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Trailblazer & Changemakers

Aurin Chowdhury

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Minneapolis Ward 12 Candidate Aurin Chowdhury

Introduction

Aurin Chowdhury is running a fierce campaign for the Ward Twelve Minneapolis City Council. This seat will be without an incumbent for the first time in almost 10 years. Aurin is an experienced policy aid, community organizer, and committed to local government that improves the lives of all community members. Women Winning sat down with Aurin Chowdhury for a conversation about the power of shared values, expanding access to abortion and reproductive healthcare in Minneapolis, and what it would mean to represent Ward Twelve.

Women Winning

You're a first-time candidate running for the Ward Twelve seat on the Minneapolis City Council. What inspired you to run for office and what have been some of the successes and challenges of the campaign trail so far?

Aurin Chowdhury

I'm super excited to be a first time candidate. What inspired me to run was honestly a lot of the work that I have been doing for years that led up to deciding to run. I've been a community organizer in Minneapolis for the last eight years, organizing around issues like housing justice, climate action, workers rights, reproductive freedom, but also helping elect local leaders, specifically women of color to office, that represents the values of our community.

I've been a policy aide at City Hall for a number of years, and I've served as a policy aide during some of the hardest times in our city, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, managing constituent services, trying to help people in our community navigate economic loss, the fears that they had for their family being safe from a virus we didn't know a lot about, and then also supporting our local businesses.

I also served as a policy aide when George Floyd was devastatingly murdered by Minneapolis police. And when we experienced the trauma of unrest, and everything that followed. Running in 2023 is really what really inspired me to meet the moment of helping our city heal and repair from the trauma that we collectively experienced.

And also acknowledging that within our city, we have deep inequities, on the basis of the income that you have, what you look like. It's been my lived experience too, as a person of color, as someone that comes from a working class community, that local government should play a role in ensuring that everyone has the same access to resources.

Right now, in the city of Minneapolis, if you're a BIPOC-owned small business, you are experiencing more hardship than other businesses. If you are a working person, it's harder for you to rent or find access to homeownership. If you're unhoused, the resources available to help you come out of that situation aren't as strong. In our community and Ward Twelve, what we really care about is making sure that everyone has access to basic public services. We want to be in really strong allyship with the community and uplift everyone.

I've always said since the beginning of my campaign, I'm running because I deeply believe that if we centered those who are most in need in our policy and our outreach, we will all do better. We will all experience positive change. I'm about running for a future where we have a healthy, safe, connected, multigenerational, multiracial community that we can be really proud of. That's the trajectory I want to see our city go in.

Women Winning

Thank you. Is there anything you want to share about what it's been like on the campaign trail so far?

Women Winning

I've been running for 10 months. It's a really long time to run. I think one of the major successes that we've had as a campaign is we have really built a broad coalition behind me and we have this vision of a progressive city that really cares for people and is rooted in community.

We have the support of people across generations. We have the support of Women Winning, climate organizations, LGBTQ+ organizations, organizations that really have a vision for supporting working people. We have the support of the DFL. We have the support of a number of labor unions. That really has been a success because what we need right now more than ever. In our Ward, we need inclusivity and unity to really address the issues that are ahead of us.

Something that has been difficult is a low visibility election. It's a consequential election at the same time. This seat for the first time in 10 years is open. A lot of people don't know that there's an election and turnout is going to be more difficult. We have to work extra hard to make sure that voters know what's on their ballot - it's just the city council member, but it's important.

With the support of community organizations like Women Winning and being on the doors and talking to folks, we've been able to increase the awareness.

Women Winning

In 2022, Minneapolis passed an ordinance making it illegal to block entrances to abortion clinics. However, this ordinance has faced legal challenges with Pro Life Ministries of St. Paul filing a lawsuit against the city earlier this year. On the national level, conservative legal groups also seek to overturn protections against harassment of patients and providers outside clinics in a constantly changing legal and political environments. How can the City Council continue to protect access to reproductive care?

Aurin Chowdhury

I love this question. Minneapolis has always been one of the hubs for reproductive justice in our state and in our region. We need to stay strong to our values and everyone deserves access to reproductive care, everyone deserves access to an abortion if they choose, everyone deserves access to accurate information about their health care.

The legislation that the City Council passed is one of the strongest things that we could have done for the reproductive justice movement.

Bottom line, we need to continue to push to bring awareness to the fact that, even if we have laws and legislation that have unrestricted access to abortion and reproductive health care, we still need to call out the actors, politicians and people within our country that are trying to work against us. And it's important for us to stay vigilant and stay really rooted in these values.

Women Winning

This next question touches on similar themes related to this legislative session. At the state level, Democrats sought to address crisis pregnancy centers, also known as CPCs, that receive state grants, which often offer misleading and medically inaccurate information about abortion to pregnant people visiting the centers. As part of the recently passed Health and Human Services Bill, the state defunded grants for CPCs and instead directed funding towards nonprofits that seek to improve infant health. However, in Minnesota, CPCs outnumber abortion clinics 11 to 1. When elected, what would be your approach to CPCs in the city of Minneapolis?

Aurin Chowdhury

We have a handful of crisis pregnancy centers. As a Council Member, the thing that I want to do in partnership with the state is really figure out what we can do to close down crisis pregnancy centers that aren't serving our community.

