My name is Abu Nayeem and I’m running for Saint Paul city council election for Ward 1. I’m a Frogtown resident, renter, programmer, community activist, educator, and local superhero (more on this later!). I have a masters of science degree in Agricultural & Resource Economics from UC Berkeley. I’m the former Education Data Analyst for South Washington County Schools, former boardmember of District Planning Council 7, and founder of the Saint Paul Open Data Initiative. You can view my data reports here. Also I encourage you to check out my report on the inequities of our local election and the solutions. Also please feel free to check out by campaign lit.
Why am I running for city council?
I’m running for office, primarily, because I’m tired of politicians using poverty as an excuse to not reach out to disenfranchised communities. These people have been systematically ignored by our local government leading to disillusionment and alienation. Our leaders ‘value’ diversity without understanding the major barriers to language, access to resources, and lack of community cohesion experienced by residents. In my campaign, I have prioritized doorknocking in these under-represented communities to learn about their personal stories and learn about the character of their neighborhoods. Even though this may not substantiate many votes for my campaign, it is important for residents to know, “You matter!”
Unlike other candidates, I’m running both as an activist & candidate, which means I want to address community issues, inform, and empower community members, while actively campaigning i.e. the “vehicle for change”. Our local institutions does not prioritize in improving the quality of life of residents, which involves:
- Residents fostering relationships/friendships between each other, so they feel belonged and loved.
- Creating a sense of belonging in the community, so they have community pride.
- Simplify access to civic engagement, so people’s voices can be heard.
- Address community safety (with residents playing a more active role), so children can play outside.
To achieve the criteria above, we need to first upgrade civic engagement to the modern digital age. Why are we still using centuries-old technology for civic engagement!? My goal is to make policy decisions more accessible and increase public engagement by creating the digital tools for community members to access information and communicate with each other. I want community members to advocate for themselves rather than me speaking on their behalf, and even be self-sufficient/independent in meeting their needs; i.e. community based solutions. To achieve this, we need to:
- Design the tool to be versatile and appeal to ALL people including youth;
- Have opportunities for people to connect on hobbies, and other interests beside politics;
- Embed democratic community structures where resident can take turns being leaders and followers;
- Create a community dashboard, displaying the collective efforts and needs of the community in real-time
To assure institutional/organizational success, we need to hold our local institutions accountable, i.e. district planning councils. Currently, the district planning council are awarded $1.4 million of taxpayers money specifically for the community engagement fund, and yet are they doing their job in engaging the community? You can read my take on the district planning councils here
My bold vision is laying down the foundation for communities to flourish, so they can build capacity and resiliency, which makes them less reliant on any single person/organization. This process will take time, and will look different for each community. There will be “growing pains” for residents learning how to communicate with each other, and opening up to people different than them. Disenfranchised people have organized in the past before, often standing up against specific injustices. In this case, we will be organizing for a compassionate society, and standing up for ALL injustices.
Finally, I’m running as an openly neurodivergent candidate, which simply means my brain operates differently than others AND I embrace it, which brings unique opportunities and challenges to this role. Without getting into the trauma (read bio), I have unbounded curiosity, appreciation of the little things, spontaneous, and a moral compass that directs me to what really matters. I will run with integrity, authenticity, excitement and will not seek shortcuts to get elected. With ranked choice voting, you can support multiple candidate, so please take the time to look over my campaign.
Why do we need new leadership in Ward 1?
Ward 1 residents deserve better, need their voices heard, and we need to improve trust between residents and local governance. From my organizing work (door knocking) within Frogtown around community safety, many residents are either unaware of of local governance and/or disillusioned by the lack of responsiveness from local leaders. Current Ward 1 council member, Dai Thao, respond to community needs once there are a serious problem, rather than proactively engaging the community.
I’m the leader that will openly speak up against injustices in our systems, AND have a systemic understanding of the underlying issues. I’m the only Ward 1 candidate that will be voting ‘NO’ in the trash referendum, and have called for the accountability of the district planning council system. The cost of living in Saint Paul continues to rise, while the quality of life continues to decline for many residents ranging from safety, lack of city enforcement, and poor maintenance of roads. Politicians advocate for affordable housing (a big need!) and yet don’t understand that the increase in tax levy from both the county and city creates a burden to vulnerable citizens, mostly elderly folk whom have a fixed income and the organized trash increase the rent for renters in multi-unit housing as there is no option for bin-sharing. Finally, our current leadership are pitting citizens against law enforcement by not supporting and/or listening to residents that reside in the high-crime areas.
