Hosanna Yemiru is not a typical Dallas City Council candidate, and she doesn’t plan on running a typical Dallas-style campaign, either.
Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, she was 11 when her family moved to the Dallas area, where she grew up and has made a name for herself as a political campaign organizer. Now, she’s decided to step out from behind the scenes and into the spotlight as a candidate for District 11.
Yemiru’s upbringing is a representation of the working-class immigrant experience. Her parents, both former journalists in Ethiopia, had to work multiple low-paying jobs to make ends meet after immigrating to Dallas.
“When we moved here it was a really big adjustment. People warn you about culture shock ... but nothing really prepares you for what kind of adjustment you have to make,” Yemiru says.
Growing up, Yemiru had to rely on public libraries for access to books she couldn’t afford and DART to get around town. She attended public schools in RISD and eventually made her way to the University of Texas at Dallas, where she majored in American studies.
Professionally, Yemiru is a veteran political organizer. She has worked on several campaigns, starting on U.S. Rep. Colin Allred’s campaign as an organizer and eventually as a canvassing director focusing on communities of color. She went on to become the field director for Scott Griggs when he ran for Dallas mayor in 2019 and managed Tom Ervin’s primary campaign for the Texas House in 2020.
Before working on political campaigns, she worked in various positions in retail and as a legal assistant. “I just did odd jobs here and there because I needed to,” Yemiru says.
As a working-class immigrant growing up in Dallas, Yemiru experienced first hand how difficult it can be to rely on the patchwork of public services that many Dallasites rely on every day.
“Whether it was utility payment assistance or food banks that we relied on, as I started growing up I started to see that they were the first ones on the chopping block when it comes to our City Council,” Yemiru says.
Indeed, DART faced budget cuts in 2020 while funding for homeless services remained flat despite continued growth in the homeless population.
Yemiru, a self-described progressive, believes the city government of Dallas can do more for people who can identify with her experience.
“In the wake of COVID, we need strong progressive voices on council fighting for everyday Dallasites,” Yemiru says.
The manner in which Dallas has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic is central to Yemiru’s decision to run. She believes that much more could have been and could still be done to provide critical relief to struggling people in Dallas. “I’m very disappointed with the way we have handled COVID in the city, and I think we could do better,” Yemiru says.
Yemiru cites the city government's inability to distribute millions in mortgage and rental assistance as one major failure. In 2020, Yemiru tried to help a neighbor identify which assistance programs they could apply for after the passage of the CARES act.
“It was so difficult to figure out ... and in the end, we ended up applying, and he didn’t receive any aid, and of course we know now that one in four people who applied for rental assistance to the city of Dallas didn’t receive it,” Yemiru says.
She said Dallas has failed to implement creative programs that connect the health of the community with the health of local businesses, such as the Meal Assistance Program in New Orleans that utilizes federal funding to partner with restaurants and delivery services to provide food to qualifying residents.
“Why are we not doing something like that in Dallas? I would like to see some political urgency, some political will,” Yemiru says.
Part of the problem, in Yemiru’s mind, is that voter turnout is low when it comes to City Council. It is not an irregular occurrence for fewer than 10% of eligible voters to participate in municipal elections.
“I don't think that that is the fault of voters at all. I think it's the fact that we run municipal candidates that don't speak to the larger electorate. They don't run on issues that matter to anyone other than like your very active homeowners,” Yemiru says.
This is something Yemiru hopes to change with her campaign, which is aimed to expand the electorate by amplifying the voices of minorities and working people in the city.
“I'm really excited to be able to run a campaign that's really going to focus on that, on organizing and investing into our communities and not just talking to the same 5,000 people that we rely on to decide everything that happens in our city,” Yemiru says.
To do that, Yemiru intends on doing it the old-fashioned way: knocking on doors, making phone calls and sending postcards. “We’re going to try every single avenue possible to reach as many voters as possible,” Yemiru says.
She also intends to focus on priorities that she believes will resonate with average voters, such as public health, public safety, infrastructure, environmental and energy issues and homelessness, to name a few.
“These issues don’t just stop at the federal level or state level. There’s tons that we can do on the local level to ensure that we are protecting and investing in our communities. All politics is local,” Yemiru says.
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