On Tuesday, April 5, over a hundred students from Macalester and other colleges in the region gathered at the state capitol for a summit with elected officials. Students organized the summit to push for investment of Minnesota’s $9.25 billion budget surplus in progressive policies.
Students in Macalester’s Community Organizing Cohort, a program in the Civic Engagement Center (CEC), helped plan the event, in conjunction with political organizing non-profit ISAIAH’s Young Adult Coalition. Each semester, Macalester’s CEC partners with ISAIAH to host a student coalition and organize a local political action based on the students’ interests.
The afternoon at the capitol kicked off with a press conference on rent stabilization. Last fall, voters in Minneapolis and St. Paul approved rent stabilization policies. This session, Minn. state senators have introduced a bill that would eliminate cities’ ability to put rent control to a vote, and it would undermine last November’s votes as well — the bill is backdated to Nov. 1, before the election took place.
Various organizers took the mic to speak against the bill.
“The will of the people decided the winners and the losers,” State Senator Lindsey Port said. “That’s how democracy works in this country. Now we’re seeing an effort to subvert the will of the people.”
Macalester students participated in several organizing efforts in support of St. Paul’s rent stabilization measure. Macalester’s precinct voted in favor of the policy, as did six out of seven of St. Paul’s wards.
Abdifatah Abdi ’22 spoke about his efforts last fall to get out the vote for the rent control, and the current efforts in the senate to undermine that vote’s outcome.
“I want to invite all young people to take the side of young people and the working class people and to let their senators know … to address this challenge,” Abdi said.
After the press conference, students dispersed throughout the building to meet with legislators about different issues, including policing and public safety, environmental justice, education and economic support for frontline workers and caregivers.
When choosing the topics to cover, the student organizers focused on the importance of having personal interest in the topic. As such, they chose to incorporate a wide variety of topics, including many that were relevant to local politics, to encourage more people to get involved.
“Throughout the cohort, we talk a lot about self-interest and how having a personal stake in issues is essential to healthy organizing,” cohort member Mayumi Morgan ’25 said. “Climate was the large overarching theme that anyone could relate to, and the other issues were more related to local politics.”
Lawmakers joined students for these sessions, discussing their current efforts to push legislation on these issues. Participants included State Senator Erin Murphy, who represents Macalester’s district; St. Paul Ward 6 City Counselor Nelsie Yang; and State Representative Athena Hollins.
The different topic groups made space for discussion about bills currently under consideration. Leaders and organizers discussed the policies they were working on and how activists could support upcoming bills. The workshops ended with time for students to ask the legislators questions.
“Being able to ask my legislators questions is really empowering,” Morgan said. “It makes you feel a lot closer to your legislators and it makes them seem a lot more accessible.”
The meetings wrapped up with a talk from Attorney General Keith Ellison. Students packed into a hallway in the capitol to listen to Ellison talk about his role and the lawsuits his office has brought against Exxon Mobil for climate misinformation and against private landlords.
“We try to rebalance the power between you, the individual, and the corporate elite,” Ellison said.
Ellison tied the day together with advice for students on community organizing. He commended students for showing up and told them to build up relationships with people.
“Change happens on a relationship basis,” Ellison said. “If you have a relationship with somebody you can tell them almost anything.”
In spite of the rainy afternoon and the potential scheduling conflicts with classes, cohort members were excited to see such a large number of Macalester students come out to the event. Many of them were not aware of the young adult coalition’s existence before the event, making the summit a space for new connections and learning.
“Overall, it wasn’t really about the number of turnout, but I think about the quality of turnout,” cohort member Lia Sanchez Valles ’25 said.
“The impact we were having was on the people that were there and empowering them to start organizing on their own,” Morgan added.
The Community Organizing Cohort is already looking towards next semester as the spring semester wraps up. Minnesota has midterm elections this fall for governor, the U.S. House of Representatives and the Minnesota legislature. The cohort aims to encourage voter turnout and will be campaigning in support of various candidates.
They also hope to see more Macalester students joining the coalition, many as a result of the connections made at the summit.
“People are oftentimes dissuaded from these things because they feel like they need to have a certain level of knowledge when it comes to politics,” Sanchez Valles said. “But really, the whole point of the cohort is learning how to organize, learning about what you’re passionate about in a supportive environment of other people who you can learn things from but also who you can teach.”