I accepted an invitation by U.S. Congressman Ben Ray Lujan to attend the State of the Union address to Congress in Washington, D.C. I was honored to be selected to represent Northern New Mexico as our nation faces an election year that I believe is the most critical of my lifetime. The November election marks an inflection point in human history that will have lasting implications for the health and well-being of our people and our planet regardless of political affiliation.
My departure to D.C. date fell on my 59th birthday, and, while I knew the trip would be historic personally, I did not realize how profoundly it would fuel my resolve to serve my community back home.
On the day of the address, as I passed through layers and layers of secret service screenings and finally entered the capital building for a private tour, I felt a sense of reverence and pride for the ideals and values of our country, the Constitution, and the very promise of our Democracy. Later, as I sat in the balcony, I watched with respect and honor while the room filled and the tension grew as the President and his team entered the space. I never dreamed that someone of my background would be present to witness this event at this moment in time.
As the President spoke, I was taken aback by the absolute positivity on virtually every aspect of American life - he was describing a fantasy country that had no relation to my beloved Northern New Mexico.
His words of the greatest economy were a betrayal of the flat wages and the growing homeless population in Española and our rural communities. His words of the lowest unemployment rate ever did not reflect how little economic opportunity exists for the marginalized in Northern New Mexico.
His declarations about Medicare and pre-existing conditions did not reflect that he has openly declared his plans to cut Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security if he is re-elected, nor the arguments in court right now being made by his lawyers to destroy the Affordable Care Act.
His words about “government schools” were a betrayal of our public schools, and the administrators and teachers who work every day to teach our children who attend them.
His descriptions of “illegal aliens” did not have any relation to the human beings that I work with every day to help their children succeed.
His praise for more fossil fuels and his utter neglect of climate change reflected a greed for greater profits at the expense of our children, grandchildren and the future we are providing them.
His failure to acknowledge the gun violence and right wing terrorism in America didn’t reflect the reality that even in Northern New Mexico we must contend with threats of violence and alarming suicide rates amongst our youth. His acknowledgments, prizes and gifts to select individuals were only meant to hide his clear record of racism and to throw bones to his base.
But what shocked me most was the raucous applause by half the room at every exaggeration, every mistruth, every lie.
The day before I left for Washington, we held an active shooter drill at Moving Arts Española so that we would be prepared for what has become a common (and ignored) occurrence in America. I helped start Moving Arts Española because I wanted to give our children and their families hope and inspiration.
In 2019 I answered a call from Ralph Martinez and together we created a movement that established the first homeless shelter in Española. I have been working with United Way of Northern New Mexico to create mentoring and other opportunities for our youth. In earlier years I used my art to support rural New Mexicans suffering from life-threatening illnesses.
What I have learned from all of these experiences is that if we are to solve problems and create a better and stronger community, we must first acknowledge the reality we are facing. Then we can come together to find solutions. I truly believe that every problem is an opportunity for us to grow as a community, because when we come together there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.
At the end of the address, as I watched the Speaker of the House tear up her version of the speech, I too found a resolve to do everything I can to confront the realities my community faces, to bring economic development, to support and enrich our schools, to help catalyze a shift to renewable energy, to listen and honor the voices in my community as we work together to solve the challenges before us.
I have decided to run for political office because I believe my unique perspective as an artist and advocate, my ability to galvanize and inspire people, and my desire to support and honor our children, our elders, and our entire community is needed at this crucial time. I also hope that my run will inspire other people who have never considered running for office to do so as now more than ever before we need all voices to help our community, our state and our world move forward towards a real future of hope and promise.
I went to Washington as an honored guest, but returned as an even stronger champion for my community. While the problems we face are great, together we can face every challenge and grow as a community as we solve them.
Roger Montoya is an activist, state representative candidate, educator, artist and a 2020 CNN Hero.