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Sandra Puebla Harnesses People Power To Reimagine The Political System

Written by on July 13, 2023

Sandra Puebla is a Neighborhood Services Director for the 35th Ward office. A passionate organizer, Puebla is dedicated to creating more democratic systems and fostering a sense of community care that transcends conventional politics.

As the chair of United Neighbors of the 35th Ward, Sandra Puebla’s unwavering dedication to building people power and reimagining the political landscape in Chicago is being a force for change. Serving as both a Neighborhood Services Director for the 35th Ward office and a fervent organizer, Pubela envisions a Chicago where community care and democratic systems flourish beyond the confines of traditional politics.

Sandra Puebla hopes to advocate for community members and serve as a liason between community members and political officials. Ari Mejia/Vocalo Radio

Born and raised in northwest Chicago neighborhood Hermosa, Pubela experienced firsthand how many of the city’s communities are left underfunded and with limited resources. However, despite these challenges, she found home in the neighborhood’s flourishing tight-knit community. Puebla’s passion for creating positive change blossomed during her college years at Northern Illinois University, where she advocated for funding opportunities for undocumented students.

Upon returning to her beloved 35th Ward, Puebla was deeply disheartened by the changes that were negatively impacting her community. Fueled by a sense of righteous anger, she sought an outlet to channel her emotions and discovered United Neighbors of the 35th Ward. Recognizing a shared rage among its members, Puebla realized that fighting for community preservation required a collective effort.

“I couldn’t hold that rage and anger myself, and so I found United Neighbors of the 35th Ward,” Puebla expressed. “At the root of that is our love for community, and so when you care about your community, when you want to preserve your community, you have to stay here and you need to fight back.”

In this installment of This Is What Chicago Sounds Like, Sandra Puebla explores her role as the chair of United Neighbors of the 35th Ward, her collaborative efforts with grassroots organizations and her deep-rooted connection to the Chicago community.

What do you do? 

I work for the 35th Ward office as my day job, doing constituent services for an independent political organization which represents parts of Hermosa, Logan Square, Avondale and Irving Park. But at heart, I am an organizer. 

We are carrying out the political project of building people power. We work closely with Alderman Carlos Rosa to create more democratic systems, but also reimagining what the “political” is. Building community and systems of care outside of what exists now is political. What I like to say is that UN 35 is where you come and you reimagine what the world can look like. And that’s the work that we carry out. 

Where are you from?

I am from Chicago, northwest side. I grew up in Hermosa, also spent some time in Albany Park and Irving Park, but northwest side is my home. It was always very lively, especially in the summer. You know, you had your bachata. You had your bandas, the tamborazos in the summer. So it was always really fun. Everyone knew each other, we would always have fun with block parties. But Hermosa was also a severely underfunded neighborhood, a majority of the people who live there are immigrants. They’re poor or working class. And so we also had very limited resources. But I think, through it all, there was a lot of community and people knew their neighbors. At least for me, I always felt a sense of safety and security among the people. The senoras down the block would yell at us if we weren’t crossing the street properly and things like that. And so there was community care, for sure. 

Where do you live now? Donde vives ahora?

Ahora vivo en Avondale, Irving Park. Como que, un lado es Irving Park el otro es Avondale. No se a donde.. Pero en realidad ni me fui muy lejos es como 7 minutos manejando de la casa de mis papas. So I’m still here. 

“I know these are good people and we share the values, and so it’s a project I can commit to,” Puebla reflects on why initially committed community work. Ari Mejia/Vocalo Radio

How did you get into organizing?

At NIU I was doing student organizing for funding for undocumented students. So essentially, that’s how I learned a little bit more about how government works. We would go to Springfield a lot and I got connected with a lot of organizers. And I had heard a little bit about Chicago organizing, but I didn’t really know what was going on. I’m a 35th Ward resident. When I came back from college, it was really crazy to see the changes that can happen in four years, where people were buying $500,000 single family homes, when the average income is maybe $35,000. Feeling a lot of anger and rage, actually, on the block where I spent most of my time, about a third of the houses have been flipped and sold for a lot of money. A lot of my neighbors were priced out.

