been infected with the coronavirus (the most of any country in the world) and at least 199,500 have died. In Minnesota, there have been 88,773 cases and 5,133 deaths. For the world as a whole the numbers are 30,675,000 cases and 954,427 deaths.[1] These statistics cause one to have sympathy for all those who have or had the disease and all those who have died from it and for all their family members and friends.

I only know two people who have had the coronavirus. One is a nephew who is recovering at his home in another state. The other is Nachito Herrera, a friend and a  famous Cuban-American jazz pianist in Minnesota, whose ICU care with a ventilator was covered by Minnesota media and who recently played several pieces, including his arrangement of “America the Beautiful,” on a public television program. And on September 25 he is scheduled at the Minneapolis’ jazz club, the dakota, for a concert.  [2]

On March 19, 2020, our condo building management instituted new regulations in response to the coronavirus: residents were required to report to the office coronavirus symptoms; all common areas in the building were closed; new practices of cleaning and disinfecting the common areas were adopted; and residents were requested to minimize the number of contractors and visitors entering the building. Since then other measures have been adopted and some of the common areas were reopened with usage restrictions.

Thus, for roughly six months my wife and I have been spending most of our time in our own condo, walking and biking outside on nice days and going to grocery stores for our food supplies. More recently we have been going to doctors and dentists for necessary care, a barber and hair stylist for necessary services and restaurants for occasional meals outside on patios. For example, on an afternoon last week we walked on Nicollet Mall to Barrio Restaurant for delicious tacos at a table on the sidewalk. The Mall, which is Minneapolis’ main street (in normal times) for restaurants, bars, stores and office buildings, now has covered all ground-level windows and glass doors with plywood, most businesses are closed and most of the time very few people are walking around.

For these six months we have not traveled anywhere outside Minneapolis and nearby western suburbs except for two trips to a nearby town: one for our granddaughter’s high school  graduation party and the other for a walk with our son and his family. Thus, we have a great desire to see other places, and this week we plan to  drive to the North Shore of Minnesota for two nights to see the beautiful fall colors of the trees.

We are grateful that we and our family have not caught the virus and are healthy and hope that that will continue. We worry about our sons and their families here and in Ecuador and relatives in Nebraska and elsewhere and pray that they stay healthy.

Last Friday Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, died. For many years she has been an inspiring voice against gender and other discrimination. Last night I watched “RBG,” a moving documentary film about her by CNN Films. The film reminded me of what a wonderful human being she was and how we all will miss her.

Then we have to return to reading about the horrible words and actions of President Donald Trump, who immediately said that this week he will nominate a woman to replace Ginsburg on the Supreme Court, and U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Majority Leader of that body, who has said he will lead the effort to have the Senate confirm the nomination as soon as possible and maybe even before the November 3rd presidential election. Many people, including me, fear that the nominee will be very conservative and a threat to undo many of the principles that Ruth Bader Ginsburg struggled for. I, therefore, sent some money to a group supporting Amy McGrath, who is McConnell’s opponent in this year’s election.

Another example of Trump’s insensitive and harmful remarks happened on his visit to Minnesota last Friday when he “extolled at length the battle prowess of” Confederate General Robert E. Lee to audiences that contained descendants of Minnesota men who were members of the Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment that played a vital role for the Union, many of whom were killed in the Civil War.[3]

This morning I attended a very moving virtual worship service at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. The Scripture for the day was Samuel 3: 1-10 and Luke 2: 41-52 as the foundation for the sermon “Learning to Listen/Listening to Learn” by Senior Pastor, Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen. [4]

A new moving voice in the service was Joe Davis, a poet and Artist in Residence at the church, who previously said, “ I am a poet because I struggle desperately to express my soul’s deepest longings each and everyday—yet I never shy away from the fight.” He “grew up in a non-denominational Pentecostal church in North Dakota, where his parents were active members. In college at Minot State, Joe began to go on spring break service trips with the campus ministry. The campus pastor, who happened to be Lutheran, encouraged Joe to become a peer minister. Her mentoring helped him grow in faith and as a leader, and the ELCA [Evangelical Lutheran Church in America] became an important part of his life.” Now he “feels ‘a little bit of both ‘Lutheran and Pentecostal’ while also being “a strong believer in ecumenicalism—the unity of Christians across denominational lines.”[5]

