Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz hates politics. They’re running for office anyway.

a cut out photo of Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz with a map of Iowa in the background
a cut out photo of Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz with a map of Iowa in the background

In 2022, we’re witnessing the first wave of Gen Z candidates running for Congress. But we’re also seeing the first wave of Zoomers running for state and local offices to effect change in their own backyards. Chegg Life sat down with a series of candidates under 30 who will be on the ballot this November. We asked them about the problems they’re running to fix, the importance of local politics and cynicism among young voters. View the whole series here.

For Alejandro Murguia-Ortiz, running for office was a strategic decision.

The Iowa state legislature is where the 28-year-old nonbinary activist has most consistently come up against roadblocks. Born to Mexican immigrants and meatpacking workers in Sioux City, Iowa, Murguia-Ortiz has been involved in activism since they were a kid. They pivoted to full-time organizing after seeing how their parents and community were abandoned by lawmakers during the pandemic.

While Murguia-Ortiz feels cynical about electoral politics, their experience helping a friend run for city council showed them what it could mean to have a bigger platform and use it to reach out to those typically excluded from the political process — like Latinx people, young people and immigrants.

As the Iowa University graduate and organizer for the Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice runs for state senate in the 17th District, their mission is to truly represent their community and give them a say in the decisions that shape their daily lives.

How did you become interested in politics? 

I’m running because of the growing feeling of distrust and abandonment in my communities: immigrants, Latino people, youth. A lot is said during campaigns about helping us that doesn’t translate into action, and that creates distrust — a sense that there’s no point in being a part of this system.

I’m not running because I think this is a good system or one created to represent the needs of the people. I’m running to use the platform and resources that come with being in office to keep organizing at the grassroots level, so that the people I represent can actually feel like they have a say in politics.

What led up to you actually deciding to run? 

I began organizing full-time at the beginning of the pandemic. My parents are meatpacking workers, and the stories I was hearing were disgusting. It’s not surprising, but seeing the disconnect between people’s needs and elected leaders was galvanizing.

Democrats are not out there being loud and proud about our issues. There’s this fear that they will lose elections by saying what’s right. That’s one of the biggest reasons why we don't make progress. At the very least, Democrats need to say what they believe. When liberals get into office in Iowa, they can’t pass legislation, but at least, they could be thought leaders.

You seem very cynical about politics. How did you decide to run in spite of that?

I worked closely with Indira Sheumaker, an activist with the BLM movement in Des Moines, when she ran for city council. When she ran, she was still on probation after getting arrested at the capitol. But she had a strong grassroots base, and by organizing that campaign, we unseated a Democratic incumbent by a decent margin. That helped me see that running for office can be powerful.

Why are you running for state senate in particular?

The state senate is where I’ve faced the biggest barriers as an organizer — with Democratic leaders who are unwilling to advocate for progressive issues, even things they say they support. Right now, there’s nobody in the legislature who is a champion for immigrants' rights. Because Des Moines is a blue area, Democrats think they don’t even need to try to get votes since Republicans don't run. So folks in this area get abandoned. In the past, they haven’t had another option. But I organize here, and I know these neighborhoods and the immigrant community. Even though some of these folks can’t vote, there needs to be representation or someone who can speak to them and understand their issues and represent them.

What is your biggest priority if you get into office? 

Ballot initiatives, which give people a direct say on issues. Look at what happened in Kansas [where people voted directly against a proposed constitutional amendment that would have banned abortion]. Giving people the power to vote directly on things instead of just electing someone is really powerful. If I could only do one thing, I would create ballot initiatives, so that folks have a direct say on things like constitutional law.

What has been the most rewarding moment on the campaign trail?

It’s been amazing seeing how many people want something different. A lot of people are actually really excited to see a young person with new ideas running. There are a lot of young people in my district, students. People in the Latino community want to see their kids in these roles — people who couldn’t even participate in government, but they can look at me and think one day my kid could be president. It’s been amazing knocking on doors and canvassing, just talking to the community and seeing how proud my family is.

I also came out as nonbinary during my campaign, including to my family. In Iowa, there is a lot of backlash against trans and nonbinary rights, so people were understandably afraid for me. But that’s kind of the reason I’m running. If you’re going to run for office, you shouldn’t be afraid to say the things you think are right. If that means sharing my identity in an op-ed, which is what I did in the Des Moines Register, and speaking to what I’m going to face as a nonbinary person going to the capitol, then it’s  an important part of making change.

Putting myself, as a nonbinary person, in these spaces, exposing the disdain for my community, is an important part of changing how we’re treated. Because if these people never meet a trans person or a nonbinary person, they’re never going to change. I was uplifted by a lot of people, even though they were worried about me, or didn’t know if I’d be taken seriously afterwards. So that was really rewarding.

What do you have to say to members of your generation who feel cynical about politics? 

I would say that their feelings are valid. I resonate with that cynicism, but that's why I'm involved. If you have that feeling that voting or elections aren’t the way you want to be involved, there’s still something you can do to make a difference. If you don’t believe in voting, organize your workplace, organize your neighborhood, organize in any space you’re involved, a creative space — talk about the issues that affect that niche. If you’re an artist, talk about issues that affect your community.

You might not think voting is gonna make a difference, but organizing will, and it can translate to electoral wins or holding power over political parties. I would encourage people, even if there's nobody on the ballot that you want to vote for, still go out and vote and encourage others to vote. But I also know that individuals voting for individuals is not how positive change happens. Positive changes happen when people come together to demand it. We need to use any resource, in any capacity, any avenue that gives people more power, and this is one of those avenues.

You’re one of many young people running for office this year. How important is it that young people have representation in government? 

I think it's really important. Because people running for office should be saying what they believe. Young people running creates fear in people who are in power, that young people are frustrated enough to run, are a big enough base that we can shift power in a different direction. It’s important that people in power are seeing this happen. Because otherwise, they won’t care enough to even try to be better.

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