Ayomi Obuseh, a local activist and organizer, became the first candidate to announce her campaign for the District 8 Alder position in late November. The UW-Madison student is running to represent the student-majority district which encompasses much of the campus area.
In an interview with The Daily Cardinal, Obuseh stated that she hopes to bring her knowledge of what community members want to the city council, advocating for change that is needed in Madison.
“I think a lot of the time politicians wait to make sure that everybody fully agrees with something rather than sticking with their own gut and taking action,” Obuseh said. “Over this summer, I think we’ve repeatedly heard from the community that we need change and I think it's time that we stop hesitating.”
Obuseh revealed that she plans to incorporate her experience as an advocate for racial equality into her role as an alder.
“One of the issues I have always felt the most passionate about is racial equality. That means I am dedicated to solutions such as police accountability, food sustainability, jobs and transportation that would help to create healthier and more equitable communities,” she said.
Obuseh’s only opponent, UW BIPOC Coalition co-founder Julian Bennet, announced her campaign shortly after Obuseh. Both candidates are students and women of color that are native to the Madison area. Although neither candidate has publicly released a detailed political platform, Obuseh and Bennett are likely to run on progressive ideals reflective of the university’s student body.
Mayor Rhodes-Conway commented on the candidate announcements, saying that she was excited by the increased diversity coming to the Madison City Council and that she hopes they can work together in order to address issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I'm always in favor of there being more women, more people of color, and more LGBTQ folks in politics in general,” Rhodes-Conway stated. “The real thing I'm focused on is city council members who are up for the job of guiding us through the recovery of COVID-19 because that’s going to be the main work during this next term.”
When asked about her opponent, Obuseh indicated that she was happy that another Black woman was running for office, but felt that Bennett was comparatively less qualified for the position.
“The biggest thing that separates us is experience. I’ve been organizing political action since the time I’ve been in high school, and I have worked with the Common Council and for the zoning committee in 2018, so I’m confident that I have more firsthand knowledge and experience.”
Obuseh also made the point that she is an organizer and executive director of Impact Demand, a group of Black youth in Madison demanding justice for Black lives and an end to police violence, and that her experiences have provided her with perspectives that student organizations are less likely to consider. Obuseh worked over the summer to engage with protesters, organizing demonstrations and marches in the downtown area. She even first announced her campaign to the “Madison for Black Lives” group, believing that being a part of the broader Madison community should be a requirement for serving on city council.
“Obviously Bennet is part of the BIPOC coalition and that's great but ... we [at Impact Demand] are at the forefront of organizing and protesting here in Madison,” she said. “We have been responsible for helping to elevate the voices of thousands of marginalized people and make sure that all their concerns are heard. Now is the time to make sure that we are able to take these perspectives seen during protests and implement them into change.”
ASM chairman Matthew Mitnick and Dane County Supervisor Elena Haasl have worked to support the Bennett campaign, with Haasl taking a role on her team and Mitnick acting as campaign manager. During the past year, Mitnick and Haasl have been among the most outspoken student representatives advocating for progressive causes. Their assistance could provide the Bennett campaign with an advantage in rallying student support.
When asked how she planned to mobilize voters, Obuseh responded that she felt confident that she would be able to connect with members of the student community.
“We also have people on our team who are members of ASM and part of the school board, so I'm not too concerned about two leaders in our community supporting my opponent. When people are deciding on who to vote for, they know who has helped them the most and will best represent their voice, and I feel that my experience in these past months and years will show voters why they should choose me.”