by Carissa Wolf
Idaho lost one of its most vocal advocates for women’s rights when the Idaho Women’s Network lost major donors and shut its doors earlier this year. Their loss of staff, including its lobby arm, dimmed the organization’s once formidable voice and left Idaho politicos and progressive advocates anticipating a void in the state’s policy discussions.
Lawmakers looked to the Idaho’s Women’s Network to bring perspective and participation to the legislative process. Boise Democrat Sen. Nicole LeFavour counted on the Idaho Women’s Network to inspire political participation. The network knew how to turn everyday people into a lobbying force and maintain a constant legislative presence, she said. And other lawmakers—even occasional political foes—including Boise Republican Sen. Chuck Winder valued the perspectives IWN brought to the table.
“They’ve always been a pretty legitimate force in representing their interest group,” Winder said.
“Whenever you lose a collective voice, you lose something … Hopefully the voices are still there.”
Idaho progressive advocates say the voices still exist along with the fight to push women’s rights forward. The Idaho Women’s Network may no longer employ a lobbyist but leaders of Idaho’s progressive organizations say they’ve always been lobbyists for the people and in the wake of the shuttering of IWM’s doors, they’ll continue to make women’s rights a priority.
“The loss (of IWN) means that a lot of the work that they’ve done falls squarely on the shoulders of other non-profits,” said Monica Hopkins, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho.
“That leaves us in the position of being one of the one of the lone voices, especially up at the Statehouse, for a wide variety of issues.”
Collaborative ties between women’s groups and progressive non-profits have strengthened as feminism evolved to encompass a more multi-issue, inclusive framework. Idaho human rights, civil liberties and economic justice advocates see women’s rights as vital to advancing to position of all people and they say women will still have a voice through their advocacy.
“We will look for creative collaborations but we also understand that we’ll really have to take the lead on issues that in the past we worked on in strong collaboration with the Idaho Women’s Network,” Hopkins said.
While progressive leaders look for ways to keep women’s rights alive in the political process they're also cognizant that their organizations are not immune to the funding woes that shut IWN’s doors. Hopkins notes that the national ACLU took a funding hit following the recession and Amy Herzfeld, executive director of the Idaho Human Rights Education Center, said non-profits always aim to diversify their funding sources. Non-profit leaders are also looking to the people they serve to fund and support the work that keeps their voices heard.
“People are waking up to the reality that non-profits are their last and best advocate in terms of forwarding legislation,” said Adrienne Evans, executive director of United Vision for Idaho.
Non-profit advocacy groups are after all, the lobbyists of the people, Evans said. And she and her colleagues hope that lessons can be learned from the demise of IWN.
“It is this wake up call, I hope, that we have to take a vested interest in our communities and we have to support these organizations that are doing this work,” Evans said. “(Non-profit) organizations are working for the people of Idaho.”