05/28/2010 05:21AM, Published by Style, Categories: In Print
Photos courtesy of their respective organizations
Given the role that women currently play in determining critical political outcomes and influencing public policy in America, it is somewhat staggering that this decisive collective was not legally allowed to vote until 1920, when the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, after seven long decades of advocating for rightful suffrage.
The League of Women Voters (LWV) was formed the same year to help women exercise their responsibilities as voters, provide education about political issues and lobby for social reform legislation.
“We believe the League of Women Voters is where hands-on work to safeguard democracy takes place,” explains Lola Acosta, president of the Sacramento County chapter of the LWV, “and that our role is just as vital today as it was 90 years ago when the League was founded.”
Today the League – a nonpartisan, non-profit organization with chapters located throughout all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and Hong Kong – operates at the local, state and national levels. “Despite the name,” says Kathy Souza, president of LWV Placer County chapter, “the League has many male members. We focus on issues that concern our entire community. We do not support or oppose political parties or candidates. Nonpartisanship makes LWV a great source of reliable, unbiased voter information.”
Making a conscious effort to stay unbiased allows the League to impartially moderate candidate forums; present information about state ballot measures; sponsor public forums on topics of interest to voters regardless of party affiliation; and foster trust between the League and the local communities it serves. “Still,” explains Souza, “after careful research and consideration as an organization, we do formulate positions and take action on issues, but our advocacy efforts are kept separate from voter services.”
Placer, El Dorado and Sacramento County chapters of the League are, like every community in the nation, highly concerned with economic issues, in addition to those related to California’s state budget crisis, the affects of which are far-reaching. The League’s Placer County chapter, for example, recently sponsored a public forum discussing the current state and conditions of state-local fiscal relations, as well as educational spending.
The crucial difference that separates the League from other politically-focused, grassroots organizations is that the former works to help citizens cast informed ballots about core issues directly affecting their lives and their communities. “The democratic process is fundamentally based on citizen participation,” Souza explains. “Not everyone will serve in an elected office, but everyone has the ability to voice their opinions. I tell people that if they don’t exercise their right to vote, they don’t have the right to complain about how government is run.” Acosta agrees, noting that voting decisions made based solely on television advertisements and slick campaign mailers often lead to the enactment of measures based on passion rather than reason.