Minneapolis activists aim to take over their city council
MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Facebook page.

MINNEAPOLIS — As the Labor Day holiday approaches, progressive candidates for Minneapolis city offices begin the last two months of campaigning in their effort to capture a majority on the 13-member city council and win the mayor’s office. The 2017 election caps off a multi-year upsurge in local struggles going back to the capitalist economic crisis of 2008 which precipitated the fight against home foreclosures and unemployment.

Struggles against police brutality and mass incarceration reached new levels of militancy with the founding of a local Black Lives Matter chapter. Immigrant workers with Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en Lucha, (CTUL) played a key role in winning the three-year long struggle for $15 minimum wage and paid sick and leave time.

Each of these struggles has raised expectations, recruited more activists and leveled more militant demands on city government. And in this election, activists from each of these groups are running for city council seats and for mayor. Not since the late 1960’s and early 1970s has such political motion been in play.

At Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) caucuses held in April, establishment incumbents were challenged in nearly each of the 13 wards, denying all but one DFL endorsement. The result in November could be the most progressive and most representative city council of any in the city’s history.

The council currently has no African-American members though they comprise 20 percent of the population. It is possible three could be elected from the 13 wards. This year’s broader representation also includes candidates active in the LGBTQ rights movement.

In the city’s third ward, Socialist Alternative candidate, Ginger Jentzen, the former director of the $15Now Campaign, raised $60,000 running under the party’s name. She has been endorsed by the Minnesota Nurses Association, United Transportation Union and the state council of the Communications Workers of America (CWA).

In the same ward, Samantha Pree-Stinson, an African American and former U.S. Army veteran is running with Green Party endorsement. She brings the expertise and activism characteristic of challengers across the wards. She is also endorsed by the city Firefighters Local 82.

Another activist group playing a leading role in this election, is Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), a black-led organization is the city’s two Northside wards. NOC fields a highly skilled group of organizers and provides strategic and programmatic leadership in reforming city government and law enforcement. This election they are holding candidate forums and screening and endorsing candidates.

At a recent NOC forum in the Fourth Ward, candidates running against perhaps the most conservative DFL incumbent, responded to community organizations and audience questions. Emblematic of their militancy and commitment was a remark by candidate, Marcus Harcus, on police brutality and profiling: “Once I get into the city council, I am not trying to reform the police department, I am trying to radically reconstruct it.”

Another candidate, Stephanie Gasca, who is also Communications Director for CTUL, captured the political revolution represented by this year’s numerous activist-candidates. “We’re on the ground. We’re doing this work. We’re passing policy. We deserve to lead and be the decision-makers as well.”

The three main contenders for mayor each received about 33 percent the votes at the city DFL conventions in July. All entered the general election along with several independent candidates. The most well-known is Nekima Levy-Pound, a leader of BLM, a former law professor and a national spokesperson on racist policing practices and criminal justice reform. However, the race will come down to one of the three leading DFL candidates, which includes the incumbent mayor Betsy Hodges. Four years ago, progressives supported Hodges, but many became disappointed with her leadership.

Another sign of this activist electoral upsurge, is the role of the local affiliate of Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution (OR). OR was instrumental in winning DFL endorsement of progressive candidates for the Park Board. As of this writing, it appears the progressive challengers should win a solid majority on the nine-member board.

Of significance is the working relationship between an African-American candidate, Londel French, with deep roots in the community and progressive white candidates. Should these candidates succeed, equity in hiring and in investing in children’s development will be at the top of the agenda of the new board.


Wayne Nealis
Wayne Nealis

Wayne Nealis is a left political activist and writer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, focusing on communications and strategies for social change. He was a toolmaker and union activist in a Minnesota industrial union. Nealis earned a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota and practiced journalism and public and media relations.