This worship service was previewed early last week at a ZOOM conversation about aging in the Covid pandemic. Rev. Hart-Andersen said that spirituality should be addressed holistically and intentionally by focusing on your heart (writing hand-written letters or emails to your family and friends); your soul (developing and following a discipline for praying); your mind (reading); your body (exercising); and your love (serving, praying, advocating, writing and volunteering). Afterwards I told Tim that the activities for the “mind” should be reading, reflecting, studying or researching, writing about these activities and then sharing the writing with others. This is what I strive to do on most subjects of posts to this blog.

On today’s beautiful sunny 70-degree afternoon in Minneapolis my wife and I went for an enjoyable walk up Kenwood Parkway from the Walker Art Center Garden to the north end of Kenwood Park and returning on Mt. Curve Avenue to the western side of the Walker to Kenwood Parkway.

Tomorrow morning I will be having coffee with three friends from our condo building in our entertainment center, a practice I started several weeks ago. We have enjoyable conversations and, I think, all of us welcome this opportunity to have social interaction in this age of social distancing.

Another item on my ongoing agenda is preparing for the October 12th meeting of my men’s book group from Westminster Church. I will be leading the upcoming meeting to discuss the novel, “The Last Trial,” by Scott Turow. Most of our meetings this year have been by ZOOM although last month five of us met in the outdoor patio of one of our members; the other five members could not make the meeting. Reading and discussing books with other men is another important way to have needed social interaction.

These are the thoughts of one day of a human being’s living through the pandemic in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. I am managing to stay healthy in mind and body despite worries about the coronavirus and the headaches caused by Trump and fears over his supporters somehow damaging or disrupting the November 3rd election.

======================================

[1] Covid in the U.S.: Latest Map and Case Count, N.Y.Times (Sept. 20, 2020); World Health Organization, WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard.

[2] Bream, Minnesota pianist Nachito Herrera on surviving COVID-19: ‘This it the worst thing I’ve had in 54 years of my life, StarTribune (Sept.5, 2020); Nachito Herrera Concert at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church, dwkcommentaries.com (Jan. 7, 2015); Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church’s Connections with Cuba, dwkcommentaries.com (∆an. 13, 2015)

[3] Van Ooy & Smith, Trump’s praise of Robert E. Lee gets pushback from Minnesotans proud of state’s role at Gettysburg, StarTribune (Sept. 19, 2020).

[4] The video of this service is  available in the church’s Archive of services, and a future blog post will examine details of the service.

[5] Joe Davis Poet, joedavispoetry.com; Parent, Poet in Residence at Redeemer Lutheran Church, zionbuffalo.org (March 2014).

Minnesota Counties’ Actions on Refugee Resettlement 

Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, 23 already have issued consents to future refugee resettlements while another 8 have indicated they will be considering the issue in the near future and only one has refused to so consent. There is little word from the other 56 counties in the state although there is no legal requirement for them to take a position on the issue since not voting is deemed to be a negative vote and although the state’s refugee resettlement agencies has not been soliciting those counties that have had little prior experience with such resettlements.

Here is a review of the 31 that so far have indicated some position on the issue of refugee resettlement.[1]

Counties Saying “Yes”

Blue Earth County. [2] On December 17 the board of south-central Blue Earth County (population 64,000 with its county seat in Mankato, population 39,300, and home of Minnesota State University Mankato) joined the consenting list. It did so unanimously with almost no discussion. One of the commissioners afterward said, “We’ve always accepted refugees. This is nothing new.”

Brown County.[3] In late December, County commissioners unanimously voted to consent to resettlement. Its virtually all white population of 25,890 live immediately west of  the just mentioned Blue Earth County and the later mentioned Nicollet County. Its county seat is New Ulm.

Clay County.[4] On December 17, County commissioners unanimously voted to resettlement. With a population of nearly 59,000 people, it abuts North Dakota with a county seat in Moorhead (population 38,000) and is home for four institutions of higher learning.