There’s a lot of rage and a lot of grief that I process when I came back from college and entering a neighborhood that felt very unfamiliar. I couldn’t hold that rage and anger myself, and so I found United Neighbors of the 35th Ward. I started organizing here, because a lot of the members of UN 35 felt that same rage. At the root of that is our love for community, and so when you care about your community, when you want to preserve your community, you have to stay here and you need to fight back. I knew my alderman was cool, so was like, “Oh, what’s my alderman doing?” So when I came back, I was like, “Oh, he’s doing this organization. I’ll just drop by this meeting.” That’s when I met Anthony Quezada, our Cook County Commissioner of the 8th District. Anthony was like, “Hey, there’s a job opening, you should apply.” And I was like, “Oh, well, I don’t like my current job. So okay, why not?” This opportunity arose, and I was like, “Alright, let’s do it.” I just dived right in I was like, “No, I know these are good people and we share the values, and so it’s a project I can commit to.”

What is your job exactly?

I’m the Neighborhood Services Director, so I oversee the constituent services in the ward. Chicago is really interesting, where city services have become very localized. The alderman’s office actually has a lot of say in how city services operate. It could be as simple as, like, your black trashcan needs to be replaced, or something more complicated, like a tenant rights issue or building violations, things like that. And so I oversee all of that, and then working with city departments as a liaison and advocating for residents, at the end of the day. 

When you say “political,” what do you mean exactly?

The personal is political. I think relationships can be political. I do believe that everyone holds power. I think what we think about when we say politics is a certain form of power. And that’s where the suits come in, the backdoor deals and the corruption. That’s what we think, we think of the Daleys. We are reimagining that. Someone who doesn’t have a degree can sit at the table and be like, “Actually, this is a problem in our community that we should address.” I think, at the end of the day, everyone has a stake in what happens in their neighborhood, in their city, in their country, in the world. We all make up this earth, and I think that we all play a part. And I think we all have power in that.

That’s the beauty in organizing, is that you don’t need to come up with the answers yourself. And you can imagine that with the people around you. At the very bare minimum, everyone has their needs met. No one has to worry about housing, about food, water, access to health care, but what does it mean to reimagine our streets? How do we get more green spaces? How do we have more childcare? How do we care for our elders? What does revolutionary love look like? I think there’s so much that we can figure out that can exist, out of the individualist mindset that has been really drilled into us from an early age. I think it’s just breaking down the restrictions that we have within ourselves, and then doing that amongst community, too. 

Sandra Puebla believes, at the bare minimum, everyone in a community should have their needs met. She hopes to reframe politics from the individual to the communal. Ari Mejia/Vocalo Radio

What do you say to people who struggle with electoral politics, or feel cynical about our ability to make the changes we want to see in the world?

It makes total sense to feel apathy, hopelessness. I think that is a valid response to the conditions that you’re in. The pushback I give is, “Yes. What are you going to do about it? Are you just going to live in it? Do you want something better? Do you want something different?” And, unfortunately, a lot of people are like, “Yes, but that’s never going to happen.” I think that’s where the elected leaders that we have now really come into play, as an example. Not just Carlos, but Rossana Rodriguez in the 33rd Ward. Now we have Jessie Fuentes in the 26th Ward, Byron Sigcho Lopez in the 25th Ward. I mean, we have a lot of people who are changing that narrative, and again, inviting people in. I think, at the end of the day, people need to feel cared for and loved by the systems at play, and they have not been. And that’s where we, as organizers, step in, and we’re like, “Okay, let’s recreate it.” That is a long game, but I’m committed to it, and I’m excited and I love every part of it. 

Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.

Interview and audio production by Ari Mejia

Introduction written by Omi Salisbury

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

Photography by Ari Mejia, edited by Omi Salisbury

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