Headshot of Alderperson Joss Thyssen. Photo provided by Thyssen.
If you’ve ever gone to one of Appleton’s many city parks, you may have run into District 8 Alderperson Joss Thyssen playing Pokémon Go, Munzee, geocaching or another geolocation game by herself or with her family. Thyssen is an avid enjoyer of Appleton’s park system, which she describes as a way to connect to nature and have something fun to do for free.
“It’s important to have accessibility to nature instead of living in…a paved world,” Thyssen said.
Thyssen recently brought to the attention of the council that the price of annual youth passes for programming at the parks was going up. As someone from a lower status socioeconomic background than many of her colleagues, she is passionate about making sure city services are equally affordable and accessible to low and middle-income families. It’s important to have people from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds represented in government bodies that tend to make it easier for those who are already wealthy to serve, Thyssen maintained.
As someone who understands the working-class struggle, and who represents a district with a lot of racial, cultural and socioeconomic diversity, Thyssen recognizes the importance of affordable housing. Housing prices are going up, due in part to the rental housing market being out of control. Thyssen fears that if this isn’t halted sooner rather than later, Appleton is going to see increased gentrification. She wants to see affordable housing projects spread out throughout the city, instead of concentrated in the downtown area, in order to make Appleton a more racially and economically integrated city.
Thyssen was born and raised in Appleton to a family that she described as not being very political, but she herself was interested in politics since she was a kid. She remembers frequently watching the news and being fascinated by the presidential race in 1988 between George H. W. Bush and Michael Dukakis. When she turned 18, she immediately registered to vote, and she encouraged her children to do the same when they came of age many years later.
In 2016, she attended the Bernie Sanders rally at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, and in 2022, she ran for Common Council. Her opponent in that race, Don Jobe, dropped out of the race in February. However, one week before the election, Thyssen found out that Jobe was back in the race and that a family member of hers had been diagnosed with cancer. Family is an important value to her, so she prioritized her family member and resolved that whatever happened in the election was meant to be and that she was at peace with the idea of losing. She won handily anyway. Thyssen now serves on the Municipal Services Committee, the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Historic Preservation Commission.
Thyssen is passionate about social and political change, but has learned through being in local office that many of the structures of the state of Wisconsin need to change first, including Wisconsin’s gerrymandered legislative maps which can pass restrictive state statutes. She pointed out that while the Republican party has a supermajority in Wisconsin’s state legislative bodies, the election and re-election of Governor Tony Evers (D-Wis.) proves that they don’t have a supermajority with the electorate. She encouraged students to vote in Wisconsin’s Supreme Court election in April so that there is a chance to draw fair maps.
Thyssen believes that, if the lines were drawn fairly, District 11 Alderperson Kris Alfheim would have won her race for State Senate over Senator Rachael Cabral-Guevara (R-Wis.) and would have been a better representative for the district. In Thyssen’s district, water mains and roads are in desperate need of repair, and because the state isn’t sharing promised tax revenue with municipalities, it’s hard to find the funding for it without considering cutting city services. She sarcastically thanked former Governor Scott Walker (R-Wis.) for the revenue sharing issue.
Combatting hate in Appleton, a city that used to be a sundown town and still struggles with issues of segregation and racism, is a priority for Thyssen. She recognizes the importance of educating younger generations on diversity and equity, as it’s harder — though not impossible — to educate older generations. When she was in grade school, she saw that Hmong migrants were discriminated against but remembers learning from them and said that now they are her colleagues and neighbors.
“These are your neighbors, these are your fellow Appletonians, they’re just as important, their lives matter just as much,” Thyssen said.