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Activists striving for racial justice: Laura Martin & Leslie Turner, Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada

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Laura Martin, left, and Leslie Turner
Photo: Christopher DeVargas

One of the challenges of advocacy is bringing everybody together. At any given time, a variety of groups are working separately toward similar goals. These overlapping efforts can double the work and halve the results

In 1994, the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) was founded to turn competition into collaboration. Today, more than 30 Nevada groups are PLAN members, including the ACLU of Nevada, Culinary Workers Union Local 226, Gender Justice Nevada, the Great Basin Water Network, the Nevada Justice Association, Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club.

As PLAN’s executive director, Laura Martin helps oversee it all. “We’re advocating for bold ideas and policies that actually improve people’s lives,” Martin says. “We don’t do this in service to one political party. It really is in service to the community.”

Martin works to secure Black liberation, to ensure tribal sovereignty and to promote immigrants’ rights. “This is a place where people from all over the world have settled to call home, and it isn’t always as welcoming,” Martin says. “It’s our job to make this a place where everybody can thrive.”

PLAN’s big goals require unglamorous work behind the scenes. Martin stays busy with administrative tasks and fundraising. One of the highlights of her role, she says, is getting to collaborate and strategize with “some of the best organizers in the state. There’s so many different ways that we can just connect and build off our mission for PLAN.”

Martin credits her life path to growing up in a household that was always aware of current events. The catalyst in going from an observer to a participant was 9/11 and the Iraq War, which took place while Martin was attending college. “It gave me this pathway to join something bigger and to understand the importance of organizing and coalitions, because that was a scary time.”

As PLAN’s Justice Director, Leslie Turner spearheads the group’s Mass Liberation Project and is one of the founders of the Vegas Freedom Fund. Turner is also a fellow with Law for Black Lives.

Mass Liberation Project Nevada has worked to end cash bail and reinstate voting rights for formerly incarcerated people. Vegas Freedom Fund raises money to bail people out, helps with their cases, offers participatory defense, pays their bills and helps them find jobs.

In addition to offering needed social services, Turner calls bailing people “a tactic to highlight the injustices of the bail system and of the pretrial justice system in general.” Vegas Freedom Fund recently garnered attention for bailing out Black Lives Matter protesters, but the group has actually been around since 2018.

“The core of the work we do with the Mass Liberation Project is Black liberation,” Turner says. “Because this country is rooted in white supremacy and anti-blackness, undoing that and creating agency and liberation for Black people will bring liberation for all.”

Decarceration is personal for Turner, a single mother who has been in jail for an inability to pay traffic tickets. Turner also grew up in a Black Panther household where, she says, “Everything was centered around political education.”

Turner says too many people don’t understand how policy affects their daily lives, so she spends much of her time talking to them, giving them a political education, listening to their needs and helping them get involved.

Mass Liberation is also running a program called #CareNotCages. Turner says, “We’re basically setting the groundwork to show that if we care for our people, eventually we won’t need the carceral system.”

For information on PLAN and the Freedom Fund, visit planevada.org or facebook.com/vegasfreedomfund.

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