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April 10, 2007 > Making democracy work for all citizens

Making democracy work for all citizens

By Steve Warga

Fans of the old Andy Griffith Show know and love the idyllic, small-town life of fictional Mayberry. It was a life, slow and pleasing as sweet molasses flowing from teaspoon to tip-of-tongue. It was a life filled with the natural order of things; April showers and May flowers, cicadas buzzing in the drowsy heat of a July afternoon. And it was a life of men-folk doing men things, women-folk doing women things, while the kids ran about doing kid things.

So why did Sheriff Andy's girlfriend, Ellie May, have to go and get the fool notion of running for city council? It just wasn't right, dang it! Sure did upset that natural order for a day or two. Why, it wouldn't have been any more upsetting if the sun and moon had switched places. The notion of women in politics was plain wrong-headed; anyone with a lick of sense could see that.

Fortunately, that pleasant sitcom was not depicting the real order of things when it came to women and politics. When Tennessee became the last state to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution back in 1920, an estimated 26 million women became eligible to vote. A few newly-empowered voters did something else that very same year; they formed a grassroots organization dedicated to "making democracy work for all citizens." That original League of Women Voters (LWV) has grown in stature and effectiveness ever since. Today, LWV chapters proliferate throughout the continent and in every United States territory. There's even a chapter in Hong Kong, the exotic outpost off mainland China that is struggling mightily against the encroachment of communism.

On April 13, the Tri-City LWV Eden Area celebrates its Fiftieth Anniversary with a gala dinner in the rotunda of Hayward's City Hall. Like its sister chapters everywhere, LWVEA remains a grassroots, non-partisan, political organization that "encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy."

It's not often in public discourse that the words "non-partisan" and "political" appear side-by-side without evoking laughter, at best; or disgust, at worst. Whenever one political party disagrees with another, accusations of "partisan politics" will follow as surely as night follows day. It is said that the art of politics is compromise and history has proven this true. It might also be said that the art of non-partisan politics is the LWV. The good women (and more than a few men) of the league protect their non-partisan ways fiercely as she-bears protect their cubs.

A review of LWVEA's first half-century of efforts reveals numerous instances of harsh criticism from both the political left and right. In fact, there have been times when LWVEA has managed to upset both sides of the political spectrum, such as their advocacy for 1990's Proposition 119 which would have taken redistricting out of the hands of politicians in California. Though it lost narrowly in the polls, this California league-drafted ballot measure threatened that most powerful of partisan weapons by turning redistricting decisions over to a non-partisan panel of citizens. Not once did any such pressure change the league's direction or practices. LWV chapters remain committed to their original mission of advocating for issues and providing candidate information without endorsements at any level.

As Past President Suzanne Barba points out, "The [LWVEA] has conducted hundreds of candidates' forums for all levels of local government, distributed more than 100,000 of the highly sought after Pros and Cons on ballot measures in several languages, registered thousands of voters, maintained over 100 voter affidavit sites in the Eden Area and provided speakers to various organizations to explain the Pros and Cons on ballot measures during election years."

"Honoring our past ... looking to the future" is LWVEA's theme of the anniversary program scheduled for Friday, April 13. But there's nothing unlucky about this momentous occasion. As current President Nancy Van Huffel writes, "... we celebrate fifty years of commitment to democratic government, transparent governance, and voter education." She goes on to emphasize, "The League strives to remain an objective source of information on which voters of all perspectives can rely for unbiased information. We value this role in the political spectrum. We work hard to maintain it while still speaking out when it matters."

No other organization in the history of American politics has done more to inform and educate voters. Like Ellie May once did, the League of Women Voters continues to follow the collective conscience of its thousands of members of both sexes, all of whom invest their own time and energies in volunteer capacities aimed at promoting the practice of democracy. The actors of Mayberry, RFD made people laugh; the dedicated volunteers of the League of Women Voters make people think ... and then act to exercise that most fundamental right of all: the right to vote.

For more information on LWVEA, visit

For more information on ballot measures or candidates, including archives of past elections, visit

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