July 8, 2017—Raymond Dehn's Speech to Minneapolis DFL Convention

Thank you, Ilhan, for your warm introduction.

This is the largest group I’ve ever spoken to. I never thought I’d be where I am today. I wake up every morning grateful to be a candidate running for Mayor.

I believe the success of our city means listening to each other’s stories. I’d like to tell you mine.

I am no stranger to the poverty and systemic inequities that impact our communities. Like many of my peers, I found solace from struggle in drugs and alcohol—I am an addict. Eventually, I was caught in a burglary, trying to raise money for my habit. Jail time was not a deterrent—we had just as much access to getting high on the inside as we did on the streets.

Only after 28 days of court-ordered treatment, did I begin to understand my addiction, and what in my past had led me to the decisions I made—treatment was my door to freedom, my door to dignity.

For 40 years now, I’ve been sober. I was given a second chance, the opportunity to chart a new direction for my life. Eventually, I applied for and received a full pardon from the State of Minnesota. Far too many of my peers were not provided the same opportunities. Which were, of course, given to me because I am white; I am privileged. Because of my skin color, I was given the chance to live as if I never committed a felony.

I am the beneficiary of an unfair system. And I am dedicated to dismantling that system.

I got involved with my neighborhood board. We worked on home foreclosure prevention— during the housing crisis, I knocked on my neighbors’ doors and connected them to assistance if they were falling behind on their monthly payments. Together, we worked on criminal justice reform, and fought to establish equitable access to public transportation. In 2002, I got involved in electoral politics, volunteering for the late Senator Paul Wellstone, and with then-State Representative Keith Ellison.

In 2012, I was elected by my neighbors in District 59B to represent them at the State Capitol and I’ve worked hard for three terms.

I fought to pass marriage equality. I worked to secure $100 million for affordable housing in MN, a growing problem in our city. I championed ban-the-box, which dictates that employers can no longer discriminate against job seekers with a criminal record. I helped my community when it was hit by a tornado, rebuilding 32 homes. And I fought to keep North High open, because the school is an important asset to the community—look how successful it is now. I stood with many of you who are here today: KerryJo, Lynne, Kale.

That’s my story. I’ve been a low-wealth worker. A criminal. A business-owner ravaged by the recession. A father trying to put his kid through school. A college graduate—at age 40. And this is who I am. A product of public schools. An addict. A man who never thought he could be an elected official—and I am humbled to be running for Mayor.

Our segregationist policies have perpetuated disparity and inequity. We have an obligation to interact with change, that’s why each of us is here today. My vision is a city where the instruments of change are accessible to everyone, despite our stories— because of our stories.

Just because our hearts have evolved to see the inherent injustice, it doesn't mean the system has. Unless we actively disrupt systems of white supremacy, we are destined to uphold them.

I’ve been a leader at the Capitol: I raised the minimum wage, championed bipartisan criminal justice reform, and expanded access to healthcare. But I am not afraid to follow when others are best suited to lead the way I’ve learned from movement organizers at the 4th Precinct, I’ve joined Justice for All with Take Action MN and listened to the voices of incarcerated peoples.

All of these experiences have informed my perspective and shaped me as a leader.

Through my life, I’ve learned that sometimes being a progressive means leading an effort, and sometimes it means engaging the reluctant. Today is about more than endorsing a candidate, this delegation must choose a vision for the future. I ask you to vote for our vision. We include those traditionally left out of the process, those working multiple full-time jobs to support their family, renters being priced out of their neighborhoods, those who feel unsafe in the presence of officers sworn to protect them, and all who have a stake in the health of our environment.

We have the opportunity in this election to change our approach to government—to focus on dismantling systems and prioritizing people, instead of doing what is expected and hoping for different results.

And that’s why I’m asking for your vote, so we can shape this city, together. Thank you. 

Akhilesh Menawat