LWV MISSION STATEMENT
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy.
The League of Women Voters is organized to parallel the three levels of government: local, state and national. At each level of League, volunteer boards are elected by the membership to manage the activities of the League. There are elected officers—president or co-presidents, one or two vice presidents, secretary, and treasurer—plus elected and appointed directors with specific areas of responsibility such as membership, voter services, action, communication and Great Decisions lecture series.
NOT FOR WOMEN ONLY!
Women—and men (since 1974)—who are at least 16 years old may join the League. Joining at any level of the organization automatically confers membership at every level, and with that membership comes the opportunity to make an impact on local, state, regional and national public policy issues.
In her address to the 1919 National American Woman Suffrage Association 50th Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, Carrie Chapman Catt (1859-1947) proposed the creation of a “league of women voters to finish the fight and aid in the reconstruction of the nation.” Catt formally founded the League of Women Voters on February 14, 1920, six months prior to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. She envisioned the League as a “mighty political experiment” designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters.
The League of Women Voters, a grassroots organization that works at the local, state, and national level, has fought since 1920 to improve public policy through education and advocacy. Today there are about 900 state and local Leagues.
The League of Women Voters of Virginia was organized on November 10, 1920 to succeed the Equal Suffrage League, which had been founded in 1909 in Richmond. The LWV of Virginia immediately initiated a number of programs and activities including voter registration drives for ALL women, education programs and lobbying efforts for a number of social welfare causes.
The League of Women Voters of the Williamsburg Area began in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cold War and Space Race, when a group of about 25 inspired women held a “pre-organizational” meeting of the proposed League of Women Voters of Williamsburg –James City County [name changed later] in Bruton Parish House Hall. The minutes of this meeting listed the women by their husbands’ names. Poll taxes were still in effect at this time in Williamsburg.
The state League at first refused to recognize the chapter because five of these women, including educator Clara Byrd Baker (1886-1979) for whom an area elementary school is named, were African American. At that time, there were no racially integrated local Leagues in Virginia. Not to be deterred, the women persisted and the state League finally agreed—but only if white women served as officers. The Williamsburg women again resisted. The Virginia state League finally backed down, making the Williamsburg League the first integrated League in Virginia.
The first Williamsburg Area VOTER came out on January 1, 1963. Our first general membership meeting took place on January 8, 1963 and monthly meetings occurred thereafter every second Tuesday. After about one year as a “provisional local League,” our first Annual Meeting was on April 20, 1963. The Voter Services chair during those early years was Clara Byrd Baker, a teacher at Bruton Heights school for many years, and the first woman in Williamsburg to vote in 1920.
POLITICAL YET NONPARTISAN
Soon after the League’s founding, the decision was made to take positions on issues but to neither support nor oppose any political party or candidate (appointed or elected) for public office—and to work on vital issues of concern to members and the public after members’ study and consensus. To ensure the credibility of the League as a nonpartisan organization, each League’s board of directors is responsible for drafting and carrying out its own nonpartisan policy and for seeing that both its members and the public understand the League’s nonpartisan role.
Members belong to all three levels of the League—local, state and national—and are the League’s most valuable asset. They give the League clout, visibility and credibility. The organization’s strong grassroots system distinguishes the League from other organizations.
Member categories (e.g., individual, household, student, life member) are defined by the LWVUS Bylaws. Membership dues (set by each local League) make up a significant portion of the income in most local League budgets. Collecting dues and membership renewals are the responsibility of the local League. Local Leagues are responsible for paying a per member payment (PMP) for each locally recruited member to the LWVUS and their state League.
Though members belong to all three levels of the League, it is usually at the local level that they experience what it means to belong to the League. Since members who are engaged in the work of the League are more apt to renew their memberships, each member should be given an opportunity to contribute his/her individual talents in a way that is satisfying and flexible. The goal is to ensure that all members feel that their involvement with the League, whether active or supporting, is essential to the League’s strength and success.
DIVERSITY, EQUITY & INCLUSION
LWV is an organization fully committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion in principle and in practice. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to the organization’s current and future success in engaging all individuals, households, communities, and policy makers in creating a more perfect democracy.
There shall be no barriers to full participation in this organization on the basis of gender, gender identity, ethnicity, race, native or indigenous origin, age, generation, sexual orientation, culture, religion, belief system, marital status, parental status, socioeconomic status, language, accent, ability status, mental health, educational level or background, geography, nationality, work style, work experience, job role function, thinking style, personality type, physical appearance, political perspective or affiliation and/or any other characteristic that can be identified as recognizing or illustrating diversity.
VOTER SERVICES & PUBLIC INFORMATION
Over the years, the League has built an excellent reputation for providing the public with accurate, nonpartisan services and information. The League’s voter services activities are designed to provide citizens with unbiased, factual information that can be used as a basis for understanding the election process and reaching their own voting decisions.
The League’s citizen education activities, on the other hand, provide information on public issues, including those on which we have a position; by law and League policy, it is not necessary to present both sides of an issue in such situations. In other words, Leagues may educate the public about a particular point of view or “side” of an issue (e.g, a League could hold a forum about why the death penalty should be abolished without including experts/panelists in support of capital punishment).
