Changing the Demographic

A friend, who I met because she became a writer in these pages, is running to become a county commissioner. This is a role I admittedly have voted for since I was 18 without ever knowing what it does. At her campaign kick-off party in Brooklyn Park, I learned that seven people on the county commission control a $2.5 billion budget. That is a huge budget that prioritizes needs in everything from housing to workforce development. She wants to bring perspective on disparities to that seven-person table.

Last year, I talked over coffee with a member of the Minnesota House. Among other things, we discussed her frustration about sexual assault bills that do not move into wider discussion and a vote because a small group of mostly male Senators in a committee do not understand why women need the legislation to move forward.

Another member of the House told me this year, “The Senate is where bills go to sit or die, with no discussions.”

A woman in the Minnesota Senate indicated to me recently how difficult it has been to get funding for Twin Cities reconstruction projects, partly because many legislators outside the metro seem to feel it is an urban problem that does not impact them.

Affordable housing, the educational achievement gap for Minnesota children, the school to prison pipeline, entrenched poverty — these are all deep issues that have been tended to by a similar demographic that does not have lived experience with them.

That is the impetus behind this “Gatekeeping” issue. Gated communities are created largely to keep certain people out. How is the monotone nature of many decision-makers impacting society?

There will always be people who decide what gets “in.” Curators at museums decide what goes into an exhibit. Non-profit boards shape the mission of their work. Editors like myself decide the approach of a publication.

Listening to multiple perspectives is the first step toward our resilience as a society. Supporting the voices of newcomers at the table is next. Then it is simply having the courage to open the door to see what strength we can generate together.

Opening doors is a concept both welcoming and scary. How do we heal from trauma — or keep our power — if we do not erect an impenetrable border of protection? As our ongoing digital “Transforming Justice” series is beginning to unpack, there are fears that lead many of us into seeing political, financial, and community security as an “us versus them” narrative. 

The women in this issue understand what they are trying to accomplish when they open doors.

To see who is on your ballot on Nov. 3, visit