Cook County.[4a] On January 14, the County Board unanimously voted to accept more refugees. Its Chair, Myron Bursheim, said, “I see this as a symbolic thing. My intention is to be welcoming.”

Commissioner Dave Mills said he’d never received more email feedback on an issue in the North Shore county, all in support. “I see the issue from a practical and principled standpoint. I don’t think it’s going to directly affect our finances or operation. Out of principle, this is what our community values.” Commissioner Virginia Storlie added, “We would do the best we can with folks who need help.”

Cook is the northeastern tip of the state, colloquially called “the Arrowhead,” pointing at Canada on the beautiful North Shore of Lake Superior. Its population is 5,393 (White 85.0%; African American 1.0%; Native American 8.5%; Asian 0.9%; Latino 2.5%; other 2.1%),  and the county seat is charming Grand Marais.

Dakota County.[5]   An approval of consent on January 7 came from the board of  Dakota County, which has a population of 425,423  (77.7% white; 7.0% African-American; Latino 7.4%; Asian 5.2%; Native American 0.6%; and other 2.1%) in the south-eastern corner of the Twin Cities metro area with its county seat in Hastings.

Goodhue County.[6] On January 7, the Goodhue County Committee of the Whole, by a vote of 3-2, approved consenting to refugee resettlement. Although there was no time for public comment, there were many attendees, causing the meeting to be moved to the larger space of the courtroom. On the western banks of the Mississippi River, it has a population of 46,304 (White 91.8%; Latino 3.5%; Native American 1.5%, African-American 1.4%; Asian 0.7%; other 1.1% with its county seat in Red Wing.

Hennepin County.[7] On January 7, Hennepin with the city of Minneapolis is the state’s most populous county at 1.252 million (White 68.6%; African-American 13.6%; Asian 7.5%; Latino 7.0%; Native American 1.1%; Other 2.2%)in the central part of the state, by action of its County Board, approved consenting. Here are highlights of the “Whereas” paragraphs of its consent letter:

  • “Minnesota’s reputation for a strong economy and commitment to the social safety net has resulted in successful refugee resettlement since the 1800s.”
  • “Minnesota’s robust network of non-governmental resettlement agencies works with the federal government to resettle refugees, including resettlement in Hennepin County.”
  • “1,345 refugees have been resettled in Hennepin County over the last five years.”
  • “The breadth of countries and regions of origin resettling in Minnesota continues to expand and includes Afghanistan, Bhutan, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eastern Europe, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tanzania, and Vietnam.”
  • “The success of refugee resettlement in Hennepin County has helped affirm the county’s status as an urban center of international importance.”

Kandiyohi County. As noted in a prior post, on December 3, 2019, Kandiyohi County in western Minnesota was the first to consider this issue when it voted, 3-2 to consent to refugee resettlement.

Mower County.[8] In early January, the County commissioners unanimously voted to authorize consent. In the southeastern part of the state bordering Iowa, its county seat is Austin, famous as the headquarters for Hormel Foods. Its population is 40,011.

Murray County.[9] On January 7, the county commissioners authorized consent. Located in the southwest corner of the state with its county seat in Slayton, it has a population of 8,725 (93.8% white, 3.6% Latino. 1.1% Asian and 1.5% other.

Nicollet County.[10] This county is just north of the previously mentioned Blue Earth County and on the same date (December 17), also consented with a County Board vote of 4-1. One of the affirmative votes came from Commissioner Terry Morrow, who  said all refugees that arrive are thoroughly vetted by the federal government, confirming they are fleeing war, genocide or severe poverty while Commissioner Jack Kolars called refugees “‘new Americans,’ who follow in the footsteps of past groups of refugees and immigrants who often faced discrimination and persecution when they arrived and went on to be productive citizens. And he said current newcomers are working in the area in large dairy farms, shingling roofs and in food-processing plants. ‘In many cases they’re doing work others won’t do.’”

Nicollet County has a population of 34,200 (92.3% white; 3.7% African-American; 0.5% Native Americans and 3.5% other), and its county seat of St. Peter is the former capital of the state and the home of Gustavus Adolphus College.

