Opening Doors: Viewpoints

Why Laverne McCartney Knighton ran for office, how Anisa Hajimumin is supporting immigrant business owners, Hannah McVeigh's academic look at how women make law, Katie O'Rourke honors Minnesota suffragists

Laverne McCartney Knighton: Why I Ran

This year has been transformational. Un-precedented times of COVID-19 and civil unrest due to the callous murder of George Floyd, called for bold changes and bold voices. That is why I announced my candidacy for State Senator District 65 in St. Paul in June.

I ran for the Senate for four reasons:

To answer the call for sustainable change after centuries of systemic racism that has plagued Black and brown communities.To match state resources with neglected community needs and improve the quality of life for all.To actualize the collective power of the district’s residents and create communities all of us deserve.To bring diversity to the State Senate and representation that reflects our communities of today.

My hope was to send a message that all elected officials need to earn their constituents’ votes and not hold office for an incessant number of years while doing nothing to engage with the voters and the communities they serve.

It is time for new voices, new choices, and new perspectives and lived experiences to move this state forward. No more status quo. If we want better, we have to vote for better.

Although I did not win the Primary, I was very pleased and proud of the results. We ran a very fast and furious campaign and garnered 36 percent of the vote in District 65, which sent a loud and clear message that voters want change. If we had run a full-fledged campaign with more time, I am confident we would have won.

My commitment going forward is to push voter education and voter registration so that all St. Paul citizens, especially in District 65, are being heard and are engaged.


Anisa Hajimumin: Supporting Immigrant Business

COVID-19 and civil unrest have had a tremendous impact on immigrants, refugees, and broader BIPOC communities in Minnesota. Many are struggling to pay overhead costs to keep their businesses, scrambling to make ends meet due to loss of work, and coping with aftermath of the pandemic and the unrest. This impacts mental health. 

Additionally, wage losses have threatened the ability to care and provide for families. Language barriers introduce new challenges for immigrant and refugee communities for staying informed and seeking employment. 

I joined the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) in June. My main role is to address barriers that immigrants and refugees face and examine whether state policies are inclusive. 

I am part of DEED’s COVID-19 response team and immediately was involved in outreach and community engagement regarding the Minnesota Small Business Relief Grants. Language is a major barrier to help small business owners understand what they need to do. We are collaborating to translate materials on state agency websites. I also serve as a bridge connecting people with trainings that provide skills needed to succeed. The goal is to have a sustainable impact with the support of state leaders and a clear vision in place for immigrant and refugee advancement.


Hannah McVeigh: How Women Make Law

Photo Juline Skye Moreland

In my graduate work at the University of Minnesota, I aim to understand how women legislators advance the interests of their constituents, how women’s historical marginalization affects how much they can get done, and how women’s collaborative behavior both facilitates and hinders their legislative success.

I was first drawn to this work as a research assistant when I helped prepare data for a project borne from decades of scholarship demonstrating that women are less likely to be “self-starters” when it comes to running for office. Research suggests that this is because women are less likely to consider themselves qualified and thus need some encouragement to get involved. The project provided support for women interested in running for office, with lessons on how to organize a campaign, fundraise, and navigate media.

In my graduate work, I have attempted to bridge the relationship between public policy and politics to focus on the importance of having more women in office, particularly how their presence changes the terms of debate and the way policy solutions are understood. I examine the efforts of women in state legislatures to get their issues on the agenda and their attempts — via committee hearings and floor debates — to gain momentum for their legislation. I trace legislation through the lawmaking process to understand how the process can both create and stall change for disadvantaged constituencies.

By doing this, I am able to elucidate dimensions of power in the political process as well as effective strategies for women’s legislative success, which I hope will help to bring about necessary change in public policy. If we fail to critically engage the factors that help legislation move forward, then we may overlook how inequality in the political process may reproduce inequity in policy and society.


Katie O’Rourke: Honoring Minnesota Suffragists

As a documentary producer with the  Minnesota Experience team for Twin Cities PBS, I spend my days surrounded by the people, places, and events that have made us who we are as a state. Every project has a learning curve. Where is the most current scholarship? What combination of search terms  will  lead me to the perfect image or footage?

When I began researching women’s suffrage in Minnesota, that curve was steeper than usual. For a movement that spanned over 70 years and secured such a fundamental right for women, the suffrage story in Minnesota felt thin. We have all heard  of Susan B. Anthony and the East Coast leaders, but what happened in our own backyard? Why didn’t I know their names?

Through our interviewees and months of research, these amazing women revealed themselves to me and I am in awe of them.

For example, African American pioneer Nellie Griswold Francis fearlessly navigated the complex racial landscape of the movement, started the Everywoman Suffrage Club, and spent her life working to bridge divides and protect her community against violence and discrimination. After helping to secure the vote, she went on to co-author  Minnesota’s legislation outlawing lynching.

She is one of the thousands of mostly unnamed women who dedicated their lives to this endeavor. Thousands marching in parades, organizing political clubs, and talking to their husbands, fathers, and brothers about what the vote meant to them. Millions of women who, over the course of seven decades, tipped the scales toward equity.

I have been thinking about them as we approach another historic election. What do we owe them in this continued battle for voting rights and representation?

To share your thoughts, email TPT at communications@tpt.org. To learn more about the women’s suffrage movement in Minnesota, join Twin Cities PBS for the premiere of Citizen at 8PM October 5 on TPT 2.


For November Topic: Being Whole
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