Sara Johnson, a Nebulite for about two years, recently won a contested race for Committeewoman of the City’s 9th Ward; she ran on a slate with Committeeman candidate Bryan Walsh and both are now set to serve in their new roles.
Johnson lives nearby, in Benton Park West, with her dog, Winston. She serves as the editor of The Porch Review, her neighborhood’s quarterly newsletter. As a garden enthusiast, she enjoys leading a youth garden for The Salvation Army. She moved to St. Louis from Detroit three years ago, and while she loves her life in St Louis, she confesses to missing “pure Michigan summers.”
In the glow of her election victory, we asked Johnson some questions about her recent election experience, job and time here.
How did you get involved in the committee race?
A friend stopped by my desk sometime in March and mentioned that he’d given my name to Bryan Walsh as a potential candidate for the job. He felt that my involvement in the community and the work I do with The Salvation Army would be a valuable asset. To be honest, I wasn’t too interested at first – I’m busy! I ended up meeting with Dan Guenther and he’s the one who sold me on it. He came to the community youth garden I run and helped me plant a monarch garden, and by the end of our project, I had decided to run.
What appealed about the position to you, especially considering the unpaid nature of such a position?
Much of my work centers around building stronger neighborhoods. I think a real indicator of a neighborhood’s health is whether or not residents are involved in the democratic process. I looked at this position as an opportunity to strengthen this really basic aspect of our ward. Voter turnout is dismal. In the August 2 election, less than 30% of 9th Ward voters made it to the polls. As Committeewoman, I’ll be working to engage all residents in the 9th Ward.
What did you learn from the race; about politics, generally, and about yourself?
This was a real season of growth for me. I’m an introvert with some real “shy girl” tendencies. I spent my entire summer knocking on the doors of strangers, sharing my vision for our ward, and asking for votes. Now I will literally talk to anyone. I’m late to things now because I’m busy talking. It’s crazy.
I’ve also learned so much about our ward. We knocked on about 3,000 doors, and covered every street in the ward. I’ve picked up a good bit of history from longtime residents, and noticed several landmarks and other oddities that were new to me.
What are your immediate plans (and, of course, Bryan’s)?
First: build web presence. We’ve set up the basic social media, and will have a website up in the next couple weeks.
Second: get people to our first “9th Ward Assembly”, a gathering of residents interested in local governance. First meeting is scheduled for Sept 21 in Mt. Pleasant Park. We will have a survey available to get feedback about how to proceed with the ward organization.
Third: focus on getting people registered to vote. We’re manning voter registration booths at different STL events.
Fourth: Take over the world.
Can you tell us a little about your day job and how that relates to your interest in politics, civics, governance?
I lead a neighborhood based program for The Salvation Army that works to engage young adults in building stronger communities. Young people from all over the US can apply to join our program and spend a year living and serving together. We’re figuring out together how to strengthen our community, and it’s become clear that many struggles in our neighborhood are a result of broken systems. If we want to see real change and development that benefits the whole of our neighborhoods, instead of just a few, it requires being engaged citizens.
What’s good about the 9th Ward and what could get good?
So much good! A good chunk of Cherokee St., active neighborhood associations, the architecture, several great community gardens, and best of all, some really amazing residents who love their community well. Seriously, so much heart.
We definitely have a few areas for improvement! I’d love to see more public art, stronger schools and programming for young people, safer streets and roads for pedestrians/bicyclists, and a real push for affordable housing, especially as we see all of this development happening.
I moved here almost three years ago to begin my work with The Salvation Army. We didn’t have an office at the time, so I was working from home. It was the worst. I googled “office space for rent” and Nebula popped up. I was able to convince my board to rent a desk, and now I’ve been here almost two years. It started as a matter of convenience, but it’s led to so much more. I’ve made many great connections for my work, and also made friends. This was a huge bonus, being a STL transplant with no roots here. Working from Nebula makes even the rough days at work better. I love it!