The first few times Cody Duarte knocked on an unfamiliar door to talk taxes, he was nervous.
Duarte, 17, a summer community-organizing intern, says he had to get over himself to have a persuasive discussion with strangers about something he'd never thought about before.
“It was hard at first, but it got easier,” he says. Duarte and a dozen other teens spent six weeks of this summer getting paid to learn how to take action and educate others on social and political causes. The program let out Friday, July 24.
As part of the SouthWest Organizing Project’s (SWOP) Civil Opportunities Initiative Network (COIN), interns walk neighborhoods, engaging residents in conversations about voter registration, health care reform and development taxes. They took tours of the South Valley’s San Jose, Mountain View and Pajarito Mesa neighborhoods. They saw acres of landfills, a regional sewer plant, thousands of junked cars and a couple of nasty Superfund sites. They traveled to New York City to network with and train alongside other teens from across the country.
“That this group pretends to want to enhance youth pride under the guise of having graffiti that's part of cultural pride is repugnant.”
Mayor Martin Chavez after shutting down a SWOP event in 2006
Monica Cordova, SWOP’s director of youth organizing, says involving high school students in social issues instills a lifelong ethic of community service. By working a paying job, they get a hands-on introduction to grassroots organizing. Intern Lucia Martinez says these are skills they will draw on for the rest of their lives.
This weekend, SWOP will host an event that drew the ire of Mayor Martin Chavez a few years ago.
His administration canned what would have been the first Rock Out event in 2006 a week before it was slated to happen in Civic Plaza due to a proposed graffiti art contest. "That this group pretends to want to enhance youth pride under the guise of having graffiti that's part of cultural pride is repugnant," Chavez said then [“Rocking the Cause," Aug. 31-Sept. 6, 2006]. "... I'm not going to sit quietly while any group tries to ghettoize the youth of Albuquerque." Three years later, aerosol paint art is an official art category at the New Mexico State Fair.
2009's Rock Out promises a B-boy/B-girl battle, bands, slam poetry and an art showcase. “It is important that we have a voice,” Samantha Montano, 16, says. “We can bring about change.”
Jacob Lovato, 15, echoes President Obama regarding his SWOP intern experience. “I saw the problems,” he says, “and now I want to be part of the solution.”