Flinn-Brown Fellow JP Martin works alongside Tucson neighborhood groups

August 31, 2022

By Jessica Vaile

JP Martin
(Tucson, 2017)

Director of Small Business and Community Engagement
City of Tucson

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1. Can you please describe your work and how public policy impacts how you manage your organization?

My practice is informed by a three-dimensional approach known as, “contra, sin, y desde el estado,” or “against, without, and from the state.” This framework provides historically marginalized folks with an opportunity to dismantle systems of oppression within the realm of public policy for equity-centered outcomes. Minority ethnic and cultural groups might not be able to find the words to describe what was lost without representation, but hold an understanding between themselves, the land, and living things that the paradox of government work may have left them and their ancestors unprotected through its slow-moving systems of laws and legitimacy.

I believe we can use the power granted by the state to organize leadership and change policies that build a consensus of diverse and popular voices. The city of Tucson recognizes neighborhood associations as the most basic unit of our government. We work with these community groups to leverage investment mechanisms against traditional disbursement methods. This differentiates from typical public-sector investments, where community validation is traditionally inconsistent or undervalued. We must intentionally build co-governance models through reliable outreach, shared political agenda-setting, and an accompanying formal infrastructure to connect our ward with accessible city services.

2. Do you have a favorite quote that is meaningful to you?

“I am still learning–how to take joy in all the people I am, how to use all my selves in the service of what I believe, how to accept when I fail and rejoice when I succeed.” —Audre Lorde

3. Is there a book you would recommend to the Fellows?

For our Fellows, particularly in southern Arizona, I humbly recommend “La Calle” by Lydia Otero. This book discusses an urban-renewal project in 1966 near downtown Tucson that erased a densely populated barrio. It examines the relationship between competing historical narratives and socioeconomic dominance that led to the destruction of homes for Mexican-American families. It shows how unintended consequences and cultural assumptions in urban planning and tourism can displace and silence the communities we want to highlight. These lessons are especially valuable as we identify a need to build affordable housing, transit-oriented development, and community partnerships.

4. How has the Fellows Network been useful to you?

The Flinn-Brown Fellows Network allows me to interface with thought leaders in a political home away from home. It challenges us to see the biggest picture, one that includes those more vulnerable than us and those who hold vast amounts of power. This network provides a platform for us to exchange values as effective and ethical public stewards who carry out critical governance decisions. Finally, I trust this network to help us deepen, normalize, and scale solutions to ideate and create a future we can believe in. It is a place to find alignment and accountability.

5. What do you see as potential opportunities strengthening civic health in Arizona?

Participatory budgeting empowers people to decide together how to spend public money. This year, my office will create and support the first municipal participatory-budgeting processes in Arizona. It is my hope that this shifts the democratic process beyond elections, builds stronger communities, and makes public budgets more accessible and effective. Our annual investments of $600,000 will help our neighborhood associations and community groups #BuildOurBarrios through a voting process that is informed by the ideas of Ward 1 residents themselves.

If you missed a Fellows Spotlight, you can view them on the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership website now.

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