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Just Us United looks for middle ground 

Local activists try to stay between the aisles with new advocacy organization

Kelsey Tavares, Adam White and Jesse Davis have the types of resumes that go a long way toward dispelling the "lazy millennial" myth.

The three 20-somethings have worked on presidential campaigns, helped with an education initiative with the Aim Higher Now campaign, participated in Moral Monday rallies and done other organizing work throughout North Carolina. Recently, they decided it was time to consolidate their passions and form an organization that could take direct action on issues they had advocated for for years.

The trio founded Just Us United, a 501c4 nonprofit, in September and hope to raise enough funding to have organizers in the community by January 2016.

Tavares, 23, described the Charlotte-based Just Us United as being "focused on promoting civic engagement through grassroots organizing, legislative accountability, and electoral organizing." She said the organization aims to avoid "divisive social politics" and remain bipartisan while fighting for reform that benefits the middle class.

Creative Loafing spoke with Tavares in the lead up to the organization's kickoff event — held on Oct. 14 as this issue went to print — about how it's possible to avoid partisan vitriol in the modern advocacy era, and where she sees Just Us United fitting in amongst other advocacy groups in the area.

Creative Loafing: Why did you decide to start Just Us United?

Kelsey Tavares: We saw the need for this in our community because most of these campaigns we've worked on were single-issue campaigns; focused on education or reproduction rights or something like that, but people aren't single-issue people. They have a lot of different things that factor into their interests and how they vote. We wanted to do something that was broad. We have a few basic different principles that we felt everyone could get behind.

What are those issues exactly, and how did you decide on what your focal points would be?

In coming up with the principles we support as an organization, we made sure they were things the average working American in North Carolina can get behind. Anyone can get behind having high-quality education, affordable healthcare and safe energy alternatives. That's really what the basis was. We think our principles will benefit most families, and it's not specifically geared for the "1 percent" or the underserved.

Do you believe the middle class is often overlooked by advocacy groups like this one and that's what you're addressing here?

I do think our aim is primarily geared toward that middle class segment, but our intention is definitely not to not consider the lower class or upper class. We think the principles should benefit all families. I wouldn't say the middle class is underserved, but I do think if we apply a platform that appeals to the middle class we have a good chance of affecting change because they do make up the majority of voters, the point being to unite us in general and that's how change will come out of what we do.

You also said you plan to keep "divisive social politics" out of the discussion. How can that be done in today's political climate?

There are two ways that we will go about that. The first one is by focusing on the issues as opposed to candidates or choosing party lines. That will allow us to advocate for endorsing candidates from either side that want to, for example, improve public education with higher pay for teachers and things like that.

The other way is that there are a bunch of controversial issues being debated in North Carolina right now, specifically things like abortion or LGBTQ rights. We may have our separate views on those issues, but basically we think that shouldn't be the legislature's focus. That's a tactic to divide us into different groups instead of uniting us around the core issues. That's not to say those issues aren't important, but our organization wants to focus on the things that bring us together as a community instead of the things that are so polarizing and have been used as a tactic to divide us.

One of your first moves as an organization was to join the Moral Monday Coalition. How did that movement inspire you and how will you differ from other organizations in that coalition?

We were inspired by the Moral Monday movement because they were successful in taking this broad platform and making it accessible in a non-partisan way. We wanted to take that to the next level and turn it into direct action; to use that as a springboard to do voter registration, fight for more accountability and affect the change that Moral Monday started.

Most of the Moral Monday groups are 501c3 nonprofits and are limited in terms of the political activity they can engage in. We are a 501c4 nonprofit and we have more leeway in supporting organizations based on their support for issues we advocate for. We can take a more direct lobbying stance because we aren't constrained by the non-engagement rules that other nonprofits are.

Moral Monday has been more focused on the large demonstrations and rallies, we're hoping to take that and translate it to the community on a direct basis and do more direct lobbying and convince people to call their representatives or influence the way their community votes to make more concrete changes as opposed to getting media attention.

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