Since May of 2009, Jennifer Leslie has organized monthly meet and greets to help spread the word about Smart Girl Politics in Arizona and introduced the public to new candidates. She has given a forum to everyone from state officials to town council candidates and was very instrumental in introducing Ruth McClung and Jesse Kelly when they announced their respective congressional campaigns in May of 2009 – the very first Tucson meet and greet.
After the primaries of 2010, Leslie began focusing on outreach beyond meeting candidates. She began providing empowerment sources for members. In September, a self-defense meet and greet with Michael Francis, owner of Tucson’s L.O.S.T. (Last One Standing Tactics), a personal protection company, was offered. In November 2010, Smart Girl Politics became the first sponsor of The Wounded Warrior Project’s 100 Mile Hump, and Jennifer Leslie led the event going on radio shows and rallying members for local support. The brainchild of The 100 Mile Hump is Mark Finelli, who spoke at our meet and greet in Tucson on April 6.
Mark Finelli is an impressive young man from the Bronx. He was working on the 61st floor in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 when the North Tower was struck. He shared his story of hearing the word on the intercom when he reached the 41st floor by stairs that it was safe to go back to work – a small commuter plane had hit the neighboring building, but all was under control. Finelli did not go back. He proceeded down the stairs – a decision that saved his life. What transpired on 9/11 prompted Finelli to join the Marines where he served in Iraq.
On October 20, 2005, Finelli lost three friends – all fellow Marines – while clearing an IED site. Before the end of the year, Finelli and a group of friends formed Vets For Freedom to provide information to the public about the truth of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The founders were decorated combat veterans frustrated with the manner in which the media and politicians displayed events to the American people.
In 2009, Finelli founded The 100 Mile Hump for the Wounded Warrior Project. Wounded Warrior Project (www.woundedwarriorproject.org) provides a variety of services for our men in women wounded in battle. There is also assistance for family members. The 100 Mile Hump (www.100milehump.com) is a fundraising project supporting Wounded Warrior. Since January of 2010, he and other combat veterans have walked in Arizona from Tempe to Tucson in order to raise money to help our veterans. Smart Girl Politics was a proud sponsor of this event.
Finelli and fellow combat veteran John Riley Butler made the walk in January of 2011. Their journey into Tucson was scheduled to end on January 8. Both men were walking toward the final destination of their journey when they saw emergency vehicles en route to Oracle and Ina Road, the scene of what is now known as The Tucson Massacre. A day that was to end in triumph with supporters ended in absolute shock, disbelief and horror. Once again, Finelli was witness to a monumental moment in our nation.
Two days after the shootings in Tucson, we received word Westboro Baptist Church would be protesting the funerals of shooting victims Christina Taylor Green and Judge John Roll. Those of us in Tucson went into immediate action and it was a focused effort on the part of left, right and non-political groups alike. Party affilations were cast aside to simply do the right thing, and Smart Girl Politics helped lead that effort along with Angel Wings, houses of worship and several gay and lesbian organizations. Jennifer Leslie, Mark Finelli and fellow Smart Girl Chayah Masters worked long hours to arrange parking with several churches and businesses. We also had a strong email campaign with press releases going out. Westboro did file to protest in Tucson, but failed to appear for both funerals as a more lucrative god was presented to them. Whether or not they showed up, we were ready with estimates of 1,500 – 2,000 strong standing in support with our mourning families.
As Arizona Smart Girls embark on the launch of a new campaign season, we fondly look back at the accomplishments of the last two years. From the beginning, we quickly became the fastest growing and most active chapter of Smart Girl Politics in the nation. We did so without knowing each other prior and many never having been politically active. There was a bond that formed almost immediately. We were all simply destined to meet and work together, and we have indeed worked very hard in breaking new ground. I personally credit Jennifer Leslie with much of that success while also acknowledging the hard work by so many wonderful women – and men – in this movement.
Jennifer Leslie became the Smart Girls Politics State Coordinator for Arizona recently after serving as the Tucson Coordinator since 2009. She is a military wife and mother of two who hails from Texas which says a great deal in itself! An expert organizer and multitasker, she is an equally incredible friend to so many. She is a courageous leader who faced adversity by both party establishments in Arizona, worked vigorously for several campaigns in 2010 and was a spokesperson for several events. Leslie is unafraid to speak out and is motivated through her activism in protecting her children’s future. It is an honor to know and work with her; most of all, I have the added privilege of knowing her as a very dear friend.
The painstaking contributions of the many wonderful friends I have met in Tucson and elsewhere in the state because of Smart Girl Politics must also be firmly acknowledged. Each are held in great esteem and friendship, and each woman has earned her place in The Good Fight by standing up, speaking out and forging ahead despite being publicly criticized at times. These Smart Girls are Jill ‘Arizona’ Henderson (the new Border Liason of SGP), Anne Loftfield, Lynne St. Angelo, Lesley VanBorssum (founder of Winning With Women), Christine Bausermann, Gini Crawford, Ruth McClung, Janet Contreras, Diane Burnett, Karen McKean, Adriana Chairez, Gabriela Saucedo Mercer, Maria Apodaca, State Rep. Terri Proud, Ally Miller, Suzanne Cavalier, Geri Ottoboni-Gilmore, Mare Goss, Rachel Alexander, Gloria Fantacone Hayes, Honey Marques, Chayah Masters, Karen Schutte, Pam Gorman, Shelby Hawkins, Donna Alu, Christina Cruz, Kerry McCulloch, Jennifer Humphries, Tommyee Vanderpot, Rebecca Spann, Jennifer Wright, Ina Road, Juanita Lange, Brenda Burns – and the list continues.
The incredible women listed above have contributed in different and creative ways to advance the spirit of independent conservatism. They are indeed on the frontlines in The Good Fight and the reason Arizona Smart Girls has been so active and successful.
Activism does not mean attending every event and becoming overwhelmed. Jennifer Leslie and Lynne St. Angelo say it means doing the little things that would otherwise go undone. Each person has their part and once you find your ‘role’ within Smart Girls, simply do it! There is no formula to the success of Smart Girls in Arizona; what works here may not apply to many other areas as issues vary.
What we do know is Arizona has become a hotbed on many issues affecting the nation at this time, and who better to lead in countering the assault on our state (and nation) than the women of Arizona!
***And you never know who you will see at a Tucson Smart Girl Meet & Greet! On April 6, Rodney Glassman – former Tucson City Council member and John McCain’s Democrat rival in 2010 – happened to be at the establishment where we were meeting. Somehow, I don’t think he intended to be meeting us!***
* All photos by Artgal