Young Progressives of Arizona kick off activist training to make their voices heard

“We have to remind ourselves that the reason America is so great is because people who’ve lived levels of oppression have challenged the system,” state Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, tells aspiring activists at a meeting in Mesa. (Photo by Andrea Estrada/Cronkite News)

MESA – High-schoolers and adults came together at the Mesa Public Library this week for what organizers deemed “activist training” for a variety of issues, from women’s rights to immigration reform to DACA to health care.

Participants shared personal experiences about their communities, and although each was different, the theme of equal rights resonated. The meeting on Tuesday was organized by the Young Progressives of Arizona, a student-led organization with the mission of empowering young people.

Lilian Jones, a freshman at Westwood High School in Mesa, told the group that, growing up, the “like-minded people” around her had an impact on her voice.

“The environment I grew up in was very closed off. I kind of had to learn to bite my tongue,” she said.

The elementary schools she attended exposed her to a lot of sexism, Jones said, and her classmates were mostly white conservatives.

“This is how you should be. This is how you look, you dress, you act. It was a lot at once for someone who’s raised thinking you could be whoever you want to be,” she said.

Jones said recent events, such the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, have increased her interest in speaking out, which is why she attended the meeting.

Brenda Alvarez, who also attends Westwood, said she wants to combat sexism and fight for immigration reform.

Westwood High School student Brenda Alvarez told her fellow activists-in-training that she wants to combat sexism. (Photo by Andrea Estrada/Cronkite News)

“The reason why I like to get involved with my community is because, due to problems of documentation and legal status here, I’m separated from my mom and my little brothers and sisters,” she said. “They’re in Mexico City, and I’m over here.”

Alvarez wants to be able to say she took a stand for something she believes in, and she hopes things will change for the better.

Arizona state Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, told the group it has inspired her.

“When I look at you guys, it gives me hope to know that you are challenging the status quo,” she said. “I have faith that we’re going to come together and be redirected. We have to remind ourselves that the reason America is so great is because people who’ve lived levels of oppression have challenged the system.”

At a time when immigrants are being attacked and protections, such as DACA, are endangered, the United States needs to set a course for the future, Blanc said.

“We, as a nation, really need to start to reflect on who we want to be, and where we are going,” she said.

Tim Hilton, 64, a disabled veteran at the meeting, said greed has torn apart a lot of the protections in the U.S., such as affordable health care, that were put in place after the Great Depression.

“I’ve sat here, and although I’ve voted what I would consider progressively, I’ve sat here, and I’ve watched my country, my country’s government, become corrupted,” said Hilton, who attended the meeting.

“I could pretty much right now turn around like ‘Alright, I’ll be OK.’ I can get by the rest of my life, you know? But I don’t want to do that. I can’t stand by and watch,” he said.

“This is not some kind of game where it’s my team and your team. We’re human beings. Different races and different religions. Let’s take care of everybody.”

Young Progressives of Arizona is raising money for its first “activist expo” this summer, a networking event that will connect young activists with leaders in their communities.

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