Looking for a lively debate about a controversial issue? Want to know more about a political candidate? Interested in registering to vote?
Try the League of Women Voters.
“Our goal is to inform and encourage active participation of people in government,” said Joan Johnson, public relations director for the Syracuse chapter of the League. “We’re involved in our community and our state and our country and we’d like more people to be involved.”
On Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, the League celebrated its 94th birthday. Its history reflects the history of women. And, after nearly 100 years, its modern-day mission hasn’t changed: educate voters and encourage political involvement.
The League describes itself as a nonpartisan political organization. It does not endorse candidates, say its leaders. But the group does study and take stands on some issues. And it lobbies elected officials about its concerns, say leaders.
The national, state and local levels of the League all work in tandem, said Johnson, the Syracuse spokesperson. The national and state branches choose an issue to study each year, but the local branches may have their own interests, she said.
In Syracuse, this has included a wide range of issues: Human trafficking. Immigration reform. The Onondaga Lake clean-up.
“We reach positions on issues through study, then come to a consensus,” Johnson said. “Each League around the state will meet once the study is completed and decide whether or not they think we can actually form a position on something.”
The League was formed after the 19th Amendment to the Constitution passed in 1920. Once women were given the right to vote, Johnson said, women’s suffragists decided that female voters needed to be educated. Originally, the League was only open to women. But now, both men and women can join by filling out a form available on the League’s website.
The League even discussed changing its name to be more inclusive, said Johnson. At the League’s national convention, the group debated becoming “The League of Men and Women Voters.” But this idea was shot down to honor the League’s history, she said.
Sylvia Matousek, the recording secretary for the Syracuse League’s board, has been a member for less than a year. She has been impressed by the Syracuse League’s activism and organization, she said.
“Knowing the League by reputation only, having never been a member, and seeing the membership list of women in the community whom I respected, I thought I’d help out a little,” she said in an email interview. “As a newbie, I am impressed with the number and quality of the activities in which the LWV is engaged.”
Kristi Andersen, a political scientist at Syracuse University and a member of the League for 30 years, said that the League has a long tradition of debating issues. “They’re quite active in politics,” Andersen said.
The League is involved in governmental affairs year-round, she said. But it is busiest during election season. “In any town, you will find the League of Women Voters setting up a forum for people to come and listen to the candidates who are running for office,” Andersen said.
The League itself refrains from endorsing a political candidate during election season, said Johnson, its Syracuse spokesperson. But individual members are allowed and even encouraged to voice their own political leanings, she said.
Said Johnson: “If we weren’t interested in politics, we wouldn’t be interested in the League. It is still a political organization.”
(Avery Hartmans is a senior majoring in newspaper and online journalism with a minor in English and textual studies.)