Rivko Knox has been politically active her whole life, beginning as a first-generation American in Tujunga, California, and spanning her more than five decades in Phoenix. You may remember her as the plaintiff in a failed lawsuit challenging Arizona’s ban on ballot harvesting, or as a long-time board member of the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union or as an active Democrat in what’s now Legislative District 20. Lately, she’s been a staple at legislative committee hearings, where she regularly testifies on behalf of the League of Women Voters at the Capitol.
What first piqued your interest in politics?
My father was always very interested (in politics), listened to the news all the time. He had his own voting bloc. Seriously. He had a lot of friends who were all American citizens, but a lot of whom barely spoke English. They would come over to the house before an election and say, “Tell us how to vote.” And my dad would always say, “I can’t tell you how to vote. I’ll explain what the candidates stand for, but I can’t tell you how to vote.”
When did you start to get involved?
By the time I got into college, high school and college, I was very interested in what at that time was more national level politics. I began to get involved a little bit in some organizations in California before (my then-husband and I) moved here. I had my first child in 1961, but both before and shortly after that I went back to school to get a teaching credential. But I got involved in, I joined the ACLU, I became involved in partisan politics. I remember picketing real estate agencies before the (1968) Fair Housing Act. Then we moved to Arizona in 1966, and the first thing I saw was a very large sign that said, “Impeach Earl Warren,” and the next thing I saw was a John Birch Society bookstore, and I thought, “I am in the wrong place. I’ve got to find some people with whom I can agree.”
So you became a precinct committeeman, got active with the ACLU and the League of Women Voters. What’s your history with the league?
My mother had been a member of the League of Women Voters. Well, I don’t know if she was a member, but she went to meetings. So she talked about it and really, really enjoyed it. So I right away got active in three different things and remained quite active in all of them for a number of years. I eventually became the state president of the ACLU for eight years, and remained very active in the ACLU. And then I retired, and immediately got back involved with the Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters. And I’ve just remained active since. I was on the board of the ACLU for 47 years. I’m off the board now… I found myself getting more and more involved with the League of Women Voters, as I was before I went to work.
What’s their appeal?
The league of course grew out of the women’s suffrage movement, but from the very beginning, the league took positions on a wide range of issues. The way the league does it, is they identify an issue they want to study, and then it’s voted on by a national commission, and then they actually create a study committee, and the same thing happens at the state and local level, and then they look objectively into both sides of an issue and develop materials and questions and then they go through that whole process again… At the state level, all the local leagues have to agree. And if it’s a national level, all the state leagues have to agree. And if they don’t agree on a position then we don’t take a position.
Do you think testifying at the Capitol has an impact?
I would say, indirectly. I do think that legislators listen – some of them. I think also it is a way to educate the public. I’m a realist at 80. If you’re not a realist at 80, it’s a little sad. But normally people take minimal interest in public policy and bills and stuff like that, unless it in some way very directly impacts them. I think that’s why all the school legislation got a huge number of people involved, because they have a child in school or grandchild in school. Some of the issues, like initiatives and even voting rights, are kind of more esoteric for the average person. But I think by speaking at meetings and getting the media to pay attention gets people thinking about these things. And then hopefully by thinking about it, they will then talk to legislators, they will then pay more attention, they will then vote a different way. It’s not like cause and effect – we get up and speak and all of a sudden they get up and say, “I never thought of that. Now, it sounds like a great idea. I’ll change my vote.” But it’s part of the democratic process.
It doesn’t sound easy.
When I was in graduate school, I had a very weird professor . . .but one thing he said that was an interesting analogy, he said, “Democracy is like a marble and everybody’s pushing it. And if you’re not pushing one way, other people can push you right off the table.” All my life, I’ve been very interested and feel very strongly about the fact that, whatever I feel strongly about I need to speak about and act about. The whole reason I’ve been involved in all kinds of rallies and demonstrations and marches and so on, is because one voice makes a big difference. And if I say I don’t need to show up at the Capitol to speak up on the issue because immediately, do I really think that, I’m not going to name any names, but am I really going to change their minds? So what if I said no? But I have a responsibility to speak on behalf of a group that feels strongly about these things. The league does have a very, I think, good reputation. I think it is known as a solid organization that studies issues and does not go off on strange tangents… And I think that, for a certain number of people, it moves the needle and the ball, marble, is kind of how I see it.
That’s a good analogy.
Probably very naive of me, but what the heck… I’m responsible for what I do, and I think this applies on all levels. I can’t change the whole world, but I’m responsible for what I do. I have no ultimate control over the impact of what I do, the ultimate long term, but I need to do what I think is right, and that is just my philosophy in life.