Now that we aren't putting funding towards crisis pregnancy centers, we should put funding towards making sure that residents who need reproductive health care can affordably and universally access ultrasounds and other healthcare needs.

I'm a true believer in universal health care for all. I think our healthcare system is broken and the City of Minneapolis needs to continue to push for that. I'm really excited to be a Council Member in a district represented by pro-choice champions like Senator Zaynab Mohamed, Representative Emma Greenman, and Representative Samantha Sencer-Mura. We all will make a tremendous team in figuring out what the city, state, and federal partnership is to continue to be the beacon for change for Reproductive Justice. And, yeah, those pregnancy centers are here on ground zero in our city and we need to address that.

Women Winning

Thank you. You've previously worked with State Senator Kari Dziedzic, who's the current Senate Majority Leader (Women Winning endorsed), as well as serving as the senior campaign advisor for State Senator Zaynab Mohamed (Women Winning endorsed) and currently work as a policy aide, what lessons have you learned about coalition building in your various roles? And what will you do as a Council Member to continue coalition building around reproductive justice?

Aurin Chowdhury

Coalition building really needs to start at the values level, and that's where we have the most common ground. Where we get into disagreements is sometimes with the approach and how we get to the outcome.

One thing that I've really learned from Senator Kari Dziedzic is that she never gives up. She works really hard and makes sure that she talks to everyone and is really well researched in the things that she's bringing forward. We can all look at the amazing job that she's done as Senate Majority Leader to bring together a caucus with only one Senate seat that made the majority. They passed some amazing, groundbreaking policy this last year.

I really believe there are more things that we agree on than we disagree on. We can set priorities that we can really run forwards as a group. Reproductive freedom is 100% one of those things. That's why we were able to pass the legislation that stopped blocking the entrances of abortion clinics. That's why we were able to create an abortion care fund. That's why we were able to pass a safe haven. I feel really strongly that consensus-building around this issue is one of our priorities that will lend really well for us to continue to do even more work in partnership with other levels of government.

Part of reproductive freedom is making sure that families and people who need to access reproductive health care will have those needs met.

Economically, in the way of housing and in the way of creating job opportunities, the City is uniquely positioned to accomplish those goals. Those priorities are intersectional to the reproductive justice movement. Those are things that we will need to build consensus on. I'm excited to work on that from day one.

Women Winning

Thank you for making that connection. It draws back to what you shared about why you're running for office and addressing inequities by making sure that Minneapolis really is a place for all people, and people can raise safe and healthy families there.

You've described South Minneapolis as a place of opportunity and possibility. What possibilities and opportunities do you see for Ward Twelve? What do you want people to know most about your connection to your community and how you will govern on the City Council?

Aurin Chowdhury

I want people to know that they're going to be hearing from me and they're going to be seeing me. I plan on doorknocking about the issues. I will hold meetings around things that folks in their neighborhoods care about in real time, so they can feel connected to local government. I plan on making sure that community members feel empowered in the policymaking and budget making process.

As a Council Member, I'm really aware that I am a representative. The community can lend me their vision, their time, their voice. It is really critical to achieving wins that we all can really feel good about.

Ward Twelve is primed to be one of the most walkable neighborhoods in our city. It’s a place where it's easy for someone who might not have a car, or might have multiple jobs, or might have kids that have different types of needs to walk to a transit station, and then go to their job, school, or recreation.

Becoming more walkable means that you have more access to grocery stores, a place where you can get healthy and nourishing food, access to small businesses where you can have fun and enjoy. You should be able to live a safe and healthy life and also build community connections, go to a park, enjoy green space, go to community centers, connect with neighbors about the things that you love about your community and the things that you want to improve. That's a real opportunity that I see.

Our Ward is multigenerational. I see the ways the city government, Parks Board, and the School Board can really come together to support families. I get excited about intergenerational opportunities like connecting our senior community to work with the kids in our community. We can support programs that do that.

Public safety is a really big opportunity within Ward Twelve. I know many people in my Ward care a lot about transit feeling safe. We have major transit hubs here. When the community lends their voice to a safer transit system, it helps me as a Council Member. I will speak to other agencies that need to come to the table, to provide tools, to provide a presence, to provide resources to people who are in need in transit hubs, to make it safer and also make transit more accessible.

The two opportunities that kind of go hand in hand for the future that we're building is we can make housing more accessible and affordable in Ward Twelve for people at all different income levels. We have the opportunity to right the wrongs of a very racist history. Ward Twelve was home to racial covenants that existed within our city. One of the things that we can do is build affordable housing that working people and families can access. Ward Twelve cares a lot about addressing the climate crisis and wants to see a climate resilient city. Our Ward will be a powerful advocate to achieve that.

Women Winning

Thank you. Is there anything else you'd like to share with the Women Winning audience?

Aurin Chowhury

Local government has always been and will always be our laboratories for democracy. This is where we come up with innovative, creative ideas that flow through the state, the federal level and change our nation. I'm super excited to see Women Winning continuing to engage with the local level and supporting candidates like me. I believe this investment is an investment in what we can achieve as a state. The more we do that, the more we'll see a positive change for all the communities that we care about. It’s why members of Women Winning are so plugged into that express goal that we all have. I'm really excited to see that we care so much about the local level.

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