The League of Women Voters national convention was held in Washington, D.C., from June 8-12 — so close to home that I had to attend (my first time to do so). Featured caucuses included presentations on the 2012 congressional farm bill, fossil fuel issues, criminal sentencing and campaign finance reform.
Plenary sessions gathered all 900 or so who attended into one room to hear speakers and consider motions presented by state and local leagues seeking to initiate national league studies. Each concern was presented, clarified if requested, and debated before delegates voted yea or nay. Republicanism and democracy at their finest.
I met fellow members from as far away as Oregon, Washington and Alaska, dedicated leaguers as young as 18, as old as 96, and future leaguers of 8 and 10 who accompanied parents. They looked a great deal like the United States at large: mostly white, but also black, Hispanic, Asian and so on. More women than men were there, but there were quite a few men, some of whom serve on the executive board.
But for me, what I didn’t see was as important as what I did.
Nowhere was there any sign of partisanship: no campaign materials, no evidence of party affiliation, no partisan speakers at caucuses and plenary sessions. Instead, the focus was on issues and issues alone. The issues selected undergo extensive study before being presented to local leagues for consensus meetings (where details are discussed and positions determined). Consensus majorities determine the league’s positions. It couldn’t be more democratic or less partisan.
Everything I witnessed at the convention supports the organization’s mission to empower republican democratic government, to encourage voting and to inform the citizenry. I’ve long known that that’s exactly what we do here in St. Mary’s County; now I know we do it at the national level as well.
Having determined their positions on issues, the league does advocate for them among elected officials at all levels. Advocacy has been part of the league’s work from its formation in 1920 by former women suffragists. Without it, the positions we arrive at through the process spelled out above would be meaningless.
Yes, the league is not perfect. It has made its mistakes, as have most organizations, but as I learned at the convention, it is currently striving to return fairness and honesty to the American political system, a worthy cause for all of us.
Pat Dunlap, Tall Timbers
The letter writer is president of the League of Women Voters of St. Mary’s County.