Last Tuesday was not a normal school day for Paloma Martinez. She went to classes that morning at City High School in downtown Tucson where’s she a junior. But that afternoon she got an education.
By 5 p.m. the 16-year-old was among thousands of energy-filled protesters, many carrying signs, nearly all shouting, whistling and sounding upbeat at the large peaceful demonstration before President Trump’s rally at the Phoenix Convention Center. It was the continuation of Martinez’s lessons as an active citizen, as a student engaged in the political process, as a young woman concerned about her future and that of her community. The protest was her real-time textbook on civics and history.
And while Martinez was just one in the massive crowd that filled Phoenix’s downtown streets surrounding the Convention Center, in 107-degree heat, her presence mattered.
“I’m glad to see all these people standing together against racism. I feel like I’m part of something big,” said an almost shy Martinez, who wore a T-shirt with the logo of Flowers & Bullets, a Tucson grass-roots community organizing group. She was accompanied by her mother, muralist and artist Johanna Martinez, and two friends, Raquel Mogollon and Athena Hagen.
Martinez is part of something big: a growing wave of young people who are propelled to become active participants in civic engagement. Among the thousands at the protest were many teenagers, like Brenda Huerta Brown, an 18-year-old senior from Bostrom High School in Phoenix who befriended Martinez and accompanied the troupe from the light-rail stop to the protest site.
“I’m here to support the community,” said Huerta Brown.
Martinez, who enjoys cooking and listening to hip-hop and the Beatles, said before the rally that she felt compelled to attend “to stand up for my community and my people, and stand against what he (Trump) stands for.”
At the rally, a wide cross-section of Arizonans was present. The protesters denounced Trump and the white nationalists’ movement that the president was slow to criticize after Charlottesville. Many protesters were also clearly in opposition to the possibility — which became reality three days later — that Trump would pardon former Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who recently was found guilty of ignoring a judge’s order to cease racial profiling of Latino residents.
But in the midst of it all at Tuesday’s protest came the news from Tucson that a federal judge had ruled in favor of Tucson residents — Maya Arce, Korina Lopez, Nicolas Dominguez, Noah Gonzalez and Manuel Barcelo — who challenged the state’s ban on Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District. U.S. District Judge A. Wallace Tashima found that Arizona enacted the ban with discriminatory intent that violated students’ constitutional rights.
Martinez learned another lesson: persistence.
The ruling is the result of young Tucsonans who refused to be cowed by the state, specifically by former Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal and former state Attorney General Tom Horne, Huppenthal’s predecessor, the principal architects of the ban, which the judge said was motivated by racial animus. The students, some of whom had organized as UNIDOS, clearly understood that the state maliciously terminated a successful academic program that benefited them in and out of school. Where they had previously felt neglected and marginalized, the stimulating Mexican-American Studies had turned them around.
Martinez was not a student in the now-vindicated program but in these heated political days, her life is turning around.
At a time when it appears that the Trump-led government and its institutions are abandoning young people, ethnic minorities and individuals who identify as LGBT, a day like Tuesday offers her hope.
“I feel inspired, supported. I’m not alone,” Martinez said after the rally and before a clash broke out between a small number of protesters and Phoenix police.
The Tuesday rally was not the first large demonstration Martinez has attended. She took part in the large Jan. 21 Women’s March in downtown Tucson the day after Trump’s inauguration. She said she will continue to be active in opposing the president’s polices on the environment, women, minority rights and attacks on individuals’ sexual preferences. Martinez said a president should be able to see all sides.
“I hope he hears us,” she said. “He’s pretending we don’t exist.”