Building Democracy Next Door in Chicago

Photo: Paul Goyette

Betty Alzamora believes transforming the world begins in her own backyard. She lives those values every day, making waves fighting racism and voter disenfranchisement in her Chicago-area village of 15,000, Forest Park. A program manager with Uber Technologies, Alzamora, a self-described “citizen advocate,” is passionate about championing human rights and voting rights.

Her dedication to social justice springs in part from seeing voting rights curtailed in her native Caracas, Venezuela. It was honed during her own 20-year journey to American citizenship. In those decades and since, Alzamora has devoted herself to neighborhood activism that gives voice to overlooked and underserved individuals and communities. She serves on the board of directors of PASO-West Suburban Action Project, a community-based social justice organization that provides legal support to immigrant families facing deportation, and co-founded Forest Park Against Racism, a community anti-racist organization.

“All change happens at home,” she said. “It expands locally and then it ignites the world.”

Her work helps encourage and train local women to be leaders, from running organizations to running for elective office. Often, she must help women overcome preconceived notions of conventional gender roles. She aims “to give them the confidence that they matter, their stories matter, their opinions matter, they have ideas and solutions that are worth exploring,” she said. “All of us should be treated with dignity and respect.”

In Forest Park, Alzamora works with undocumented Latinx families, many of them single mothers or dealing with domestic abuse. She focuses on educating individuals about the importance of representation, whether that means being counted by the Census or registering to vote and casting a ballot. In her view, political participation is not one-size-fits-all: “We meet people where they are,” she said. “Not everybody is going to take to the streets.”

She loves that community outreach allows her to get to know her neighbors one-on-one while promoting the notion of equality everywhere. To her, #EqualEverywhere means “giving people the platform to allow their voices to be heard,” she said. “It’s about giving them the platform to be seen. So many people who are disenfranchised and not represented, in particular women and people who are exploring their gender, they are unheard and unseen at so many levels.”

Alzamora is hopeful about the growing political engagement, among families, women, and young people that she has observed in her community and beyond. Maintaining our participative democracy is vital, she said. The young women she encounters are “ferociously brilliant . . . Gen Z, they’re amazing. They’re going to keep us all on our toes.”

August 14, 2020