Nobles County.[11] On January 7, the county commissioners authorized consent. Located in the southwest corner of the state and bordering Iowa and South Dakota, this county has a population of 21,900 (white 58.2%, Latino, 28.4%, Asian, 7.1%, , Other 0.1%)/African-American, 5.4%. Its county seat is Worthington, which recently has received a lot of attention due to its unusual ethnic diversity, as discussed on this blog.

Olmsted County.[12] On December 6, the County’s Administrative Committee unanimously approved a consent to resettlement. The County Board chair, Jim Bier said, “It’s stuff we are doing already.” A county official stated 30 new refugees already had been settled in the county in 2019 while an official for Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota said that in 2018, 26 individual refugees came to Olmsted County from other countries. The county in the southeastern part of the state has a population of 144,200 (white, 85.6%; Asian, 5.4%; African-American, 4.8%’ and Latino, 4.2%. Its county seat is Rochester, which is famous for the Mayo Clinic.

Otter Tail County.[13] On December 16, the Commissioners voted to consent to resettlement. It is located in the west central part of the state on the continental divide with a population of 58,300 (white 97.1%; Latino, 1.7%; and other 1.2%; the county seat is Fergus Falls.

Pipestone County.[14] On January 7, this county joined others in consenting to resettlement. The county seat has the same name and the county’s population is 9,600 (white 96.7%; African-American 1.5%; Latino 0.7%; Native American 0.5%; other 0.6%. It borders South Dakota in the southwestern part of Minnesota.

Pope County.[15] On January 7, the County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously approved to consenting to resettle refugees. “While all board members agreed that they would be surprised if they were asked to host refugees, all of them were more than willing to approve an affirmative letter saying the county would accept refugees. ‘We should be ready to help,’ said Commissioner Larry Lindor.” After the item passed, Chair Gordy Wagner told his fellow board members, “I am proud of you all. Thank you.”

Located in the west-central part of the state with Glenwood as its county seat, Pope County’s population is 11,097 (White 95.9%; African-American 0.5%; Native American 0.4%; Asian 0.6%; Latino 1.5%; Other 1.1%).

Ramsey County.[15a] On January 14, the County’s Board unanimously approved consenting to refugee resettlement. The Board Chair, Toni Carter, said, “We recognize that refugees and foreign-born residents are an important part of Ramsey County. It’s important we honor and respect all who are among us.” Similar words came from Commissioner Trista MatasCastillo: “For me this is a celebration of our good work and the good work of our refugee communities. We have all benefited from having refugees in our community.” Another Commissioner, Victoria Reinhardt, said that, aside from Native Americans, nearly all Americans can trace their roots to immigration. “I am glad this country welcomed my German and Irish ancestors. That is what makes this place rich.”

The county, which includes the state’s capitol in St. Paul, accepted 4,215 refugees from 2015 to 2019. In the past year, the county accepted 71% of all refugees who initially settled in Minnesota. Moreover, avout 16% of its overall population of 508,639 is foreign-born.The composition of itsl population is White 61.4%; African American 12.6%; Native American 1.0%; Asian 15.3%; Latino 7.6%; Other 2.1%..

Rice County.[16] In early January, the County’s commissioners voted to authorize consent. Located in the southeastern part of the state with a county seat in Faribault, it has a population of 66,523 (White 89.0%; African-American 5.4%; Asian 2.1%; Native American 0.4%; Other 5.1%).

Sherburne County.[17] In December, the Commissioners for this County voted to issue consent. Located only – miles northwest of Minneapolis in the central part of the state, it has a population of 96,036  (white 90.9%; African-American 2.9%; Latino 2.9%; Asian 1.3%; Native American 0.6%; other 1.4%). The county seat is Elk River.

Steele County.[18] A consent letter was authorized by the County Board. Located in the southeastern part of the state, just south of Rice County, its county seat is Owatonna. Its population is 36,887 (White 90.9%; African-American 2.9%; Latino 2.7%; Asian 1.3%; Native American 0.6%; Other 1.6%.

