A Salon Reflection: The Politics of Protest in Nevada

By Emily K. Hobson

“All politics are local.” As the adage tells us, people become politically involved when issues are close to home. Few people are motivated to take action for abstract principles, but large numbers rally, march, and build organizations when they feel directly affected, and when solutions seem close at hand. Social movements begin by speaking to people’s immediate circumstances – whether those of their natural environments, neighborhoods, or families. 


No wonder that the recent Salon offered by Nevada Humanities, The Politics of Protest in Nevada, won a packed house. The panel addressed struggles over land, broadly defined: from Western Shoshone land rights, to homelessness and gentrification in Reno, to the claims of the Bundy family. The audience was especially interested to discuss local social justice movements and to hear how contemporary efforts at “resistance” can be fortified and sustained. I heard answers to this question in panelists Autumn Harry and Aria Overli’s reflections especially. 


Autumn Harry, an environmental steward and member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, referred to her work not as “activism” but “responsibility” – a choice of words that echoed language used in efforts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline, where indigenous leaders adopted the label of “Water Protectors.” Autumn’s emphasis on “responsibility” underscored both her discussion of the Dann Sisters’ history, and her personal reflections on land as central to indigenous identity. Meanwhile, Aria Overli emphasized that movements grow not only from large events such as the Women’s Marches, but also from the day-to-day labor of creating community bonds. As an organizer with ACTIONN (Acting in Community Together in Northern Nevada), Aria organizes residents in weekly motels. She describes movement building as a process of strengthening our networks to each other, so that we are better able to respond to one another in times of need.  


Nevada’s protest history may not be widely known, but its stories are here for the telling. Panelist John Smith spoke to this when he cited organizing to desegregate the Vegas strip in the 1960s, the welfare mothers’ movement of the 1970s, and the 1980s anti-nuclear movement, among other stories. Understanding local movement histories offers all of us a way to root ourselves in relationships to land and place. 


Emily K. Hobson is an assistant professor of History and Gender, Race, and Identity at the University of Nevada, Reno. She moderated The Salon panel discussion on January 19, The Politics of Protest in Nevada.