By Chanel Ward
The 14th Annual Latino/a Advocacy Day (LAD) drew in hundreds of community members to its’ two-day event at the McNichols Civic Center building on February 23rd and 24th. Elected officials included Representative James Coleman (D-Denver), Senator Julie Gonzales (D-Denver), Senator Robert Rodríguez (D-Denver), and Senator Leroy García (D-Pueblo).
“This year, Latino/a Advocacy Day brought more than 300 Latino community members to Denver, to participate, learn, speak out and advocate their elected officials about issues that affect themselves, their families, and communities,” noted Dusti Gurule, Executive Director of the Colorado for Latina Opportunity Reproductive Rights (COLOR) and COLOR Action Fund.
“LAD was a two-day event that offered training and discussions on policy issues that impact our communities, including immigrant justice, criminal justice, reproductive justice, environmental justice, and economic justice,” she explained.
Gurule informed The Weekly Issue/El Semanario that, participants traveled from Pueblo, Greeley, Yuma, and even Parachute, Colorado, to attend this year and added that, “their ages ranged from 16 to 76.”
“We had large groups of students from Lincoln High School who were able to talk with Senator Gonzales and Senator Rodríguez,” said Gurule. “A large group from Pueblo were able to lobby and discuss issues important to them with Senator Leroy García (SD 3), the first Latino Senate President.”
“Our hope is that we continue thriving as a community and continue to engage in advocacy to our community leaders. Our hope is to continue to see young people continue to grow into leadership roles.”
Dusti Gurule, COLOR
She said the young people “represented themselves from throughout the state in real and meaningful ways, including Las Estrellas, from Yuma, who have attended thirteen out of the fourteen LAD’s.”
Two youth fellows of COLOR were featured speakers, Ashly Villa-Ortega and Elizabeth Burciagga who both provided support and offered a space for young people to lead in LAD, which is a top priority for COLOR.
The intention of the event, according to Gurule, is to “create space in the program, while informing about upcoming elections and important information in the realm.”
LAD held a plenary on Voting Rights and Democracy where panelists discussed, the census, redistricting, the national popular vote, and why young people’s voice in our democracy is vital.
Colorado’s Poet Laureate Bobby LeFebre recited a poem at the event, reigning in a sense of pride and hope. “There are sweet bells of justice ringing righteously in the distance,” he began. “From where we stand, the sound is faint, but unmistakably beautiful. From where we stand faith convinces us to listen to what we hunger to one day see. These recognized sounds, majestic as the quetzals coo. These recognized sounds, soothing as the lullaby of the Colorado sunset, sings as it slow dances across the horizon and weeps.”
LeFebre captured the audience and left an impression of hope and inspiration to keep going with every spoken word he unveiled.
“COLOR proudly serves as the lead organizer for LAD, because we understand the importance of our community voice and perspective in policy making,” said Gurule. “We understand that representation matters and that in order to increase the capacity of our community – to impact the decisions that are made each and every day between January and May by the 100 elected officials under the dome – LAD is critical.
“This year was a testament to the power of LAD and the leadership pipeline that it continues to feed,” added Gurule.
The Executive Director explained the history of LAD and how it began. “In 2006, I was the Executive Director at the Latina Initiative, when I reached out to COLOR, LARASA, CIRC and LRPC to create and launch LAD in 2007. I wanted to fill the policy making gap that our community was suffering from,” explained Gurule. “Earlier that year, during a special session, state representatives passed some of the most anti-immigrant laws that our communities continue to bear. So, we set out to create collective voice and strategy and bring hundreds together to learn, advocate and lobby their state level elected officials.”
Fourteen years later, “LAD has become an institution that has forged leadership and civic engagement in the community, including the largest Latino Caucus in our state’s history,” declared Gurule. “LAD continues to impact our community’s lives because it provides the confidence, tools, and support of a collective Latino/a voice.
“Our hope is that we continue thriving as a community and continue to engage in advocacy to our community leaders. Our hope is to continue to see young people continue to grow into leadership roles,” expressed Gurule.
Latino/a Advocacy Day is a powerful moment and a testament to building our collective power, and it is also a movement that we are building to push for real and lasting change. We will continue to reach out, seek out, and speak out beyond this two-day event,” she said.
To learn more about LAD or become involved with COLOR, follow them on social media and sign up for their “powermails” at ColorLatina.org.
Chanel Ward is an Independent Reporter for The Weekly Issue/El Semanario.
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