The Power of Participation

[Originally published with Twin Cities Daily Planet]

Historic victories for candidates of color shook up the Twin Cities political establishment on Tuesday night. While St. Paul elected Melvin Carter as its first Black mayor, three candidates of color – two of whom are transgender, none of whom have ever held public office – will ascend to the Minneapolis City Council dais in January, joining incumbents of color Alondra Cano and Abdi Warsame. Andrea Jenkins in Ward 8, Jeremiah Ellison in Ward 5 and Phillipe Cunningham in Ward 4 are bringing a new face to the Minneapolis City Council.

Voter turnout throughout Minneapolis was the highest it’s been in two decades, with no exception for Wards 4, 5 and 8. These results are especially meaningful in North Minneapolis Wards 4 and 5, which are home to a higher concentration of historically disenfranchised would-be voters than elsewhere in the city, and which have in years past seen significantly lower voter turnouts than the rest of Minneapolis.

On Election Night after polls closed, Ellison paraphrased the author and MIT professor Junot Díaz in explaining why this election may have been different from years past. “Vampires do not have a reflection in a mirror,” he began. “[Díaz] said that if you want to make a community feel they are like monsters, deny them at a cultural level any reflections of themselves. I would add, if you want to make a community feel like monsters then deny them at the political level any reflection of themselves. This campaign was about placing a couple of mirrors in this community so that people can see that they can govern, that they can lead, that they know what they deserve.”

If politicians can indeed serve as mirrors for the populations they govern, then perhaps the victories and higher turnout in North Minneapolis reflects a population more empowered to vote because they see themselves represented in the candidates who ran this year.

More than 42 percent of Minneapolis showed up at the polls for the 2017 elections.

Yard signs in North Minneapolis Ward 5 speak to the neighborhood’s engagement in local elections, which like most wards throughout the Twin Cities, showed an increase in voter turnout from years past.

An election judge at the Loring Community School in Ward 4 gives out “I Voted” stickers to voters after they submit their ballots.

Ward 4 voter Bernard Walters, age 65, explains that he feels he has a “civic duty” to vote. “During the post-slavery days,” he explains, “you’d have to get three or four black men to agree on one candidate to have a vote. And besides, we’re still under the voting rights act of 1964. Black people are lucky to even be able to vote now! They still have to vote in Congress for us to continue to vote.”

An election judge in Ward 4 explains Minneapolis’s rank choice system, which allows voters to rank their first, second, and third choice candidates rather than voting only selecting one candidate per position. People’s first choice votes are tallied first. If no candidate wins over 50 percent of these votes, candidates with insufficient first choice votes are eliminated from the race. Votes for eliminated candidates are then reallocated to those voters’ second choice candidates. This continues until one candidate has the majority of total votes, or until only two candidates remain. In the latter case, the candidate with more votes wins.

Ward 5, Precinct 2 residents case their ballots on the second floor of the North Regional Library while library operations continue on the main floor.

Residents of Ward 12, Precinct 2 line up to vote at Howe Elementary School after waiting for more ballots to be delivered. This precinct was one of several that ran out of ballots towards the end of the night. Election judge Chad Horsley noted, “When I first started here four elections ago, we had a full box of ballots leftover. This year we ran out a half hour before we finished. We started with 1,100 ballots. There are 2,503 registered voters in this precinct, so [those 1,100 votes] don’t even include those who voted early or absentee.

Phillipe Cunningham and his supporters anxiously await the results of the Ward 4 City Council race – a close contest between Cunningham and the incumbent Barb Johnson. Although some races were won that night, Ward 4 and several others had to be determined Wednesday by looking at the second and third choices of voters whose first choice candidates had been eliminated from the race.

Jeremiah Ellison, Ward 5 City Council candidate, thanks supporters at his campaign party after preliminary results showed him coming out ahead in the race against incumbent Blong Yang.

Jeremiah Ellison’s supporters and campaign staff celebrate his almost certain victory at his campaign party, hosted at the New Rules coworking space in North Minneapolis.


Work Published: Progressive Magazine

I photographed last weekend’s Pipeline Fighter Summit and March to Give Keystone XL the Boot in Lincoln, Nebraska for Progressive Magazine. You can see the photo essay on their website or below:

Indigenous Environmental Network organizer Joye Braun from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, wearing an Oceti Sakowin shirt from her many months at the Standing Rock camps, waits to speak at the Pipeline Fighter Summit in Lincoln, Nebraska on Sunday, August 6. Braun, like many of the other speakers at the summit, called on attendees to stand up against TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which awaits final approval pending public hearings this week before the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

Horseback riders from the Kickapoo Nation lead the March to Give Keystone XL the Boot, which began and ended at the Nebraska State Capitol following that morning’s Pipeline Fighter Summit. Both the summit and the march had a diverse crowd of attendees, including farmers and ranchers, native tribal leaders, representatives of environmental groups such as 350.org and Sierra Club, and busloads of activists from other Midwestern states.

More than 500 people from across the country showed up to march on the eve of a weeklong public hearing before the Nebraska Public Service Commission, meant to determine if the once-dead Keystone XL project serves the public interest. At a rally beforehand, John Crabtree, a campaign representative with Sierra Club, said “the only people who would benefit from this pipeline being built are oil executives in Canada, while Nebraskans would face the daily threat of a devastating tar sands spill.”

An onlooker watches the march pass from inside the Bennett Martin Public Library.

An onlooker watches the march pass from inside the Bennett Martin Public Library.




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