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A battle for survival: Tired of feeling betrayed and played by career politicians, longtime activists have decided to run for key posts themselves, battling with Corporate Democrats for control of the party

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OSCAR LEON: Arizona’s primary election will take place on August 28. Grassroots activist leaders are facing off against corporate Democrats for the party nominations. A generation of mostly Latina leaders are part of the local progressive upswing inside the Democratic Party. Tired of feeling betrayed and played by career politicians, they have decided to run for public office themselves to occupy the positions that can impact their communities.

TERESA MABRY: Sheriff Penzone is actually doing the same thing Sheriff Joe Arpaio did. And so, while there was a name change and a party change, that same politic rests in that office. So, it must be systemic, the issue is systemic.

OSCAR LEON: Teresa Mabry is a candidate for Justice of The Peace in South Phoenix, a district with some of the poorest neighborhoods in the city and with the highest rates of racial diversity.

TERESA MABRY: So, money can buy us signs, money can buy us ads, money can do lots of things with messaging. But that’s not going to change the hearts and minds of what is happening in our communities. Folks want to say like, “Oh, the Democrats were responsible for what happened in Alabama.” No, Black Women led that endeavor and moved and organized to build power.

OSCAR LEON: One of only twelve Movement for Black Lives Electoral Justice Fellows, she has been an activist for over a decade. Born and raised in Guadalupe, queer, Black, Chicana, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and a Black community leader, she is at the center of a new vision of politics.

TERESA MABRY: The electability politics. You have to look a certain way, you have to dress a certain way, you need to speak a certain way, your platform needs to have these folks, and you need to have red white and blue as your standard colors, for whatever you put out. And so, we’re challenging these norms because they don’t serve our folks, they don’t serve where we come from.

OSCAR LEON: Maria Castro is running for Governing Board of the Phoenix High School District. She thinks that the same police agents that are killing in the streets should not be in charge of campus security.

MARIA CASTRO: We’ve seen, here in the Phoenix Police Department, how rogue this agency has been, shooting people every five to seven days. And these same officers are within our schools. And we’ve been going to these school board meetings telling the school boards, “Hey, these officers do not mean safety for us, these officers are literally shooting us in the streets, why would you have them on our campuses?”

OSCAR LEON: After being ignored and even belittled, Castro decided to run for the very position that will give her the power to make those changes herself.

MARIA CASTRO: These changes are the ones that need to happen and need to happen by the hand of our own people. And us running allows that to happen and allows us to put an end, to a certain extent, to the bigotry that is happening in the policy, to the ignorance and to the complacency of some of the folks who hold these positions, or are trying to run for these positions, that they do just enough to be called progressives, but don’t actually make the changes necessary that our community needs.

OSCAR LEON: Castro particularly worries about the possibility of the Phoenix Police Department facilitating a path for minors to get deported.

MARIA CASTRO: Right now, with the School Resource Officer Program, officers are allowed to take the student off campus after they are arrested and take them into the county jails where ICE could be potentially waiting for them. So, definitely reducing the amount of police officers that are involved in having student interactions both on campus and off campuses.

OSCAR LEON: Mabry’s platform as Justice of the Peace is to do everything possible to contain the criminalization of the poor by surcharging fines with fees and penalties. This can quickly snowball out of control for those who can’t afford to pay, and eventually send them to prison and to deal with the cost of that imprisonment.

TERESA MABRY: So, not only do you have to pay the warrant fee, you have to pay for your time that you spent in jail, and the payment plan that you couldn’t pay in the first place. And then you have to come and appear in front of the judge. So, now you are missing and paying- you have a list of things that you couldn’t pay in the first place, now you have to go appear in front of the judge, which is more time you have to get off work. So, we’re criminalizing folks who are poor.

OSCAR LEON: Mabry thinks this benefits only those profiting from the prison industrial complex, which in many cases have occupancy quotas that counties and states must meet or face hefty reimbursements. In Arizona, MTC Management & Training Corp, a for-profit private jail corporation, recently got three million dollars from the state after they accepted a settlement on a fifteen-million-dollar lawsuit. The reported quota on its contracts for the prison in Kingman is a ninety-seven-percentage occupancy warranty. 

TERESA MABRY: What does it look like, to be value aligned when you can take an endorsement from a police union that covers up murders and the assaults of our community and be really proud of it and not question it. Then we have to look a little bit deeper. We have the highest Black infant mortality rate in the nation in South Phoenix. So, these things, when we think about what’s going on and while or not directly related, but they play into a geopolitical dynamic that exists in South Phoenix. And so, when you cannot be value centered, when you are moving and have the money talk to you in a certain way, it allows you accountability to be questioned. That you are accountable to where that money comes from and not accountable to where you came from and the folks who held you up and got you where you’ve been.

OSCAR LEON: Castro is wary of fake progressives riding the “Blue Wave.”

MARIA CASTRO: You know, time and time again we’ve seen, even on this school board, it’s supposedly the most progressive, but yet continue to ignore our people’s fight. The city council, there’s many Democrats on there, but that doesn’t mean that they represent us the way that they should. And so, again, these people are running for their party, they’re running for their own political gain because the want to “climb” some way. We’re not climbing, we’re building, and we’re building at the base so that our communities can feel stronger, so that our communities have a voice and have a seat at the table.

OSCAR LEON: Teresa Mabry feels the Democratic Party can’t really claim credit for recent progressive victories. 

TERESA MABRY: So, we’re not in a flashpoint here with Ocasio Cortez and what’s happening with Stacey Abrams and what’s happening here in Phoenix, this isn’t a flashpoint, this isn’t something that happens randomly. We are actually part of a legacy that has continued to build from the civil rights era and before that.

OSCAR LEON: Castro concludes with a warning about what she sees as career politicians bending their way to power.

MARIA CASTRO: They go up and up and up in their different political positions, and it’s easy for them to climb because they don’t bring community with them. Again, we’re base building, we’re allowing our communities to learn those processes, we’re allowing our communities an opportunity for them to be at the forefront of these changes, for them to be able to dream about what freedom and justice look like in their own terms instead of allowing these other people to just do it on their own. Instead of doing things for them, we’re doing things alongside them.

OSCAR LEON: Follow The Real News for more on the fight for community and human rights.

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Oscar León is an experienced international press correspondent and documentary filmmaker based in Arizona. His work has reached continental TV broadcast in many occasions on Telesur, ECTV, Ecuavisa, Radio Canada, Canal Uno and even Fox Sports Latin America and El Garaje TV; he has been a TRNN correspondent since 2010. Oscar has reported from as many as 9 countries and more than 12 cities in US; his coverage includes TV reports, special reports and TV specials, not only covering social movements, politics and economics but environmental issues, culture and sports as well. This includes the series "Reportero del Sur", "Occupy USA - El Otoño Americano", "Habia una vez en Arizona", "Motor X" all TV mini series broadcasted to all Americas and "Once upon a time in Arizona" finalist in Radio Canada's "Migration" 2010 contest.