Indira Sheumaker, the Young Activist Running to Change City Council
The young activist sat down with Reyna Auyon-Escobar to talk about what motivated her to run for city council and how she plans to better the city of Des Moines.
After announcing her run for the Des Moines city council on Tuesday, Feb. 9, Indira Sheumaker launched her campaign Friday, Feb. 12, with the endorsement of Iowa House Representative Ras Smith and activist Joe Henry, President of the oldest and biggest Hispanic civil rights organization, League of United Latin American Citizens. Indira Sheumaker discussed with me, what motivated her to run for Ward One city council seat, the main issues she’s running on, and her activism work in the community.
Reyna Auyon-Escobar: Why have you decided to run for city council?
Indira Sheumaker: Well, I’m from Des Moines, born and raised. I’ve lived in the same house in the Merle neighborhood since I was one years old. I started organizing around city council meetings and racial justice, with the Des Moines BLM (Black Liberation Movement). I started organizing this summer. When we were out protesting, we had a lot of older community leaders, coming in and telling us essentially to not protest, knowing we were protesting but to go and be at the table, and go through the official channels, pushing us towards City Council meetings. So I attended my first City Council meeting June 8, that was the first time they were considering the racial profiling ban. I attended on June 22 as well, when they passed their (City Council) version of the racial profiling ban. I was also at the protest downtown where people got kettled, beaten, and pepper sprayed, the same day that they (City Council) passed the racial profiling ban. I wasn’t downtown but I was there for the first half of that and then got separated. So I pretty much, I’ve seen since the beginning, how they aren’t really interested in making any substantial changes. I’ve seen how they aren’t interested in the democratic processes, in hearing from the people and so pretty early on, I was talking to my sister, and were saying that ward 1 is up for re-election, that’s where we live and saying that I should run. I immediately wanted to find a way to build infrastructure for people to be able to reach their City Council people and be able to have input that they should have in the democratic processes in this city. Through some research I found the process of people’s council, essentially. So with that, it solidified my decision to run, that I wanted to run on building people’s councils. Essentially building dual power for the people of Des Moines, to be able to organize and come together and go to their city council person, who would then have to do essentially what the people say. You would have the majority or half of the ward community who is engaged, coming in saying this is what we want. You can’t sit there and say you speak for the people of ward 1, if you’re ignoring them. So overall with that, I decided to run, the decision was made in December and we’ve been organizing since then and launched this month.
Reyna Auyon-Escobar: You’re running for a seat on the Des Moines city council, if you were to win, you would be the second BIPOC to ever hold a seat on the council. You have said the council does not reflect the people they serve, what would a woman such as yourself, mean for the future of Des Moines?
Indira Sheumaker: There definitely hasn’t been enough. Our current city council, we have a group of seven people, who are older, whiter, and richer than the majority of Des Moines, specifically in Ward One. We’ve got I think the most diversity in the city, in Ward One. I know definitely in my high school, I went to Hoover High School, it’s the most diverse high school in the state. That’s what I grew up in and right now we have a council person, who lives in Beaverdale, who’s retired and I think, 70 years old, a white man, who lives comfortably in Beaverdale and it’s just not reflective of the rest of the ward. We have a diverse population of refugees and immigrant populations, we’ve got a lot of Black and Hispanic population, South Asian population, a much younger population and it’s just not reflected. I think that it can be seen as a symbolic thing I suppose, but I think it’s not as symbolic as it is, just the fact that our current council is out of touch with the people they claim to represent. In getting one bit of representation on the council is not going to solve everything but creating a system where people can speak for themselves, where people can make decisions that affect them, is going to be a lot more powerful than just hoping and trying to get a representative city council because the system is not set up to listen to the people.
Reyna Auyon-Escobar: You’re also not the first person of color to run or the first person to run due to the council’s actions or inactions. Do you think this time around things are different? That you’ll succeed in your run?
Indira Sheumaker: Yeah, I do. I think that it’s a very different game because a lot more people are paying attention. I think in general, across the country, a lot more people are paying attention to their city councils and mayors, because of the nature of the demands from the protests. These fall onto city councils and so people have come to realize that “oh that’s a thing.” That it’s actually a lot closer and I think I had the same experience. I didn’t realize how accessible my city council was, I didn’t think about the fact that these are people who just live down the street from me. They live in my city, they’re not like these high profile, hard to reach types of people and I think it’s a place where regular people can have a handle on what’s going on and they try to resist that as much as they can. Unfortunately, it’s just a lot more accessible when you can find their phone number and call them. They don’t always answer, people know where they live, people are their neighbors, so I think a lot of people are coming into that realization. I think that, with the issues that people are concerned with right now, the issues coming into the public sphere, thanks to the protests, and the organizing of black activists across the country, this is something that they care about a lot more. So on top of that, just the general change of the public opinion about things, we also plan to take a strategy that’s non traditional. Literally just reaching out to underrepresented communities because pretty much the only people who decide the Ward One City Council race, are in Beaverdale. We are a much bigger ward than that and we are a much more diverse ward and there’s a lot of people who are just ignored. Who are kept out of these spaces, these spaces have been inaccessible for them so we want to reach out to those spaces and that’s why I think it’s going to be different. I think it’s going to be different because we are actively reaching out to underrepresented areas and trying to get new voters, people who don’t have a voice.
