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General Assembly Reconvenes, And So Do Activists

Josh James
Kentuckians for the Commonwealth stage a melodic demonstration outside the Kentucky Senate before the chamber gaveled in Tuesday.

As state lawmakers gear up for round two of the 2017 legislative session, so too are activists – some of whom are getting involved in politics for the first time.

Tuesday marked Kentuckians for the Commonwealth's "day of action." During the afternoon orientation session, a leader asks how many people are new to the event. A healthy number of hands go up.

Meanwhile, supporters file in wearing signs reading "I stand for..." followed by a blank, which participants fill in on their own. KFTC member Serena Owen says the answers show just how diverse the organization's policy concerns are as the new Republican-led General Assembly resumes its work.

"We're standing up for health care. We're standing for workers rights, for voting rights, for economic and environmental justice, clean water and clean air," she explains.

For these activists, Tuesday isn't just about rallying the faithful – it's about beginning the more labor-intensive work of organizing. The day began with a resistance workshop, where attendees familiarized themselves with a "take action tool kit." K.A. Owens said the goal is to get demonstrators in front of lawmakers, preferably in the flesh but electronically if need be.

"So we sit people down and talk about how to go about doing that, whether it's a one-on-one conversation with legislators, whether it's email or Twitter," he says.

But Kentuckians for the Commonwealth isn't the only group looking to harness the energy that's been on display nationally in the weeks since Donald Trump's inauguration. While reliably lively, this year's rotunda rallies by refugee advocates, reproductive rights supporters, LGBT activists, and many others promise to be especially animated.

Also energized are other groups that, after years of packed rallies in the rotunda, find themselves well-positioned to realize long-sought-after legislation.

Wednesday, more than a dozen state lawmakers are expected to be on hand for the Kentucky Right to Life Association's annual rally. Gov. Matt Bevin is set to ceremonially sign Senate Bill 2, limiting abortion to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, and House Bill 2, requiring the presentation of ultrasound results to women seeking an abortion.

With bills dealing with religious expression, concealed carry laws, and state education standards possibly hitting the docket this week alone, lawmakers can expect to hear plenty of voices filling the Capitol.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.
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