Thousands of people marched through Nashville this weekend, along with organized protests around the nation. But the event was unique for the morning of workshops that preceded it, at which left-leaning political strategists shared practical knowledge with some 800 participants on how to become effective activists or even future lawmakers.
As executive director of Emerge Tennessee, Kristal Knight travels the state teaching women how to become Democratic Party leaders. She started her first session explaining the legislative process to some 20 adults in a classroom at Tennessee State University’s downtown campus.
As an example, she chose a measure to increase the state’s minimum wage: "We know that this bill is in the state legislature and every year it gets stopped in the Consumer and Human Resources Committee, on the House and Senate side. Did any of you know which committee this bill actually sat in?" There was a low mumble of "no's" across the room. "Ok, well now you know," she said.
Participants were also offered a Civics 101-type session on how bills become laws. Or they could learn how to register voters, mediate difficult conversations and combat activism burnout.
Networking was the main draw for Suzanne Swain. The community college professor with Indivisible Cookeville called it a "real treat to get to know other community organizations, to finally [meet with] Planned Parenthood or ACLU."
She says she and fellow Democrats don't have access to those groups in her rural area "so if we can get this information and bring it back to our groups, it’ll really benefits so many."
Conference organizers, including Planned Parenthood of Tennessee, feel the event is a natural extension of the call to action launched by last year’s Women’s Marches. They also say the conference was intended as nonpartisan. Nevertheless, almost no Republican Party members responded to invitations to attend.