Washington County. [18a] On January 14, the County’s Board unanimously approved consenting to resettlement at its meeting in the county seat of Stillwater. This county sits on the west bank of the St. Croix River across from the State of Wisconsin and east of Ramsey County and the City of St. Paul. Its population is 236,114 (White 82.2%; African American 4.9%; Native American 0.5%; Asian 6.2%; Latino 4.3%; other 1.9%).

Watonwan County.[19] On January 7, the County Board, apparently unanimously, approved a letter of consent to refugee resettlement. This county is located in the south central part of the state and south of the previously mentioned Brown County and west of Blue Earth County, and its county seat is St. James.  Its population is 10,980 (White 71.0%; African-American 1.3%; Native American 1.3%; Asian 1.2%; Latino 25.2%).

Future Consideration by Other Counties

 Lyon County.[20] On January 7, the Lyon County Board, after discussion, voted to postpone the vote on the merits.

Stearns County.[21] On January 7, the Board of Stearns County,  with its county seat of St. Cloud, 66 miles northwest of Minneapolis. But their vote was to postpone consideration of the merits.

Commissioner Steve Notch said he still had too many unanswered questions and wanted to hear from the public and other experts. He lamented equating humanitarian concerns with economic ones. Commissioner Joe Perske, on the other hand, said it was “imperative” that the county decide the issue immediately. “The question I hear today is, are we a welcoming community or not?”

It should also be noted that St. Cloud, the county seat and largest city in the country, over the last several years has had major controversies over the large number of Somali refugees and immigrants who have resettled there.

St. Louis County.[22] Also voting to postpone consideration of the merits on January 7 was the Board of St. Louis County, population 200,200 (white, 94.9%; Native American 2.0%; Black, 0.9%; and Other, 2.2%) in the northeastern part of the state with its county seat in Duluth (population 85,900 on the southwest tip of Lake Superior).

After a heated debate for 1.5 hours with a standing-room only crowd, the county board voted, 4-3, to postpone a vote on the merits until May 26.

The majority commissioners on that vote represented people on the Iron Range and more rural areas who said they wanted more time to consider the implications of allowing such resettlement while the minority represented Duluth and other cities in the county. The minority on that vote included religious and social justice leaders, local Northland politicians, former sponsors of refugees, and one Northland refugee whose family was from Serbia and who had lived his early life in an Austrian refugee camp.

Another commissioner representing the city of Hibbing (population 16,400) said refugees were still welcome in the county. “We closed no doors.”

Five Other Counties.[23] Becker, Dodge, Ramsey, Scott and Winona counties are expected to consider the resettlement issue in the near future.

County Saying “No”

Beltrami County.[24] So far this is the only county to reject such resettlements. It occurred on January 7, when the County Board In the north-central part of the state voted 3-2 to refuse to provide its consent. This county has a population of 44,442 (2010 census), 76.9 % of whom are white, 20.4% Native American, 0.4% black and 2.3% other. Its county seat is Bemidji (population 12,431).

One of the speakers favoring consent was a member of the Red Lake Nation, who said, “If you’re not a Native American from this area, we all have origin stories. I think most of the people here today are re-settlers. It just seems un-American to me to say that “You’re not welcome.” [25]

This vote was largely symbolic: This county has not resettled refugees for years and is not being targeted by refugee agencies for resettlement anytime soon. In addition, its low population and far northern location make it an unlikely destination. In any event, its rejection of resettlement received national news attention and may have motivated some of the previously mentioned 19 counties to say “Yes.”

Subsequently, a Bemidji business owner/operator and the daughter of World War II refugees, Monika Schneider, lamented the bad publicity the county has received. She said, “We should be so lucky to have a few young, energetic [refugee] families choosing to rebuild their futures in our tundra-adjacent paradise.” She concluded, “Bemidji is loaded with beautiful, loving, open-minded people of all backgrounds. I relocated here from a big city and there is no place I’d rather be. We who live, work and raise our families here are kind, generous, creative, hardworking, dedicated and resourceful people, committed to supporting our community in many lovely ways. We all value our sense of place and our great outdoors. Our downtown is vibrant and growing. We’re eager to offer our expertise for your enjoyment. As this story evolves, the entrepreneurs of Bemidji are here at work, ready to welcome and serve you, whoever you are.” [26]

 

 

 

Conclusion

 Although there is no requirement for any county to consider this issue, we will wait to see whether any of the other 59 counties in Minnesota take any action in this regard.

