It has been nearly a year since the tragic murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. The event sparked the most powerful protests against racial injustice in recent history. Tragedy has transformed our country before, and this would not be the exception.
Last summer, Indira Sheumaker and her sister joined the protests in Des Moines. Indira recalled advice given to them by established leaders.
“They were telling us that we were not doing it the right way (protesting). They wanted us to work with the institutions in order to change them, so I did both,” she said. “Together with my sister, I started organizing with Des Moines Black Liberation Movement and Des Moines People’s Town Hall.”
Their work included planning direct actions, events and organizing around city council meetings, reading through their agendas and sharing them with others. Additionally, they organized to bring people to meetings and talk about issues that the community was seeing.
Sheumaker felt that the city council members were not interested in the Democratic processes and hearing from constituents.
“I immediately wanted to find a way to build in structures to ensure that people are able to reach the city council members and have a say in the decisions made by the city. I then found the process of people’s councils, with what I decided to run officially in December and we’ve been organizing since then,” she said.
Indira is 26 and has lived in Ward 1, which covers the northwest side of Des Moines, all her life. She decided to run for city council against third-term member Bill Gray for the November 2 election later this year.
Local elections have historically low voter turnout. It is said that voters may think local elections are less important than the state and federal elections, yet city government and its elected officials are the most impactful in daily life.
I asked Indira about her plans to increase voter participation.
“We will take a less traditional strategy and reach out to underrepresented communities,” she replied. “Ward 1 is very diverse and there are a lot of people that are just ignored and kept out of these spaces. We are actively trying to reach new voters, immigrant and refugee communities, underrepresented communities, and other individuals who continue to be ignored. We want to bring polling places back to these communities and do outreach to get absentee ballot requests in people’s hands.”
When it comes to her priorities, Indira shared the following:
Strong Communities Make Police Obsolete: “Indira supports investing in policies that address harm and strengthen communities rather than attempting to solve problems with criminalization. We must defund the police for safety and justice.”
Sheumaker and activists are pressuring city government to take action, but there is a great deal of resistance to do so. I asked Indira to expand on the meaning of the term that stirs much controversy: defund.
“Defunding the police is largely misunderstood as getting rid of public safety, which is not,” she replied.” What we want to do is take away services, power and funding from the police and build up communities to be able to handle everyday problems themselves. This is desperately needed because the police budget is literally bankrupting the city.”
Housing & Neighborhoods; From Surviving to Thriving: “Indira is committed to building communities that can grow and thrive by occupying unused housing and eliminating urban food deserts. Accessible food and housing builds stable communities.”
“We need to make sure we are meeting the need of the community and not forcing them to leave their neighborhoods to find quality food. There are too many urban food deserts in Des Moines such as much of Riverbend,” said Indira.
Healthy Infrastructure for Sustainable Future: “Des Moines must invest in public transit and the municipalization of utilities to build public infrastructure that makes our lives easier and safer. Municipal utilities are cheaper and faster.”
A People’s Government Against Corporate Greed: “The city government prioritizes corporate interests and those with money. Indira will build a government that gives decision-making power to the people. Redirect power, redistribute funds.”
Community engagement takes time and dedication, and Indira told me she wants to build dual power for the people of Des Moines to be able to organize and come together and go to their city council person.
“With this system you have a large chunk of the ward saying this is what we want, so then the council person can’t sit there and say they are speaking for the people of Ward 1 if you are ignoring the organization of people that are doing that,” she noted.
The campaign has gotten off to a good start with over 200 volunteers and over $8,000 raised, yet Indira said this is not just about a campaign that concludes in November. Sheumaker and her supporters are organizing to completely restructure the city and to ensure that people have a say in the decisions that affect them.
“I am asking for your support, but more importantly, I am asking people to join the work and continue to be involved well past Election Day. This movement is about ensuring that we all have a say in our city,” she said.
It is exciting to see new generations taking leadership in the government; it is even more exciting to see young women of color getting involved, fighting for justice, and taking an active role.
It is comforting to see that George Floyd’s life left a legacy and a desire to serve, it has planted the seeds of hope, new ideas and new leaders.
by Claudia Thrane
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