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Indira Sheumaker, 26, grew up in Des Moines’ Ward One and has been active in politics her whole life.
Disheartened in 2020 by perceived failure from the Iowa government and ready to see the world move past any more injustice, she was surprised and invigorated when the nation captured the political momentum that has been building for decades. In the summer of 2020, Sheumaker took to the streets and to her local city council meetings to find answers in current leaders. She found her voice, a community, and the motivation to run for local office to demand change.
“You know, that’s discouraged a lot of times, speaking out, taking up space, things like that. [My sister] really encouraged me to go out and speak, and I really found my voice.”
Q: How did you get involved with Des Moines City Council?
A: This summer, when the protests started in Des Moines, in the first week, there were a lot of people who came out as self-appointed community leaders. They encouraged us to start going to city council meetings. The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement had been pushing for a racial profiling ban for a couple of years, and council was finally going to begin discussions with them on June 8.
I spoke at that meeting, and they continued it to a second meeting. I spoke out at that meeting as well, but it became very clear to me that they were not interested in getting feedback from the public—they weren’t interested in listening to what anyone had to say.
In the June 22 city council meetings, every single member of the public was opposed to the ban and asking for more. They had an opportunity to do a third [meeting], and they decided not to. Then, that same night, many of my friends were kettled and beaten and arrested by police officers downtown. It’s clear it was all for show, and there wasn’t any significant change that came out of that. I realized very early on in those meetings that something needed to change and that we needed a city council that was going to listen to the people.
Q: What motivated you to run for the Ward One City Council seat?
Indira: I was talking with my sister, and we realized that the Ward One seat was up for reelection in this upcoming election. As far back as June, we were talking about the possibility of me running. I started looking into it and then made the decision. Finally, in December, when I was pushed by people I’d been organizing with, [they asked,] “Who came, who was the candidate?” And I said, “Well, me.”
Q: What memory stands out to you from the 2020 protests?
Indira: There was a march where we were down on Grand Avenue, and we did a die-in at one of the intersections, where everyone laid down on the concrete, and it was burning hot. We laid there for almost nine minutes because of what had happened to George Floyd.
An organizer was reading out some of the words Floyd had said right before he died, and it really hit me. I think that a lot of people had experiences like that. Beyond having the personal experience, I also knew that I was experiencing that with everyone around me.
Telling people, like, “Hey, put your, put your jacket or your bag underneath your head,” or passing back water, passing back Sharpies so that we could write the bail number on our arm. It was really like this summer gave me community that I’d never had anywhere else.
Q: Why do you think it’s important to be an active community member?
Indira: It’s a very radicalizing thing to find community because what we are entrenched in is isolationism and separating ourselves and thinking that you have to fight your own battles all the time. That’s just not the case, and coming together as a community really opens the floodgates of what’s possible. It makes you realize that the world that you’re living in is unacceptable.
Q: What recommendations do you have for people who don’t feel like they’re a part of that community? How can they get more involved and join in?
Indira: Reach out. That’s kind of the hardest thing.
If you have something to say, say it. If you have something that you think should be done, do it. That’s really it. There are people that I’m still meeting that I didn’t know, who had been interested or had been involved. I just hadn’t met them yet.
Q: What do you have to say to those who have not voted in the past or might not vote in local elections?
Indira: I don’t want to tell anybody that they have to vote.
I want to tell people that I want to do something, that I’m going to help you, and I want to hear your voice. I want you to be in charge of the decisions surrounding your life and the things that affect you. If that’s something that you want, then you can vote for me, and I will be fighting for that.
I’m going to be fighting for that, in or out of office. If somebody doesn’t want to vote for me, go ahead, but I will be fighting for that either way. I think a lot of times we focus on trying to convince people to vote and convincing people that what we have is in their best interest, but it’s really up to people to decide what’s in their best interest. What I’m trying to do is excite people and give people something to vote for. If people don’t vote, then I haven’t done that.