Advocating for Women: Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights.

Courtney Martin writes that this International Women's Day, we should look at gender inequality in our own communities. Each day this week on TAPPED we will run a profile of an organization doing exactly that.

COLOR, the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights, is barely a decade old but is already breaking new ground in Colorado. Their success in the 2008 election was a testament to their innovation, when they helped defeat a slate of ballot initiatives that would have meant setbacks in reproductive rights, worker’s rights, and minority achievement. 

At first, COLOR was against Amendment 46, which would have defined an unborn child as a person, which was being challenged by a coalition of traditional reproductive-rights groups. At the same time, COLOR was also concentrated on other amendments that were up for consideration that year—including amendment 48, which would have banned affirmative action in Colorado. 

COLOR decided they needed a new strategy that would combine the opposition to the two amendments and would also reach the Latino community on the Amendment 46 issue better than traditional reproductive-rights groups could. Pre-election polling determined that pairing opposition to the two amendments in one campaign translated to an 8 percent jump in opposition, according to Daniel Gonzales, political and reproductive-justice advocacy coordinator with COLOR. 

So began a campaign with a truly diverse message, and one that resonated within the group's target communities. Instead of rhetoric about “keeping the government off our bodies,” a typical reproductive-rights message used to defeat anti-abortion initiatives, COLOR named their campaign “Latino families for health and opportunity.” What resulted was a cross-movement coalition that brought together groups working in communities of color, labor unions, immigrant-rights organizations, and reproductive-rights groups, an unprecedented alliance. 

In the last four days leading up to the election, they bundled opposition to even more amendments into the campaign—including three anti-worker amendments. They defeated four of the five amendments that year, and the one that passed was recently deemed unconstitutional. The framework for this campaign platform used by COLOR was reproductive justice—a theoretical underpinning that is defined as being more broadly about women's health than just the abortion issue. Gonzales explained:

[Reproductive justice is] about creating entry points for folks to participate in the work. We have to acknowledge all of a person’s identity and we have to work at the intersections to create long-term change. The reproductive justice framework is an amazing tool to help people get past their silos.

Reproductive justice is gaining popularity among reproductive-rights groups precisely because the ideology allows them to make connections to other issues their constituents care about.

When the staff at COLOR aren’t working on these amendment campaigns, they work on leadership development and sex education programs in Denver public schools. They've seen success in their youth program, Latinas of Vision, which recently campaigned to bring sex education issues into the school board election discussion. Reproductive justice allows COLOR to bring all these elements together into a cohesive but multi-issue strategy. COLOR isn’t the only group using this framework, but their experience in 2008 is a testament to its potential for success in the electoral arena. “It’s not only a more complete analysis; it’s also a winning strategy,” Gonzales said.

--Miriam Zoila Perez


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