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The dream of American democracy is a government where we all have a voice in our communities, and we all work together to build the kind of world we want to see. Unfortunately, it rarely feels that way for many of our residents here in Minneapolis. Too often, residents ask elected officials to pass laws and implement programs to address social problems and improve the city, only to see city leaders cave to corporate lobbyists and business interests.

Ever since I joined Minneapolis City Council, I have seen constituents fill the council chambers to voice their concerns or support for a wide range of issues — often issues they've worked on for years with little help from their elected officials, and sometimes with the city as the main obstacle. Their frustration, at times, is gut-wrenching. I feel that frustration too, as my ability to help them as a council member is often hampered by the city bureaucracy and a lack of political will by some of my colleagues or the mayor that I alone cannot overcome.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Eighty cities across Minnesota give residents the right to bring their ideas to the ballot via ballot initiatives — encompassing more than 1.75 million of our fellow Minnesotans. In fact, only 25% of home rule charter cities deny ballot initiatives to their residents, and Minneapolis is one of them.

If you've voted in a recent city election, there is a good chance you've seen a citywide question on your ballot. But right now, the only type of questions that can make it to the ballot are charter amendments. This restriction in our charter prevents residents from bringing a whole host of important questions to the ballot.

The council is currently considering introducing a charter amendment that would lift the restriction on ballot initiatives and referendums. If passed, it would give the people of Minneapolis the power to bring forward ballot initiatives and put their solutions directly on the ballot, so their neighbors can vote on important policies impacting their lives. It would also allow them to use the same process to have a referendum on a policy passed by City Council. If, for example, the council passed a policy people didn't like, Minneapolis residents could collect signatures to bring the policy to the ballot for a vote.

Our neighbors across the river in St. Paul trust their residents with this tool. A few years ago, when communities in St. Paul were frustrated with a trash pickup policy passed by the City Council, people collected signatures to bring a referendum to the ballot, which opened up dialogue and brought this crucial issue to a vote in which residents could have the final say.

Years ago, in Minneapolis, neighborhood restaurants were prohibited from selling cocktails. There was little support for this law, but people were stuck with it. Luckily, since the law was in the city charter, it was placed on the ballot and it was struck down. But there's no reason the ability for residents to have a say in our communities should be limited to matters in the city charter.

People in neighborhoods across the city often feel powerless in their ability to affect meaningful change. Allowing ballot initiatives would give residents a powerful tool to bring their concerns forward. Instead of struggling to have their voices heard by a select few city officials, residents would be encouraged to talk to one another. Encouraging those conversations, even when there's difference of opinion, fosters democracy and strengthens the bonds of community.

I ran for office to be a voice for working-class people in City Hall. But I don't just want to give voice to their concerns. I want to lift up their solutions. From the $15 minimum wage and the East Phillips Urban Farm to sidewalk plowing and bus lanes, many of our city's most popular ideas came directly from our residents. We can join the 80 other cities across the state and finally allow ballot initiatives and referendums in Minneapolis, putting power in the hands of the people, lifting up even more of their solutions.

By legalizing ballot initiatives and referendums, we can empower Minneapolis residents to advocate for their communities at the ballot box. We can empower working-class people to debate their political priorities and proposed solutions, then have the chance to make those proposals reality. That's what democracy should look like — and it's what democracy can look like, right here in Minneapolis.

Robin Wonsley represents the Ward 2 on the Minneapolis City Council. A public hearing on the proposal discussed in this article is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday in Room 350 of the Public Service Center, 250 S. Fourth St. A related commentary on the subject — "Initiative and referendum in Minneapolis? Interesting proposal. Five concerns." — was published Friday.