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Voices Behind The Vote: Counting On Community

Hannah Colton / KUNM
Leon M. Powell in their backyard.

Record numbers of people have turned out to cast ballots across the country this election, despite confidence in American democracy among citizens being at its lowest since researchers started keeping track 25 years ago. Many voters are participating in the electoral system while looking outside of it for hope or solutions. Among them is Leon M. Powell, who spoke with KUNM for this final installment of our 2020 Voices Behind The Vote series.


“My name is Leon M. Powell. I recently turned 42 years old. I am originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, but I have lived in Albuquerque twice. And this is where I transitioned, so Leon was born in Albuquerque. So I like to think of Albuquerque as my second hometown. And we're also on the Sandia Pueblo and Tiwa lands, occupied land.

“I'm sitting in my backyard. I can hear the snow melting from the rooftops. I started feeding birds. I had a pair of turtledoves nesting here for a little while. I’ve also been feeding a few stray cats. I built this box over here; it’s a winter home. So I guess I spend time back here, just trying to make friends with the wild neighbors that I have. I work part time for the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico. I give the Transgender 101 training and participate in panels. I'm also facilitating the transmasculine support group. Other work that I do as a freelancer is Spanish translation, graphic design, illustration, some IT support.

“I try to live a life based on compassion and connection and community care, stuff like that. So it seems like politics is anything but that. You know, part of me feels – perhaps the anarchist part of me – feels like there's no way to fix a system that is so, I don't know, rotten, in a way. But even within the system, we're a lot worse off if somebody like Trump stays in office. The issues that I care about, in that sense, definitely, like, trans rights. Like, even though I'm not in the military, and I also have a complex feelings around military, I think that trans people should have the right to be in the army if they want to be. I am concerned about us being erased from health care. I care about, like, if I go visit my family in Mexico, am I gonna be able to come back? Because even though I am a legalized U.S. citizen, I wasn't born in this country. So I feel like, you know, if one right gets taken away, that just opens the door for more of that to happen, right?

“Well, I'm certainly hoping that, for example, immigration policies change. I just don't understand how it can be okay for people to be put in cages. I've worked with mostly trans women who have come from Latin America, escaping brutal oppression and violence. And they come to this country looking for an opportunity to a healthier life, and they're received and treated like they’re animals. So I guess I do hope that having somebody like Biden in office will be more humane in treating people. I mean, I've seen, you know, comparisons to Nazi Germany, and have read articles about other people who have come to this country escaping fascism and oppression in their countries. And they're talking about, ‘this is what it looks like.’ It's not even coming. It's already here. We're just beginning to see the symptoms of the disease that's already invaded this body, you could say.

“Sometimes I feel very powerless when I look at the big system, because it's not just, we didn’t get here just when Trump got elected, or when Obama got elected, you know. We can trace it back to, gosh, the beginning of colonization, and heteronormativity and patriarchy and the idea of property and stuff like that. I think we could keep tracing it back. But now, here, today, at an individual level, I gotta look at ‘okay, what can I do? What is within my power and capacity to do?’ Self care is important, and then to the best that I can take care of myself, how can I begin to extend that to others? And taking action, which may look like voting, may look like protesting, may look like donating. Like I love Albuquerque Mutual Aid, I've donated to them. And I love like the – several of my queer and trans community live in this neighborhood. So there's been beautiful connections made there and checking in on each other and bringing each other food or ‘do you need any groceries? You know, ‘Whatever you need, I’m here.’

“So I think it’s like this reminder that it's down to us, right? It's about community and connection and taking care of each other. And expanding the definition of community. It's not just my family or the people that look like me. Community is the neighbors that I share, you know, this land with, and at large, the whole nation and the whole planet. So it's just continuing to expand what community means.”

Hannah served as news director at KUNM and reported on education, Albuquerque politics, and anything public health-related. She died in November 2020.
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