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Jimmy Arwood: Taking time out for reflection

Jimmy Arwood, Save Our Schools Arizona field manager and senior at Arizona State University, waits for a high-five from a voter. Arwood joined volunteers on a final day of signature gathering for the anti-school voucher campaign on Aug. 5 outside of Changing Hands Bookstore.

Jimmy Arwood, Save Our Schools Arizona field manager and senior at Arizona State University, waits for a high-five from a voter.

Jimmy Arwood is stepping back to think even as his trajectory is rising. In 2017, while attending college, he became the field director for Save Our Schools, managed three 2018 campaigns for the Arizona Democratic Party and, in May 2019, became Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego’s community outreach coordinator.

During these formative years, Arwood, 24, also faced personal trials. Over the past nine months, his mother, Jean, who had dementia, passed away, and a heart condition sent him to the emergency room. He left Gallego’s office in October to slow down and reflect on his values and why he’s in politics. These painful experiences, he said, reminded him of what matters in this short life.

What have you found through this reflection?

I think a lot about how in individual political campaigns, we’re always trying to get someone elected. It’s a short-term goal. We have to think about people as individuals and not voting groups. We have to really think about ourselves too. We, so many times, sacrifice our own bodies and mental health for the sake of getting people elected. There’s a balance in life and I’ve found a lot of peace in that.

Do others share that view?

I think a lot of people do. It’s hard for people to talk about it. It’s a rise and grind sport. Everybody is in this constant competition. But I do think a lot of people especially value the balance that we all need to have in this kind of environment, even though they don’t want to talk about it all the time.

Do you now view your role differently?

It’s been nice to think back on what originally got me in this work to start with: education and making sure that every kid in the state has the exact same opportunities that I was given in school. As I’ve been able to reflect on that, I want to go into a space where I have more of an ability to change the culture around education and change even curriculum. It’s not just about winning campaigns – it’s much more reflective on what policy actually means for real people every day.

Who exactly, and do you mean equality or equity?

Equity. There are schools across the state that aren’t receiving the same resources. When school books are dated by 20, 30 years in some schools while others get brand new books, that’s creating unequal playing grounds. We like to talk about how our society is a meritocracy and that everybody has the exact same opportunity to succeed and I don’t think that’s true. I think people want it to be true I think we all value the idea that if you work hard, you should be able to achieve something. But that alone is not true, because you also have to have the opportunities to get there. I would not be where I am now, if it wasn’t for opportunities that people gave to me previously. That isn’t just education. I mean that is just in the fact that I’m a man. When I was working with Save Our Schools, they would always give me these public speaking opportunities. … and that’s where I was able to become the type of organizer that I was. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that a woman mentioned to me that one of the reasons that they would have me go out and talk was because sometimes people don’t listen to women when they speak. Some of the opportunities that I’ve gotten are simply because people listen to men more than women. That’s a type of inequality that I think we have to continue to work on.

Throughout your career so far, what have you learned?

As I went through these different campaigns, I saw the different ways that our system isn’t working for people, whether that was our public schools, prisons or our health care system. Having a parent with dementia and never hearing anybody talk about that at the political level, it made me feel like our voices weren’t at the table. I remember how hard it felt during that time where when she was sick and feeling like our health care system doesn’t work. That was really difficult. I didn’t know how to talk about that and know how to express that because I didn’t see any leaders who talked about it. So, when I talk with people that are Native American and they feel so many things that are unfair to them and how they don’t see people like themselves in power, representing the needs of their community, I’m much more empathetic to that.

You mentioned your mother. What was she like?

She was amazing. She was the most compassionate human being I knew. She just loved people no matter what. She could be meeting someone for the first time and she just loved them in a very deep and genuine and sincere way. Throughout my work, I felt like I embodied her spirit by being able to show people that same type of love and compassion. It didn’t matter if I was meeting someone for the first time. I was young when the disease started to really take place. I was in high school when she had to stop driving. Then I was in college when I had to start being a caretaker part time too, and being in my freshman and sophomore year having to come home on the weekends from being in the dorms downtown and taking care of her. It’s really hard to watch someone go through that.

What did you learn?

I learned that time is very short. In politics, you feel like you have this unlimited amount of it. You really have to value the time that you have to share with people and that it’s not unlimited. It’s so easy to just get caught up in the day to day. These experiences we have right now, we only get them for this time being. In the same way that she so fervently had a love for human beings and for other people, I learned I really love people in the time that I had them.

What’s next for you?

I don’t know. I’m taking the time to think about where I can best help other people and best be a voice for people that are not getting their voice heard at the table. I’m not sure where that will lead me, but I’m excited. It’s going to be a journey.

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