Immigrant 'Dreamer' Leads New Community Organization Formed from the Success of City Minimum Wage Campaign

Published : Monday, March 6, 2017 | 8:41 PM

The new multi-issue organization in town known as Pasadenans Organizing for Progress, or POP!, announced that its efforts will be led by a “Dreamer” who has made a name for herself for fighting to give the working class community a voice in local government from Southern California to Washington D.C.

Lizbeth Mateo is the face for the newly formed POP! and brings over ten years experience organizing community groups to stand up for their rights regarding immigration, housing and policing.

Mateo plans to impart some wisdom to fellow community members as an undocumented activist as she leads the way in making a more progressive Pasadena in the wake of a successful campaign from a grassroots effort to raise the City-wide minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2020.

“We realized that the campaign was successful because we brought together a broad coalition of organizations and people and we figured we could apply that same influence to lots of different problems and issues in Pasadena,” explained Peter Dreier, Professor of Politics and Chair of the Urban & Environmental Policy Department at Occidental College and Co-founder of POP!.

This success, Dreier explained, was due to the collaboration between both low income and middle class residents who are interested in making Pasadena a more progressive and community.

“One of the big gaps in Pasadena is the lack of a strong voice by working class and poor people in our community. We want to organize people to have a stronger voice in the centers of power in the City,” said Dreier.

According to Dreier, POP! is still in the beginning stages of forming into a non profit organization.

“There was a lot of energy and desire to continue to work and change more things in Pasadena. There are several issues that POP! is going to focus on,” said Lizbeth Mateo.

Issues of focus include immigration, tenant rights and policing.

Each of the different issues will have its own committee within POP!.

“This is something new for Pasadena,” said Dreier about POP! being a unique force in the City that focuses on multi-organizing.

Mateo’s newfound leadership of organizing POP! Comes with personal experience as an undocumented activist who for years has been at the forefront of battles for immigrant rights fears she may have to put her dream of practicing law on hold after federal officials tentatively denied her bid to legally stay and work in the U.S., according to Buzzfeed.

“There’s a large number of tenants in Pasadena who are experiencing issues with landlords who are essentially raising rent amounts in very arbitrary ways so we’re going to be looking into that,” explained Mateo.

Mateo applied for the Obama administration’s deferred deportation program in 2015, but U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) tentatively denied her application because she visited Mexico for 13 days in 2013. In order to be considered under the program, applicants can’t have traveled outside of the U.S. on or after Aug. 15, 2012.

Mateo, who was brought to the U.S. in 1998 when she was 14, graduated law school in May and is expected to take the California bar exam in July. The recent grad said she meets all the other requirements for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), but so far, the tentative denial has cost her a job and, if maintained, her ability to even practice law, according to Buzzfeed.

“My hope for POP! is that we can create a large enough network and a powerful enough network that POP! will be the go-to place for people who are looking to organize on issues within the community. We want to be as well connected and as powerful as we can with the help of the community–always leading with the community in mind,” said Mateo.

Police brutality and overall policing in the community is another main area of focus for the organization, according to Mateo.

“There’s already a group of folks who have been organizing around that issue so POP! is essentially going to function as a coalition of organizations that already exist in Pasadena to have a more coordinated effort,” explained Mateo.

POP! Is currently in the process of establishing itself as a 501c3 non-profit organization to serve the community.

“It’s a mix of people who live in Pasadena and work in Pasadena. It’s not just lawyers. Right now that’s what it looks like because that’s the group of people who came together to create POP!, but my job is to work directly with the community,” said Mateo.

The greater community of Pasadena is the lifeline for POP! as it gears up to cement itself within the community.

“One of the things that I really want to do is make sure that we’re bringing a very diverse community together on all issues. So when we are talking about immigrant rights issues, I don’t want to focus just on the latino community. There’s immigrants from all walks of life and so I want to make sure that we are focusing our efforts into creating a diverse organization across race, across gender and across socio-economic status,” said Mateo.

“What we discovered during the minimum wage campaign is that what was most influential in persuading the City Council to vote unanimously for the $15 minimum wage is when they heard the human stories from people who were affected by low wages. That’s the purpose of POP! is to build that coalition between middle class liberals and progressive and working class and poor people,” explained Dreier.

Currently, POP! is actively pursuing the City Council to pass the ordinance drafted by an immigration defense attorney and other colleagues that aims to protect the local immigrant community from being targets of the police department, which many fear could turn over information to federal agencies.

The proposed policy outlines main topics that included the police department here in Pasadena and also in other locations across the country commits to not collecting information about the immigration status of Pasadena residents that they come in contact with, that they don’t share information that’s going to be used for immigration enforcement, and that no local resources are used in any way to support federal immigration enforcement.

“What we want is something that is more permanent, that’s an actual policy in writing that the community can turn to where if anything happens we can turn to that policy to protect the City and the community,” explained Mateo.

The goal of POP! Is to give the community a voice in matters that have otherwise seemed silenced.

“I want the community to be empowered to fight and to organize for themselves and to understand that they have access to City Council, for example, where they can set meetings with them and they can talk to them, that the City Council and the government work for the community and they should be responding to our needs. I don’t want to create an organization that rests on my shoulders only, but I want an organization that rests on the shoulders of the community,” said Mateo.

Pasadena serves as the perfect testing ground to mobilize the community and members who are interested in the cause, according to Mateo.

“I’m hoping to gain more experience with Pasadena. This is a really good place to implement a lot of really good ideas. It’s a small enough city that it’s not as complicated in the way that we can approach some of these issues so my hope is that I can create something here that we can replicate in other cities as well,” said Mateo.

POP!’s website is currently under construction and will be made available soon for the public as a means to stay up to date with meetings and other upcoming events.

“We were very impressed about Mateo’s background, her passion for social justice, her ability to relate to different kinds of people and her willingness to go to law school and become a street savvy community organizer. She’s quite remarkable,” said Dreier.


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