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Linda Matys O’Connell, convener
Gillian Hinkson, steering committee
Zaida Govan, steering committee
League of Women Voters Renews Work in Springfield
By Linda Matys O’Connell
In my hands is a small, fraying book, its cover graced by a delicate charcoal drawing of the city’s Campanile. This “Springfield Area Handbook” painstakingly details the architecture of Springfield government in 1951. Published by the Springfield Area League of Women Voters, it was clearly a labor of love, a gift to city citizens.
The fragile, outdated volume is stamped “Discarded by the City Library” and is no longer in circulation. The League of Women Voters, too, has been out of circulation in Springfield for quite some time.
But this year, a diverse group of women inspired by the League’s rallying cry – “Making Democracy Work” – has once again taken up the League’s work here. Among the first fruits of our labors is a Voters Guide to the mayoral candidates in Springfield’s preliminary election Sept. 8.
The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan 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. The LWV works through more than 800 state and local Leagues. The Springfield LWV group is a unit of the Northampton Area LWV, a member of the League since its beginning.
The League of Women Voters was founded at the convention of the National American Women Suffrage Association in 1920, just six months before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified by the states, giving women the right to vote after a 72-year struggle.
Founder Carrie Chapman Catt had helped lead that fight, and she conceived the new League as a “mighty political experiment” designed to help women to use their new right to participate in the democratic process and shape public policy.
Today in Springfield, encouraging all of our citizens to use their votes to shape a better community could not be more relevant. Citywide voter-turnout for Springfield’s 2013 municipal election averaged only 11.7 percent, with turnout in many wards in the single digits. Turnout for the preliminary election that year was only 5.3 percent.
For a core group of our LWV members who met in the Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts’ Leadership Institute for Political and Public Impact, the answer to this symptom of disenfranchisement is fostering a culture of voting that springs naturally from being “in community.”
It is about women embracing representative democratic government as a means of enhancing the welfare of our community. It is about learning how to access our power to make a difference. It is about ensuring that the democratic political process yields elected representatives who respond to our needs and support our aspirations. It is about proving the radical proposal that, we, the people, can govern ourselves.