Grassroots DFL politics on a long Sunday in St Paul

I witnessed grassroots Minnesota politics today, and I was impressed.

On a glorious, sunny but cold Winter Sunday in the capital St Paul , 430 voting delegates and  hundreds of  supporters and activists in the St Paul Central High School  spent over seven hours of their Sunday eagerly debating the day’s issues and voting who would represent them in the state’s House of Representatives next session. They were all Democrats, members of Minnesota’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL), and in this solidly liberal Democratic district, 64B, they were sure to keep their representative in the House.

So when they chose Dave Pinto in the fourth and decisive round of voting, he will be their next representative. Pinto, a prosecutor with the Ramsey County attorney’s office and once a member of the Clinton White House, beat Greta Bergstrom (how Swedish can you get!) and winning over 60 percent of the vote against Bergstrom’s 38 percent, thereby officially securing the convention’s endorsement for the November election. In the first round,

435 delegates cast their ballots in the first round, and by the fourth round, almost all of them were still there, patiently making sure their vote was counted and showing their appreciation in standing ovations for the candidates as they conceded, one after the other in round after round.  Matt Freeman St Paul

Bergstrom, communications director for the progressive advocacy group TakeAction Minnesota, did surprisingly well. She handily beat the more famous Swedish American among the six candidates, young Matt Freeman, grandson of Orville Freeman, Minnesota’s governor between 1955 and 1961 and then Secretary of Agriculture in the Kenney and Johnson Administrations.  He died in 2003.

Matt Freeman, a graduate of Georgetown University, had recently managed St Paul mayor Chris Coleman’s victorious re-election campaign, He had lots of supporters in the packed gymnasium, among them his family, including his mother, grandmother, and father, Michael Freeman, who had been State Senator and who had twice run, unsuccessfully, for governor and who is now attorney in Hennepin County, the state’s most populous county.

Yes, tough loss today, admitted the father, after consoling his misty-eyed son. But there seemed to be a general sense in the gymnasium this long Sunday that young Matt has the future in front of him. There will be many more election campaigns, some, surely, victorious.

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A Scandinavian ski fest in the City of Lakes

Under Lake Street BridgeIt just didn’t get any more Scandinavian here in Minnesota than during this weekend in Minneapolis, at the City of Lake Loppet Festival – the urban cross country ski festival — with perfect winter weather, clear blue skies, a warming sun, deep snow, and with over 10,000 cross country skiers of all ages on perfectly groomed trails racing through the city, from park to park, from lake to lake, to the welcoming finish line at Lake Calhoun.

There, among all the spectators, former long-time Minneapolis mayor R.T Rybak and one of the founders of this over decade old tradition applauded the arrivals, whether they had just completed 10 kilometers or a marathon at 42 kilometers. Rybak, himself, started off the Luminary Loppet (by the way, “Loppet” is Swedish and means the race) on Saturday night on trails lightened by hundreds, if not thousands, of ice lanterns. The Luminary Loppet was sold out — 7,000 participants — one of 21 events, which included dog sledding, a snow sculpture contest, ice-bike racing, and more.

All funds from all the racing fees go to the non-profit Loppet Foundation’s youth activities, encouraging skiing and other outdoor activities among, so far, 6,500 children in the North Minneapolis schools.The Loppet Foundation

Luminary LoppetThe night was cold and all the stars were out night during the Luminary Loppet with ice lanterns showing the way as the thousands of skiers went around the lake, stopping now and then to taste the hot chocolate distributed by hundreds of volunteers by the warming bonfires on the frozen  Lake of the Isles.

It was all pretty special, especially for a Swede who grew up skiing in the old country and whose father lived and loved this sport more than anything — the best form of exercise in the world, he used to say.

Finish Line in City of Lakes LoppetI remember going with him to Swedish cross country championships and the World Championships in Falun way back in 1954, when it was minus 20 (Celsius) and a skier named Vladimir Kusin from the Soviet Union won two gold medals. My father skied until he was almost 90 years old, and my older brother successfully finished the classic 90 kilometer long Vasaloppet in Mora in Dalarna, the mecca of Swedish cross country skiing.

They would have loved this past weekend in Minneapolis just as much as I did. I only regret I didn’t bring my skis. Next year, maybe!

Today, 50 years ago, out in California…

Today, 50 years ago, I was walking from class up to the Student Union on the Stanford University campus, when a friend told me that he just heard a bad joke: President Kennedy had been shot.

“At the student union only minutes later, I understood that it had not been a joke. Kennedy had been shot, in Dallas, Texas. He had been gravely injured, and he died. Everything at the university stopped. Lectures were canceled. The big football game against the University of California was postponed. That Sunday we all went to church, and we cried.” 

