ASU student activist bridges gaps between opposing communities

ASU public life and conflict senior Johnny Martin brokered a peace treaty between Phoenix based groups John Brown Gun Club and United Liberty Coalition

ASU student activist Johnny Martin is focusing his senior year on building bridges at ASU and in the Phoenix Community. 

Martin, a religion, public life and conflict senior, is running as a Democrat for a seat in the State House representing District 25. As a community organizer, he founded the ASU club “Sun Devils Are Better Together,” an interfaith student organization. He also works with the Arizona Interfaith Movement and the Arizona Faith Network to promote peace and unity. 

Martin said that the last election made him realize how important diverse representation is in the government. 

“I’ve been involved as a community organizer and as an activist," Martin said, "but it wasn’t until this last election that I realized how political everything really was and how much legislation makes an impact on peoples' daily lives, especially people who live their lives with vulnerable identities."

Martin often describes himself as an American Muslim. He converted to Islam three years ago, but uses the term to represent two identities that hold equal weight in shaping who he is.

Earlier this year Martin heard about an “anti-Sharia” rally and was interested in attending, but said he was nervous about his safety at the event. Democratic Senate candidate Deedra Abboud, who is running for Sen. Jeff Flake's seat, scheduled a counter-protest, called a love fest, across the street.

Martin said he approached the supporters of the rally to listen to their message.

“In spite of the fact that it was very scary to listen to what often verged on Islamophobia hate rhetoric, they were also discussing some genuine rights issues,” Martin said. 

Martin said this attempt to learn about the opposing side led to an unusual friendship with Lesa Antone, a member of United Liberty Coalition, a conservative advocacy group. He said they disagree on almost everything, and in an effort to keep the peace, they refer to Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump as “he who shall not be named” when discussing policy. 

Martin's friendship with Antone, as well as his experience at the anti-Sharia rally, inspired him to develop a peace treaty between the The United Liberty Coalition and The John Brown Gun Club, a Phoenix-based group on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

Both groups attended the love fest and the anti-Sharia rally, but on opposite sides. Yet on August 19th, just a few days before Trump’s rally in Phoenix, these two groups met at a Panera Bread in Phoenix to seek peace. 

“In the interest of peace in our neighborhoods and in our state and in our country, we need to have people starting to building these bridges across the divide,” Martin said. 

Antone said that it is important for the groups to come together as protectors of the community and agree on a peaceful solution that satisfies both sides. 

Martin's campaign manager and ASU political science alumnus, Andre Salais, said Martin's relentless commitment to justice is what inspired him to support and eventually work for the state congressional campaign. 

"It's his effort of using bridge building as a vehicle for achieving positive social change that I really admire," Salais said. "It's something a lot of us could learn from. As difficult as it is, sometimes you have to find an opportunity to speak to the other side if you are pursuing real change."

Antone and Martin will be continuing their pursuit to mediate peace treaties across Phoenix.  

Despite their friendship, Antone told Martin, "Johnny, I love you and I hope you get crushed.” 

“I believe that Johnny has a lot of potential to be a really good leader," she said. "Even though his values don’t align with mine, he does listen.”

Reach the reporter at and follow @brookehanrahan1 on Twitter. 

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