To prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the 2020 special session of the Nevada State Legislature, the Legislative building is closed to all except lawmakers, a few reporters and Legislative Council Bureau staff.
Protests and rallies are common on the wide grassy parkway spaces and sidewalks in front of the Legislature at any time, but especially when the Legislature is in session, and particularly now when the legislative chambers and offices are under an effective lock-down.
On Wednesday, the first day of the special session, hundreds of teachers and education advocates rallied in front of the building as cloistered lawmakers began to grapple with a projected General Fund shortfall of over $1 billion for Fiscal Year 2020-21.
Barring further federal relief or new revenue sources, lawmakers will ultimately have to approve a budget that will make deep, painful cuts to education and key social services, to include Medicaid.
During public comment heard in both the Senate and Assembly over the first two days of the special session, many advocates and lobbyists called in from outside the building to communicate with lawmakers.
For now, gone are the days of lobbyists and advocates offering in-person testimony, meeting with lawmakers in their offices, and working each other hip-to-haunch.
On Saturday, socially-distanced, mask-wearing, part-time state lawmakers were inside the Legislature agonizing over unprecedented reductions in services to some of the state’s most vulnerable populations.
Lawmakers may also consider a state-level police reform law, a complex and loaded issue.
A person who has been working in the Legislature tested positive for COVID-19, and now some lawmakers are attending remotely. Senate and Assembly sessions scheduled for Sunday were cancelled.
On Saturday, a Black Lives Matter rally and counter protest formed in front of the Legislature on Carson Street.
“We’re really having to adapt in our profession as lobbyists and advocates to the circumstances,” said Holly Welborn policy director for the ACLU of Nevada during Saturday’s BLM protest. “One idea we had was, Battle Born Progress has been out here doing daily updates via social media. I really think that the takeaway is any public comment is happening not just through the comments that are going on via phone, but from social media.
“Our physical presence, being here in Carson City where this is taking place, it is important advocacy that’s occurring. People have a voice. We just ended a Black Lives Matter protest. There were teachers protesting on Wednesday.
“I really think that this is the most effective way under these circumstances for voices to be heard. We’ve seen these same sorts of groups walk the halls and do similar activities during past legislative sessions, but we’re really having to adapt to build a message we can share on social media that our lawmakers will see.”
BLM and Police Reform
Following the murder of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, police in Reno and Las Vegas deployed tear gas, concussion grenades to quell unrest. Since then, the call for police reform has not subsided and it continued Saturday in front of the Legislature at the BLM rally.
It would not be unexpected if concerns over the state budget consume almost all legislative bandwidth during the special session. Governor Sisolak also has the ability to hold a concurrent special session on policy issues, which could focus on public safety and police reform, the Governor has indicated.
On Saturday, Jace Jackson held a cardboard sign with “Black Lives Matter, End Systematic Racism” written on it. Jackson stood across Carson Street from the group of anti-BLM protesters.
“So, I’m just trying to spread the peace,” Jackson said. “Us hating on each other, that’s going to get us nowhere. You make no progress when you do something like that.”
Jackson crossed the street and walked on the sidewalk behind the anti-BLM protesters. An anti-BLM protester accosted him.
“Don’t walk by me with that shit mother fucker,” the heavily-tattooed man wearing a knife in a belt holster said pointing at Jackson’s BLM sign.
With lawmakers grappling with the need to make unprecedented state budget cuts that will invariably affect education, Medicaid, and potentially a variety of state programs and services, the anti-BLM protester was angry about a presidential pardon Bill Clinton issued in 2000.
“This bitch that Clinton let out on his last hours in office, she’s a fucking terrorist, OK, and she hates America. She hates the White man.
“And I tell you what brother,” the man who identified himself as Dave Herrig said to Jackson. “I’ll drop your ass off in east Palo Alto or Oakland, and you even have that fucking sign, I’ll let you walk 4 blocks and I’ll wait there for you, and I guarantee your ass will not be back. They will rape and fuck you up,” he said.
Jace Jackson did not respond with the same emotional intensity but calmly said he had spent time in Oakland and had no trouble.
“I believe these people that are supporting this BLM movement or whatever the hell they want to call it now is a crock of shit,” Herrig continued.
“I’m gonna be blunt with you man. This is the way I talk. I shoot straight from the hip. These people are ignorant, stupid sons of bitches right there,” he said pointing toward the BLM activists.
Speaking with Jace Jackson after the encounter, he said he works to engage anti-BLM protesters on the issues in an unemotional way. He walks away when they drift off into fantastical conspiracy theories.
