By Felicia Roehm
History was made in St. Paul, Minnesota, on Jan. 9 when the new city council was sworn in with all seven members being women and six of the seven being people of color. They are all under the age of 40, and some of the issues the women advocate for are affordable housing, access to child care and the climate crisis.
The council’s new president, Mitra Jalali, was a former social studies teacher and organizer of policy aide. She has served as a council member for the past four years and was the first Iranian-American to be elected into the city council in 2018. She is prioritizing economic development, sustainability, public safety and homeownership. In an article by the New York Times, Jalali said: “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.”
Council member Rebecca Noecker, first elected in 2015, was the first woman to be elected into the city council for Ward 2, which spans the center St. Paul. Noecker graduated from Harvard University and was previously a middle school science teacher. Noecker prioritizes equity, economic development and creating opportunities for young people. In the New York Times article, she explains that at 39 years old she is a “senior stateswoman” which she shares is a good thing because, “that means we don’t have this backlog or baggage of institutional memory holding us down.”
Ward 6 council member Nelsie Yang has been a community organizer since 2015, and in 2019 became the first Hmong-American woman to be elected into the city council. In 1989, her parents came to America where they raised Yang as well as her four other siblings. She faced many struggles growing up, especially with economic stress, but she has used those experiences as a way to keep herself motivated. Yang prioritizes issues like sexism, racism and classism and has worked with organizations such as Take Action Minnesota and Hmong Americans for Justice.
Yang shares that she is thrilled about the all-women council in the New York Times article and said, “this is the vision I had when I first started organizing eight years ago. Change doesn’t happen with the same voices at the table.”
There are four newcomers to the council, the first being Anika Bowie. Bowie is a lifelong resident of St. Paul and a serial entrepreneur, a community organizer and a passionate advocate for improving people’s lives through leadership and civic engagement. She is a graduate from Hamline University and has lived through homelessness, losing a loved one and trying to navigate the justice system while facing racism and sexism.
She is devoted to treating everyone equally no matter their race, religion, gender or economic status. She believes the difficulties that she has faced has made her a strong and compassionate leader. Bowie explains that for the all-women council she is “excited to see how we dance together,” and although there may be arguments she hopes they are “righteous fights.”
Newcomer Cheniqua Johnson has worked in politics for the past decade and has worked directly at every level of government in St. Paul. She is a graduate from University of Minnesota with a degree in family social science and is a former congressional staffer for current Attorney General Keith Ellison. Johnson is dedicated to finding safe and stable homes for everyone as well as public safety. She has helped raise over $2 million to improve health and wellness in her community.
On her website Johnson said, “Grounded in the values instilled in me by my family, I’ve dedicated my life to organizing and advocating to build a better Minnesota. I’ll consistently work to ensure no family has to choose between having a nutritious meal or a roof over their heads.”