I recently returned from Arizona: not my destination of choice, certainly not where I’d planned to spend my birthday.

After all, I’d read national news reports and watched the evening news. I recalled the special reports on Arizona’s self-appointed border vigilantes, those who seek to deny human rights and dignity to those who cross the Mexican border. No, the state didn’t endear itself to me.

I couldn’t imagine myself in a state where folks want our government to spend millions of dollars to build a wall that locks others out, especially when I recall that nearly all Americans – except Native Americans – are also immigrants.

So, with a great deal of resistance, I traveled to Arizona. Quickly, I found myself deep in sagebrush and cactus, in a place of desert inhabitants: tarantulas, rattlesnakes, wild pigs. Not the stuff I’d pick for my birthday.

But my Tucson sojourn allowed me to witness, to join other progressive funders (via the Funding Exchange) in learning firsthand the truths about Arizona, the state I now call “the land of brutal beauty.”

Arizona is the home of many resisters, those courageous justice-seekers who form the backbone for social justice and progressive change who are connecting immigration supporters together to ‘ban the wall’ at the border. These are the organizers whose networks stretch many miles – from Arizona to the vast state of Texas. These are the activists who work right on the border to provide legal representation, support services, popular education, community organizing and movement-building.

They tell true stories of immense struggle, holding out hope and resilience in the face of hatred. I learned about their work to access decent, affordable housing, to ensure fair wages, to build safe communities, to improve access to public education, fair employment, and quality healthcare.

I stayed at a location less than one mile from the Safeway center where Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot and wounded by a messenger of hate in her district. State Senator Jack C. Jackson, Jr., a Native American elected official who has followed his father into elected service, delivered an update on her health and the state of the State of Arizona.

I never imagined an Arizona birthday, nor was I prepared to enjoy it, but this experience – while challenging – was a myth-buster and eye-opener. It also raised my appreciation for courageous Oregonians, those who organize for inclusion, access and justice for all of us; who push back against hate; who resist demonizing, marginalizing and limiting the humanity of others; who work for healthy communities, freedom and justice for all in OUR Oregon.

I hope that you’ll join me and continue to support MRG in promoting racial and economic justice, environmental health and peace.

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