Guest Commentary 

Tucson's neighborhoods need to take steps to invest in themselves

When people hear about Arizona these days, what we hear is increasingly disturbing. We hear about extreme anti-immigrant laws. Racial profiling. Mass detention centers where people are subjected to bizarre and humiliating punishments. Violent militias. Attacks on migrant families. Race-based book bans.

But there is another side of Arizona. This is the state, after all, where civil-rights hero Cesar Chavez was born. It's a state with a long history of community organizing.

And what we don't see broadcast on the news is this: In neighborhoods all across Arizona, people are working quietly for a healthier, brighter, more-inclusive future.

Just look at Luis Perales, who dedicates himself each day to making life better for the residents of his southside-Tucson neighborhood. He co-founded the Tierra Y Libertad Organization, or TYLO, which invests in new leaders and resident-driven community development. Through the Barrio Sustainability Project, Perales and other community leaders have implemented green solutions that build grassroots power. They have created food gardens and rainwater-catchment systems throughout the Wakefield community. Projects like these bring neighbors together to roll up their sleeves and implement their own visions of positive change. The result is a community that is stronger, more connected and more resilient.

One of the most-important things TYLO does is invest in a new generation of leaders who will continue to work within their neighborhoods—and to advocate at the tables of decision-makers who affect them.

The Tierra y Libertad Organization isn't alone in its efforts. The group recently joined with the Pima County Re-entry Coalition to form the Southern Arizona Green for All Coalition—dedicated to working with area residents to build a vibrant and inclusive green economy. The coalition is a diverse set of groups and individuals dedicated to a shared vision of building power from the base up. The goal is to usher in an era of sustainable community development benefiting all residents of Tucson.

One shining example is work that's been done with the Pima County adult and juvenile detention centers to actively invest in detainees so that when they re-enter their communities, they're prepared to do more than just stay out of prison—they're ready to serve as leaders and strengthen the fabric of their neighborhoods.

Here at Green for All's national headquarters in Oakland, Calif., we're inspired by what we see in Tucson. And we're thrilled to partner with Luis Perales and the Southern Arizona Green for All Coalition on a series of trainings in Tucson's Barrio Wakefield. The trainings are designed to support residents and amplify their power—so their voices become a stronger, louder part of the dialogue that decides the future of their neighborhoods, their city and their country.

Street by street and block by block, Tucson residents are forming a strong culture of participatory democracy. It's not just about voting. It's about neighbors coming together to help neighbors. It's about residents taking a hard, honest look at their problems and working together to create solutions. They're not waiting around for elected officials to solve problems like scarcity of fresh food—they're planting their own gardens. As Luis Perales puts it, "We give, and we get."

Amid all of the tension in Arizona, this kind of neighborhood self-sufficiency and resilience is more important than ever.

That's why we need people on every block in Tucson to follow Perales' lead. There's never been a more-important time for folks to step up, whether it's to start a community garden, advocate for resources or find ways to support their neighbors in need.

If we invest in communities—if we support efforts like the work of the Tierra y Libertad Organization—we can create a healthier, more-inclusive, more-prosperous world. Especially in places like Arizona.

You know what your community needs the most, and Green for All can give you the tools you need to take action. Our work isn't done, and we need you to finish it. Visit www.greenforall.org for more information on how to make a difference in Tucson, and email julian@greenforall.org for more information on the Southern Arizona Green for All trainings from July 20 to July 23.

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