WORTHINGTON — A coalition of community organizations facilitated weekend canvassing efforts in advance of Tuesday's Independent School District 518 referendum, and four Minnesota state representatives came to encourage the advocates and lend their support.
"We have to support each other, because there aren't that many of us," said Aida Simon. She explained that Unidos Minnesota, Seeds of Justice and Education Minnesota collaborated to organize community outreach efforts.
The cafeteria at St. Mary's Church became a phone bank filled with people calling potential "yes" voters and asking for their support. Other concerned community members dispersed into Worthington's residential neighborhoods and knocked on doors, reaching out to people and making sure they knew when, where and how to vote.
Many of the advocates weren't old enough to vote themselves.
High school students Eugenio Lopez and Adiyam Gebremedhin explained that they see the need for additional school space firsthand every day.
"Our schools are very crowded, especially the high school," said Gebremedhin.
"I call the stairs I-35, because that's exactly how it is," added Lopez.
Canvassers were joined by prominent community leaders, such as Lori Dudley from the ISD 518 school board, 2018 candidate for Minnesota House of Representatives Cheniqua Johnson and Mike Potter, UFCW Local 663 Director of Packing.
Difficulties passing a school referendum have drawn statewide attention to Worthington. Four members of the Minnesota House of Representatives visited Worthington Saturday to visit with those concerned about the referendum and add their own voices to the throng.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, addressed the crowd of young canvassers and told them that he envisions Minnesota as "a state built on everybody mattering and counting." He promised to advocate for education across the state.
Winkler related the success seen by grassroots efforts that got the Freedom to Drive Act passed in the House last legislative session.
"It only happened because a whole bunch of people from a whole bunch of places worked together," he said. "That's the best of politics. That's the best of democracy."
Reps. Fue Lee (DFL-Minneapolis), Aisha Gomez (DFL-Minneapolis) and Jay Xiong (DFL-St. Paul) also encouraged the young crowd and thanked them for their time and work.
Winkler added that Worthington's referendum is much bigger than Worthington itself, but is actually a reflection of a global friction — "the question of new people coming into a community and bringing vitality and growth creates challenges, too," he noted.
"People are looking for examples of places where this can work," Winkler said. He added that Worthington is one such place, and the diversity and inclusion exhibited here will inspire solutions to many of the concerns raised by human migration.
The group spent the morning and afternoon contacting voters in person and over the phone to invite people to vote "yes" on the referendum. They were to conduct a texting campaign beginning at noon Sunday from Phileo's. Canvassing efforts will continue Monday and Tuesday as long as polls are still open.