By: Kevin Azanza, ACLU of Arkansas Policy Strategist
As a policy strategist at the ACLU of Arkansas, a DACA recipient and first-generation Arkansan, I was honored to be selected to visit and represent the voices of Arkansas at a listening session last week at the White House in Washington D.C.
This session convened community leaders from Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas, spotlighting the distinct challenges and opportunities in the South. Also representing Arkansas were notable organizations including the Human Rights Campaign, Emerge, For AR People, and NAACP, among others.
The event comprised a networking session and insightful talks featuring the White House Director of Public Engagement Steve Benjamin, Infrastructure Implementation Coordinator Mitch Landrieu, National Climate Advisor Ali Zaidi, White House Director of Domestic Policy Council Neera Tanden, and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. Afterwards, attendees shared success stories related to administration investments.
These investments, particularly the American Rescue Plan and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, have significantly promoted job growth, bolstered infrastructure, and enhanced overall quality of life in the Natural State.
However, challenges persist:
• Among U.S. states, Arkansas ranks low in areas such as median family income, child health, education, and healthcare. We also rank dead last on voter turnout and registration.
• The state's elected and appointed officials don't sufficiently mirror its diversity. Notably, the 2021 Redistricting Plan reflected racial biases. Combined with legislation aimed at voter suppression, our voting rights are endangered and warrant federal intervention.
• While urban centers in Arkansas witness economic growth, even more regions across Arkansas are "opportunity deserts" with scant amenities and job opportunities. Strategic, intentional investments are imperative.
• Arkansas' prisons face issues of overcrowding and understaffing. This demands urgent, immediate intervention and reform.
• As a DACA recipient, the need for immigration reform hits close to home. Comprehensive immigration policies are crucial in safeguarding the future of our state’s diverse communities.
• And federal and state investments in education, healthcare, and social services — the sectors that directly affect Arkansans — are non-negotiable.
By supporting the ACLU of Arkansas, you help us further these vital conversations. Together, we can tackle voter suppression, champion economic fairness, overhaul the criminal justice system, and defend Arkansans' rights. Let's transform this dialogue into tangible progress. Join us in our mission, and envision a future where we proudly say, “Look how far we've come.”