A behind the scenes look at the LWV 2014 National Convention

by Diana Kunze, secretary LWV Hudson Published:

Even though I have only been a member and board member of the Hudson League of Women Voters (LWV) for a year, my esteemed fellow leaguers of Hudson sent me off to Dallas as their delegate to the national convention. When I joined the league one year ago, I knew very little about the organization, other than about their belief of the importance of every person's active participation in our country's democratic process. Since I strongly believe in activism, and as a naturalized citizen, I gave up my choice of dual citizenship between Austria and the USA, based on my belief that I could not possibly participate as an informed citizen in the democratic process of two countries. Becoming a member of the LWV truly appealed to me.

Since being a member of LWV, I have learned about the long tradition of this truly impressive organization, which was born out of the women's suffrage movement in 1920. Today's members carry on a tradition of standing up for the voting rights of all citizens on a national, state and local level. Countless volunteers spend many hours as poll workers, poll watchers, assisting voters, in voter registration drives to reach out to high school students, community college students and naturalized citizens. I am sure, that the suffragists who fought for a woman's right to vote and endured imprisonment, beatings and force feedings, would be thrilled by the rigor and dedication of today's LWV members who dedicate their time and effort, to ensure that every citizen's vote counts, especially the underrepresented.

At the national convention in Dallas I had the opportunity to engage in conversational exchanges with a number of the approximately 700 delegates, representing 47 states and Washington D.C. We all shared our deep-seated concern about today's campaign financing practices, practices of voter suppression in several states, lack of transparency and accountable redistricting. Several states held caucuses during the convention, addressing voting and election issues, as well as sharing concerns with regards to charter school issues. A common complaint about charter schools from several state delegations, particularly the states of Florida and Washington is the lack of accountability, whereas public schools have to follow rigorous rules and procedures. Also, charter schools often face closure due to financial mismanagement and underperform their district counterpart. The state of Washington LWV joined a lawsuit in January of 2013 because of those above-mentioned discrepancies. This is a perfect example of a state league's effort to change the course of legislative action, while on the national level, the league's lobby core has made multiple visits to congress on immigration reform, gun safety and voting rights.

While the priority issues for local leagues are mainly voting rights issues, they also send league members as observers to municipal and county government sessions, as well as to school board meetings and they also study national programs, which are voted on as top priority during the biannual national convention. During 2013-­2014, an extensive national study focused on agricultural practices in the U.S. At the 2014 convention in Dallas, the delegates rallied around the "Power to Vote" initiative and adopted a three-part program focusing on key structures of American democracy, including campaign finance reform, the constitutional amendment process, and redistricting reform for the U.S. Congress. The league also adopted a position on human trafficking enabling state and local leagues across the country to take action, protecting victims of such crimes. "League delegates are deeply concerned about the big money that is polluting our elections," said Elisabeth MacNamara, the president of the LWV, U.S., "At Convention we came together and pledged to educate our communities and fight in our legislature to protect our democracy." The Delegates also vowed to support the League's effort to combat climate change and support the EPA's effort to reduce carbon emissions.

Convention speakers included Houston Mayor Annise Parker; NPR's Wade Goodwyn; Steve Murdock of Rice University; Governing Magazine's Peter Harkness; Former U.S. Election Assistance Commissioner Ray Martinez; Ann McGeehan, the former director of the Texas election division; Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez; Peter Levine of CIRCLE, and Patrick Bresette of Public Works. All the speakers commended the League for our work on behalf of neighborhoods and voters throughout the country. They urged the organization to press forward using our community-­based, grass roots power on the critical issues of the day, including money in politics, voter protection and environmental issues.

My participation in the 2014 National LWV Convention had an enormous impact on my perception of the organization. Although I have been hugely impressed and yes, at times intimidated by the wealth of knowledge and determination of the Hudson league members when I first joined, my experience in Dallas made me realize what a powerful, energizing force the many combined, local league chapters really represent. This American grass root organization promotes true, bi-­partisan, democratic values and continues the suffragist's legacy by challenging today's threats to democracy and the environment on an ongoing basis with the true conviction of well-­informed activist members.

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