Dusti Gurule is a force for change and empowerment in Colorado’s Latino community — on behalf of Latinas, all women, people of color and the poor everywhere.
It’s an ambitious endeavor, but one that comes naturally to Gurule, given her early start on a life of activism. Her parents were part of Denver’s Crusade for Justice when Gurule was born in north Denver in the late ’60s, and that same quest, she says, has been in her DNA ever since.
In today’s Q&A, Gurule — executive director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity & Reproductive Rights (COLOR) — tells us more about the goals of the social-justice organization she leads as well as the influences that brought her to her current place in life. Read on, and you’ll also learn what Gurule says are some of the most important decisions facing voters this fall.
Colorado Politics: You were born Latina, but you chose a life out front as an activist. Tell us a little about your background and upbringing — especially your parents’ activism — and how that propelled you toward the work you now do.
Dusti Gurule: I was born in 1969, just as the Escuela Tlatelolco was founded by the Crusade for Justice in Denver. My parents, along with many other families, were integral to the organization and thus my siblings and I spent the majority of our childhood at the school and organization. My parents raised us to honor, respect and celebrate our history and culture and I have built on that in my advocacy.
That said, I was raised to have a strong cultural and historical identity that is deeply rooted in social justice. Those strong roots have propelled me to stay engaged and active over the years to help provide voice to the voiceless and to help create space for Latina/os at the policy-making table.
Policy decisions are often made in a vacuum, without input or perspective or even considerations of those that are impacted. Communities of color, poor, young people and women are often disproportionately impacted. It has always been my mission to advance systemic and infrastructural change that positively impacts the most marginalized.
CP: What is COLOR’s core mission, and why are reproductive rights rights so pivotal for the political identity of Latinas?
Gurule: COLOR provides a voice on reproductive health, rights and justice for Latinas, their families and allies. COLOR is a sisterhood of Latinas dedicated to building a movement of Latinas, their families and allies through leadership development, organizing and advocacy to create opportunity and achieve reproductive justice.
Reproductive justice (RJ) exists when all individuals have the power, access and resources to make healthy decisions. RJ is more than a label and goes beyond reproductive rights because it provides a different approach. Reproductive justice incorporates a broad range of issues and is meant to emphasize the intersections between different movements and communities to cultivate greater understanding and create a stronger movement.
Economic, sexual, racial, disability, immigration and religious factors keep many people from being able to make genuine choices about their reproductive lives. Reproductive justice is rooted in human rights values, cognizant of multiple identities and circumstances. It goes beyond abortion and recognizes that Latinas and other women of color do not live single-issue lives.
CP: You were a founder of the Latina Initiative back in 2004 to advance Latinas’ political engagement. What hurdles remain for that engagement here in Colorado? Is Colorado’s Latino community broadly supportive of women’s political empowerment — or do some remaining hurdles exist within the community itself?
Gurule: The purpose of the Latina Initiative was to create space at the policy-making table through civic engagement, policy advocacy, leadership development and community partnerships. Sure, Colorado’s Latino community is supportive of women’s political empowerment, but that is not the problem. The problem remains when the makeup of elected office at all levels is not reflective of the community it serves. The problem remains when young people of color are not provided the tools, access and equity to graduate from high school, afford college or post-high school training or to be able to access the full range of reproductive health care.
So, yes, the hurdles still exist and will continue to exist until there is more representation, access and parity in the institutions that make policy decisions at all levels.
CP: The Hispanic community has been historically supportive of the Democratic Party — yet also has a distinctly conservative component to it, given among other factors the strong Latino identification with the Roman Catholic Church. That arguably has a big impact on Latino community views or issues like abortion rights and LGBTQ rights. What kinds of challenges does that present you in your work?
Gurule: The Latino community is very different, and while many are practicing Catholics, many are progressive and open to support abortion access and LGBTQ rights. Again, working within the frame of reproductive justice provides us a larger framework in which to discuss the full range of reproductive health, including abortion, because it is a civil-rights issue. We also work with allies, including Catholics for Choice and other faith-based organizations who understand reproductive health care decisions are a personal, family and medical provider issue. Our work with all communities continues.
I don’t think I can ever separate or segment out political activism or advocacy from who I am. It is and always will always be part of my DNA.
CP: Despite Colorado’s long-standing and deeply rooted Hispanic heritage and its substantial and growing Latino population, it has yet to elect a Hispanic governor. When do you expect that to change? And when will Coloradans elect a woman to the state government’s highest elective office? Despite female contenders in both Democratic and Republican gubernatorial primaries this year, the face-off in November is between two white men. What does that tell you about much work lies ahead for organizations such as yours?
Gurule: Building community power and capacity requires time, energy and resources. Having a strong candidate has shown to bring folks out to vote. But it should be a combination of both, in my opinion. By working with community organizations and folks on the ground to build that trust and capacity so that they become more active in every election, are engaged with elected officials and help hold them accountable, you’re more likely to see leaders organically be great candidates to run for office.
Just because someone is a Latina/o or a woman does not necessarily make them a great candidate. Working closely with community, in an intentional, year-round way to contribute to the leadership pipeline of potential candidates. Again, this takes investment, time and partnership at all levels.
CP: What in your estimation is the most important decision Coloradans will have to make on the ballot this fall?
Gurule: COLOR is currently prioritizing our ballot initiative efforts this year but are paying particular attention to the redistricting measures, amendments Y & Z, and the (initiative addressing) payday loans.
CP: Do you foresee life for yourself beyond political activism and mobilization? Which is perhaps another way of asking whether you’ll ever retire and what retirement would look like.
Gurule: Interesting question. I don’t think I can ever separate or segment out political activism or advocacy from who I am. It is and always will always be part of my DNA.