Best Of :: Megalopolitan Life
A Moment in Time
by Robrt L. Pela
Viri Hernandez of Poder in Action
Young people have led revolutions and created change,” says 28-year-old Viri Hernandez, the executive director of Poder in Action, a project of the local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. “With the world the way it is today, this is our moment.”
Hernandez took over three years ago. “We’re focused on ending police and immigration violence,” she says of the project, formerly known as the Center for Neighborhood Leadership. “Especially in south Phoenix and on the west side, where a lot of people of color live.”
From its new offices in Maryvale, the group offers a safe place for community members to, as Hernandez puts it, “get trained up.”
Five Ways to Be an Effective Activist
By Viri Hernandez
- Be aware of your own privilege. Think about identities you carry and those you don’t. Then reflect on how they make you privileged — or not.
- Be in places that fill your heart. Right now, things are really shitty, and you have to be able to go to a place that replenishes your heart and your soul, wherever that may be.
- Trust people who have been doing the work. Let the leaders lead, despite your biases about how they’re doing it.
- Be ready to do the work, even if the work is uncomfortable and you’re being confronted while you’re doing it. Deal with your discomfort and get the work done anyway.
- Do something. You don’t have to be at the forefront of a movement, getting arrested or anything. But we’re at a critical point in history when people are being hunted down and abused. Everyone needs to be doing something, anything, against that.
Arizona history has no shortage of career-ending political scandals, but few, if any, have matched the sheer awfulness of state Representative David Stringer's. The Prescott Republican's downfall began in July 2018, when a video of him lamenting that there are "not enough white kids to go around" in Arizona public schools went viral, revealing his racism (and earning him the distinction of Best Viral Newsmaker in that year's Best of Phoenix). More racism from Stringer, recorded on tape and published by New Times in November, renewed calls for him to resign. Then, the bomb dropped. New Times published a report in January revealing that Stringer accepted a plea deal on multiple sex crimes when he lived in Baltimore in the '80s. For two months, Stringer resisted calls to step down and refused to cooperate with an ethics probe into his past. But that didn't stop investigators, led by Joe Kanefield, from digging up a police report showing that his case involved allegations that he paid young boys, including a developmentally disabled child, multiple times for sex. That revelation finally brought Stringer down. Good riddance.
When the abysmal Phoenix Suns cornered City Hall into shelling out $150 million in taxpayer money to spruce up Talking Stick Resort Arena, no one captured the public outrage over the demand as succinctly as Greta Rogers. It was December 12, 2018. The 90-year-old Rogers, cane in tow, approached the public lectern and tore into the City Council, reserving most of her blunt venom for the loathed Suns owner, Robert Sarver. "He's so tight, he squeaks when he walks, and you have been negotiating with this kind of person," Rogers said. "Shame on each and every one of you." For at least two decades, Rogers' civic activism mostly found its audience in city officials unfortunate enough to be on the other side of her words. But her speech on Sarver brought her a new level of fame, from viral tweets and headlines in national papers to the ESPN highlight reel. Not that she cared. Rogers told Phoenix New Times that she doesn't use the internet.
Perhaps he ate a bowl of Cold Stone Creamery's Vanilla Lite late at night and couldn't get to sleep. Maybe he had a childhood crush on Betsy Ross. We don't know. Whatever the reason, Governor Doug Ducey went presidential at 2 a.m. on July 2, tweeting a shitstorm. He got all red, white, and blue over Nike's decision to pull a pair of shoes featuring an early American flag with 13 stars after former National Football League quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick complained about the colonial design's connection to an era of slavery. By the time the governor's six-minute Twitter tirade was done, Ducey had instructed the state to withdraw a $1 million grant to the company to build a factory in Glendale. Oops. That factory will employ 500 people. Many likely will be voters. My bad, Ducey said only nine days later. "This is good news for Arizona and for @GoodyearAZGov. 500 plus jobs. Over $184 million in capital investment. Arizona is open for business, and we welcome @Nike to our state," Ducey tweeted at a more reasonable hour on July 11. If the flip-flop fits, wear it.
The camera never blinks. The mic is always on. Those are words to live by if you're in the TV news business. Yet one afternoon in July, Fox 10 diva Kari Lake apparently forgot those broadcast axioms. Before they were set to appear in a Facebook Live video, Lake and her co-anchor, John Hook, were discussing the station management's directive for her to delete a reference to the extremist social media site Parler, not realizing that the recording equipment was doing its thing. Hook suggested that their bosses were worried that Lake would get written up by New Times again. "Fuck them," Lake responded. "They're 20-year-old dopes. That's a rag for selling marijuana ads." Well, yes, all five of our news reporters are 20-somethings, but four of them have master's degrees from Columbia University and the fifth's investigative reporting already has taken down the state director of parks, Sue Black, and former legislator David Stringer. And yes, we do sell marijuana ads, thank you very much for reminding everyone, because medical pot is quite legal and profitable in this state. But despite speaking the truth, Lake was off the air for a week, though management never said why. Perhaps she just needed to chill with a bud or two. We would have been happy to recommend a dispensary.
Rodney Glassman made the mistake last year of running for one of two empty seats on the Arizona Corporation Commission. Since the commission is a powerful, albeit lesser-known, fourth body of state government, candidates receive a fair amount of scrutiny, and someone brilliantly unearthed an old video from 2010 featuring Glassman. The "Sweet Home Arizona" video is campaign material from when Glassman ran against John McCain for senator — as a Democrat. Glassman, who is tall and tends to man-spread when he sits, is the lead singer in the video. Backed by a sorry-looking band, he belts into a microphone and awkwardly thrashes his upper body. "Sweet Home Arizona" criticizes big oil and asks about bringing solar to the state (seriously, who wrote those lyrics?), while Glassman's voice is about as pleasing as nails on a chalkboard. Glassman did not win a seat on the Corporation Commission, but it is unlikely that the video had much of an impact on that loss.
