PUC’s Jovita Morales on the long fight to get Driver’s Licenses for All

Jovita holding a mic at an event.

Jovita Francisco Morales, an Indigenous Mazahua immigrant from Mexico, has organized Latine community members out of our Waite House Community Center in East Phillips for more than 15 years. “Waite House is kind of like my house. So much is accessible here,” she said.  

After years of fighting, she was one of the leading forces that secured Driver’s Licenses for All in Minnesota during this year’s legislative session. At the end of March and the end of a sabbatical she took to focus on advocacy for the Driver’s Licenses bill with her organization Minnesota Immigrant Movement, she spoke with the Pillsbury United communications team about that recent victory, food access as an organizing tool, and the power of Indigenous women. 

Tell us about your relationship with Pillsbury United. How long have you worked here?
I started volunteering in 2002. In 2005, I started work as a regular employee at Waite House. My first job was smoking cessation work. Then I worked at the front desk as a receptionist. Then I worked in the food shelf. And then I started community organizing during our produce giveaway. 60-100 people were showing up to presentations on produce day. We [eventually] organized those people to fight for municipal IDs and Driver’s Licenses for All. It became statewide.  

Why have driver’s licenses for all Minnesotans regardless of immigration status been such an important issue to you?
I have been working for so many years at Waite House, and I see community every single day that is in need of food. To have no hunger in the community, we have to look at the policy that makes people vulnerable. Having licenses will let people work; they will have money to bring food to their tables and there will be less trauma; this has caused trauma for 20 years.  The system has forced people to take risks and made it hard to take care of themselves by removing their right to a license. There’s a lot you can do with a state ID, like rent housing. The economy will be better because of this. 

You’ve been a leader in the movement since the beginning. How did you get involved?
From 2008-2009, collective tables began to form to lead this initiative. At Waite House, we started as Latinas Creativas which became Mujeres en Liderazga and then Mesa Latina, and then Minnesota Immigrant Movement. We wanted Waite House to do training and development to do something in community. That led us to develop the Driver’s Licenses for All bill and to work on getting municipal IDs in the City of Minneapolis, beginning in 2009. 

Tell us about the process of working for more than ten years to get the bill passed.
We asked many legislators to carry our bill in the beginning and they said no, but former Representative Karen Clark said yes right away. She recommended Scott Dibble in the Senate who passed it to Bobby Joe Champion. Clark and Champion became our fighters. Our first bill was introduced in the state of MN in 2010. We weren’t successful. In 2012, the bill passed the Senate but not the House. Then we passed it three times in the Senate but not in the House. We did work all over the state promoting the need for it. We had so many meetings. We did hunger strikes twice. We were camping every legislative session outside of the Capitol. The weather was so cold. We were also sleeping inside the Capitol at times. Governor Dayton said he wouldn’t support the bill, so we went to all his election events. We did a lot of rallies and marches. At one point Republican Rod Hamilton became the house author. He tried to bring other members, but he couldn’t. Finally, Senator Zaynab Mohamed and Representative Aisha Gomez carried it in the end joined by Senator Bobby Joe Champion and Representative Maria Isa Perez Vega. Most of the work being done was women. We started with women and ended with women. 

Tell us more about the work and power of women in this movement.
I come from an Indigenous community where machismo is still there, adopted from colonialism. Women were minimized and forced to do things. This movement proves that women can do so much, even without degrees. I didn’t have the opportunity to finish high school or go to college but have built so much political connection and power. This movement shows the resources we have—they come from the grassroots community members. When you work with your heart, everything you harvest will be love. 

Now that the law is passed, there’s still quite a bit of work to be done to implement it. What is that looking like?
This month we’ve re-visited ten cities around Minnesota doing education and consciousness work. We’re telling people we won; showing them that this is what happens when you don’t give up and you resist. We talk about what the law means, the story of how we got here, and then the bill itself. We want to prepare people to meet the requirements to get a license. We’re talking about responsibility and driving safely. We want people to take care of Minnesota like they’re taking care of their own lives. 

Do you have other dreams for Minnesota? What are they?
If I had more money, I’d create more programs, especially housing. Especially in rural MN, we can do a lot to use the food system to organize people and change policy. I also want to see paternalistic systems dismantled. If we say we want justice for everybody, or if we say we want to empower community, what does that really mean to us? My experience is that organizations minimize us or take credit for the work that community has done. How do we recognize all the good work without territorialism?  

What are your dreams personally and professionally?
I have been asking myself that. One of my dreams is just to be happy and see people happy. When you see a family that has a lot of love, it’s partly because they are ok. Better jobs and better housing create love and harmony in the family. Need gets in the way of love. We have to share resources and remove barriers in order to live equitably. 

A consequential election on November 2

Billboard for voter outreach campaign with Pollen and Sahan Journal

By Kenzie O’Keefe, Policy & Advocacy Director

For roughly a year and a half, Minneapolis has reeled from a global pandemic and global uprising after the murder of George Floyd by our police department. Homelessness, hopelessness, poverty, and violent crime have surged. There is beauty and resilience in community, but these have been trying times.

On November 2, Minneapolis voters will have their first opportunity to let their opinions be known on how they think our elected officials have led us during this time of multi-dimensional crisis.

Here at Pillsbury United, we’re working hard to raise awareness for the upcoming election, where all city council and mayoral seats are up for grabs and three consequential questions—about power in City Hall, the future of public safety, and rent control—are on the ballot. There is too much at stake to sit this one out.