Reyna Auyon-Escobar: In your campaign announcement released last Tuesday, you touched on four main issues that you’re running on. Can you describe what your plan to defund the police would look like?
Indira Sheumaker: Defunding the police, I think is largely misunderstood as being the same as getting rid of public safety which it is not. The police don’t keep us safe, that’s just a fact, they’re actually not required to. What we want to do essentially is to take away funding from the police, take away services that we don’t need and to build up communities to be able to handle everyday problems themselves. The police aren’t solving these problems, they’re often more frequently making social problems worse, so we’re criminalizing homelessness or houselessness. You’re not creating a space where somebody can better their lives, you’re not creating a space where somebody can have the resources they need to achieve things in their lives or to be a member of their society. In fact you’re removing them from their communities and society and putting them into the criminal justice system, where you’re creating further criminalization down the line. It’s just the fact that we don’t have a system in place, a public system in place, that improves any kind of outcomes. What we want to do is take money from the police and start funding things like housing, mental health, and food insecurity, essentially everything that people need to survive, to succeed, to be safe and comfortable, we want to be funding those things and taking away the harmful institutions that we have like the police.
Reyna Auyon-Escobar: In your last point, you stated that you feel the city of Des Moines is not using the funds appropriately, and that they’re only listening to people that have money. You just touched on, that you want to redistribute that money into housing for the homelessness, and food deserts in the city. How would you go about implementing such policies? Would you need to have more representatives run for you to be able to get such policies done on City Council?
Indira Sheumaker: That’s the situation that we’re running into right now. We have an election that is for three out of seven seats and even if we all three seats, of people who are wanting to do initiatives like these, we would still have a blockade in City Council. The way that I see it is, it really depends on the other members of City Council. I think that we have some people on there, who aren’t interested in listening to the people but if you were to get some pressure in that room, they may be persuaded to go for some more initiatives that are helpful to people. Especially if you got a strong public narrative and public push, it would look very bad if you didn’t support something like housing people, or if you didn’t support something like feeding people. It depends on the members of the City Council if they want to be a blockade or if they want to participate because I can’t anticipate them essentially deciding that they don’t want to work with me because of the activism I’ve been doing over the last seven to eight months. I think that would look a lot worse for them than it would for me, I think that if they’re blocking initiatives that help Des Moines, it’s not going to go over very well so I can see a lot of these initiatives going through if they are willing to take that perspective and prioritize the voice of the people of Des Moines. If we can get those voices a little bit louder.
Reyna Auyon-Escobar: So you are expecting push back from City Council and police members on your policies, if you do get elected.
Indira Sheumaker: We’ve already gotten push back from them just through the work that we’ve been doing and organizing. We’ve been advocating for these causes already and I’m walking into a space that I’ve been working in already. We’ve been advocating for these causes and trying to get them to even make a statement about the police violence that happened this summer. We’ve been trying to get them to make a statement about the evictions of homeless camps that they’ve been doing consistently and they constantly push it under the rug. I think that they’re very resistant to wanting to address these issues but I think if we get into the space, if we have someone on the City Council who is advocating for these things and not easily able to shutdown, these conversations have to start happening. I think just by the fact that these conversations are going to happen in a space that they can’t avoid, will change a lot of the narrative around that and how they think they’re allowed to behave. I expect push back on things like defunding the police but I also have a lot of faith in our community that has been organizing around this for months, even organizations like CCCI who have been organizing around this for years so I already think we have progress that’s in place and that we definitely have opportunities to continue on that momentum.
Reyna Auyon-Escobar: On your activism work, on July 1, 2020, you were arrested during the state capitol protest. According to the Des Moines register you were wanted by the Des Moines Police for criminal mischief, for a different protest that occurred at a hy-vee in south Des Moines on June 20, 2020. During the state capitol protest, you supposedly jumped on the officer attempting to arrest Matthew Bruce, and that you put the officer in a “rear choke hold” and squeezed his throat. Do you expect to receive backlash from voters who like your other running points but see these actions as contradictory to the police in their violence?
Indira Sheumaker: This is something I have to be careful in talking about because it’s an ongoing thing. I can’t really talk much about it. The charges are public, they have decided what to charge me with and I think there are certain people who didn’t like what was going on with the protests this summer. People are allowed to have their own opinions. I think there are people who feel strongly about how things should be done and who receive certain narratives. I think there are other people who can kind of see the institutions in place and how they operate and will feel differently. I expect everyone to have their own opinion and there’s not much I can talk about at this time until it’s all settled but everyone is going to have their own opinion on how they want to receive that information.
The City Council general elections will be held Nov. 2, 2021.