Getting Past the Politics: YGB Interviews Mayoral Candidate Satya-Rhodes Conway
Why are you running?
People have been asking me to run since I was on the council. I’m running because I want to make sure Madison is a city where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. We need someone who’s not going to just talk, but someone who’s going to get the job done.
Who is Satya at the core?
I am from second hand clothes. From Wonder Woman and Nancy Drew. I am from the kitchen with mismatched plates and silverware, accumulated from garage sales and Salvation Army stores, chipped and worn with faded beauty. I am from lilacs, both the single old tree spreading it’s offspring across the lawn and the carefully manicured specimens in Highland Park. I'm from scientists and artists. From Jane and Josey. I'm from intellect and opinion. From “act like you own the place” and “don’t put your elbows on the table”. I'm from Christmas and Passover and Solstice, home cooked meals with family, chosen or not. I'm from Espanola, the lowrider capital of the world, but also Rochester and La Jolla, Platteville and Grosse Pointe. Home baked banana bread and holiday morning waffles. From the time Dusty jumped out of a runaway peach truck and broke his arm. From Anne’s choosing art over a “normal” life. Kodachrome slides stacked in boxes, memories of Libya, Europe, Colorado, Japan, Altadena. Images you can only see with forgotten technology.
I was born in New Mexico to parents who were hippies living off of the grid. In middle school, I led all school meetings and those skills have been important in my work in government. I went to Smith College in Massachusetts studying biology. My masters degree was in Ecology. nI eventually applied to an internship at the State Environmental Resource Center. I worked on policy on state levels. I talked my way out of an internship and into a job. After three years I got the job at COWS and I’ve been at UW ever since. I bought a house and live in Lincoln park neighborhood. I live with my partner and my dog. I was on the city council for ten years.
What’s your biggest motivation?
For me, what it comes down to is that there are things we need to be working on that aren’t working hard or fast enough in the city. If we don’t work on them now, they become harder and more expensive five years down the road. If we had started building more affordable housing ten years ago, we wouldn’t be where we are now. What I see in other cities that I see here is that we’re not willing to accept density. We can’t fall into the trap of opposing across the board. We have to make sure ti’s productive across the board.
Opinion on new jails? Disproportionality in prison sentences?
I say no to privatized prisons. There’s no excuse. And why prison just to begin with? Not that there shouldn’t be consequences for crimes that hurt the community, but I’m way more interested in restorative justice and ways that communities can make amends by giving back to the community. Addiction, mental health issues, or poverty, we need to address the issues instead of locking people up in cages. Change comes slow within the criminal justice system, but it doesn’t mean we don’t try it. I doesn’t maen that we shouldn’t decriminalize poverty. We need to think about all of these things to keep people out of the system.
How are we going to solve disparities in schools? Student opportunities?
There are a lot of things that belong to the school district. We have to think about what the city can do. Kid show up to school having ‘behavior problems’ or fights or whatever/ Why are they don’t that? It’s historical trauma. Are they eating enough? Are their needs being met? Why are they being presented as a problem in local schools? And why are we punishing kids that are having a reaction to their world? I’m talking about access to healthy food in neighborhoods. Making sure kids get to school safely. Focusing on transit. Making sure kids have a safe healthy place to live which mens affordable housing for their families. Kids don’t want to have to move around, we need more stability. It all goes back to affordable housing, food access, affordability and a good transit system. That’s sort of the top of the line.
You would think the question of giving students opportunities would be straight-forward. I would love to see more paid internships, seeing people learning and getting paid across the board. Like Operation Fresh Start, teaching construction, home renovation, ecological restoration, and clean up crews. Any number of things that need to be done in the public realm if there are young people who need job opportunities and need to learn skills. This is crazy, but one of the things that needs to be done is that there are hundreds of single family homes that need to have energy efficiency. Could we not have these kids in need of opportunity train to weatherize and make homes more energy efficient? We need more fresh foods. Why not train folks to farm? Why not have market gardens?
How can we create a more accessible city?
We need rapid transit. We need people to get to their damn jobs. I’m lucky because I live where I live. If I worked at East Towne or one of the hotels, I wouldn’t be able to take the bus. That’s not right. That’s closing off an opportunity and that’s not right. I want to do something about it, this is where the city could be doing something, but it isn’t. I want to see kids in folks own their own business. We need tiny houses for homeless people. There’s a need and it builds potential wealth within the community. I was appointed member of the Madison Food Policy Council. We’ve been working on healthy food access, healthy retails, and a couple of grant funds. Funded Luna’s Grocery’s and River Food Pantry to buy a refrigerated truck. There’s needs in the community…we have to do that in a way that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. That’s why I’m running.
Is Madison a truly ‘progressive’ city?
I think individually people who live in Madison are progressive and would describe themselves as such. I don’t think our city government has been progressive as it should be given who lives here. That’s a part of why I’m running. I see the places we are resting on our laurels. I know we can do better. We don’t do a good enough job in this city listening to the impact of communities and treating them like they have access and something to contribute. We have to take that. We have to take asset based approach to our neighborhoods. We have to look at grassroots solutions that exist and support them, because the city government is pretty white. We have a dynamic bunch of white people coming to poor neighborhoods to fix the problems and it’s not how the problems get better. We have to break that up and think about how we support the community. How we empower communities. That’s going to be uncomfortable for a lot of white people. It’s going to be hard. We’re going to have to step on toes. It may be hard, but we have to do it. Opportunity gaps any gaps don’t shift until we build capacity and empower the people. What does that look like? I’m not exactly sure and that’s okay because we have to source those solutions form the communities themselves. It’s something that I want to start.
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