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Trailblazer & Changemakers

Saura Jost

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St. Paul Ward Three Candidate Saura Jost

Introduction

Saura Jost is a Women Winning endorsed candidate who has been on the campaign trail since January. She is running for the Ward Three St. Paul City Council seat. She is deeply rooted in the Macalester Groveland community, growing up in the neighborhood, and now living there with her own family. Saura served on the Macalester Groveland Community Council and works as a civil engineer. We talked with Saura about civil engineering, climate change, and engaging with people in her Ward. She discusses the power of pro-choice women and the historic possibilities if St. Paul elects the first all pro-choice women City Council in the nation. 

Women Winning

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

Saura Jost

I grew up in Ward Three. I’ve lived in the Macalester Groveland neighborhood for a lot of my life. I've just always been inspired to serve my community ever since I was a kid. I went to Central High School, which is the oldest high school in St. Paul. I organized the Central High School Young Democrats. This was in the early 2000s. That really was the first big inspiration I had to run for office. We worked on Amy Klobuchar's campaign for Senate (it was her first term), John Kerry's campaign for President, and Chris Coleman's campaign for Mayor. There was just so much that we could do together when we brought students together to organize around the values that we shared. That was really empowering for me, especially as a young person.

As an adult, I settled back in the Macalester Groveland neighborhood and joined the Mac Grove Community Council. I learned about local policy issues and bringing the community together to solve problems. There weren't a lot of families in the neighborhood that looked like ours. This really inspired me to run. My background as a civil engineer inspired me to run for city government, because it's directly related to the things we rely upon every day. The city provides municipal services like roads, plowing, sidewalks, utilities, developments, and infrastructure.

[When I was in the PLOT program] Women Winning connected me with Ann Johnson Stewart, who was my civil engineering professor who ran for State Senate. She already had inspired me when I was a civil engineering student. She inspired me even more! To work on her campaign, seeing all the ways that she was effective as an engineer at the state level demonstrated to me the possibility to make change at the city level. That was just such a great experience.

The successes of our campaign have been building momentum and building a broad coalition of supporters. We engage all of our community members, starting with the folks that caucused at the DFL convention. That really built upon our organizational support by several labor unions, climate action groups, LGBTQ groups, and Women Winning. It's been really exciting to have support from a diverse group of people and partnerships. Several local elected officials have endorsed our campaign. We work hard to make sure that we are including everyone in our campaign. We really listen and learn.

We're really grateful to have such a great team behind us. One of the challenges we faced at the DFL endorsing convention was reaching people. Our Ward has a high voter turnout, so we had a lot of delegates to reach, while also wanting to turn out new people. That means lots and lots of time on the doors, and lots of time trying to find ways to connect with people.

Women Winning

You've shared that your mom brought you along to protests outside the Highland Park Planned Parenthood, after anti-choice activists attempted to block access to the clinic. There are currently nine abortion clinics in the state of Minnesota, with St. Paul being home to one of these clinics. When elected, how will you continue to protect access to reproductive care? What can the City Council do to ensure all residents have full access to the reproductive health care they need?

Saura Jost

We used to have Planned Parenthood on Highland, right across from the library. Then it moved to the Midway area on Cretin and Vandalia. I want to protect access to reproductive care by building relationships with our state legislators. I’m really excited about everything that they were able to do in the session this year.

It’s going to be important to have full access to our healthcare. The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act must be enforced in our city at our abortion clinics, so folks can access abortions for their reproductive care without intimidation. We must make sure that our law enforcement is also cooperating with that Act. We will have people coming from other states into Minnesota, and other jurisdictions into St. Paul, to seek care. People that are traveling to and from the state have every right to do that. Law enforcement must be on the same page in terms of protecting those rights in our city.

We must find better ways to connect residents with healthcare and improve the system in our state. Reproductive healthcare is healthcare. Our public school system used to have Full Service Community Schools where they would help our students and their families connect to basic needs, like healthcare, mental healthcare, food, security, all of those things. That's just such a basic touch point for them. In combination with basic needs, reproductive healthcare should be included in that too. There are community centers and public libraries that should connect folks with these resources too.

Women Winning

You've shared about your experience with the building and construction projects. How would you bring your civil engineering perspective to the city council? And what can the Council do to create infrastructure that is climate resilient? How can the city create more equitable infrastructure from affordable housing to safe and accessible green spaces? What are the connections between reproductive justice and environmental justice?

