Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Serving the UMN community since 1900

The Minnesota Daily

Robin Wonsley reflects on tense political relationships, socialist beginnings

The lone independent socialist on the Minneapolis City Council, Robin Wonsley has had a turbulent three year term.
Image by David Stager
Robin Wonsley (above) has served on the Minneapolis City Council for the past three years.

Despite hardships and struggles, Minneapolis City Council member Robin Wonsley (Ward 2) said she will continue to use her authority to uplift her communities as she continues to serve on the council.

Ward 2 covers the Cedar Riverside, Como, Marcy Holmes, Prospect Park, Seward and University of Minnesota neighborhoods.

Wonsley joined the City Council in 2021 as the first Black Democratic Socialist in Minneapolis after narrowly beating 14-year incumbent Cam Gordon from the Minnesota Green Party. In the past three years, Wonsley has prioritized affordable housing, public safety, and workers’ rights and wages. 

Wonsley left her hometown of Chicago in hopes of distancing herself from police violence before the death of Jamar Clark in 2015 made her realize Minneapolis’ complicated relationship with its police department.

“I knew I couldn’t just sit on the sidelines while people were organizing around something that again, I had personal experience with,” Wonsley said. 

Wonsley joined the police advocacy group Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar and the $15 minimum wage advocacy group 15 Now MN. She said it was during this time the community around her encouraged her to run for City Council.

“Folks encouraged me to run for office like, ‘We want you, we need people who are involved in the struggle to be in these seats,’ and I kept being like, ‘No, leave me alone,’” Wonsley said. “We all have seen the activists that have gone into these positions and immediately acquiesced to the status quo and I don’t want to be that.”

The murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the lackluster response from the city government inspired her to run for office. 

“I wanted to show that actually, you can be a politician worthy enough and not acquiesce. You can remain connected with the community,” Wonsley said. “I wanted to show that we could have something different inside of city hall.”

Wonsley said she mirrors her political beliefs off leaders like U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and former City Council member candidate Ginger Jentzen, who ran in 2017. 

“We can have something different,” Wonsley said. “We don’t have to accept at a national level or local level the rules and conditions of capitalism.” 

Within the past year, Wonsley said she is most proud of her work on the Ceasefire Resolution for Gaza as it is one of the most formative pieces she has contributed to. 

University of Minnesota Undergraduate Student Government (USG) Local Coordinator Katie Smithberg said Wonsley has listened to and addressed problems the student government has brought up.

“I’ve never felt invalidated by her and I think that’s something that can come with just politics in general,” Smithberg said. “I think she just does a great job of recognizing real problems and taking steps forward to address them.”

Wonsley said one of the most grueling struggles she and her office overcame was passing the Fair Drives rideshare ordinance over a month ago because of pressure from inside and outside the City Council. 

“Doing things right is not enough in this role because we checked all the legislative boxes, went through the appropriate legislative steps, we did everything technically right,” Wonsley said. “I feel [some of] my colleagues acquiesced to corporate pressure. The mayor acquiesced to corporate pressure.”

Humphrey School of Public Affairs professor Larry Jacobs said Wonsley has been a steady driving force of radical change despite pressure from the governor and mayor about her policies. 

“[She’s] not one of the people who has given any inclination to compromise or reconsider or really put much effort into delay,” Jacobs said. “She’s got a strong position. She’s not giving up on it.” 

Smithberg said she remembers working with Wonsley to address and prevent a repeat of the Identity Apartments crisis as well as their shared excitement about Mayor Jacob Frey signing the pre-lease protection

“She just brought this excitement that I think reminds us how cool it is that we have the ability to communicate with our representatives and make change happen,” Smithberg said. 

In addition to working with USG about the pre-lease protection, Smithberg said Wonsley fought for sidewalk plowing after students expressed safety concerns, fought for an off-campus grocery store and is working with USG about the Carlson School’s vacancy project. 

Wonsley said throughout the last three years working alongside Frey and the other council members, being understanding but resilient has been key for her despite occasional opposition. 

“You have to have tough skin in this type of work, you have to have a spirit of endurance,” Wonsley said. “Especially because of the various identities I hold: young, Black, woman, non-traditional background, independent, socialist. I understand that there is a target on me from a lot of powerful folks in our city who do not want to see that type of rhetoric.”

Wonsley allegedly accused Frey in the past of abuses of power, such as threatening council members with limiting safety services to their wards, according to the Star Tribune. Frey said that never happened and nothing like that was ever mentioned by him or his staff. 

Though Wonsley and Frey have had a fiery relationship and she has faced opposition from other Democratic leaders in Minnesota, Jacobs said Wonsley nevertheless sets the pace of the city council. 

“She didn’t have an opponent and the mayor threw everything he had at her,” Jacobs said. “She’s taken some hard punches and she’s not backing down and she doesn’t seem threatened.”

Jacobs said Wonsley, alongside council members Aisha Chughtai (Ward 10), Jason Chavez (Ward 9) and Jeremiah Ellison (Ward 5), has pushed the council more to the left than ever before. 

Wonsley said she often looks back at her first major project with the East Phillips community’s Urban Farm initiatives as a reference point for how far she has come. She added she received a blanket for the area’s Indigenous community for her work with them and holds it as a token of appreciation and motivation. 

“It just reminds me again of why I have to be resilient, why I have to have a deep level of endurance in this work, why I have to stay spiritually grounded and make sure my faith is at 150% and with God and just being committed to this work in spite of the hardships,” Wonsley said. 

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  • Thomas
    Apr 26, 2024 at 12:12 pm

    She should reflect on going on a diet.

  • Ken DeYoe
    Apr 25, 2024 at 12:23 pm

    She can join Sanders in the Democratic Socialist Party and like him, be on the infinite cusp of nothing.

  • John Fredell
    Apr 25, 2024 at 7:49 am

    Someone on the Daily should write an article about “Justice for….”. What is justice? Can a dead person get justice, or is it too late? Is justice only for the living?
    The people for whom justice pleas are requested are much more complicated than their advocates report. It’s, as a famous neuroscientist is wont to say, “Hellishly complicated.”