“We don’t give up”
Idealism and grit carry the day at Florida’s LWV Convention
The tide of political activism may well be running against the progressive League of Women Voters, but you could hardly tell it this weekend during an idealists’ state convention near the nation’s eastern shore.
More than 160 women, plus a few men, came from 26 local chapters to meet in Naples, Florida, June 7-8 for their 37th Biennial Convention of the Florida League of Women Voters.
Their work was to report their activities, refine their programs, and refresh their spirits after yet another year of frustrating, Sisyphus-like actions to empower voters and defend democracy across their state.
Virtually every session included a litany of woes:
Forces working to privatize schools are destroying public education, re-segregating schools, and increasing inequality, said Sarah Mondale, an education-documentary filmmaker.
Florida’s triumphant voter approval of Amendment 4, which restored voting rights to millions of ex-felons, is being swamped in red tape by the Legislature, reported Cecile Scoon, LWVFL’s incoming first vice president.
The State Legislature continues to thwart citizen power and keep a legislative boot on our necks, reported Orlando’s Michele Levy. The only thing that works is litigation, and even those results can be fleeting. The LWVFL’s 2015-16 court victories did create more fair election districts, but those gains may be wiped out after the 2020 census, Levy said.
Yet, Leaguers approached their very serious work with a fetching combination of light-heartedness and stern discipline. How do they keep on as they continue to swim upstream against the tide? “It’s a constant battle,” Levy said. Then she turned the coin to reveal its other side: “We don’t give up.” Period.
Their secrets for keeping their spirits in good working order during frustrating times: taking a long view and reveling in camaraderie.
Their progress reports often focused on process goals and gains: More than 13,000 “likes” on a state Facebook page, impressive growth in membership tallies, thousands and thousands of citizens registered to vote, more states joining a national compact to overcome the electoral college and create “one person / one vote” equity, step-by-step actions to protect the integrity voting infrastructure in the face of Russian hacking and other mischief.
By the end of two days, the cumulative effect of their unsinkable determination was uplifting.
Several speakers noted that 2020 will include centennial anniversaries for the birth of the LWV (February 14) and voting rights for women (August). Chapters such as Orange County are harnessing their histories to expand self-knowledge, refocus goals, and refresh enthusiasm.
Their focus on history as a means toward forging a stronger future also poses a question: Does it make any difference that there is a League of Women Voters? The other side of that coin may well be: What if there never had been a League of Women Voters? How would they have fared, those myriad of issues and civic pies where these women poked their collective thumbs over the past 80 (in the case of Florida) or 100 (in the USA) years?
The delegates to the 37th Biennial Convention of the Florida League of Women Voters simply answer the questions with action. They are first of all workers, driven by mission, working within a disciplined system that can be maddeningly slow but as relentless as drops of water on a stone.
Their common denominator is idealism – evidenced in bone-deep belief in democracy and a dogged determination to defend it. Even in these times when cynicism is much in fashion, they are inspiring.