“I’ve talked to them a few times. Some of them are cool,” Jackson said. “They don’t really antagonize me too much. The others are talking about how Hillary Clinton is eating blood out of babies and whatnot.”
One of the anti-BLM protesters wore a shirt that read “Tyranny Response Team.” He directed taunts toward the BLM protesters through a bullhorn.
“Steve Sisolak is a thief … the virus is a hoax,” he barked into his bullhorn. “Tiger Team is on little girls … it’s time to go home …”
The man identified himself as Glen Morgan and said the novel coronavirus pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement are fronts for a political coup.
“We got tyranny going on, and Black Lives Matter is disguised, but it’s tyranny. The Black Lives Matter movement is for votes, for Democrat votes … the Governor with all the masks … there’s no pandemic really going on, but he wants to do it because he wants the votes. He wants the mail-in ballots so he can be governor still, and that’s the reason why the Black Lives Matter movement and the virus is going on is for votes.”
Glen Morgan was busy hurling bullhorn insults at BLM protesters. His descriptions of Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey drinking a bi-product of aborted baby blood – or something like that – added a surreal quality to the scene.
Morgan said all of the anti-BLM protesters are ardent Donald Trump supporters and that the BLM activists and Democrats in general need to know the truth about what’s been going on on Epstein’s Island, a reference to the island estate of Trump associate and convicted sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein. Epstein hung himself in jail on August 10 of 2019.
“What they’re doing is they’re taking people down to Epstein’s Island and they are filming them having sex with little kids. Murdering the little kids. Scaring them right before they murder them. Collecting their blood – it’s called Adrenochrome – ship it off to Wuhan China, and then ship it back to Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey, and the elite of the world.
“They’ve got 179,000 sealed indictments and one-third of congress will be arrested by November,” Morgan said as a few anti-BLM protesters gathered around and nodded ascent while he continued to speak.
“A lot of people, they know about what I know like the Adrenochrome and everything else,” Morgan said pointing to his fellow anti-BLM protesters. “Most people know that, at least on this side.”
Morgan gestured toward the nearby BLM protesters.
“Those are little ignorant people. They’re little girls and they think that they’re doing the right thing but they are not because the George Floyd video was a hoax. It was a fake. He’s been dead since 2016. He was buried in Corpus Christi, and his lawyer says that he was his caretaker, and he’s a pauper and they didn’t have any money to bury him, so he buried him in Corpus Christi.
“And they took the image of his face and put it on a video and started all this, but it’s a political thing for votes. That’s all this is.”
Near the BLM protest camp, under the shade of tall trees, a group of BLM activist chatted. Two of them were armed.
“I’m out here having discussions with people. That’s actually why I keep coming to BLM,” said Brian, a man wearing a pistol on his belt.
“I come out here armed because a lot of the other side loses half their argument from me having this (his pistol) on my side, and then I get to have a conversation with them about what I believe, what I want … because I believe in what most of Black Lives Matter says and I am in full agreement with them. And I would like the other side to actually sit down and have a civil conversation.”
Brian said he disarms anti-BLM protesters with his gun as an object lesson.
“I’m not here pointing a gun at you. I don’t want to. I’m going to show you that we got a lot in common. This is one thing (he said while touching his gun), but I like motorcycles … hey, let’s start there, and you disarm them like that, and then you have a conversation,” Brian said with a smile.
Brian says he has spoken with many anti-BLM protesters with mixed success. Both Brian and Jace Jackson say they will build on positive interaction but that far-fetched conspiracy theories undermine meaningful dialogue.
Jace Jackson understands that anti-BLM protesters are not going to agree with him but that the act of communicating, even disagreement, moves the process forward.
“I feel like they’re not really going to take what I have to say into consideration. We don’t agree with each other. That’s obvious. And I feel as though, even though we’re not going to change each other’s minds, we see each other as more human … that’s the way I like to look at it,” Jackson said.
For those on the Legislature front lawn working to communicate with elected representatives, the closure of the Legislative building presents opportunities and challenges for lobbyists and advocates.
“For many of us lobbyists, we have a direct connection with several of the lawmakers that are inside, and we are having text message conversations, phone conversations with lawmakers on issues that are important to us … we are participating in public comment,” said Holly Welborn. “It is really hard to gauge when you’re not in there to hear the chatter in the hallways, to hear the conversations and what’s going on, so it does present challenges.”
Brian Bahouth is the editor of the Sierra Nevada Ally and a public media journalist since 1996. Support his work.