LUCHA: Living United for Change in Arizona

Arizona is a battleground state – maybe not in the way Democrats would hope, though that looks like it could change, but a flashpoint for some of the fiercest ideological battles being fought today. From curtailing the rights of DACA recipients to a new controversial abortion law, and, of course, the home of America’s most notorious now-pardoned (former) sheriff, Arizona does not shy away from the national spotlight. If its politics are unkind to liberals, it is borne out by the state’s voting history. Aside from the 1996 presidential election when Arizona voted for Bill Clinton by a 2.23% margin, it has gone to the Republican candidate ever since 1952. You’d have to go back to 1988 to find the last time that the Grand Canyon state elected a Democrat to the Senate. Arizona should be a progressive wasteland.

It is not.

Living United for Change in Arizona, otherwise known as LUCHA, is a member-driven organization made up of low- and moderate-income and minority families working for a more socially and economically just Arizona. A grassroots organization with over 600 dues-paying members, it offers an array of services to the people of Arizona, from citizenship courses, business workshops, and legal aid in the form of document preparation to advocacy and civic engagement. LUCHA is at the spearpoint of many ideological engagements, as its members and the people they represent are often the ones targeted or most exploited by the conservative elements of Arizona.

President Trump’s recent decision to end DACA puts 800,000 DREAMers in the crosshairs of deportation officials. Many of LUCHA’s own members would be at risk of deportation should Congress not find a solution. Abril Gallardo, LUCHA’s Senior Staff Organizer and a DACA recipient, said of the President’s decision: “for the people that are out there, we are going to continue to fight and we need them to unite and to join us. Together, we are going to be okay.” LUCHA’s response has been robust. They marched, joined with other like-minded organizations to petition Tucson Mayor Jonathon Rothschild and the City Council to defend those targeted by the Trump administration, and offered DACA Renewal Clinics for those affected.

The fight for DACA’s survival is steep, and the forces arraigned against it are powerful, but LUCHA has succeeded in the past against other anti-immigration measures. In 2010, SB 1070 was passed by the Arizona State Legislature. The controversial bill allowed police officers to check the immigration status of people during law enforcement stops. Spurred on by such a noxious law, LUCHA took action. Enrolling thousands of new voters, organizing marches, and helping to create a community able to stand against the radical elements in Arizona’s government, they began to enjoy a measure of success. “They defeated five anti-immigrant bills in the state legislature, successfully organized a recall of SB 1070’s sponsor, and notorious racist, State Senator Russell Pearce, and helped elect a more progressive Phoenix City Council.” LUCHA’s influence could be felt in this last election cycle with Joe Arpaio’s defeat in the election for Sheriff of Maricopa County. Joined by other grassroots organizations, the Bazta Arpaio Campaign helped defeat the controversial figure and ended his 24-year run as Maricopa Counties Sheriff.

LUCHA’s struggles don’t end at immigration; they also have a strong focus on workers’ rights. Since 2013, LUCHA has been at the forefront of Arizona’s minimum wage battle, starting the Fight for $15 chapter in the state. Low-income families and immigrants make up the bulk of fast food workers, and while the companies they work for enjoy profits in the billions, their employees are often paid minimum wage and must rely on government assistance to make ends meet. Companies aren’t compelled to pay their employees any more than minimum wage forces them; the additional cost of the aid those employees need is footed by taxpayers. In 2013, the minimum wage in Arizona was $7.80. Working a full-time job at that rate would net you less than $17,000 a year.

Similar to their campaigns against Arpaio, LUCHA built an infrastructure that would propel economic justice to the forefront of Arizona politics. Years in the making, LUCHA relied on a combination of forums and workshops to educate the public on the need for a wage increase. Human dignity is a powerful motivator, and polling suggested that most Arizonan’s would vote for a higher minimum wage. When Prop 206, which would increase the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020, came up for a vote, LUCHA did not rest on their laurels, but vigorously canvassed communities. Volunteers “knocked on 72,000 doors, increasing Latino voter turnout by more than 400% in one election cycle.” The measure won with 58% of the vote.

Though short of $15 per hour, Prop. 206 is a powerful testament to LUCHA’s ability to enact change. It is a success story that speaks to the power of grassroots movements, especially in a political environment that has swung so far to the right. If Arizona, a state as red as the day is long, can have a higher state-wide minimum wage than New York, then there should be no barrier too conservative for progressive ideas can’t overcome.

One way that LUCHA hopes to sustain its momentum and not become a flash in the pan organization is by its Leadership Program. Offered to high school students, the program aims to educate and engage the next generation of community leaders. The organization has also more broadly helped the fight for education in Arizona by leading the charge for the “YES for PHX budget override campaign…that brought $21 million dollars to the Phoenix Union High School District.”

Like a dam that has sprung too many leaks, LUCHA is fighting to plug a finger in every fissure. From voter suppression to housing discrimination, the tasks are daunting. But in Arizona, a state that could elect and re-elect Joe Arpaio for 24 years, pass SB 1070, and vote for Donald Trump, it would have to produce an equally tenacious opposition. LUCHA knows the struggle well – their members endure it every day, but they also know how to fight. It’s in the name.

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