Felix Rivera, Class of 2011, came to APU from his home state of Texas with plans to major in marine biology. Writing classes, working on the campus newspaper and being elected to student government led him to a degree in Liberal Studies. In 2017 Rivera was elected to the Anchorage Assembly, where he’s completing a second term.
In an interview Nov. 4 with Media Writing students, Rivera, 31, urged APU students to take advantage of opportunities that a small campus offers.
“Become active in your communities,” he said, drawing on his own experience with nonprofit groups including Identity INC, Alaskans Together for Equality, and Spectrum, organizer of the annual Pride Festival in Anchorage. “My time at APU really molded me,” he said.
Media Writing students Raelene Active, Laura Ditto, Emily Dotten, Rose Gildersleeve and Xavier Mckinney contributed to this report.
On politics: ‘Have a steel spine’
Rivera’s election to the Anchorage Assembly has coincided with the rise of a polarized electorate nationwide — a trend that Rivera said he witnessed when the Assembly was considering how to respond to a need for increased shelter for homeless people. Among the city’s plans: Acquire four buildings and run them as public shelters.
Rivera said he agreed with the proposal, especially as Anchorage faced an apparent increase in the number of people living in the open because of Covid-19 pandemic. While he expected some speakers at a series of hearings over the summer to disagree with the planned purchase, the opposition’s intensity signaled a change, Rivera said.
Some meetings saw residents show up with weapons outside the Assembly chambers in what Rivera said was an attempt to intimidate the members’ votes.
“You have to have a steel spine to be in politics,” Rivera said. “Make sure your heart is in the right place.”
A decision by the Assembly to buy the buildings was revised Nov. 25 when one of the sites was dropped.
On marriage equality: ‘One fell swoop’
With the appointment of a new U.S. Supreme Court justice just days before his interview with Media Writing students, Rivera, active since his APU days to support the rights of LGBTQ+ people, said that federal law upholding marriage equality was at risk.
The appointment of Amy Coney Barrett prompted Rivera to consider steps that he and other Alaska politicians could take if laws permitting same-sex marriage were overturned.
“It’s years down the road that the Supreme Court may take up a case,” Rivera said.
“But that doesn’t matter — these are lifetime appointments. (Barrett’s) recent appointment really jeopardizes a lot of basic fundamental rights that Alaskans enjoy.
“My love and the love of so many others would be invalidated in one fell swoop,” he said. “It’s painful even thinking of that happening.”
On journalism and politics: Learning to understand others
Writing for the APU campus newspaper introduced Rivera to interviewing skills that he said help make him a better politician today.
For instance, a worthwhile journalism interview can depend on an ability to empathize with someone whom you’ve just met and may not spend a lot of time with. Demonstrating compassion — another trait he attributes to journalism training — can also be a useful interview skill, Rivera said.
Combining the two — empathy and compassion — make him a more effective politician, he said.
“Public service should be an honorable position,” Rivera said. “My time at APU really molded me.