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Sunday, May 22, 2011
What actually happened at Sandoville
If a direct action you’ve planned doesn’t go accordingly, you should never admit it. At least not to the press. They will gleefully print your failures and ignore the accomplishments. And, you most likely take away the opportunity for that action to be accomplished in the future.
But as I’m going through the clips of the coverage from our three day camp out on the grounds of the Nevada legislature, I've seen a few mischaracterizations and assumptions (some are just plain "untruths") about what we were planning to do.
I want to take the time to clear a few things up.
A few weeks after the now infamous March 21st student rally in Carson City one of the organizers told me that next time we go to Carson, we’re sleeping outside on the lawn.
But Sandoville wasn’t just a bunch of students. And we didn't go to Carson City demanding Governor Brian Sandoval raise taxes to save education, as many reported. We wanted our legislators to break the gridlock, work together, compromise and come up with a balanced solution to Nevada’s economic crisis.
We know that cuts have to be made. We know that there are needed reforms. We are willing to share the sacrifice. But it’s the wrong approach to only look for cuts while ignoring opportunities to raise revenue. And some cuts are simply too drastic and possibly unnecessary. What does it say about Nevada’s values if we’re willing to take away breakfast from poor children yet maintain extravagant subsidies for foreign mining companies who makes billions every year?
And its also very suspect that the groups bearing the brunt of the cuts (public employees, teachers and Clark County) happen to be the same groups who voted overwhelmingly against Brian Sandoval in the 2010 election.
But I digress.
Here is what Sandoville planned to do:
Originally we planned to stay a full week, but compromised with various agencies involved with the legislature to set up camp Monday and take it down Wednesday.
We identified legislators--Republicans and Democrats---to target with lobbying teams or for individuals to target their own legislators who needed some prodding.
Everyone was asked to give testimony during committee hearings that had to do with revenue and education. Some campers had prepared remarks, others read from statements they typed up on their smart phones and some just spoke from the heart. After committee hearings we stopped legislators in the hall, asking them to come to Sandoville or at least make a one on one appointment.
As for direct actions, we played with several options.
Having been involved in an action that successfully shut down the Las Vegas Strip and resulted in about a dozen arrests last summer, I made the suggestion of shutting down Carson Street.
I saw a report that we were going to block the highway. That’s not only wrong, but would be recklessly dangerous on our part.
The symbolism of shutting down a street was: if legislators are willing to bicker and fight and block progress, we were going to block them from getting to work. We decided not to do that because of the collateral damage (Carson City residents).
We also planned a sit-in at the Governor’s capitol office. It was scheduled for 3pm on Tuesday, but the Governor decided to take a quick trip to Vegas. So we set our sights on Senate Minority Leader Mike McGinness instead.
We asked McGinness’ secretary when he’d be in the office (she didn’t know) and then asked for an appointment, which she refused because (she claimed) he has already met with students once this session. I’m sure he meets with lobbyists multiple times a day, I guess students only get one shot. 40 people crammed themselves into the Minority Leader’s office and sat silently on the floor. His secretary, shaking with anger, was taping out emails and calling security. Capitol guards swooped to the office and you could tell by the looks on their faces, they had no clue what to do.
McGinness’ secretary announced that he was in committee and wouldn’t be back in the office for at least an hour. Some people seated on the floor pulled out their laptops and logged onto NELIS to see if he was in committee, a few others went to the committee room. All came to the same conclusion, McGinness was not there. So everyone continued to sit in silence.
A guard pleaded with us to leave. Some people moved into the hallway to allow more room for McGinness’ staff to go in and out of their offices. Eventually, McGinness appeared in committee and the sit-in moved to the committee room.
I saw a report that one of our direct actions was cancelled because we didn’t want to get arrested. That is also wrong. People who were willing to be arrested signed up to do so. Several news crews filmed our “Sandoville Schedule” white board and some reporters even tweeted pictures of it. On the schedule was a “peace training” I was going to help lead to explain what would happen when folks got arrested, how to prepare and what to do. We had lawyers on stand-by. We were ready to be arrested in McGinness’ office.
The pressure we put on McGinness resulted in a meeting with him and Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford post-committee. We were able to talk about a balanced approach to the budget, asked the two men to work together, communicate and compromise.
After the committee room we headed to other Senator’s offices. Much to his surprise and displeasure, we ran into Senator Gustavson in the hallway. He curtly answered our questions but after about five minutes he’d had enough and briskly walked away.
We walked down the long hallway of senate offices, stopping at each to make an appointment. We eventually sat outside of Senator Barbara Cegavske’s office, waiting for everyone to come back committee, lunch, the bathroom or whatever excuse their secretaries gave us.
What happened next was another first for the Legislature. Senator Michael Roberson brought us Girl Scout cookies then sat on the floor for a debate. He was soon joined by Senator Cegavske and Senator Ben Keickhefer. Senator Elizabeth Halselth and Senator Greg Brower stood and watched but did not participate.
There was a lot of back and forth. Mostly mutual understandings with a few heated moments (and some yelling) sprinkled throughout. Senator Roberson proved he was a text book conservative (blaming public workers for the state’s problems) with endless confidence. He complained that he’s shared more words with us than Senator Horsford. But much like the governor, he’s made himself irrelevant by refusing to compromise.
Then there was the donut summit.
It was mischaracterized as the governor winning over “students” with treats. No one was won over by anything the governor said or did. Sure, some people got in a picture with the Governor, but it was because his staff asked us to. Most of us refused. The Governor did not come to Sandoville to sell his budget, he came there to maintain his brand. Even his staff looks “sunny” and happy. A group of non-threatening people with warm smiles who, like the Governor, look like they were cast for the roles they play.
Governor Sandoval was unable to provide any perspective or answer questions with anything other than useless empty GOP “we hate taxes” rhetoric. And if the whole thing wasn’t ridiculous enough, he was wearing cowboy boots with his suit.
It’s safe to say that donuts are the only thing of substance the Governor will deliver to the people of Nevada this legislative session.
Sandoville is no longer on the lawn of the legislature, but it is not gone. On the bus ride down we were planning out next trip up north. At the end of each day in Sandoville we had checkin-in and planning meetings and a major wrap-up meeting was held Friday once everyone was back home.
We have new friends, a wider network, new targets and better perspective. With less than three weeks to go before the end of the session, and with the Governor threatening to shut down the state government, we have a lot of work to do.