#WeArePP: Our Stories from AK to AZ is a weekly blog series in which we profile supporters and advocates from across the country and every corner of our Planned Parenthood community. This week we caught up with Melissa Garcia, an outreach organizer for Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Raíz program in Tucson, Arizona.
Meet Melissa Garcia. Even as a child, she always knew she wanted to be an activist.
“For me, it all started with seeing my dad being really active in his community when I was growing up,” Garcia said. “We were living in Mexico, and he would volunteer on different [political] campaigns when he could. He wanted to see politics change in Mexico, which made me realize how much power people actually have.”
As an outreach organizer for Planned Parenthood’s Raíz program in Arizona, it’s Garcia’s job to harness the power of the people. Active in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas, Raíz is Planned Parenthood's national effort to advocate for the Latinx communities. Since 2014, organizers like Garcia have worked to fight for access to health care, reproductive health, immigration, and sex education.
“I work alongside mostly Latinx community organizers who work specifically in Latinx communities to address the many barriers that exist for our people,” Garcia said. “For example, we have registered Latinx folks to vote [and] pushed for comprehensive sex education in Tucson schools.”
Melissa and Planned Parenthood supporters at an event honoring César Chávez.
After growing up in Mexico, Garcia moved to Phoenix, Arizona to study political science at Arizona State University. Halfway through her degree, she started volunteering on local political campaigns and registering Arizonans to vote.
Before long, this led to even larger organizing projects at Central Arizonans for a Sustainable Economy and UNITE HERE, where Garcia worked before joining Raíz. Whether she’s helping hotel workers to unionize or building relationships with immigrant communities, Garcia said she’s always inspired by what people can accomplish together.
“I’ve seen so many barriers that exist in our community, and so for me those are always the huge fights I wanted to take on,” Garcia said.
Read more of our interview with Melissa below
Planned Parenthood Action Fund: You’re an outspoken and fearless advocate for the Latinx community. Who inspires you?
Melissa Garcia: Definitely both of my parents. Seeing all the hard work that they’ve done to get us to the U.S. and for me and my siblings to have an education here — that has been a big motivator in every aspect of what I do.
Melissa and her parents.
PPAF: Has there been a time where you’ve been directly impacted by Planned Parenthood services?
MG: Yeah. I grew up in a Catholic home. I never received comprehensive sex education, and for the four years that I attended public high school, there was no sex ed for students. So I was ashamed in many ways of not knowing enough about myself or how to take care of myself.
After four years of being on my own [at college] and trying to get answers to the questions that I needed, I Googled “trusted health care providers” and Planned Parenthood was the top result. So I made an appointment, went to Planned Parenthood, and got all the answers I needed about my reproductive health. Since then, I’ve been really thankful that Planned Parenthood was there for me.
PPAF: Other than yourself, can you think of times when Planned Parenthood has directly improved the lives of others?
MG: Yeah! I have friends who go to Planned Parenthood and receive the care that they need and want all the time.
Melissa and friends in a Planned Parenthood-themed photo booth.
PPAF: You’ve spent years working and doing grassroots organizing work. What’s a skill that every good organizer should have?
MG: Building relationships is the foundation for organizing. Without good relationships, you can’t organize, and you can’t inspire.
Melissa and other Planned Parenthood supports meet with Cecile Richards.
PPAF: Intersectionality has become really important to Planned Parenthood’s work. At Raíz, how do you approach this concept?
MG: Adopting an intersectional framework is not an easy process. Within Planned Parenthood, that’s something that has only happened recently. For me specifically, it involves making sure that I’m empathizing with people that are not like me. Instead of stepping over people, we need to make sure that we step back and understand where others are coming from.
PPAF: With Raíz, you work with the Latinx communities. How do you work to bring marginalized communities into the fold?
MG: It’s infuriating to see a government that pushes me and my people aside. A huge source of inspiration is knowing that [the Latinx community] is not something you can push aside. The new administration thinks we’re not watching, but our marginalized communities are mad and want to take action. That’s why they want to come to rallies and volunteer with us.
These students are working with Melissa to keep up the fight.
PPAF: Arizona has passed laws that have been disastrous for women’s health — especially when it comes to safe, legal abortion. What is it like combating these attacks time after time?
MG: Arizona is a state where, unfortunately, we have a majority of legislators who are often anti-minority and anti-women. But while they continue to come up with attacks on our people, they don’t realize that we continue to get stronger and advocate louder. In a way, each attack prepares us for an even bigger battle.
PPAF: Some pundits are speculating whether Arizona will go purple — or even blue — in 2018. As this important election cycle approaches, what’s your game plan for getting the Latinx communities engaged and organized?
MG: Since the [Trump] administration started, we’ve been looking forward to 2018. Arizonans have been misrepresented by politicians for some time. So knowing that we can actually put someone in office who will represent the majority? People are excited. We’re excited to take those who fail to represent us out of their seats, and work to elect someone who is actually going to get work done instead.
Melissa and students meet Gabby Giffords at a rally.
PPAF: What was it like working to rally the huge health care fight this summer?
MG: It has been quite the ride! In the beginning, people were really mad about everything and had lots of energy. By the end of the fight, we were exhausted. It was very rewarding to see the end result. We were fighting — literally for our lives.
PPAF: Your senator’s vote (John McCain (R-AZ)) helped defeat Trumpcare. Did that surprise you?
MG: The last week of the health care fight, we did a rally with Indivisible outside [Sen. McCain’s] office. He was one of the targets we thought would be more reliable than Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Our target had always been Sen. Flake, but we also started to set sights on McCain. Seeing the outcome of the vote was a little surprising! We’re thankful for the way he voted, but are still definitely going to hold him accountable for that bipartisan bill he’s talking about.
PPAF: What has been your favorite moment so far working with Raíz?
MG: Oh goodness. There are so many. For me, it has to be passing comprehensive sex ed in the Tucson Unified School District. Mostly because it was done by high school students that went to meetings, organized their own classmates, and were determined to make this happen. It was led by them, and I just supported them. That was very inspiring.
Raising the Planned Parenthood sign for all to see.