About this, and about my first five years as an immigrant/student in California KLAS_Amaz_2K_1_during that tumultuous decade, I write in my book Land of Dreams: A Reporter’s Journey from Sweden to America, which is now out also in English, both as e-book and in print. The book was originally published in Sweden with the title “Amerika – drömmarnas land.”

The book is a personal and political retrospective on my many years in America, from those days in California to today’s Washington, DC.

If you are interested, you can check it out at http://www.amazon.com/Land-Dreams-Reporters-Journey-America/dp/1492809810/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385143222&sr=8-1&keywords=klas+bergman

The Minnesota Orchestra’s silence is not the Minnesota Way

As Finnish music director Osmo Vänskä leads the Minnesota Orchestra in three extra farewell concerts this weekend in Minneapolis, emotions ran high. The man who in ten years has made the orchestra a top orchestra resigned after a year-long conflict between the Board and the Orchestra with no music, only silence, as the result.

Here in Washington, DC, in these days of government shutdown, there is much talk of public trust, or lack of public trust in the government and in Congress. The public trusts the government to stay open, and, in Minnesota, the public trusts the orchestra to play. But the Minnesota Orchestra has not played for a year in a dispute over budget and salaries.

Many of you who read this blog may have noticed that I have been going to Minnesota quite a bit lately, looking for that state’s Scandinavian legacy, stemming from its hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Northern Europe. And I have found plenty of that legacy in its political leaders’ and its inhabitants’ pragmatism, common sense, civic spirit, willingness to compromise, and sense of responsibility to the public. That political legacy has been firmly established for decades, “part of Minnesota’s earth,” as one scholar put it.

But the Minnesota Orchestra’s silence shatters that picture. Minnesota’s former Republican Swedish-American Governor Arne Carlson – the epitome of Scandinavian pragmatism when he was governor — seems to have realized that. On his blog, he pleads for action — from the political leaders, from the whole community — writing that we cannot stand by “while our own world class symphony orchestra disintegrates.”

I understand that times are tough for the Minnesota Orchestra. But the whole issue seems to have been badly handled — not negotiating for months, locking out the musicians, witnessing one orchestra member after the other resigning and leaving a newly renovated Concert Hall empty and silent.

That year-long silence, just like the government shutdown in Washington, DC, is failing the public trust, and, I dare say, that’s not the Minnesota way – “the state that works!”

In continued search of Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy…

June is a good month for my continued search https://klasbergman.com/2013/03/20/in-search-of-minnesotas-scandinavian-legacy/ for the Scandinavian legacy in Minnesota… Maypole goes up at ASI …from the Danish Day at the Danish-American Center on the banks of the Mississippi, to the Scandinavian Folk Music Festival in little Nisswa up north where musicians from all of Scandinavia had gathered to play, to Midsommer celebration and the hoisting of Maypoles everywhere, at the American-Swedish Institute (ASI) in Minneapolis, at the Gammelgården Museum in Skandia, at nearby Lindstrom’s Nya Duvemåla, the replica of Karl Oskar’s and Kristina’s home from Vilhelm Moberg’s epic about the first Swedish immigrants to this uncannily Swedish landscape around the Chisago Lakes some miles north of the Twin Cities, and at Svenskarnas Dag, Minnesota’s classic Swedish heritage day, which this year was the 80th time that it was celebrated in Minneapolis’s Minnehaha Park.

National costumes and traditional fiddle music everywhere.  Fiddlers Paul Dahlin and his son Daniel, third and fourth generation Swedes, play their grandfather’s and great grandfather’s music from Rättvik at Lake Siljan as well as anyone, and, for someone like me, who spent every summer as a boy in Rättvik, tunes like Gärdebylåten and Gånglåt från Mockfjärd brought, if not tears to my eyes, strong memories…

There was traditional choir song by the ASI Male Chorus and the ASI Cloudberries, Svenskarnas Dag Girls’ Choir, and Flickorna Fem; Vasa Jr. Folk Dancers danced to old tunes,  and the national anthems, both Swedish and American, were part of the celebration, although most of crowd needed a printout of the text of their old anthem, while they belted out their new one, by heart.

And everywhere are those for whom the Swedish heritage seems to mean something special, spurring them to volunteering and action.

At Gammelgården in Skandia, the director Lynn Blomstrand Moratzka has helped built up quite an outdoor museum next to the Elim Lutheran Church’s Cemetery, where the names on the grave stones are Carlson, Mattson, Olson, Anderson, Edstrom, Lindgren, Holm, Peterson, Spjut, and on and on.

Girls's Choir at SkandiaAlice and John Mortenson at Nya Duvemåla

What would Nya Duvemåla be without John and Alice Mortenson, two eighty-year-olds, whose ancestors came over from Skåne and Värmland, and who now lovingly tend to the old homestead on Glader Boulevard with Glader Cemetery close by. It was established in 1855 as the first Lutheran cemetery in Minnesota and is the final resting place for Vilhelm Moberg’s fictional Karl Oskar and Kristina.

