Before she committed the lessons to the page, state senator Morgan Carroll had delivered hundreds of workshops and seminars on citizen advocacy. Since her career in politics began, the forty-year-old Democrat continues to be overwhelmed by the disconnect between paid lobbyists and the average citizen. So when she finally did put everything together -- across ten months and more than 200 pages -- she gave the resulting book a call-to-action title: Take Back Your Government.
The idea to write a functional how-to, a reader's guide to participating in politics, came to Carroll on a drive home after training Coloradans to become citizen lobbyists. Her students consistently ask her with whom they should talk, how to advocate, when to do it and where to go for the best possible results. For years, Carroll says, many of their questions were the same.
"There's all this discontent, and we have fundamental questions," Carroll notes, echoing the pitch to her publisher. "Is government an 'it' or a 'we'?"
If it isn't already obvious, Carroll is firmly in the "we" category. "We have to deconstruct what the government is, why we're getting what we're getting and what we can do about it. You can either check out or you can decide, 'I don't like this, and I'm going to change it.' If you're checking out, you're basically giving a proxy vote to someone who doesn't care about you."
In college, where she minored in political science, and in law school, Carroll says she was taught about the three branches of government over and over without learning how to impact them. The same lack of awareness has continued to bother her since her election to the Colorado Senate in 2008. In Colorado, she estimates that of the approximately 800 bills each year, lawmakers only receive citizen input on about twenty.
"It's disappointing to see," Carroll says. "It's an amazing exercise to just go to the Secretary of State website where the lobbyists have to register and pull the list, because the answer is there as far as who can afford a lobbyist. To assume that someone else has your interests in mind is a mistake."
After being introduced to a publisher at Fulcrum in November 2011, Carroll immediately pitched the book and earned a first-draft deadline of May, shortly after her legislative session ended. During the writing process for Take Back Your Government, Carroll took pains to make the book as user-friendly as possible, conducting layperson interviews and collecting samples of any paperwork with which her readers might be unfamiliar. The book, spot-colored in patriotic red and blue, travels through beginning and advanced political skills in 29 practical chapters, each of which begins with an inspiring quote.
Toward the end of the book, readers who are not satisfied with changing the system are taught to join it. "If they don't like their choices, they should look in the mirror," Carroll says. "I even cover writing your own bill and running for office."
Take Back Your Government is personal and honest. In chapter eleven, titled "Meeting Your Legislators," Carroll admits that before she ran for office, she had never met her own. "To be honest," she writes. "It never occurred to me to try." Throughout the $20 guide, Carroll calls upon lessons learned by both herself and others to serve as examples. "I wanted people to see themselves in the book, no matter where they're coming from," she says.
One of the most prominent stories is that of Patty Skolnik, a grieving mother with zero political experience who worked with Carroll to promote and then pass a 2007 bill expanding medical history laws. When her son died as a result of unnecessary surgery, Skolnik discovered the surgeon's questionable occupational history too late to reverse their interactions together.
"She learned from top to bottom not only how the political process works but what the amendment process was like," Carroll says. "She learned the whole thing out of passion. We used to joke about it being Patty-power because people who would have a partisan reaction to me would still respond to her. That's how I want all my readers to be."
On Saturday, Carroll will visit a Barnes & Noble in Loveland to conduct her second book signing in a series of events scheduled across the state. Her first, held at the downtown Tattered Cover, surprised even Carroll with its standard of interaction. As she spoke, employees kept adding more chairs to the audience, and she says the Q&A left both her and her audience empowered.
"After the book signing, one man came up to me, asked a couple questions and told me, 'You have given me hope,'" Carroll says. "I was really honored, but I felt even more happy when I saw him the next week testifying at the Capitol. He was already using the book."
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