Grass roots on the move
From around the state, women descend on Carson City to learn and lobby
A quietly friendly woman was sitting with four other women at a table in a Carson City conference room Sunday morning. Except for two friends at the table, they all began the day as strangers with one purpose: These Nevadans had joined more than 150 others in the room to learn how to have a voice in their Legislature. They were learning the ropes of grassroots lobbying.
The event, Grassroots Lobby Days, is sponsored by the Nevada Women’s Lobby, and this is its ninth consecutive year. It’s three days of training and opportunities to attend Nevada legislative sessions, which occur every other year. The women—and handful of men—who participated were able to meet their representatives and work with like-minded citizens to try to influence the lawmakers.
The woman at the table was Barbara Richard of the Children’s Cabinet at Incline Village.
“On a professional level, I’m here on behalf of the families I advocate for because there’s a huge disparity,” she said. “There’s no middle class where I live up in Incline Village. It’s disappeared completely. You have poverty-level folks, and you have upper-middle-class to extremely, opulently wealthy folks. You don’t have blue-collar working folks as the main substance of the community anymore.”
Not only was Richard able to learn how to lobby for the needs of her clients, she was able to do so with a group supporting similar issues. Founded in 1989, the Nevada Women’s Lobby (NWL) is a coalition of organizations that present a unified voice to legislators about “women’s” issues: elimination of legal discrimination, protection from violence and reproductive choice.
“Some groups [in the Nevada Women’s Lobby] may have different priorities, but we’re here together,” Bobbie Gang said. The long-time lobbyist for the NWL believes that the legislators “can see that the women—and men—who are here are a solid force about those issues. It’s something that [the legislators] need to pay attention to, and I think that it helps.”
All seated at Richard’s table were Nevadans who’d never lobbied before. Several said they were there to learn how to make their voice for change heard. Richard was one of the women frustrated by the country’s direction. Speaking from her educational background in human development, she talked about the “disequilibrium theory” of growth. Children constantly learn new skills, like beginning to walk, she explained. Just before completely taking on that new skill, children usually revert to the safety of the old way, in this case by crawling. Walking is frightening. Crawling is familiar. Richard explained that people often repeat this growth pattern throughout their lives. And she views the development of the country the same way.
“Human beings are hard-wired when we’re faced with changes—the less resilient we are, the tighter our grasp to the old way is. It’s my opinion that regressionists have hijacked our country, out of their own fears, and they’re grabbing on to old ways that worked in older times. But now we have new sciences, we have new knowledge. And the people that are not afraid are astounded by the direction this country went, because we feel like it’s gone backwards instead of forwards.”
To find out how to make change in Nevada’s legislative system, those attending the conference on Sunday learned smart ways to lobby their representatives. Longtime lobbyists and Nevada assemblymembers listed acting with honesty and integrity, getting to know the issues well and treating respectfully even those legislators who disagree with the lobbyist. Conference participants also discussed ideas important to the Women’s Lobby, including education, health care, issues of aging, foster care and property taxes.
Monday and Tuesday were spent at the Legislature navigating hallways, attending hearings and talking with Senate and Assembly representatives. Some attendees even stepped forward their first time to testify in committees on issues they supported.
Scaling these lobbying ropes for the first time can intimidate, as Vicki LoSasso, who chairs the Nevada Women’s Lobby, admitted. But she added that the Grassroots Lobby Days are designed to lessen that fear.
“People come in and they begin to build a relationship with their legislators. They begin to feel like they really are a part of this process, that they do own part of this process, and that they do have a right to be here and have their voices heard.”
In fact, all Nevadans—and not just those attending a conference to learn how to lobby—probably have an easier time approaching their representatives in their legislative halls and offices than citizens in larger states. Grassroots Lobby Days participants at times expressed pleasant surprise at the friendliness of the Nevada legislative system. Not only that, but Nevadans also elect state legislators who serve only for a scheduled four months once every two years. Because of the part-time system, the citizen legislators live and work in their communities, not as professional politicians but as residents who run their businesses and go to jobs alongside their neighbors.
One of the founders of NWL, Diana Glomb-Rogan, served as state senator from 1990 to ’94 and now lobbies for the League of Women Voters in Nevada and the Nevada Youth Care Providers.
“It’s very approachable,” she said about the Carson City Legislature. “That’s one of the charms of Nevada. We are very fortunate that we still have a citizens’ legislature, that we can be a part of this process.”
Learning this process in a brief time is what the grassroots lobbyists hoped to do. By the end of Grassroots Lobby Days, Barbara Richard learned enough to feel she can more effectively support the needs of her neighbors living in poverty in Incline Village, the ones she serves in the Children’s Cabinet there.
Richard said that before she participated in Grassroots Lobby Days she thought that politicians were bought and sold and lobbyists were bought and sold.
“But I met quite a few lobbyists that do it out of the goodness of their hearts, do it for free. Now that I’m here and seeing it, it gives me faith that I do have some personal power. I do have a voice, and I can use it. And I can’t hide with my head in the sand anymore now that I know this.”