Success and failure are mere heartbeats away. Activist groups must rapidly evolve their product or face irrelevance. While the foundation is sound and principled, everything else must be pliable. This is because activists are born suffering from one of two ailments; obscurity or brilliance. One may think it curious to suffer from brilliance, but in the activist world brilliance can be just as damning as obscurity. Nowhere has this been better exemplified than with Citizens for a Better Arizona (CBA).
Citizens for a Better Arizona chose brilliance as their poison. In January of 2011 a failed candidate for U.S. Senate and lifelong activist, Randy Parraz, announced his intention to oust Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce. Parraz and a handful of local unknowns essentially told the Arizona political establishment they were tired of Pearce’s shady allies, insane legislation, and above all, his co-authorship of the now world-famous SB1070. What they were really saying, at least at the time, was they were crazy. There was no way a handful of upstarts was going to recall a sitting State Senator who held stewardship in one of the most conservative districts, in the most conservative city, deep in the heart of conservative Maricopa County.
By November 2011 however, the political landscape in Arizona changed forever. After months of signature gathering, petitions, slanders, and campaigning, Russell Pearce was recalled. Citizens for a Better Arizona exploded into the lime-light, taking the immigration throne away from longstanding groups like Puente and Alto Arizona. They were so popular, even Democrats who initially kept their distance from the recall, flocked to their doorstep. It seemed CBA was on the fast-track to activist superstardom. Their next target would have made them legend, however it was a mountain too far.
In 2012 Citizens for a Better Arizona adopted an older Randy Parraz mantra, and turned their sites to Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. If Pearce was a giant in Arizona, Arpaio was a titan. CBA called for his resignation, bought ad time on CNN, and talked to any and every media outlet that would listen. By October however, their efforts had done nothing to move the needle. They were slipping in popularity as the AZ DREAM Act rose to prominence. CBA was unable to contend with the DREAMER’s national support which meant they were literally adrift in a sea of deep Maricopa County red. Also, despite their efforts, Arpaio was going to keep his seat as sheriff. In what seemed desperate at the time, CBA decided to take live chickens to Arpaio’s office. They wanted to make the point that Arpaio lacked the fortitude to debate his only opponent, but they also needed the publicity. The display earned sneers from the Democrats in Arizona and began a division between CBA and the rest of the Arizona immigration movement. Even with some moderate Democrat gains in Arizona, 2012 was not nearly as bright for CBA.
2013 was not any kinder. The immigration movement was being controlled once again by Puente Arizona and the AZ DREAM Act. Citizens for a Better Arizona tried to turn the tide in their favor by announcing the recall effort of Sheriff Arpaio. By May however the effort failed to gather the requisite signatures. Arpaio slapped CBA with a statement calling their effort theatrics, which would ironically be embraced by the group. CBA was undaunted in their passion. In October CBA tried to show solidarity with the DREAM ACT by sending several members dressed a witches to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s office. In December CBA arranged for Santa Clause to deliver coal to the state DES Director, much to the confusion of dozens of children attending a Christmas concert. 2013 ended with the group further distanced from the mainstream immigration movement than it ever had before.
For CBA, 2014 has been nothing but theatrics. From chickens to toilets, the group has gone from movement to circus act. As the Arizona immigration movement turned to direct action, CBA’s antics have left them all alone. During a recent strategy session, the immigration group “Mi Familia Vota” elected to avoid CBA while protesting in Arizona. This one decision by such a large group is symbolic of the problems facing CBA. They are avoided by the movement, disregarded by state Democrats, and laughed at by Conservatives. Unfortunately when you don’t have friends anywhere, you have enemies everywhere.
CBA began in brilliance, but were unable to keep up with their success. They didn’t learn quick enough that political headhunting can only sustain a group for so long. It requires time, money, and willing public. None of those elements are reliable. As the national immigration movement evolved, CBA bounced from local issue to local issue never really making a noticeable impact. They sadly missed the opportunity to capitalize on their 2011 success and thus were relegated to media stunts and sarcasm.
The future of Citizens for a Better Arizona is cloudy at best. With the 2014 mid-terms upon us and the 2016 General just over the horizon, they may yet again rise to prominence. It will leadership and a willingness to turn away from the absurd, but it can be done. With Arizona being the center of the immigration universe there is still a lot of opportunity for growth. It is altogether possible CBA will join the ranks of Puente, AZ DREAM Act, and others at the top of the activist mountain. Time will tell.