I landed in Phoenix, Arizona, just four days before the election. The last time I had been in Arizona was six years ago, after the passage of SB 1070, the anti-immigrant state legislation that legalized racial profiling. I had organized a group of women from all over the country to hear and document the stories of the women impacted by the new legislation. We quickly learned that there was a leading villain in the story, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who apparently spent his days and nights imagining new ways to make life unbearable for immigrants. His deputies drove military tanks through residential neighborhoods, raided the homes of immigrant families in the middle of the night, and arrested parents in front of their children. His terror tactics laid the groundwork for the hate legislation that would haunt a generation.
One of the community organizers there, Marisa Franco, is a dear friend of mine. We worked together in New York, organizing domestic workers to pass the first Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights in the nation. She came home to Arizona to organize in her community in the wake of SB 1070. She's a mastermind behind the campaign to stop immigrant deportations and a co-founder of a national Latinx activist organization, Mijente. I found her in Phoenix during this historic election year, leading a campaign to unseat Sheriff Joe Arpaio after his more than twenty years in office. The community that was targeted by Arpaio has spent the past six years organizing. They transformed the pain of his reign into power.
Arizona was a symbol of division and fear. It is now a home for vibrant, inclusive activism and civic participation. One rare bright spot of this otherwise dark election is that Arpaio lost his job, thanks to this activism. What better way to understand that transformation than through the eyes of a feminist organizer?
Ai-jen Poo: Tell us about where you're from and what led you to be doing the kick-ass organizing that you're doing.
Marisa Franco: I'm from the town of Guadalupe, Arizona. The town is a mix of Yaqui, Mexican, and Chicano. My town was hood — like roosters-roamed-the-streets hood. We didn't have sidewalks until like five years ago. Sheriff Arpaio tested a lot of his tactics there, set up checkpoints to check drivers for papers. A lot of people live their whole lives there, like born, raised, and died there. It's the best place in the world to be on Halloween — the whole place turns into one big block party, everyone dresses up, people turn their homes into haunted houses for the children, and every house has a ton of candy and food. It always reminds me that it's often the people who have the least to give that are the most generous.
AP: So how did you get from Guadalupe to where you are today? How did you become an organizer?
MF: From a young age I was always naturally inclined to notice imbalance and injustice. It's just who I am. Growing up, the thing I was really conscious of was gender. I saw older women in the community, or even women my age, get caught up and stuck. Just not living the life they wanted to live. So I pushed to finish high school and worked hard to go to college. I was in high school when Prop 187 was happening in California (the anti-immigrant ballot initiative to prevent immigrants from accessing higher education, services, and the safety net). I wrote articles about it in the school newspaper. I just got involved in everything I could, like MECHA (a Chicano student union/club), service work with children, hell, even a Latina sorority. I even did a legislative internship in DC, which was a reckless failure.