Grassroots Group Padres & Jóvenes Unidos Is Ready to Get Political

Four of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos Action Fund's new boardmembers (clockwise from top left): Emma Bliesener, Macarena Villagomez, Felipe Vieyra Jr. and Denisse Romero.
Four of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos Action Fund's new boardmembers (clockwise from top left): Emma Bliesener, Macarena Villagomez, Felipe Vieyra Jr. and Denisse Romero. Courtesy of Padres & Jóvenes Unidos Action Fund
Padres & Jóvenes Unidos, a grassroots community nonprofit led by people of color, has been at the forefront of plenty of politicized fights — organizing for legislation that would give undocumented students equal access to higher education, speaking against racial disparity and the school-to-prison pipeline, and defending kids of color from racially targeted bullying, just to name a few. Now, Padres is giving its members a platform to take its political involvement to a more direct level, launching an "action fund" organization that will be able to endorse and campaign for candidates in local, state and national elections. The action fund is a tax-exempt 501(c)(4) "social welfare" nonprofit, a designation that allows it to engage in lobbying and campaign intervention (which charitable 501(c)(3) organizations are limited from doing).

"I think the action fund was really born from a call from our members," says Monica Acosta, the fund's co-director. "In the past few communities of color across the country, many of us have felt really under attack."

Padres has always been engaged with elected officials to advocate for policies that support its mission of "educational equity, racial justice, immigrant rights and quality health care for all." But, Acosta says, "at this point, our members are saying there’s way too much at stake. And this requires us to work with elected officials in a different way…to look for members of our community who have our lived experience and [support efforts to] run them for office."

Pursuant to federal law, the fund, Acosta explains, will operate separately from the original 501(c)(3) organization, with a different board of directors, funding structure and staff. However, members are likely to cross over between both organizations, and they will focus on similar issues. According to Acosta, over half of the fund's board of directors are Denver Public Schools alumni, and many are young women of color.

Emma Bliesener is a co-chair of the fund's board and a Denver Public Schools alum. She had previously been involved with Padres as a policy and civic engagement coordinator. "From conversations with our community, we knew we need to have directly impacted students and parents leading the conversation and the fight, [to] call out things as they are," she says.

The first action the fund plans to see will be during the Denver Public Schools school board races this fall. The organization hasn't revealed which candidate it will support yet, but Bliesener says that members will be involved in choosing whom to endorse, eventually voting on the candidate they want to support. "We will prioritize candidates who adhere to, in broad terms, fighting for high-quality public education [and] the counselors-not-cops platform, which talks about reinvesting money away from criminalization and into mental health support," Bliesener says.

Eventually, the Padres action fund hopes to get involved in city and state elections and maybe even the 2020 presidential race.

According to Acosta, it's relatively uncommon for grassroots, member-led nonprofits like Padres to start up a (c)(4) side. However, we might be seeing more of them in the future, she says. "I would say that the sentiments that our new leaders and members expressed about why we needed a (c)(4) [are] common among other grassroots organizations that we work with; it's a strategy that they’re exploring. I have heard a lot of talk about that being one of the critical strategies that we need," she says.

Padres & Jovenes Unidos will hold an official launch for the fund on July 25 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Wayfinder Co-op, where it will also reveal more details about the fund.
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Sara Fleming is a freelance writer and formal editorial fellow at Westword. She covers a wide variety of stories about local politics and communities. A born-and-raised Coloradan, when she's not exploring Denver, she's on a mission to visit every mountain town in the state.
Contact: Sara Fleming