Small Towns, Big Promise: Organizing Local Arizona
The gaps in local political infrastructure in her home county of Pinal, Arizona became apparent to Natali Fierros-Bock when she joined her first legislative district meeting. She quickly stepped up as their Chair and a couple of years down the line went on to run for office together with her future co-founder Pablo Correa. Balancing their jobs teaching and working at a local warehouse, they knocked on 10,000 doors between them during their campaigns. They wouldn’t go on to win their elections, but these conversations with working-class Arizonans who were raising families and dealing with kitchen table issues like they were opened their eyes to a vacuum in rural organizing.
Rural Margins Matter and They Matter Now
“You only come around when you want something.”
“My vote doesn’t matter.”
During their campaigns, Natali and Carlos heard some version of these two sentences over and over again. The people in their community felt disempowered and cynical of a system that had left them behind. However, rural voters actually have a lot of power in the U.S., hold many of the same values as voters in urban areas, and want progress. Rural communities are also diverse. According to the 2020 census, one out of four people in rural America is Black, Indigenous, Latino, or Asian American. And, while rural communities are steadily shrinking, their diversity is increasing.
“By ignoring rural voters until now, progressives have relinquished large swaths of our country to reactionary politicians who are putting extremist policies into place. [But] rural voters show up when we pay attention to them. In rural areas, small investments can create stunning victories.” – LaTosha Brown, organizer, consultant, political strategist, and Co-Founder of Black Voters Matter
With fertile soil to root in, an active, sustainable, and progressive voting bloc committed to advancing progressive values and policies for the well-being of rural Arizonans could grow strong.
RAZE Is Born
Soon after their campaigns, Natalie and Carlos founded Rural Arizona Engagement, or RAZE, to educate, advocate, and coordinate in rural communities. In collaboration with partners at the One Arizona table and other like-minded civic organizations, RAZE is a community hub in the counties they operate in.
In 2022 their goal was to register a minimum of 10,000 voters in Pinal, Yuma, and Coconino counties, partner with 50-75 local organizations with a focus on voter registration within BIPOC communities, and connect with leaders in BIPOC communities to partner on voter engagement work. RAZE also educates and empowers rural high school and college-aged students through their RAZE Leaders program and provides their communities with the resources they need through educational events, direct cash assistance, COVID response, and community gatherings like their Safe House youth program. And RAZE is not alone. There are organizations like RAZE working in small towns across America to transform their communities.
Rural Communities Are an Important Part of Progressive Power
Rural communities are critical parts of our infrastructure. They are diverse. And they want progress and change. RAZE and other organizations like them are building a progressive force in rural areas to advance the well-being of their community members. WDN’s Participation & Representation Impact Collective realizes that there has been a lack of government and philanthropic in investment rural communities and is proud to have granted a total of $200,000 to support RAZE’s work in 2021 and 2022. As we head into our 2023 grantmaking cycle, we will continue to ask ourselves how we can engage other rural organizers in a more intentional way.