Or, for that matter, what would Svenskarnas Dag today be without Ted Noble and Dan Nelson, chair and vice chair for the big day that once drew tens of thousands to Minnehaha Park but now draws a considerably smaller, but no less, enthusiastic crowd. We are looking for a younger generation to take over to keep the legacy alive, but it’s not easy to find, says Ted Noble.

Claes Oldenburg – “the pop patriarch” – now at MoMa

I have to head up to New York soon to check out two exhibits opening today at MoMa, the Museum of Modern Art, with work by Claes Oldenburg, the”pop patriarch,” and a “pop master,” according to two recent articles in the New York Times.

Oldenburg, now 84 years old, has made New York his home since 1956, but he was born in Stockholm, Sweden and grew up in Chicago. Today, he is one of the most prominent living Swedish-Americans, and I love his work.

The two exhibits, ”The Street and the Store” and ”Mouse Museum/Ray Gun Wing,” are described under the headline, ”Window Shopping With a Pop Patriarch” and in an interview with the artist under the headline “Dark Roots of a Pop Master’s Sunshine,” Oldenburg says:

“It all sort of coalesced as the ’60s came. It was magical, when you think about it, because everything seemed to start all of a sudden.” With the election of John F. Kennedy “there was a feeling that the country was going to come to life.”

As to Oldenburg’s art and longevity, the paper writes:

“He’s not seeing America’s popular culture through the eyes of someone born deep inside it, the way Andy Warhol did as a poor kid from Pittsburgh. Rather, Mr. Oldenburg came at that culture as a bit of an outsider, with a European’s eyes, and always saw it as bigger than it was and more full of magic than such ordinary subjects had a right to be.”

In search of Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy…

Swedish writer and feminist activist Fredrika Bremer once wrote way back in the 1850s, “what a glorious new Scandinavia might not Minnesota become.”  Minnesota did become that new Scandinavia, with hundreds of thousands of Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish, and Icelandic immigrants settling here during many decades, up until 1930.

Still today, 32 percent of Minnesota’s 5.4 million inhabitants are of Scandinavian, or Nordic, descent, an important part of Minnesota’s legacy and an important part of modern Minnesota.

It’s still winter in the Upper Midwest, just south of the Canadian border, as I noticed during a recent visit, with piles of  graying snow along the roads and icy sidewalks. The air bites, and as in my boyhood’s Stockholm by this time of the year, everyone longs for spring.

The Twin Cities — Minneapolis and St Paul – do not look much like Stockholm between Lake Mälaren and the Baltic Sea, although the Mississippi River meanders impressively through the two cities. The prominent New York City restaurant “Aquavit” opened here a decade or so ago, but had to close a few years later. Last year, “The Bachelor Farmer” opened and, according to the New York Times, “has given Scandinavian food a much needed adrenaline shot.”

It’s a nice, modern, friendly place, and difficult to get a table. It seems that Minnesotans like what  they serve, although I couldn’t find much that resembled traditional Swedish cuisine, like gravlax, herring, meatballs, or even the wonderful Västerbotten cheese.

American Swedish InstituteFor that, one has to go to “Fika” — the modern restaurant in the American Swedish Institute’s (ASI) splendid new wing, the Nelson Cultural Center, which opened last year. It sits next to the classic mansion that Swedish newspaper publisher Swan Turnblad donated in 1929 and what eventually became the American Swedish Institute.

What a sight it now is, dominating Park Avenue in the middle of Minneapolis!  None of the other Nordics have anything similar, and ASI director Bruce Karstadt is rightly proud and excited about his institute’s future.

In the search for Minnesota’s Scandinavian legacy, Scandinavian Studies programs are alive and well at several universities like Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, St. Olaf College in Northfield, and the gigantic University of Minnesota in the middle of the Twin Cities. Swedish language classes seem to thrive and the students’ knowledge of Swedish was impressive.

But maybe the most impressive proof of Minnesota’s Scandinavian heritage one finds at the gorgeous State Capitol in St Paul, designed by the prominent architect Cass Gilbert. The front of the Capitol is dominated by three statues of former governors, Knute Nelson, born in Norway, Swedish-American John A. Johnson, and Floyd B. Olson (photo), the legendary Norwegian/Swedish-American, who led Minnesota during the Depression, but who died young, just as he was about to achieve national prominence.Floyd B. Olson

And inside, the halls of the Capitol are filled with the portraits of previous governors —  John Lind and Adolph O. Eberhart, both born in Sweden, and of a long series of Norwegian-, Swedish-, and Danish-Americans by the name of Anderson, Andersen, Benson, Burnquist, Christianson, Rolvaag, Petersen,  and Arne Carlson — between 1991 and 1999.

After Carlson, Minnesota has been led by Jesse Ventura, Tim Pawlenty, and, now, Mark Dayton – none of them Scandinavians.  An end of an era, or?