Ana Urzúa Alcaraz for City Council, 2016.

Post-Election Reflections with Ana Urzúa Alcaraz

Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) is partnering with Santa Ana Building Healthy Communities (SABHC) to develop and support the small businesses of Santa Ana’s Latino residents and cooperativas. These efforts are meant to generate income, sustain cultural practices, and empower infrastructure for the underserved community of primarily immigrant, low-income Latino residents and business owners.

In our previous post on the work in Santa Ana, we described the arc that led to local CCI partner Ana Urzúa Alcaraz’s run for local City Council. Although the election resulted in victory for a candidate backed by the local police union and the victorious incumbent Mayor, Urzúa Alcaraz waged a noteworthy grassroots campaign that raises implications for the role of artists and creative workers in elected public life. We caught up with Urzúa Alcaraz to see how 2017 unfolded, and how her experience will shape her next steps:

CIIN: You are already a well-known leader in the local arts and activist community; why did you choose to run for public office, especially when the odds were stacked against you?

URZÚA ALCARAZ: It was such a tough decision! Most of my life I’ve functioned primarily as an artist and a cultural worker with a political slant. As an activist and organizer, my orientation was always about how electoral politics have never done enough for my community. So running for office was never something I saw myself doing. But our perspective and our motivation shifted when we realized that for many years now we already have been involved. I’ve personally been involved in creating policy for a long time now, and have witnessed how powerful that process is in transforming needs and ideas into meaningful daily change in my community. I’ve come to understand that policy is a missing link between our community network and real impact.

CIIN: What did you hope to accomplish, and what did you accomplish?

URZÚA ALCARAZ: The implications in this past election were pretty big, and very motivating. There were no women running for my seat when I entered the race. Even more importantly–in 2018, three of our seven councilmembers will be terming out. In other words, a significant portion of our local leadership of the past twelve years will be turning over. So it felt like an important time to at least put a stake in the ground–to show up.

And it actually felt like a complete success even though we didn’t win. The grassroots nature of our campaign was both a challenge and a strength. There were so many voices trying to dissuade us, saying things like, “most of the people you’re reaching can’t even vote.” But the folks in our community are the ones that have moved social movements forward in the past, and brought transformational policies to the table to include people that are usually left out.

I think it’s a win that so many young people–and other people that are not eligible to vote–did turn out to support the campaign. I believe elected officials should be conduits. So the way our campaign unfolded felt like true representation and a sign that we had won something. When you look at the diversity of our participation, I think everybody else has a lot of catching up to do!

CIIN: In retrospect, do you still think there is value in encouraging artists and culture workers to hold elected seats? How did being an artist influence your own process?

URZÚA ALCARAZ: Honestly, I’ve been struggling recently in feeling disconnected as an artist and cultural practitioner. Other people have taken up the space I used to fill in the cultural community, like hosting fandangos that all of Southern California comes to Santa Ana to see—so the work continues. As for myself, I know that art and culture has been my school; it has fueled me and taught me, and I do feel like I will return to it. But I’m getting down into my personal traumas right now and reflecting over what I’m learning about myself in this phase of my life.

I don’t even know that before I began the campaign process I fully understood what it would mean to win and actually work on Council every day. This year, I think the way I’m manifesting myself creatively is by creating infrastructures that can lead to an alternative economic structure. A lot of my energy is going toward cooperative business, and figuring out what the ecosystem is that we’re creating around it. Helping grow a community network and actually thriving is very creative work.

CIIN: What’s next for you?

URZÚA ALCARAZ: We have to keep going with the work! It’s been two years now [with the CIIN funding] and we’re going slow but steady. For the community marketplace, the big question is how to enter the formal economy when we know how big the hurdles are. There are so many costs and regulations. Legal and tax status formation has been challenging. Financing, democratizing the economy, and maintaining the structures of collective decision-making is the hardest. But we just keep discussing and articulating our synergies, as well as our differences from traditional business development.

And things are going well. So far, we have five base businesses, and four others are interested. Small businesses usually have such high turnover, but not for us. I’m excited for the next year!

In our next and final post from Santa Ana, we’ll meet some of the vendors involved with the cooperative market:

● El Mercadito Carrusel -The formerly mobile, but now permanent, cooperative monthly market. They are in the process of acquiring day licenses from the City and recently launched a logo contest to mark their change in branding from the generic “mercadito.”
● Manos Unidas Creando Arte – A recycled crafts cooperative that recently won a City Council award for their positive community activity, vision, and success.
● Cooperativa Tierra y Dignidad – A savings and credit cooperative based on a popular informal Latin American community model. This nascent group recently pooled their resources to issue three microloans and assist two members with bereavement costs. Currently working with UCI Community Development Clinic to formalize their regulations and explore incorporation as an LLC.
● Comunidad en Resistencia para el Empoderamiento Cultural y Ecologico (CRECE OC) – This small farming collective recently added an additional ¼-acre location, doubling their available space to grow food for their membership.
● Producciones Santa Ana – A local a/v and promotional materials direct service group in development.