Arizona at a Flashpoint

February 28, 2014
Once again this weekend, the nation’s attention focused on Arizona. And not for a good reason. The passage of SB1062, a bill that would allow businesses to deny service to LGBT people, was yet another remind of the conservative power that still dominates the state legislature. Just a few years after gaining national attention for their anti-immigration law, Arizona has again become the epicenter of a national controversy.
But now, a burgeoning progressive movement is building to change Arizona politics for the better.
Case in point, this weekend I spent my time just a few miles down the road from the state capitol building in Phoenix. 
While conservatives in the state legislature debated the rights of people to sit at a lunch counter, I had a very different conversation about the power of names. You see, I spent the weekend with our long-term partners New American Leaders Project, One Arizona, and Promise Arizona, training first- and second-generation immigrants to run for school board. 
During our training, these prospective candidates practiced their stump speeches. One candidate introduced herself, “My name’s spelled like Simon, but it is actually pronounced more like the start of cinnamon.” It prompted my fellow trainer, Parag, to note how many unusual names where in the room, including his. Heck, my last name rhymes with strawberry. Names are powerful. When you’re a candidate, you need people to remem ber your name. Your name helps connect you to community, to traditions, to a part of history. 
So it was critical for these leaders to find ways to make their names accessible and memorable to voters, while honoring their history, identity and sense of self. 
Every day, Wellstone works with diverse progressives from across the movement. But it occurred to me that, even for us, having a long conversation about the power and importance of a candidate’s name is rare. But this is exactly how we’re going change the shape of power in Arizona. By training new Americans, some born here, some born elsewhere, with roots in places like Mexico, Somalia, and Nigeria, to run for office and win. 
During the weekend, we balanced hard campaign skills, like delivering an effective stump speech, with deepening the participants’ knowledge of the policies and issues they’ll deal with on a school board. So we spent a lot of time with local elected officials and activists, interspersed with our campaign training. It was the Wellstone Triangle at work, getting elected, building a movement, and moving progressive public policy. 
In the days since that weekend, SB1062 has been vetoed and one immediate battle is behind us. But the fight to win real change in the state in 2014, and build a progressive movement that’s sustained for the long-haul, is just beginning. 
And at Wellstone, we’ll be in the middle of that fight. So you can expect us to be back to Arizona many times this year, and in the coming years, working side-by-side with our partners like One Arizona and Promise Arizona to fight for voting rights, to fight for equal rights, and to fight for a progressive future for the state.