Saura Jost

I'm so excited to bring my civil engineering background and professional expertise to the city government. It's something that we really need. I have a professional background in designing roads, buildings, bridges and utilities. I bring to that decision making table. These are all things that we rely upon every day. We've seen the condition of our roads this past year, and a lot of folks are wondering: “How did we get here? Did they not design these well? What is going on with maintenance and how come this happened?”

I'm looking forward to bringing my expertise to solve those issues. As an engineer, we bring a different approach to problem solving and thus policymaking. We have to gather information and data. And we have to gather the right people, expertise and ideas. We can design our own solutions. As an engineer, I’m focused on solutions that are data driven and really comprehensive. At the same time, when it comes to policymaking, it should be a culmination of input from our communities and our shared values. We can use those things hand-in-hand. In addition to solving problems, engineers also help optimize processes and systems to meet goals and targets. As a civil engineer, I work on projects across the state of Minnesota, and all over the country. I ensure projects are built on-time and within budget. We need this skill on the City Council with the city budget. I'm really excited to bring that to the Council.

The other big reason I'm running is related to how we can build infrastructure that's more climate resilient. As civil engineers, we're facing this issue every day. Professionally, we know that our built environment and our transportation systems contribute to a majority of our greenhouse gas emissions. There's so many things we can do. There's lots of sustainable structural materials we can use. There's a lot of clean energy options, solar energy, geothermal, and different materials we can use to enclose buildings to keep spaces cool and ventilated, or keep them warm.

There are transportation solutions that go hand-in-hand with our built environment. What does our community look like when we are focusing on providing public transportation for folks in our city? There should be opportunities for people to bike and walk, and opportunities that are safe, because in order for people to use transportation systems, they need to be comfortable and safe using them.

We need to make sure that we are investing in safe and accessible infrastructure no matter your mode of transit so that the sustainable choice is the easy choice. . We need public transit that is going to get us all over the city, and be frequent and reliable. We need people to want to take those types of transportation in order to reduce the overall car trips. It’s really important when it comes to climate change. When it comes to climate-resilient infrastructure and climate change, we must empower our people to be able to make choices that will help us reach those goals. There's a lot of things people can do, but they can't do that if we don't provide them with options.

We need to be able, as a city, to help connect people with funding resources. We have a lot of opportunities now with state and the federal government programs. We can connect people to opportunities to install solar panels in their house or get new windows or products that are going to be more climate resilient. We can really empower them to make individual changes that will help collectively.

I think about equitable infrastructure a lot. It's really important to me that our civil engineering profession has a role in this. There have been times in the past that engineering and planning has created inequitable infrastructure. As an industry right now, we are very much learning and understanding and developing a role in that space. What we need to do, as a city, is make sure that we are understanding what the needs of all parts of our city and our communities are, especially those that lack access to the basics like housing, green spaces, and transportation. We can work with all of our local elected officials, partners with the county and state, to direct more funding to folks, in order to address these inequities.

Now, there's lots of people that don't have access to a community center, or a green space, or a regional trail or to affordable housing. I'm really looking forward to bringing my background into the design side of these things.

Civil engineering, engineering and architecture are still very much not as diverse as they should be, and not representative of the people that experience the things that we design. I'm really passionate about making sure we are getting more folks that are underrepresented into our industry. They're the people that are going to design things with the world that we live in mind. I've been serving on the board of a mentoring program for high school students that are interested in architecture, construction and engineering fields. I’ve taught a class as an adjunct at the University of Minnesota to architecture students connecting them to the field of engineering.

The city can implement programs like Right Track, Full Stack and provide access to STEM careers for students and young people. It's really important to get everyone a seat at the table, when it comes to designs for more equitable infrastructure.

Women Winning

We appreciate your point of combining data driven policies with the values and lived experiences of the communities that work and live in that infrastructure.

Ward Three is a rapidly growing area of St. Paul. What are the opportunities to connect with new voters and the ward, community members who might be skeptical of the political process, as well as long term residents?

Saura Jost

Ward Three has some of the highest voter turnout in the state. At the same time, there are still folks that need to be engaged who haven't been brought along to participate. With this being a municipal election and relatively lower voter turnout, we still have a higher voter turnout relative to other parts of St. Paul. We've really been making an effort, an intentional effort, to reach out to new voters.

I grew up in the Ward. Through serving on the District Council and really being out in the community, I know there are folks that have not been included. We have a really large renter population in Ward Three. We have a large student population in Ward Three with three colleges: St. Kate’s, Macalester, and then St. Thomas is just outside of the Ward. We have a really large East African immigrant community.

We've been engaging these groups since the beginning by connecting with community leaders. We're learning and listening to the issues that are important to them, issues that impact them. We are making sure we're uplifting their voices and creating a seat at the table and included in the politics of Ward Three.

