Who The Folk?! Sara Freeman

Running for office for the first time is a big step for anyone. For Sara Freeman, she’s taking this on while battling post-traumatic stress after having survived rape and gun violence that would keep others from making themselves vulnerable. Freeman opens up about her reasons for running for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 61B, her immersion in Judaism, and her 8-year-old daughter who made both happen in this week’s Who The Folk?!

More and more people are choosing to run for office for the first time in this election cycle. What led you to want to do this?

I vote in every caucus and was a delegate in the 2016 city convention, so I show up on everyone’s phone list. When the other candidates started their own races in September, I had the opportunity to sit and have coffee with them. They’re both lovely people, but neither has kids in Minneapolis Public Schools and especially in this district, the conversation about the budget deficits in our public schools and the results that pressure is having on teacher retention and student outcomes is conversation no. 1. I was concerned that perspective wasn’t represented in a meaningful way by the other candidates who had jumped in.

I was complaining to my husband over dinner one night. Our kids, if I didn’t know then I know – are always listening. We have a rule that the kids aren’t allowed to complain about something until they try it because they like to summarily reject what we’re having for dinner. I was complaining vociferously to my husband. My priorities and perspective and our family’s priorities not being reflected by the slate of candidates and how disheartening it was in a year like this where I thought I would have some compelling choices. My 8-year-old Charlotte said you can’t complain about it if you don’t try it. That was the nudge I needed. So I jumped in. I started campaigning in early December, so I was a solid three months late to the game. When I’m able to get in front of people, and talk about not just my story, but the policies that I would want to go champion at the state capitol, I’ve got more than talking points. I’ve got ideas. This is ultimately a district pretty consistently votes about 85% Democrat. All of us share the same opinions. There are really meaningful contrasts in the perspectives and experience that have informed our opinions.

Just to go back for a second: Your 8-year-old bullied you into this?

She did. She totally called me out. Each of our children, if we are smart enough as parents to let them, can be spirit guides for us. Charlotte has always been my earnest, eager, “well, mommy, why can’t you do more” force in my life. She knew precisely what she was challenging me to do when she said it. Now every time she complains about me missing a dinner or bedtime, which is new for my kids, I say, “Charlotte, this was your idea in the first place.”

So why run?

To me, we need new voices at the table. We can’t expect different, better outcomes if we continue to churn out and elect carbon-copy candidates. With my lived experience, both as a survivor, a public school parent and volunteer, both at Burroughs, where my children attend, and Minneapolis North High School. That has informed my perspective in such meaningful ways. At Burroughs, in a high-wealth neighborhood, we’ve been able to raise the money as a school, for instance, to keep the social worker full time. That cut just happens at North. There’s no buffer that protects low-wealth schools from the draconian types of cuts that are coming down the pike as we contend with a $33 million budget deficit.

You’ve taken on this challenge at a school like North even though you live in the …

You can say the privileged, white part of town. The day I signed up to be a volunteer at Burroughs, like an eager beaver parent, and I was put on a waitlist to volunteer. I was immediately struck by the fact that my privilege already extended to my children. The next day, there was an article in the Star Tribune about North High School’s struggle just to keep the doors open. I knew I saw a place I could be immediately helpful.

For me, for my family, for my son Jack, his preschool schedule worked out so that I’d pick Jack up at Temple Israel and go to North. Jack was with me and we were there when I started a finance club and would spend Mondays at North teaching finance. About a month in, Jack started asking me questions I couldn’t answer.

These kids were gods to Jack. They had just come off a state football championship where he got to go to games. High school boys are heroes to 4-year-old boys. And I saw the way Jack was greeted by these kids. Here is this privileged little white kid walking the halls of North High School, and the openness and kindness and generosity those kids showed Jack made such an impression on me, and it immediately became clear to Jack that those kids aren’t greeted in his world in the same way. Having to answer these questions and having to recognize the disparity and inequity is so great that was obvious to a 4-year-old, left such an impression on me.

I saw you grew up in a small town near Rochester?

I am the Norwegian Lutheran and my husband was raised in a secular, culturally-Jewish family. When we moved here and enrolling our kids and picking a preschool, I intentionally sought out Temple Israel so my kids would have a well-rounded education in and access to both those faith traditions. My sister is married to an Egyptian Muslim, my cousin married an Indian Sikh. When Ryan married in, one of my grandma’s first comments was “oh good, we didn’t have a Jew yet.” She was so thrilled. We had all the monotheistic religions represented. We had all of these faith traditions represented in our family, but also we had immigrants, we had first generation Americans. Our family looked like the America, I think, we all believed in. That was very important to my grandparents who were good Minnesota progressives in the Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale vein. I couldn’t provide my children a Jewish upbringing, so Temple Israel became a resource not just for the kids, but ultimately I’m so grateful to have had access to the services and programs for my own faith journey. Charlotte declared when she 4 that she was Jewish, not Lutheran. It helped me square the circle I had been struggling with as I navigated being in an interfaith family. I’m 9 years into my path with Judaism, being led primarily by my 8-year-old, and I just think of how my perspective has been enriched.

Are you surprised by how many women are running for office?

There are an unprecedented number of women running in 2018, and I think all are of us are doing it for authentic, personal reasons. That has already shifted the conversation in a really meaningful way. It’s not that it’s a total takeover, but hopefully having more women and people of color, people from vaster and varied experiences and perspectives, will lead to such significant and better outcomes. We’ve had a pretty homogenous group of candidates represent us for a long time. Simply by the number of women who have stood up and said “enough,” that is going to result in such meaningful changes. That is why win or lose, I am so encouraged just looking at the landscape at who is running this year.

Favorite Jewish holiday?

I am so drawn to Yom Kippur. Christianity misses the mark on talking about humility before each other as a way to express our humility before God. Every Yom Kippur service I’ve attended and every book I’ve read on Judaism, I’m drawn to not just the story, but the mandate that it issues. I love that we have to seek forgiveness from each other and be humble before and with each other. That message is sorely lacking in Christianity to just be humble before each other and before God. It’s not the fun one, but that has always been my favorite holiday because it forces me to meditate and sit with things that the Christian calendar never challenges me to do. It has made my faith grow more than any other holiday.

Favorite Jewish food?

Sufganiyot. Any donut is going to get me. But anything I can pan fry is a win in my book. Sufganiyot take holiday eating to a whole new level.

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