COMMENTARY: Jeffery Isbell’s slanted op-ed published recently by NMPolitics.net was an interesting read. The article begins with a cleverly worded assault on those of us working in Las Cruces toward social change by implying that, like Mr. Isbell, we have helicoptered in to change the dynamic of our beloved city.
Of course the big difference he fails to mention is that almost every single person he names, and those of us whose organizations were named, are long-time residents, many of us lifelong residents, of Doña Ana County. Unlike Mr. Isbell, we know our neighbors and our children’s friends and we know how much potential there is here without the outside interdiction of a self-proclaimed “political operative.”
And let’s not mince words here about what Mr. Isbell is and is doing. When he mentions that there’s only one conservative group operating in Las Cruces that’s a (patently untrue) political maneuver designed to disarm moderate liberals and enrage conservatives. The fact that he himself moved here from Illinois to organize the city council recall effort should be enough to prove that they already have a firm grasp on the importance of grassroots organizing. Under his hand conservatives were able to maintain their stranglehold on the Doña Ana Soil and Water Conservation District during last year’s election. His candidates received support from Rep. Steve Pearce by way of robo-calls and high-end glossy mailers. Don’t think for a second that this issue is lopsided one way or the other.
Actually, no, please do consider it that way. ProgressNowNM raised about $3,000 to spend in last year’s city council race. That money came locally from New Mexico donors and the mailers we sent out were printed locally at a Las Cruces shop. Contrast that to Mr. Isbell’s “$100,000 in direct mail and radio commercials,” which was mostly comprised of out-of-state money from larger conservative PACs. The real issue that’s coming up is that Isbell’s heavy handed, out-of-state style doesn’t fly well here. Voters know that when their friends take the time to get involved and have a yard sign or host a candidate party, that recommendation means something.
The differences are in what we are all working for. Candidates who Mr. Isbell has helped back consistently share the idea of going backwards. They want to “undo” things. They want to undo minimum wage. They want to undo marriage equality. They want to undo conservation protections for beloved natural areas. Well Mr. Isbell, I’m not sure you’ll ever find enough people to rally around undoing those things. Most people are interested in doing something. Most people I know get fired up because there’s a group of people hurting or in need and we have the power to help them.
Politics may be a game or a just a career to some people like Isbell, but for the men and women he called out by name, serving the public in an elected office is an opportunity to help their community. And for those of us who work behind the scenes and organize, it’s about letting our elected officials know what the community really needs, not just the 1 percent who have the money to advertise it whenever they want.
It’s about going to city council meetings that happen in the middle of the day when most people have to work or be in school. It’s about driving to colonias and unincorporated towns to talk with people who don’t have transportation or Internet connections and their voices aren’t being heard. It’s about countering all the negativity and deceit that comes from outside agitators who can use money to buy influence the rest of only ever dream of.
We share this time and this space. Working for progress benefits everyone. What does organizing against it accomplish?
Lucas Herndon is a lifelong resident of Doña Ana County and is raising his daughter here. He is the communications manager for ProgressNow New Mexico.