In celebration of Black History Month, Metric connected with Shamair Turner to learn more about her campaign & strategy to engage voters in a pandemic.
Shamair is a first generation Canadian who was born and raised in the Ward she is running to represent. She is a business professional with experience in risk management and has deep connections to Edmonton’s rich arts and culture community. If elected in Edmonton’s October municipal election, Shamair could be the city’s first Black councilwoman.
What inspired you to run for city council?
The way that I’ve been seeing the world and my existence in it has been shifting and expanding over the last few years.
I’ve been thinking about political influences and how it connects to everything: what our neighbourhoods look like, who has access to power and what is prioritized.
I felt like things were building in me and this was the right time and the right way [running for council] to take some action. I don’t know if it’s a female thing but I wanted to ask myself that question first. Because there may have been a different space or a different way that I could get involved. But this seemed like the right way to do it.
There aren’t enough people at the table who are capable of seeing the complexities of the world that many of us actually live in. Boldness is needed, and this is a bold move for me. I think that council is ready for some bold action — some brave action — and so I decided to jump in.
What is Edmonton city council is missing?
There is too much silence. There is a lack of voices saying the right things and just a void, like ‘how can nobody have any questions about these huge issues?’
It was less about me needing to jump in and say ‘here’s what’s going on.’ It was ‘how come they’re not asking what’s going on?’
I’m a thinker who requires information. If there’s an absence of seeking information, to me that looks like a lot of reliance on the way that somebody assumes the world is. That’s a problem. If you’re just facing everything from the seat you’re sitting in, and you’re not asking more questions to learn other perspectives, I don’t think you’re going to make good decisions or inclusive decisions.
What are some key issues in your ward?
The campaign is being built when it comes to actual platform policy pieces, but when I think about the sorts of things people are thinking about and worried about — it’s a lot of uncertainty and that uncomfortableness with that uncertainty. That will inform the direction that I want to build my platform.
There are things I care about and I feel like everyone should be caring about — or at least people on council should be caring about — like safety and security in its various forms.
That’s children walking to school safely, that’s people being able to use transit safely, that’s property that you’ve worked really hard to secure.
I was reading something about women wanting to run and how difficult it can be in the fall and winter because there’s not enough street lights. There’s also the racialized component of being able to just move in your space and in your city safely.* That’s a big thing that I care about and I think there’s a lot of angles when someone talks about safety. (*Editor’s note at the end)
Community members need to know what’s going on and how they can have a say in the direction of their city.
How are you planning to reach voters?
The short answer is as many ways as possible. I’m a really social person and I’m energized by connecting with people so I want to try and replicate that connection as much as possible.
That is going to be connecting with community leagues, sports organizations, religious groups, and the business community. There’s going to be a huge amount of online Zoom meetings and as things evolve and as it gets warmer, hopefully there’ll be opportunities to see some real faces in a safe way.
From there it becomes what is the strategy behind how we make those things happen. I want to make sure that when I build that plan it’s not just looking at a strategy that draws in people who already exist in that space — it’s got to be able to draw people in who don’t normally engage that way. My team is ready to try and build that plan.
I also think that my website, which is still being built, will be a gateway for voters to get to know me.
How does your branding reflect you & the campaign?
I have been very lucky in this city to be connected with a lot of amazing artists and and people with really great critical eyes for things like that so I’m tapping into those resources.
I’m an ‘appreciator’ not necessarily a creator when it comes to that. For example, my name is not a common name so my team and I definitely didn’t want any font that’s unclear or anything like that. We had conversations around colours, which was interesting.
We were able to kind of capture a bit of brightness in that coral colour that we landed on. I remember saying specifically: “I’m not afraid of pink. I’m not gendering pink.” I’m not thinking that colour is going to be less assertive or strong or weak. It was a fun process even though it was just my name.
Part of the idea of somebody like me running and what our council has historically looked like is that we don’t have to follow every single mold. We’re coming at things from a slightly different angle and I think there’s a lot of value in that.
What’s it like to organize a campaign in a pandemic?
My campaign committee right now is grassroots and predominantly female. It’s amazing to see us all rally, get excited and engaged but it’s also a bit stressful because that gets stifled. . There’s so much energy and so much excitement just to get out and meet people but we can’t do it in the ways that we used to.
I’ve got members who have event planning experience, who’ve run big festivals, who have run fundraising events all of which obviously were in-person. So, it’s really just about trying to be creative and trying to replicate that feeling that I get and that people get when you actually are with someone.
I think that people are debating what the best direction is to make our city prosperous again. I think we should be thinking about it in positive, optimistic, innovative and exciting ways to create the elements of the city that we want instead of a scared, regressive way.
There’s language like ‘back to basics’ or ‘getting things back’ but I believe we need to be moving forward. We need ‘big picture’ and ‘forward planning’ and that’s what people want to see.What’s it going to take to win?
I want this campaign to be built from a grassroots perspective and what that means is that support in the form of donations is the only way that I can be successful to a certain extent. There are established political machines and centres of influence that I will be up against, not just as a first-time candidate but also as a Black woman. People don’t bet on us as much and I’m asking people to show that support and really get involved because that is the only way that change is going to happen.
*Editor’s Note: Following this conversation with Shamair Turner, an anti-mask protest with connections to hate groups was held in Edmonton on Feb. 20. Watch her response here.