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What’s in a name?

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by Robrt L. Pela

The East Valley Patriots for American Values are misunderstood.

Some say that the recently formed grass-roots organization is out to get state Sen. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa; that their focus is to prove that Pearce is just plain bad for Arizona. Others claim that the group is misleading the public with a hyper-conservative name that doesn’t describe what they’re actually about. Still others say that the East Valley Patriots are muckrakers who just want to stir up trouble around the issue of immigration reform.

In fact, according to Dan Martinez, one of the group’s founders, the East Valley Patriots is made up of what he calls “ordinary citizens” from Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe and Ahwatukee Foothills – Democrats, Republicans and independents who want to present an alternative vision for both the East Valley and Arizona as a whole.

“Sen. Pearce’s approach to politics doesn’t promote working together to better our state,” Martinez says. “So we’re going to the people to talk about raising the level of respect when we’re dealing with diverse communities that have diverse problems. Pearce is too mean-spirited to go that way.”

Pearce has lately made a name for himself as one of the nation’s leading opponents of illegal immigration; it was Pearce who guided the notorious anti-immigration Senate Bill 1070 to passage last year. The bill – parts of which were held pending court review, while others were rejected – sparked a nationwide uproar that once again painted Arizona as super-conservative and politically irresponsible. Overnight, the state was branded a racist state that promoted racial profiling as part of immigration enforcement.

“We love Arizona,” Martinez says. “And we can’t stand by and let our reputation ruin us.”

Yes, they’re patriots

The Patriots were born when a group of East Valley activists came together to debate S.B. 1070. “Like a lot of people, we were worried about what was being proposed,” recalls Martinez, “and how it might impact the state as a whole.”

The group, says Martinez, a former faculty member at South Mountain Community College, is a nonpartisan, faith-based group. “We draw on our spirituality,” he says, “which is the basis for our work and our lives.”

“The whole idea was to come together to create something that could really be effective in getting our voices heard,” according to Randy Parraz, a principal in the group who ran for U.S. Senate last year, but lost in the Democratic primary. “We knew we needed to frame things in such a way that people could hear what we were saying, and not get hung up on issues of race or political party.”

The group officially launched itself in December of last year at a city council meeting where 40 East Valley Patriot members turned up. “Everyone thought we were there to stage a protest,” Parraz says. “But we presented ourselves as American citizens who were there to talk about changing policy in Arizona.” Although there was plenty of baiting from other attendees who objected to the Patriots’ name, Parraz says the group made its initial impression by refusing to respond negatively. “We did not resort to name calling, and we came across as professionals who weren’t necessarily anticonservative, but who had some real concerns about public policy and its impact on the state.” Because of their cool demeanor, Parraz says, the group had tremendous attention from the press.

Their polite discourse at public meetings may have been well received, but it was the group’s name that put them quickly on the map. Conservatives have grumbled that the name East Valley Patriots for American Values is a misnomer, because the group is liberal and therefore, some say, not qualified to espouse American values.

“Conservatives don’t have a monopoly on the word patriot,” Martinez says. “We feel that all Americans are patriots who love their country. But the word has been coopted by other people who have certain views that they think make them true patriots. We believe that people willing to stand up for the values they hold dear can belong to groups other than the god-country-religion crowd.”

Martinez is less concerned about the response to his group’s name than about misunderstandings regarding the Patriots’ agenda. “We are not just about immigration,” he insists. “Our mission statement is to change the tone and civility of politics in the East Valley, pertaining to issues of employment, education, families and immigration.” But because immigration reform is such a hot topic these days, and because the Patriots arrived on the scene espousing the value of the Utah Compact, they’ve become known as just another pro-immigration group.

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