Indira Sheumaker on Des Moines City Council

My friends at the Great Plains Action Society have a graphic that says “Infiltrate the system. Vote.” A variation comes to mind with the news that Indira Sheumaker was elected to the Des Moines City Council. “Infiltrate the system, run for office.” Indira has been involved in the Black Liberation Movement.

Des Moines voters sent a new, young candidate to the City Council chamber in Tuesday’s election, ousting a longtime incumbent, and supported keeping two other council members in office.  

First-time candidate Indira Sheumaker defeated incumbent Bill Gray in the Des Moines City Council’s Ward 1 race. Gray was first elected in 2014.

Sheumaker attended her first council meeting when the group voted on an ordinance to ban racial profiling by the police department. There, she said, she heard “a lot of passionate people” speak up — herself included — but she felt like city leaders moved quickly without considering additional action.

Sheumaker said she would not have run for office if it weren’t for her involvement in last year’s protests with the Black Liberation Movement.

“I got involved protesting, showing up to the (Iowa) Capitol, got tear-gassed … and then a lot of members from organizations and older members of the community were encouraging us to go to City Council meetings,” Sheumaker previously told the Des Moines Register.

Social justice advocate Indira Sheumaker defeats incumbent Bill Gray in Des Moines City Council race by Melody Mercado, Des Moines Register, Nov 4, 2021

From street activism to Des Moines City Council

Sheumaker, 27, represents a new generation of politics, forged during a summer of protests and activism following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020. Already, she’s marshaled her influence to rally speakers at City Council meetings, organized protests against police brutality and created a grassroots campaign that toppled two-term incumbent Bill Gray.

Now, with a seat on the Des Moines City Council, she faces a new challenge as she seeks to channel that grassroots energy into her role as an elected official. The goal, she said, is not to settle into the entrenched political dynamics she has spent the last year and a half protesting, but to lift up new voices and create avenues for change by being more transparent about the inner workings of Des Moines city government.

“The stuff that isn’t talked about, but isn’t, you know, protected behind some kind of confidentiality barrier … I have no qualms about being completely open about that and telling people what’s going on because people need to know what’s happening in their city,” she said.

From street activism to Des Moines City Council: How might Indira Sheumaker shake up Iowa’s capital city? by Melody Mercado and Brianne Pfannenstiel, Des Moines Register, Nov 6, 2021

A summer of protests in 2020 brought issues of policing and racial justice to the forefront, and those issues shaped city elections in Iowa and across the country this fall.

In her own race, Sheumaker spoke openly about drawing inspiration from the protests, as well as her desire to redirect funding from the city’s police department into social programs, with an eventual goal of making the Des Moines Police Department obsolete.

“I want to be creating a public safety system in Des Moines that’s from the community, is built into the community, and is focused on transformative and restorative justice that is designed to lessen interaction between residents and police,” she said previously.

From street activism to Des Moines City Council: How might Indira Sheumaker shake up Iowa’s capital city? by Melody Mercado and Brianne Pfannenstiel, Des Moines Register, Nov 6, 2021

Defunding the Police for Safety and Justice

“We just won our campaign on a platform centered on Defunding the Police for Safety and Justice. It can be done,” Sheumaker said in a campaign statement. “My goal for this city has always been to work from the bottom up. Not the top down.” In her campaign, Sheumaker also stressed the importance of making food and housing accessible, flood preparedness, rent control, decriminalizing cannabis, tenant rights, and combating corporate greed.

“I want to be the kind of leader who is part of the community, the kind of leader people can talk to you,” Sheumaker told the crowd at a cafe in downtown Des Moines the night election results rolled in, according to Iowa Public Radio. She said given that she’s a protester and activist herself, she can’t tell people not to “show up” on her lawn.

Sheumaker became involved in politics after the police killing of George Floyd when she organized marches for racial justice in Des Moines. Since then, she’s worked steadily with the Black Liberation Movement (which supported her campaign) and advocated for defunding the police

This 27-year-old ran on a campaign to defund the police—and defeated longtime incumbent by Marissa Higgins, Daily Kos, Nov 4, 2021

I’ve been working on the idea of abolition of police and prisons, too. Following is a link to one blog post I’ve written.

A photo in a news story showed Indira sitting in front of a memorial to black children. I drive past there when I go to Des Moines for our Mutual Aid food project. Here are some of my photos of that memorial.

One thought on “Indira Sheumaker on Des Moines City Council

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: