When Julie Chavez Rodriguez was nine years old, she was arrested at a supermarket protest. As the granddaughter of the late labor activists César Chávez and Helen Fabela Chávez, she grew up attending rallies, decrying pesticide use, and passing out leaflets on behalf of California farm workers. “I was exposed to organizing at such an early age, both as a skill set but also as an ethos,” says the SoCal native.
Ending up as a de facto D.C. mainstay was never part of her plan. Like many activists, Rodriguez, now 42, had trouble visualizing change coming from within government. Her aha moment came in 2012, when Barack Obama signed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) into law. “I called Gaby Pacheco, a Dreamer who had marched from Florida to D.C. advocating for the Dream Act in 2010, to tell her that we were going to roll this out,” says Rodriguez, who was working in the White House as special assistant to the president and senior deputy director of public engagement. “Her response to me was, ‘For the first time in my life, I feel whole.’ It was that moment when I realized how transformative politics could be.”
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