A big victory in a small Arizona city
South Tucson's newest slate of progressive council members: Roxanna Valenzuela, Cesar Aguirre, and Brian Flagg. | via Defend Nuestro Barrio

SOUTH TUCSON, Ariz.—In a landslide victory, largely ignored by the corporate owned media, a slate of three community activists was elected to the city council in one of Arizona’s most impoverished municipalities.

The city of South Tucson’s new Council members, Cesar Aguirre, Roxanna Valenzuela, and Brian Flagg, defeated three incumbents by such an overwhelmingly large margin in the August primary that they will not need to compete in the November General election.

South Tucson is a separate municipality, one and a quarter square miles in size, surrounded on all sides by the city of Tucson. At one time it was a working-class suburb, but as Tucson has mushroomed into a large ‘modern’ city South Tucson has devolved into a poor inner-city mostly Chicano and immigrant barrio of about 5,000 folks.

As its tax base eroded, it has become more and more difficult for the town to offer the basic services its residents need. Half of the town’s staff positions remain unfilled for lack of funds causing residents to fear that even police and firefighting protection might not always be available.

The three winners are associated with the Casa Maria Catholic Worker collective that operates a soup kitchen in the barrio and has been organizing homeless and poor people for decades. Casa Maria has been a major player in Tucson progressive politics and struggles from immigrant rights, to raising minimum wages, opposing U.S. military aggression, and the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1980s.

Arizona’s very active Jobs with Justice organization is an outgrowth of the labor Solidarity Committee of the Casa Maria led Tucson Coalition for the Homeless.

The decision to seek public office came from the growing housing crisis and the threat of gentrification to local residents. Wealthy developers have begun looking at South Tucson as their next prey. Landlords are raising rents to unaffordable amounts; homelessness is growing visibly, not only in South Tucson but also in the larger city of Tucson which is one of the country’s poorest cities.

At a presentation the three gave at Tucson’s Salt of the Earth Labor College last Saturday they explained that one of their aims is to take on Arizona’s law that prevents municipalities from enacting rent control.  That law needs to be challenged for the sake of all Arizonans and the best way to do that is by changing the state legislature where the Republicans have very slim majorities in both houses and by electing a decent governor.

via Defend Nuestro Barrio

With all legislative seats and the governorship up for election this November, there’s a good chance it can be accomplished, and campaigning on the need for rent control could help turn out voters. They also feel they will have enough support from the other four members of the city council who were not up for reelection this year.

Brian Flagg, who has lived at Casa Maria for 39 years, explained that “people need to be political,” and aside from trying to straighten out a fiscally broke town, they will now have a bully pulpit to advocate for poor and working people.

Cesar Aguirre, a single father, said he doesn’t want to be a politician, but to remain an organizer.

Roxanna Valenzuela, who grew up in an adjoining Tucson Barrio, added that organizing with Casa Maria has taught her what she never learned in school, and she also sees herself as a community organizer and not a politician.

Clearly, there is much work that needs doing.


Joe Bernick
Joe Bernick

Joe Bernick is the Director of Salt of the Earth Labor College, Tucson, Arizona.