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.”
“They can learn to write, to realize their power, and then go out in the world and enact change.”
Poder in Action offers two programs, one focused on high school- and college-age students, the other on older members of the community. Hernandez began as a volunteer with the youth program.
“It’s about letting young people know that they have power, that there’s a history that says they’re the backbone of change in this country,” she says of the group, which visits local schools to talk about how to create change around issues students care about.
The family program is led by Spanish-speaking mothers who have felt powerless because of language, gender, color, and economic status. “These moms visit schools and parks and libraries,” she says, “and find families ready to say, ‘Enough is enough, we deserve a life of health and wellness.’ They organize and train these people to become leaders and organizers, and we ask them how they want to use that power.”
Queer issues are especially important to Hernandez. “Many of our staff identify as LGBTQ,” she says, “so those issues are at the tops of our minds. We partner with people who do work with trans and queer rights. If you identify as queer, it’s another level of potential violence that could happen to you.”
Regardless of race or orientation, everyone must stay aware and stay engaged, Hernandez insists. “Right now, and especially since the last presidential election, we’re looking at a difficult moment in time.”
“We have to go into that moment strong, prepared, and ready to fight for our rights.”
Five Ways to Be an Effective Activist
By Viri Hernandez
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. Trust people who have been doing the work. Let the leaders lead, despite your biases about how they’re doing it.
4. 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.
5. 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.