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In Arizona, LUCHA is Building Power and Winning Elections

Living United for Change in Arizona has been organizing the state's most vulnerable populations and electing Democrats.

By: Eoin Higgins

Since 1952, Arizona has only voted for a Democrat for president twice—Bill Clinton’s re-election in 1996, and Joe Biden in 2020.

The former can be explained away by the presence of Ross Perot on the ballot and the relative weakness of the GOP’s standard bearer against Clinton, Bob Dole. But the 2020 result points to something else entirely, a political shift to the left in the Southwestern state.

One group that’s been working hard to make progressive change in Arizona a reality for over a decade is Living United for Change in Arizona, or LUCHA, a grassroots organizing group that works in the state’s communities for economic justice and electoral change.

LUCHA is the 501(c)(4) arm of the Arizona Center for Empowerment, a 501(c)(3) that works to empower Arizonans for economic and social justice. But other than general voter registration, ACE doesn’t focus on politics and elections—the group’s focus is on policy and grassroots organizing. Elections are where LUCHA comes in.

Building power in a once-red state

Co-Executive Director Tomas Robles Jr., who has been working with the group since 2013 and in an executive role since 2014, told Blue Tent that LUCHA’s “overall goal is to build political power among vulnerable communities,” requiring a diversity of tactics.

“Economic justice is our flagship issue,” Robles said, ticking off a number of concerns LUCHA has heard from Arizona communities: funding for adult education, affordable housing, assistance for pre-K child care, and more.

And voting rights are part of the program, important to ensure that those priorities aren’t stopped at the state level. The group was founded in the wake of SB1070, the notorious anti-immigration “show me your papers” law that sparked outrage around the country for its similarity to the policies of autocratic regimes like the Nazis. Stopping legislation like that is a major goal for LUCHA, and in order to do that, they need to protect the right to vote.

“A lot of our work is predicated on addressing bills that attack access to the ballot box,” Robles told Blue Tent.

With an operating budget for 2022 of between $3.5 and $5.5 million, LUCHA intends to get out the vote for the midterm contest. A robust electoral project aimed at knocking on 500,000 doors and registering 100,000 new voters has a record to build on. According to Way to Win's overview of the 2020 election, 76% of the 120,000 voters LUCHA reached in 2020 voted; 10% were first-time voters. The group increased turnout in the state by an estimated 5,781 votes—in an election that Biden won by just 10,457 votes. And there are still many more voters who could be pulled off the sidelines: Way to Win estimates that Democrats have the potential to expand their base in Arizona by 876,000 voters. But that won't happen without greater investment in LUCHA and other groups that are doing the patient, long-term organizing to bring new people into the political process.

What donors should know

For donors looking at the group, Robles has a simple message: LUCHA’s work as a c4 is member-funded and member-driven, so your dollar is working within an organization that has grassroots accountability.

“In the years when the organization started, from 2010 to 2016, our small-dollar donations were hugely important, and they still fund a lot of what we do today,” Robles told Blue Tent. “You can expect that money to go toward an aggressive approach to engaging our voters and communities about what's actually happening in the legislature.”

Now’s the time to give, too. Robles said that funding the group’s work in the early months of an election year pays off more than giving during the heat of the election cycle. The early money means early connections with voters, which can be invaluable on Election Day.

“A dollar in January or February or early March is equal to $10 in August, September or October,” he said. “Early dollars allow us to have much longer and deeper conversations with the folks that we need to turn out for November.”

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