Here are some of the ways you can join us in driving turnout and informing voters:

  • Read and share our voting guide created by our policy team, Pollen Midwest, and the Sahan Journal. Follow us all on social media and reshare our beautiful #MplsIsUs campaign.
  • Read the latest edition of North News to learn about the three questions on this year’s ballot.
  • Hear from candidates for city seats on “Power Perspectives,” a new show on KRSM Radio hosted by our community storyteller ShaVunda Brown and KRSM station manager Andrea Pierre. It airs Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9-10 a.m.
  • Sign up for a non-partisan phone-banking shift with us, organized by our partner CAPI USA. No experience is necessary. Training takes place at the beginning of each shift.
  • If you’re hosting an outdoor event in Minneapolis between now and November 2, our election outreach specialists (who speak Somali, Spanish, and English) are available to table and help folks make a safe plan to vote. Email ShaVundaB@pillsburyunited.org with inquiries.
  • Donate to Pillsbury United to support our GOTV efforts here.

Pillsbury United will be closed on election day so our staff can take time to vote and assist their neighbors in voting. We hope you also have the time and space to do your research and express your desires for the future on this year’s ballot.

If you have questions, we’re here for you. You can reach me directly at KenzieO@pillsburyunited.org.

Where we go from here

Mural at George Floyd Square. Photo by Lorie Shaull

On Tuesday, 12 jurors cracked open the window of justice. And we see a little light.

To be clear, the verdict in George Floyd’s murder should never have been in doubt. But we had reason for pessimism. Only rarely do police-involved killings of Black, Brown and Indigenous people even make it to the doorstep of our courts. When they do, officers are almost never held accountable—even for the most abhorrent abuses of power.

Floyd’s murder is part of a chilling pattern where policing in communities of color leads to senseless death again and again. Our hearts are already heavy this week as 20-year-old Daunte Wright, another unarmed Black man killed by local police in Minnesota, is laid to rest. Again a family and community mourns. Again we hear pleas for justice and vows for change. Again we have reason to doubt justice will ever be served.
What will it take before we say as a state, enough is enough?

Right after George Floyd’s death, our state’s leaders stood up to declare that Black Lives Matter. A year later, we’re fighting for more than a hashtag. You can help us move lawmakers into action. We can’t wait for another tragedy before we act.

The Minnesota House has taken the courageous step with a public safety omnibus bill that builds on last year’s Minnesota Police Accountability Act. This slate of common-sense measures holds officers accountable for harmful actions and unties the hands of police chiefs in protecting life.

Stand with us in calling on Minnesota state legislators and Governor Walz to take immediate and decisive action on the following items:

  • HF1104: End qualified immunity. Help survivors of brutality or harassment by law enforcement get relief in the courts by ending qualified immunity for police officers.
  • HF1103: Rules on body cameras. Prohibit law enforcement from tampering with body camera footage of a deadly force incident and require footage to be released to family and representative within 48 hours.
  • HF640: Establish civilian oversight. Remove the current state law prohibiting citizen-led councils from imposing discipline on law enforcement officers.
  • HF593: Exclude white supremacists from police ranks. Change the Peace Officer Code of Conduct to prohibit anyone on the force from affiliating with, supporting, or advocating for white supremacist or other extremist groups.
  • HF1374: Track misconduct. Require police chiefs to report officer misconduct and help to identify officers with harmful patterns of behavior.
  • HF-107B: Limit Traffic Stops. Limit authority for police officers to stop or detain drivers for certain vehicle equipment violations.

We encourage you to reach out to lawmakers to express your support for these important acts of legislation: 

We see the light of change peeking through. With your vocal support, Minnesota can throw the window wide open.

(Photo credit: Lorie Shaull)

Introducing a policy platform for justice

A young person from Waite House attending the State Capitol

By Kenzie O’Keefe, Policy & Advocacy Director

If the catastrophes of 2020 (and now 2021) have taught us one lesson, it’s that dramatic, uncompromising structural change cannot wait a moment longer.

We need public policy that meets this moment. We need true, comprehensive healthcare, housing, healing, and justice for all. Now is the time for courage.

As a historically human services focused agency, Pillsbury United Communities is no longer content to influence public policy from the sidelines. We are entering into the new year with a brand new public policy agenda—the first of its kind for our organization. We are getting to work shaping public policy and government budgets to bring about the change our systemically oppressed communities have long deserved and been denied.

Our agenda is the product of over 100 conversations with our community members: our leadership, managers, frontline staff, program participants, clients, neighbors, and professional peers in the work. Our goal was to center community need, wisdom, love, and imagination in this roadmap for our governmental advocacy work.

Highlights of our 2021-22 commitments include:

  • Expanding access to affordable, culturally relevant models of holistic healthcare through the emerging field of community health workers, driving toward universal healthcare as an end result.
  • Increasing funding for culturally relevant, community-based programs and out of school time youth programming
  • Promoting equitable neighborhood development while protecting legacy residents with anti-gentrification measures
  • Tracking toward true public safety for all
  • Ensuring artists and the creative economy are economically stable
  • Dismantling the racial opportunity gap and incentivizing innovation in our public education system

Additionally, we commit to being anti-racist in our work, something we do humbly as a legacy institution that has at times been complicit in propping up the inequitable systems that we are trying to change through policy. We intend to be champions of shared power, advocating for policy that originates from, is co-designed by, and is evaluated after implementation by the communities it affects most.

In addition to our policy platform priorities, we’ve created a working document that details the specific ordinances, bills, and other policy items we are leading on, supporting, and endorsing at every level of government. This chart will be organically populated as opportunities arise and diminish. We invite you to reach out if there are items you’d like to see added or adjusted or items you’d like to fight alongside us to achieve.

Follow along with our work and sign up for email updates at pillsburyunited.org/policy.

View the full policy platform document (.pdf).