As a leader, I would like to share power, and expertise to the community members whom have greater content knowledge than myself. The standard leadership will be insufficient in satisfying community needs as I explain in the next section.
What are the structural limitations of the election process? i.e. Democracy “In-action”
First, it is not reasonable, for an elected official to have time to put the attention/care for an assortment of issues and be respondent to individual community members needs. Conflict is bound to happen. In addition, the concentration of power of an elected official makes them susceptible to the influence of special interest groups, and there is vested interest
By exploring the voting records for the 2015 Saint Paul city council elections, we find that there is unequal representation in the city council elections and there is systemic voter suppression. From my data analysis (see full report), older citizens (age 55 to 70) vote more than the majority of registered voters, and around 1% of young voters (age 18-20) vote in Ward 1. Furthermore, there are several voting precincts that are under-represented (lighter colors) within Ward 1.
These patterns will continue to persist because it benefits the politicians via lack of accountability/ transparency and it maintains the influence of the donor class. While the youth are not taught by adults, our education system (i.e. civics course), and the media that local elections matter!
Finally, elections are functionally a zero-sum game, where the “winner” takes all. Thus, the conventional wisdom of political candidates is reaching out to people that have voted in the past, spend resources in getting swing voters to your side, getting your supporters out to vote, AND depressing voter turnout of your opposition. In addition, for re-election purposes it is best to serve the constituents that got them elected than the entire community. This can create antagonistic relationship between different identity groups as they are competing against each other. Power is not shared, it is taken from others. Our system is not broken, it is working as intended.
**Take a deep breath (and few more breaths)**
We cannot legitimately and spiritually heal and bring our entire community together if our candidates and citizens continue to support this framework. I offer an option to break away from the system by reducing the power given to elected officials (that includes me) and empowering the citizens through transitional means. My core value principle is the following: if you seek hope from your leaders you will be disappointed; If you cultivate hope within yourself, then we can, collectively, change our world. To do this effectively, efficiently, and equitably, our community should strive for the following (seven additional bullet points omitted):
- Community/ Moral Guidelines (and actually abide to them)
- Digital forums/tools improving communication among community members, including the local government
- Building relationships with neighbors
- Less reliance on government resources
- Authentic community conversations and participation across identity lines
- Expanding voter turnout and citizen participation
Of course, the transition will take time as community members becomes more adjusted and becomes better communicators. This process will increase community knowledge and resiliency as the power is more decentralized. I wish to begin and implement this process through my campaigning (i.e. vehicle of change), which I call the “Citizen-First” Campaign.
The Citizen-First Campaign/ Initiative
The campaign aims to increase voter participation, citizen/ youth engagement, and building partnerships with existing community leaders with residents. Here are some firm/objective goals of the campaign:
- Expand overall voter turnout within Ward 1; Let’s aim for 40% turnout!
- Partner with organizations, and citizen groups to do a get-out-the event explaining why local elections matter!
- Reach out to youth leaders and educators within Saint Paul, discussing the importance of local elections, trauma, and how kids can contribute
- Events and activities for neighbors to get to know each other in creative and silly manners!
Why am I running as a superhero, aka Frogtown Crusader (Frogman for kids)?
If we seek to transform our system, we need different types of leaders and mold a system that expands, embraces, and empowers all kinds of people, which includes youth. We need to campaign spreading love, compassion, and hope into our community! This is why I’m running as a local superhero. My superhero ability is empowering others, which means unlocking people’s potential, and amplifying it. It will be meaningful for children and youth to identify and connect with the values/ principles of a real-life hero, and see them in action. Let’s work together to create a community vision that we can all be proud of, while spreading love and joy. This can only be achieved by the participation and contribution of community members/ artists/ leaders. Can you imagine other superheroes running for office, and changing the narrative on how we engage with community and run campaigns!? Excited?!? Well, participate in the Local Heroes Page!
Ways to contribute:
- Register to Vote (Select Abu #1 choice) and Understand ranked choice voting
- Become a Volunteer!!
- If you are an organization/community leader/ educator that is interested to talk, reach out to me: firstname.lastname@example.org