Do It Yourself: Alumna Rice Leads Grassroots Campaign to Landslide Win

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by Rachel Heston-Davis

Annie RiceBy Election Day, Annie Rice ’07 had knocked on countless doors. She’d activated a massive volunteer effort to plant lawn signs, talk up her campaign and spread social media buzz. She’d broken with her closest political faction by running against their chosen candidate. (pictured left: Annie Rice. Photo by Pinxit Photo).

The St. Louis Board of Alderman’s 8th Ward seat had come up for grabs in a special election, and the St. Louis Democratic Central Committee endorsed a candidate many constituents didn’t support. In response to their discontent, Rice chose to run as an independent. She campaigned as the candidate who would consult the will of the people.

Her bold DIY campaign demanded hard work, but on February 13, Annie Rice knew she’d done the right thing.

“I had a good feeling at the polls that day,” she says.

Not only did voters turn out in higher numbers than expected (around 28 percent, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch), Rice won “by a landslide.” Sixty percent of voters cast their ballots for her. 

A Bleeding Heart Isn’t Enough

Rice previously worked in immigration law and served as committeewoman of the Democratic Central Committee—endeavors that required seeing a need, and stepping up to meet it. She lived the adage: if you want something done, do it yourself.

Rice’s journey to passionate immigration attorney and now political force began at Greenville University, where she learned how to think critically and realistically assess needs. 

An anthropology class her freshman year “blew the lid off of a small box, or small framework, that I had for my understanding of the world,” Rice says. No longer could she assume that everyone’s life functioned as hers did in rural, middle-class America. Professors like Ruth Huston and Dwight Jackson, along with a semester abroad to Uganda, nurtured Rice’s shifting perspective.

Annie in college

After Uganda, Rice spoke to a family friend who was setting up a hospital at his hometown in Ghana. He challenged Rice to discern what other people truly need, rather than imagining what she’d like to heroically give them.

“Your bleeding heart isn’t enough,” he said bluntly. “Get some skills.” What concrete solutions can you give people in the middle of their day-to-day, he asked her?

Armed with this sobering advice, Rice adjusted her mentality. She paid attention to unseen needs and asked which ones her skillset actually played into.

Putting Skills to Work

A stint as admissions counselor at Greenville University allowed her to serve international students. She loved working one-on-one to solve their logistical problems and considered a degree in social work. But a conversation with her mother sent her in a different direction. If she truly want to impact international issues, why not go to law school? 

Rice attended University of Cincinnati College of Law and, in her second year, worked for an immigration law firm. Again, she noticed her people skills and problem-solving skills aligned with real needs. So, after passing her bar exam in Missouri, she practiced immigration law with Khazaeli Wyrsch LLC in St. Louis.

A Bigger Ask

“I moved into St. Louis and quickly realized that pretty much everything revolves around local politics here,” Rice remembers. She was asked to run for committeewoman of the 8th Ward Democratic Committee. Rice chose to answer the challenge, and won the seat.

Then came a bigger ask.

Eighth Ward Alderman Stephen Conway vacated his seat on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. Many in the Democrat-leaning ward hesitated at the Democratic committee’s official nominee to replace him.

Annie Rice Campaign

With 28 wards in the city, and each alderman representing 10-13 thousand people, “you’re pretty directly connected to the person who represents you,” Rice explains. That means huge opportunity for impact when politicians listen to their constituents.

Rice felt that in this instance, the Democratic committee had not listened to the people. Someone had to.

She threw in her hat, choosing to run as an independent candidate.

A Trio of Hurdles

As alderwoman, Rice will represent parts of the Shaw, Southwest Garden and Tower Grove East neighborhoods. Aside from the usual tasks of alderwoman—approving building permits, allocating capital funds for projects, etc.—she must guide her ward through considerable challenges. Three of her major goals for governance include:

Public Safety
  • Public safety. Like many neighborhoods, the 8th Ward faces limitations on its law enforcement resources—and St. Louis has a history of complicated relations between law enforcement and citizens. Rice hopes to ease these pressures with “a different vision of public safety, more community-focused, looking out for each other rather than primarily relying on the police to make us feel safer.” This allows law enforcement to focus on situations of greatest need, and honors citizens’ ownership of their communities.
Diversity and Density
  • Diversity and density. Rice and others are concerned with the gradual decrease in diversity and population density within the 8th Ward. She supports thoughtful “course corrections” to help the 8th Ward “[grow] in a way that’s responsible,” not in a way that pushes certain people out.
  • Representation. Rice feels that past political decisions within the 8th Ward did not always seek to understand citizens’ views, especially on difficult issues. “We are a pretty darn progressive ward,” she says, and promises to be a candidate who closely follows the wishes of those who elected her.

From Grassroots Campaign to Chatting With Congress

Rice’s grassroots, DIY effort drew attention from the highest halls of government. The morning after her landslide win, she received a congratulatory phone call from a United States Congressman.

“Being in at this ground level has a massive effect on everything, from the people that I directly touch, to how we are represented further up the chain,” she says. 

She encourages other young professionals interested in politics to consider getting involved.

“Volunteer on someone’s campaign. Knock on doors. Get experience and see how it feels.”

In other words, apply some DIY elbow grease. It worked for her.

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This story was published on February 22, 2018