Joel Sipress grew up with folk music in the house; his mother, Sydelle Sipress, was a huge fan. So the Duluth City Council president is treating it as an honor to perform "This Land is Your Land" on Friday at the People's Inaugural Event at Sacred Heart Music Center.
"That song matters a lot to me," he said. "This country belongs to all of us, and we need to all work together to make sure that it truly does belong to all of us."
The event is scheduled to start with a potluck supper at 5:30 and build from there. It will coincide with Friday's inauguration of the 45th president, Donald Trump, in Washington, D.C., with organizers lining up musicians, poets, inspirational speakers and scores of community groups and agencies for an evening of dancing and democracy. There won't be protesting, they say - only celebrating.
"There are people who wanted to be more political and they're doing things in Washington, D.C., for more of an agenda," said Virgil Boehland of Duluth Area Move To Amend, a group that is working to reverse the Citizens United decision that granted corporate personhood and has led to infusions of corporate money into campaigns for political office. "This is more of a community event not aimed at any party, but aimed at groups working together. It's not anti-anything, it's pro-community."
The centerpiece of the evening will come when attendees gather together as Sipress leads them in taking an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America as "members of the beloved community" - a reference oft used by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Despite recent criticism of the Duluth City Council for its political expressiveness, Sipress was unbowed in his conviction to lead an oath that will mimic the one taken by President-elect Trump. He acknowledged the fire the City Council came under for throwing its support behind ongoing pipeline protests started by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota, but said his participation in the People's Inaugural Event was a different animal.
"I'm doing this in my capacity as an individual city councilor, and I think it's appropriate," he said. "We as city councilors are asked to speak and share our views in a variety of community forums, and I thought this was an important one. That's why I'm doing it."
Organizer Jo Haberman said oath-takers will place their right hands on miniature copies of the Constitution or the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"These are people who are saying, 'We are going to work together for women's equality, against systemic racism, for the environment,' " she said. "People are feeling fearful our values will be attacked as we move forward. We need to draw closer together to make closer contact on these issues."
Haberman is a semi-retired community organizer who moved to Duluth a year ago with her partner. Prior to moving from the Twin Cities, they'd visited the North Shore often but ultimately fell for the people who she described as keen to the issues and active in their communities.
"I didn't expect the outcome of this election," she said, "but I look around and see that people are going to engage on these issues very actively and it means a great deal."
The goal of the People's Inaugural Event, Haberman explained, will be to strengthen ties between the people, groups and agencies that are focused on working to solve community issues and problems. Among the groups expected to attend are the NAACP, Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, Program for Aid to Victims of Sexual Assault, Duluth for Clean Water, the LGBT intergenerational community, Men as Peacemakers, Cross-Cultural Alliance of Duluth, Twin Ports Industrial Workers of the World and more.
Sheila Lamb is the associate director of the All Nations Indigenous Center in Duluth. She has led repeated supply caravans to Standing Rock and along the way developed a deep connection with the people at Peace United Church of Christ in Duluth.
"Initially it was like, 'Don't try to Christianize us,' " Lamb said of the alliance between Peace Church and the indigenous community. "But we looked at what we have in common and it has become a beautiful relationship."
Lamb said it's an example of the unity necessary in a Duluth community that has stewardship over Lake Superior and 10 percent of the earth's surface fresh water.
"Instead of going the whole anti-Trump thing," Lamb said, "this is about how we pull together as a community. It's supposed to be very upbeat and not feed into hate. We can have our differences and still have positive outcomes."
Boehland said he knew of a similar event being held in Winona, Minn. Others have popped up in places throughout Colorado. Through a social-media hashtag campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union is encouraging people to pledge an oath to protect the U.S. Constitution.
Lamb suggested the event is just another example of Duluth leading the way in its expressions of democracy.
"Invariably so many things that start out in Duluth end up becoming nationwide," she said, calling to mind the much-proliferated Duluth Model for domestic abuse intervention. "We've always been a leader."
The People's Inaugural Event
Sacred Heart Music Center, 201 W. 4th St. Duluth
Doors open at 5 p.m.; potluck supper at 5:30 p.m.; program at 6 p.m.
Music and inspiration featuring Sing!, the Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank, Terrance Smith, Buddy Robinson, Justin Anderson, Aaron Tank, DJ Path Annu, Duluth poet laureate Ellie Schoenfeld, NAACP chair Stephan Witherspoon and spoken word performances by Daniel Oyinloye and Sandra Gbeintor.