“Change doesn’t happen with the same voices at the table.”
So says Nelsie Yang, who is one of seven women recently elected to city council in St. Paul, Minnesota – making her part of an historic cohort. Indeed, the council is now entirely composed of women for the first time. St. Paul is believed to be one of the biggest cities in the country with an all-women city council, according to the Times – marking a moment that Yang described to The New York Times as “powerful” and “frankly, long overdue.”
She added: “This is the vision I had when I first started organizing.”
Yang and her six new colleagues – fellow incumbents Rebecca Noecker and Mitra Jalali, who is the council’s new president, as well as newcomers Anika Bowie, Cheniqua Johnson, Hwa Jeong Kim and Saura Jost – ran together to make their collective win happen. “That was so great, to have that support system,” Jost told the Times.
Their victory also heralds a new era of diversity for the governing body, as six of the seven council members are women of color. Their age is also a factor – all of them are under 40 years old. New voices, indeed. Noecker points to their ages as a refreshing change of pace, since “we don’t have this backlog or baggage of institutional memory holding us down.”
The traditionally Irish-Catholic city saw a demographic shift in its citizenship in the 1980s. But that change wouldn’t be reflected in its elected officials until the 1950s, when the first woman council member was elected.
But the milestones alone aren’t the point to the current council members. Rather, this group is excited about what they can do with their new energy and newfound power around ongoing local problems such as infrastructure concerns, homelessness, climate change and a widening wealth gap.
With a group involving seasoned lawmakers, educators and community organizers – and one civil engineer – they are optimistic about what they can achieve. “I’m really hoping for the chance to have much more refined policy conversations, and bring our community into this work in a new way,” Jalali added.
Or, as Bowie put it to the Times: “I’m excited to see how we dance together.”