Thanks to the corrosive influence of big-pocket donors and the prevalence of backroom deals, it's easy to feel jaded by politics. Especially in Arizona. That's what made Republican state Senator Paul Boyer's unapologetic stand during the final stretch of the 2019 legislative session so remarkable. Glendale's Boyer pushed a bill that extends the statute of limitations for victims of child sex abuse to sue their assailants. His Republican colleagues and the insurance industry blocked the legislation. So, Boyer said he'd refuse to give a pivotal vote for the party's budget unless the Legislature passed his bill. Republican Heather Carter of Cave Creek joined Boyer in his stand. House Speaker Rusty Bowers tried to get Boyer to back down with a watered-down version of the bill. Boyer refused. Two of his GOP colleagues, Ben Toma and Kelly Townsend, were caught on hot mics musing about retaliating against Boyer for bucking the party line. He still did not stand down. Boyer's leap of faith eventually worked. The House passed the bill and Governor Doug Ducey signed it, a victory for child sex-abuse victims — and for political courage.
In an age when soundbites are currency, no matter how dishonest, state Representative Kirsten Engel of Tucson eschews the default grandstanding mode of legislating in Arizona in favor of a law-school-professor-does-her-damn-homework style of soundbite that puts most of her peers to shame. In her role on the House Judiciary Committee, Engel was a tireless advocate for criminal justice reform, despite an unsavory alliance between Chair John Allen and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery that kept common-sense bills from getting heard. As a member of the Environment Committee, Engel's expertise in environmental law helped her ask some of the most incisive questions on Arizona's most critical issue: water. Even when more trivial-seeming matters were at stake — such as state Representative David Cook's bill prohibiting nonmilk products from being labeled milk — Engel's wit delivered a breath of fresh air. "Have you ever heard of coconut milk?" she asked Cook. "It could be coconut beverage,'' Cook said. "Peanut butter? Butter comes from cows," Engel responded. "That would seem to violate this law."
Phoenix police shot a record 44 people in 2018, surpassing the rate of police shootings in larger cities. As that number grew through the year, activists from Poder in Action became a mainstay at City Council meetings, where their protest tactics earned them the title of "anarchists" from City Council member Sal DiCiccio and the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association. But the group was tapping into an issue that would soon blow up. By the time the video of officers brutally detaining the Ames family put Phoenix in the national spotlight earlier this year, Poder had the manpower and background to organize an informed response.
It was a big year for higher education news in this state. Thankfully, Arizona Republic readers could count on reporter Rachel Leingang to tell them what they needed to know. Three students were prosecuted after they protested an appearance by Border Patrol agents at the University of Arizona, igniting a free speech firestorm that may or may not have led to their charges getting dropped. An Arizona State University economics professor accused the school of engaging in a shady deal with an online textbook company that forced him to fail some students. Mired with accreditation issues, Argosy University failed to pay millions of dollars in financial aid, screwing over countless students before shutting down in March. Leingang broke major developments on all these stories and more, hardly ever missing a beat.
The Arizona Department of Transportation is probably the only state agency whose tweets are liked and retweeted by people who actually mean it. It is almost certainly the only agency that can lay claim to having even one tweet go viral. Its messages are pithy, clever, and sometimes even saucy — nearly as good as the traffic messages and warnings they display along the highway. Remember the guy in September 2018 who was caught on video playing the saxophone along the side of Loop 101? Thank ADOT's killer team of public information officers for bringing you that news, and remember, you saw it first on its Twitter feed. When ADOT isn't showing Arizona a roadside music performance (with a gentle admonishment to viewers not to try this at home), the agency is bringing you useful, if more routine, information about crashes, closures, and weather, sprinkled with "Where in Arizona?" photo challenges and lifesaving reminders about not to text — or tweet — and drive.
Given the long-running contentiousness between the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources, plus the historic fight-inducing nature of water in the West, it's a wonder that Arizona's drought plan for the Colorado River materialized at all last fall and fell into place in early 2019, just in time for a federal deadline. But miraculously, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke and Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke pulled it off. Not only did they avoid coming to blows, they even sat side by side with matching poker faces through endless public meetings and press conferences. And we can only guess how many more times they met behind the scenes, until most of the parties who lay claim to Arizona's supply of Colorado River water agreed on how to distribute expected cutbacks to that precious resource. Even when negotiations seemed on the verge of collapse, this alliterative duo stayed the course. We hope they're catching up on rest now, because the next round of Colorado River negotiations starts in 2020.
Sandy Bahr might as well be Superwoman, given the sheer scope of environment-affecting activity she tracks throughout Arizona. Often, she is the lone voice in the room advocating for environmental protection, no matter how seemingly niche or wonky the issue (it always seems niche, until your water is too dirty to drink). Find her testifying in a House committee hearing on a bill governing water in Harquahala Valley, or catch her at a meeting hosted by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality on the state's efforts to take over a federal program regulating clean waterways. Such stalwart persistence and tirelessness in the face of powerful interests that would rather plunder the earth than protect it merit far more than a Best of Phoenix award. One day, your grandkids will thank Bahr for her work.