Ward Three does have a lot of longtime residents as well, with a mix of new folks. We've been engaging with longtime residents similar to the way we've been engaging with new voters. Longtime residents, and likely longtime voters, are people that often hear from candidates. We've been talking to people primarily on the doors. We've been knocking lots of doors!
Many people have participated in recent elections. We are also calling people on the phone, having meet-and-greets all over the Ward, and really connecting with longtime residents.

Women Winning

How does your campaign engage with community members on reproductive justice issues?

Saura Jost

It's interesting, we've been on the doors since January. We ask everyone about the issues that are important to them, and several people have said, “Reproductive justice issues are important to me. Women's rights are important to me”. And, we've been talking to them about making sure that all folks have access to all of their basic needs, and making sure they have access to reproductive care. We need to provide that in our city. It is really, really important.

It is important for the bigger picture of reproductive justice, because Minnesota is one of the only places in this region that has abortion protections. And, knowing that people are really relying upon this, we're going to really need to continue to provide these resources to people. Our engagement has been through talking to people directly. Women Winning has endorsed pro-choice women in all seven Wards, which is really great. And just talking to people about the fact that we've got people in every part of the city committed to reproductive justice is powerful.

Women Winning

You've previously participated in the Women Winning Political Leaders Of Today (PLOT) Program and interned with former State Senator Ann Johnson Stewart's campaign. This election, St. Paul could have its first-ever all pro-choice women's City Council. How has the leadership of other pro-choice women influenced your own politics? When elected, how do you hope to shape conversations and policy regarding access to abortion and the ability to raise children in safe and healthy environments in St. Paul?

Saura Jost

The pro-choice issue was one of the first issues I learned about as a kid. The first real pro-choice woman I think about is my mom. She really taught me the importance of being able to have choice and making your own decisions about your body. I was really grateful for that.

And that also led me to want to work on social justice issues. I eventually joined the Central Young Democrats. That's what really kind of sparked my inspiration to run. I was really inspired by a lot of pro-choice women and Women Winning. Women Winning was one of the first organizations I got connected with when I wanted to run.

Women like Ann Johnson Stewart, Erin Murphy, and so many other local community leaders here in St. Paul that are pro-choice, really influenced my politics. It made me believe I could run for office and provided me with a lot of resources and support. We are all really committed to our shared values when it comes to reproductive justice and reproductive healthcare.

When I was a kid, pro-choice made so much sense to me, like, of course I should be able to make my own choices about my body. As I got older and started getting into politics, I began to realize how much that right was being threatened, and it really influenced my politics.

I learned even more through Women Winning. And then when Roe v. Wade fell, it really influenced my motivation to run.

I think about the leadership of the women I mentioned, and even more pro-choice women that have run before me. Women Winning really uplifts and encourages so many candidates to run for office. The seven women that are running for St. Paul City Council as pro-choice candidates wouldn't be here without so many other pro-choice elected leaders and community leaders that helped get us to this point over decades. That's a really big way that Women Winning has helped us. In terms of shaping the conversation, the biggest thing we are talking about is "What does reproductive justice mean"?

Reproductive justice is related to all types of justice, like social justice and environmental justice. Abortion is healthcare. All these things are essential for our communities to thrive. In the city of St. Paul, we can make sure that people have access to their basic needs, and be able to raise a child in a safe and healthy environment. When someone does decide to have a child, it's really essential that we're thinking about the future of our city, like investing in our kids.

I'm also a mom. I have an almost five year old. I am very much thinking about that for myself, but also for all of our families in our city. That means making sure that all of our kids and our families have access to housing, jobs, mental and physical healthcare, and a quality public education. These are all the things we need to thrive. We also need access to affordable childcare. It's one of the biggest things that impacts a family's ability to be able to raise their children with the things that they need.

We must support young people in our city through programming at the parks and rec centers, the community centers, at libraries. All of this is really important. Those are things that my sister and I really relied upon to be raised in a safe and healthy environment. Those are things that everyone in our city really needs in order to reach their full potential. When it comes to being able to raise children in a safe and healthy environment, it includes things like making sure that we have common sense gun safety laws too, and knowing our children can be safe.

Women Winning

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

Saura Jost

I just don't know if we’veever had seven pro-choice women running for one City Council. That just seems very historic. Electing all of us will really be a movement in a positive direction when it comes to our shared values, pro-choice representation, accessible healthcare and a path to reproductive justice. It really speaks to where we're moving as a state. Our state legislature just did all these amazing things to serve and deliver for our communities across Minnesota. We want to do the same thing locally in St. Paul.

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