A coalition of immigrant rights groups held a press conference this morning to announce the launch of "Arizona Freedom Summer," a campaign to get out the Latino vote in this fall's elections.
See also: -Election 2014
The campaign's name references the push to register African-American voters in the segregated Deep South 50 years ago. But this time, volunteers came from the south to register voters here in Arizona. This morning, a bus with 43 volunteers from Arkansas arrived at St. Matthew's Catholic Church in Phoenix. The visitors, members of an immigrant-rights non-profit called the Arkansas United Community Coalition, are here to share their knowledge with members of One Arizona, a non-partisan coalition of church groups, student organizations, and individuals working to get out the Latino vote and push for immigration reform.
"Arizona has been a battleground for civil rights for Latinos for really the last 100 years," said the Reverend John Mireles, a leader in the state's League of United Latin American Citizens, one of the nation's oldest civil rights organizations for Latinos.
Today's event marked the beginning of a civic-engagement drive that will last through Election Day. Arkansas and Arizona volunteers will canvass and make phone calls to encourage voter registration over the next several days. And come Election Day, local volunteers will push Latino voters to put that registration to use.
"We are grateful for the chance to learn from like-minded nonprofit organizations," said Mireya Reith, the executive director of the Arkansas United Community Coalition, "as well as be motivated by the children and families who have become the most recent victims of a broken immigration system that is desperate for reform".
Reith's group took the long ride to Phoenix to share its skill set with One Arizona, and to learn from organizers here. "We are here to stand in solidarity with Arizona because we believe in your work, and your work is our work," Reith said. The Arkansas coalition will be in Phoenix through August 10th.
In Arkansas, organizers were able to double the Latino vote in the last election season, Reith said. Their goal is to double the figures once again this year.
As in the Freedom Summer of 1964, organizers expect young people to play a critical role in Arizona's campaign. Today, the room was filled with high school students and young adults. "We are led by young people," said Michael Angulo, a Phoenix volunteer. "The sons and daughters of SB 1070."
"We are here in the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement," said Raquel Teran of Mi Familia Vota Arizona. "We are here in the spirit of Freedom Summer. Here in Arizona, we need to continue to build that political landscape so our families have equal access to education, healthcare. So that our families don't have to live in fear because of the Joe Arpaios."
The event closed with cheers of "Si Se Puede" and "Yes We Can."
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This summer marks the 50-year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which was passed shortly after Freedom Summer drew national attention to voting issues in the Deep South.
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