In Minneapolis, the Movement Heads for the Voting Booth

What I’ve said from the start of this campaign is that the reason that people took to the streets last year was because their voices aren’t heard,” said Sheila Nezhad, a 33-year-old community organizer running to be the next mayor of Minneapolis in the city’s first municipal elections since the murder of George Floyd.

The election on November 2 is poised to be the most consequential in a generation. The mayor’s office and all thirteen city council seats are open, and Nezhad leads a ticket that includes fellow Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed city council candidates Robin Wonsley-Worlobah, Aisha Chughtai, and Jason Chavez. They’re running to connect the nationwide movement against police violence with a broad agenda of economic justice: rent control and tenants protections, fair wages and labor rights, taxing the rich, and public housing investment.

“We’ve seen the failures of the political establishment, so we know that not only do we need progressives; we need progressives who have the analysis that capitalism will never meet our needs,” said Wonsley-Worlobah, a labor organizer with the statewide teacher’s union Education Minnesota and PhD student at the University of Minnesota, running in Ward 2.

Nezhad’s campaign slogan, “From the Streets to the Spreadsheets,” is a neat encapsulation of the inside-outside approach of the four candidates. It also reflects the challenge of trying to channel the city’s righteous discontent into a winning electoral agenda. Municipal elections have a historically low turnout, and the Minneapolis electorate typically skews older, whiter, and wealthier than the masses who filled the streets in 2020. In the homestretch of the campaign, they’ve racked up some high-profile endorsements: Wonsley-Worlobah recently held an online rally with socialist candidate for Buffalo mayor India Walton, while Nezhad and Chughtai both campaigned alongside Ilhan Omar.

Along with the candidates on this year’s ballot are three initiatives that could significantly realign power in the city. The first would consolidate governing power in the mayor’s office; the second would remake the Minneapolis Police Department into a Department of Public of Safety; and the third would authorize the council to enact Rent Control. The campaign season has been defined by the debate around question two, remaking policing in the city. It removes the minimum requirement for staffing and funding of a police department from the city charter, replacing it with a department wherein police would be joined by other unarmed emergency responders. Direction over the department would shift from the sole purview of the mayor to joint control with the council.

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