Arizona Legislature Opening Day Draws Hundreds of Protesters

Under the first sunny skies Phoenix has seen in about a week, hundreds of people marked the opening day of the 2016 Arizona legislative session with a giant rally outside the state Capitol.

Some carried large colorful signs and wore T-shirts for their cause du jour, while other marched around the lawn, chanted slogans, or tried to get people to sign their petitions. There was even a one-man drum circle.

As state senators and representatives arrived to listen to Governor Doug Ducey’s State of the State address, they first had to walk by the throngs of people determined to have their voices heard.

Causes ranged from education and marijuana legalization to the environment and women’s health — even the civil liberties of motorcycle riders were represented by a few dozen tattooed bikers.

In fact, there was such a flurry of banners for various causes that you’d be forgiven for thinking the rally was some sort of college activities fair or club signup day.
On the north side of the Capitol lawn, Kat Grover and her biker friends with the Arizona Confederation of Motorcycle Clubs congregated to push against a mandatory helmet bill and to call for an end to what they say is the rampant “profiling and discrimination” against bikers by law enforcement. 

“They generalize that anyone who has a certain patch . . . or dresses a certain way is part of an ‘outlaw motorcycle gang,’” says Grover, who serves as secretary of the Club.

She calls it a stereotype based on TV depictions and stories about the Hells Angels.

“There’s a difference between a motorcycle gang and a motorcycle club. We’re a social club [that frequently focuses] on charity work.”  As Grover and her friends agree that the plight of bikers sounds an awful lot like that of racial minorities in the country, a loud group of about hundred demonstrators walks by.

Leading this pack of protesters are Jodi Liggett from Planned Parenthood Arizona and Dulce Juarez from the ACLU of Arizona. The group members chant slogans about women’s rights, civil liberties, and racial equality as they circle the lawn.

Nearby, another loud and prominent group from the Campaign to Legalize and Regulate Marijuana in Arizona stands with its signs and petitions.

It’s clear that activists from many of the groups overlap, and while the motorcyclists stick mostly to the north side, the other few hundred demonstrators mill about the lawn.

The loudest voice in the mix is the solo drummer, who travels from group to group, banging away on his drum and making up rhyming chants. He sings about stopping copper mining in Oak Flat, the U.S. prison-industrial complex, the danger of GMOs, legalized marijuana, and the state’s underfunded education system.  Predictions for the upcoming legislative session range from pessimistic to really pessimistic:

Liggett with Planned Parenthood says she expects to see a number of bills targeting her organization and its ability to provide healthcare to thousands of women and men in the state – “It happens every session” she says, “ some awful surprise for women’s health.” 

Sandy Bahr from the Sierra Club says she anticipates another “challenging year” of trying to stop the Legislature from doing harm to the environment, and Julie Erfle of Progress Now Arizona says we should expect “more of the same: More tax cuts, more excuses why we can’t take car of our kids.

“People need to understand that every time Ducey proposes a tax cut, it means less [money] for kids,” she says.
Local activist Stacey Champion, who helped organize the day’s events, characterizes a typical year in the Arizona Legislature as “two steps forward, 10 steps back.”

“How do you spell ‘ugghh,’” Champion adds.

And sure enough, as the demonstrators described their worries and fears for the 2016 legislative session, Ducey was inside the Capitol addressing — or, depending on whom you ask, substantiating — many of those concerns in his State of the State address.

**Editor's Note: a previous version of this article incorrectly identified the Campaign to Legalize Marijuana in Arizona as the Arizona Campaign Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

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Miriam is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Miriam Wasser