Be loud, be proud, be informed

Is Michelle Fiore Katharine Hale's descendant?

Progressives arrived at the campus of Nevada State College by the carload on a recent Saturday to attend the first Progressive Summit, organized by ProgressNow Nevada Action (PNNA). They left at the end of the day inspired by the promise of collective activism and buoyed by new knowledge on key issues.

When I moved to Northern Nevada after college in 1977, there was little organized activism except for remnants of the anti-war movement, refocusing its efforts on U.S. intervention in Central America. In the early ’80s, Citizen Alert took the lead, rallying Nevadans against the MX missile system and the nuclear waste dump. The Women’s Political Caucus was also active, demanding that women be more fairly represented in politics, including policy-making roles in political parties.

Women played prominent roles in organizing activism in Nevada, with heroines such as Maya Miller, Susan Orr, Katharine Hale, Judy Treichel, Abby Johnson and Jo Anne Garrett revered to this day. There were a handful of politicians who supported them, often behind the scenes, with money, critical information, and welcome advice.

It’s hard to fathom today the determination and grit women needed to be in political leadership at that time, even in progressive circles. Women like Barbara Bennett, Sue Smith, Bernice Martin Mathews, Jan Evans, Jean Ford, Nancy Gomes, Sue Wagner and Frankie Sue Del Papa demonstrated the kind of courageous leadership that has inspired many a Nevadan to follow in their political footsteps.

January’s Progressive Summit was led by a young woman, Annette Magnus, who emulates the same spirit and energy as those pioneering political women. From the opening remarks by U.S. Rep. Dina Titus to the closing speaker, state Sen. Pat Spearman who preached to the progressive choir, people were encouraged to shake off the post-election doldrums, and get informed and prepared to advocate more than ever for the progressive agenda.

Training sessions focused on topics close to a liberal’s heart—preventing gun violence, protecting public lands, supporting the Fight for $15 and income fairness. They learned about working with the media, organizing for social justice, and using effective messaging to talk about Voter ID to help their neighbors understand the inherent unfairness of making it harder to vote.

As the keynote speaker at the summit, I engaged in a dialogue with the crowd about effective advocacy during the upcoming legislative session. Most already knew the basics: reach out to your assemblymember and senator to express your opinion, show up for key hearings whenever possible, and use social media strategically. Progressives are best at person-to-person advocacy with neighbors, friends and family. The Nevada Legislature’s website at offers easy access to everything a citizen needs to stay informed and current with developments.

Jon Ralston’s remarks on the November elections, “You lost; get over it,” were hard for some to hear. He advised the crowd that there are two ways to influence legislators—make cogent arguments about the issues or scare them by organizing in their districts and motivating constituents.

Ralston’s comments aligned perfectly with the goals of the Progress Now national network to promote strong media relations, build a unified statewide grassroots network, support progressive allies, and be prepared with a rapid response message offering a competing viewpoint to balance the conservative bludgeon.

But all the information and training in the world does no good if progressives sit at home complaining to each other as many did during the last election. There are lots of excuses for apathy, but they seem pitiful in comparison with the struggles of fast food workers demanding an increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

As the 2015 Legislature convenes this week, get up off the couch and let your voice be heard.