A broader analysis of this situation was provided in a Washington Post article.[27]

=====================================

[1] The most comprehensive analysis of the positions on this issue of the Minnesota counties are by Greta Kaul: As Minnesota counties vote on accepting refugees, here are the counties where refugees have actually moved in the last decade, MINNPOST (Jan. 9, 2020) and by Ferguson, Minnesota County votes ‘No’ to refugees as more than a dozen others say ‘Welcome,’ Brainerd Dispatch (Jan. 8, 2020)   Thanks to these journalists for their contributions. Population data (July 1, 2018 estimates) for the counties is available on the U.S. Census Bureau’s “Quick Facts” website; any corrections to the ethnic percentages would be greatly appreciated.

[2] Krohn, Blue Earth, Nicollet counties vote to continue accepting refugees, Mankato Free Press (Dec.17, 2019).

[3] Ferguson, Minnesota County votes ‘No’ to refugees as more than a dozen others say ‘Welcome,’ Brainerd Dispatch (Jan. 8, 2020).

[4] See n.3.

[4a] Slater, Cook County opens door with refugee consent, Duluth News Tribune (Jan. 14, 2020); Slater, North Shore county gives unanimous consent to future refugee resettlement, TwinCities Pioneer Press (Jan. 14, 2020).

[5] See n.3.

[6] Fergus, Goodhue County approves refugee resettlement, RiverTowns.net (Jan. 7, 2020);

[7] Hennepin County Board Minutes (Jan.7, 2020); Hennepin County, Letter of Consent for Refugee Resettlement (Jan. 7, 2020).

[8] See n.3.

[9] See n.3..

[10] See n.3.

[11] See n.3.

[12] Petersen, Olmsted County will remain open to refugees, Post Bulletin (Dec. 7, 2019)

[13] See n.3.

[14] See n.3.

[15] Rapp, County to accept refugees if asked, Pope County Tribune (Jan. 13, 2019)

[15a] Vezner, Ramsey County votes to accept more refugees. It already accepts most in MN, TwinCities Pioneer Press (Jan. 14, 2020).

[16] See n.3.

[17] See n.3.

[18] See n.3.

[18a] Washington County votes to continue accepting refugees, RiverTowns.net (Jan. 14, 2020).

[19]  Anaya, Watonwan County provides consent to federal government for refugee resettlement, St. James Plaindealer (Jan. 10, 2010); Watonwan County Board, Agenda (Jan. 7, 2019).

[20]  See n.3.

[21] Rao, Minnesota counties continue to weigh refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 7, 2020); Rao & Galioto, Minnesota county votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 7, 2020).

[22] See n. 21; Slater, St. Louis County delays refugee resettlement vote to May, Duluth Tribune (Jan. 7, 2020).

[23] See n.3.

[24] Liedke, UPDATED: Beltrami County votes no to accepting refugees, Bemidji Pioneer (Jan. 7, 2020); Assoc. Press, Northern Minnesota County Bans Refugee Resettlement, N.Y. Times (Jan. 7, 2020); What people are saying about Beltrami County’s vote to refuse refugees, StarTribune (Jan. 8, 2020); Rao, Minnesota’s Beltrami County votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 8. 2020); Kelly, What people are saying about Beltrami County’s vote to refuse refugees, StarTribune (Jan. 8, 2020); Some residents say refugees would just make Beltrami County’s struggles worse, StarTribune (Jan. 11, 2020).

[25] Apparently Appomattox County in Virginia also has voted against such resettlement. See Rao, Minnesota’s Beltrami County votes against allowing refugee resettlement, StarTribune (Jan. 8. 2020).

[26] Schneider, Reflections from a Beltrami County businessperson, StarTribune (Jan. 15, 2020).

[27] Sacchetti & Morrison, North Dakota county accepted refugees, but the debate is far from over, Wash. Post (Jan. 8, 2020).