Leagues carry out a variety of election-related services, which may include:
- Making registration and voting information available through a variety of means, including a Web site (www.VOTE411.org)
- Organizing voter registration and get-out-the-vote campaigns that target groups that have traditionally not participated in elections
- Publishing voters’ guides/candidate questionnaires, often in foreign languages as well as in English
- Sponsoring candidate meetings, debates and interviews
- Providing speakers on election issues, such as voting procedures and ballot measures.
OVERVIEW OF “PROGRAM”
League program consists of positions on governmental issues that the League has chosen for concerted study and action at the national, state or local level. League program arises from the suggestions of members. At every level of the League, the board of directors is responsible for reviewing and discussing these suggestions, formulating them in appropriate language, and recommending all or some of them for adoption according to procedures specified in the bylaws. A local League’s “action” or advocacy program is determined by members at its annual meeting; state and national programs are voted upon by delegates at state and national League conventions. In the course of the program adoption discussion, members often give suggestions to the board on scope of inquiry, timing, emphasis and ways to handle the study and/or action phases.
The program process is specified in the bylaws and includes the following steps:
- Formal adoption (by members at an annual meeting or by state/national convention delegates) of an issue for study
- Member study and agreement on broad concepts
- Formulation of a position by the appropriate board of directors
- Action in those areas where there is member understanding and agreement as directed by the board of directors
- Annual or biennial re-adoption of the position
REACHING MEMBER AGREEMENT Before the League can take action, members must agree in broad terms on what they think about various aspects of the policy issue. The nature of the issue will affect how it is studied and how positions are reached. The board usually selects the method to be used: consensus (where agreement is reached using League responses to specific questions) or concurrence (where agreement or a vote on a pre-stated position is required).
The technique most often used in the League for reaching member agreement is consensus by group discussion. It is not a simple majority, nor is it unanimity; rather it is the overall sense of the group as expressed through the exchange of ideas and opinions, whether in a meeting of the full membership or a series of smaller discussion meetings.
Regardless of the method used, it is essential that members have an opportunity to become informed before being asked to make decisions on the issue under consideration. It is through this process that League members become educated on a given issue, and this is what makes subsequent League action on that issue uniquely credible and respected. During the study phase, members have an opportunity to examine the facts and key pro/con points. They are encouraged to discuss the political realities of action and to contribute ideas for the board to consider when it formulates an action strategy after a position is reached. If the League has a position on a given issue, action can be taken as appropriate. The issue does not need to be studied each time action is thought to be necessary.
ADVOCACY vs. LOBBYING
The League only takes action on issues that have been studied and on which the members have reached agreement regarding the position. The League’s political effectiveness rests on its reputation for thorough study. There is an old League saying, “Study without action is futile; action without study is fatal.” Action may include:
- providing information to members and the public
- influencing public opinion
- forming and joining coalitions
- urging governmental action
- supporting or opposing legislation
- meeting with or contacting elected officials
Advocacy is a broader concept than lobbying. While lobbying can be part of an advocacy strategy, advocacy does not necessarily include lobbying. Lobbying is defined as an attempt to influence specific legislation, both legislation that has already been introduced in a legislative body and specific legislative proposals that the League or others may either oppose or support. Lobbying includes action that transmits a point of view on a specific piece of legislation to elected officials or their staffs, as well as action urging the public to contact their legislators about a specific piece of legislation. Lobbying activities must be funded through general operating funds (501(c)4).
Advocacy activities, on the other hand, can sometimes be funded with tax-deductible monies. This is the case even when only one side of an issue is presented, as long as no call to action on a particular piece of legislation is issued. Such activities can include: (1) developing public policy briefs that analyze issues and provide detailed information and recommendations for addressing them through specific reforms and (2) providing forums for discussing issues and educating policymakers and the public.
SPEAKING WITH ONE VOICE “Speaking with one voice” is one of the most important tenets of the League. The national League is responsible for determining strategies and action policies that ensure that the League’s message on national issues is consistent throughout the country. Similarly, state Leagues are responsible for a consistent state message, and local Leagues must cooperate to ensure that regional issues are addressed in a consistent matter by neighboring Leagues.
Only the president (or designee) is permitted to speak for the League in an official capacity. However, members are encouraged to take action on League topics as individuals. For example, when responding to an LWVUS Action Alert, a local League president would send a message on behalf of the organization (i.e. on League letterhead); members might contact the same official as individuals (i.e., not mentioning their affiliation with League).
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
As a League member, you can be as involved with League as you choose. But to get the most out of your membership and to help the League be effective, get involved!
- Learn how government works, how bills are introduced and become laws, and what role you can play in that process
- Learn who your state and federal legislators are and what they stand for
- Be in touch with your legislators; go to their community meetings; stop by their offices to visit and tell them what’s important to you
- Contact public officials about public policy decisions or pending legislation. As a member, you may receive an ‘Action Alert” for issues that are nearing a vote or decision. It is important to call or e-mail your elected representative quickly when you get an Action Alert.
- Register to vote
- Join a Committee or become a leader
- Encourage others to get involved with you
- Attend Women’s Legislative Roundtables in Richmond during the session