I was one of the lucky who joined more than 700 members to gather in D.C. for the League of Women Voters biennial National Convention. This was an opportunity to learn direction from our national organization, discover what other state Leagues are doing, and share our local successes. It was disheartening to hear first-hand accounts of some very real battles that many state League’s are fighting in order to combat voter disenfranchisement and a loss of voter protections from the dismantled Voting Rights Act. It reminded me that we are fortunate enough to live in a more progressive state. And it emboldened me to declare that we can do better to help advocate for the return of voting rights!
Along with the Voting Rights Act, other hot topics for convention included a discussion on Money in Politics, Ranked Choice Voting, and the Constitutional Congress. Also, a major discussion took place on the convention floor over why the League no longer hosts Presidential Candidate Debates. I am interested to hear if our membership agrees with the decision of not hosting Presidential debates and voice my opinion that the League should not back away from the challenge just because it is difficult. Call me an optimist, but I think the public is crying out for the League to host non-partisan debates where candidates are forced to respond to the issues, rather than criticize their opponent.
Chris Carson, newly elected President of the LWVUS addressed the elephant in the room and asked the convention floor: What is the League strategy for this election with a first-time, female front runner for a political party? The floor erupted with a chant, “The League does not support nor oppose political candidates”. We should expect to see more messaging from National on this issue but it was wonderful to reaffirm our strong sense of non-partisanship and the overwhelming consensus to keep the League tradition of not endorsing any candidate.
Wylecia Wiggs Harris, Executive Director of the LWVUS spoke on the convention floor about a strategy forchange and engagement. What I learned from convention is that California is a leader among the state Leagues for our progress on voting rights and redistricting, and that the San Francisco League is an example of what National is trying to achieve with its diverse demographics, use of social media in communications, and cutting edge online voter education platforms.
In addition to meeting with League members from around the country, I had the opportunity to connect with League members from the counties of Marin, Alameda, Oakland, Berkeley, Mendocino, Butte, Palo Alto, and Orange County to discuss some of the programs that they were working on and share some of what we do at the local level. The overarching theme from our sister Leagues was youth engagement. Many of these counties offer education and awareness to youth organizations and high schools either through voter registration efforts, civic training, mock voting, and mock debates. I hope that our local membership will be excited about at least one of these ideas and help us to create a strategy for youth engagement in San Francisco.
The next National Convention will be held in Chicago, Illinois on June 28 – July 2, 2018. As a leader of what a local League can achieve I propose that the San Francisco League work to develop a caucus discussion for the next National Convention.
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