Alexandria Area League of Women Voters sprouts up in time for 2012 elections
Debates, forums, lawn signs; the 2012 election season is at peak popularity. Ninety-two years ago, one element prominent in today's races wasn't so popular, women.
Since passage of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution on August 26, 1920, women's interest in politics has waxed and waned.
After a 20-year waning period, the Alexandria Area League of Women Voters (AALWV) is resurrecting its chapter.
"Women haven't had the ability to vote for that many years," said Jeanne Howell, AALWV co-chair. "We're not about to let that go."
Spearheaded by Jeanne and Ken Howell, the AALWV currently consists of 20 members - five of whom are men. The non-partisan group has kept the word "women" in the name although they accept male members.
"It really is all walks of life," Jeanne said. "There isn't any requirement other than an interest in government and learning more about people's perspectives."
Jeanne doesn't see any reason to remove the word; it serves as a reminder that women had to fight for the right to vote. The AALWV is hoping to appeal to younger women in the area. The majority of members now are former members of the league, Jeanne said.
"It is totally illogical that women shouldn't play a more active role in government," Ken said.
The AALWV was very active in the 1970s, member Barbara Benson recalled.
"It was very big; there were three units," Benson said.
Benson noticed a decline in women's activism in the 1990s, coinciding with women becoming busier and working more. Once the "people-power," as Benson described it, diminished, the local league lost presence in the community, although members were able to stay active on state and national levels.
The closest leagues until the AALWV's renewal this year were in Detroit Lakes, St. Cloud and Park Rapids.
"We have members now who were part of the St. Cloud league," Jeanne said.
WHAT DOES THE LEAGUE DO? WHY NOW?
The League of Women Voters was established as a grassroots organization in 1920. During election years, the organization's chapters reach out to communities to help educate citizens on candidates and topics and assist in voter registration.
"Sometimes it's hard to get good information about candidates," Jeanne said. "That was really the impetus for starting now."
In the off-season, LWV participates in studies to help further its mission. National studies in 2010-2012 included the role of federal government in public education and privatization of federal agencies.
"The league was born out of being able to vote," Ken said. Because of that, the league has been paying particular attention to the voter ID amendment this year.
Other issues the organization is researching on a state level are missing and exploited children and public campaign funding. Local chapters of LWV are active members of the state and national groups.
"We're looking to give people the opportunity to look at local, state and national issues from a non-partisan perspective," Benson said.
The Howells co-chair the AALWV, which meets on the second Wednesday of each month at the Douglas County Library. Kathleen Pohlig serves as vice-chair and Judy Rose is secretary/treasurer.
The AALWV hosted nonpartisan candidate forums in the past. Two candidate forums are planned in October at city hall in Alexandria, co-sponsored by the AALWV and the local chapter of the American Association of University Women.
Douglas County commissioner candidates are scheduled to speak at the October 23 forum. City council and school board candidates are slated for October 30. Because the forums are nonpartisan, Jeanne explained, if a candidate refuses to come to the forum, his or her opponent cannot attend either.
The AALWV is hosting a membership kick-off meeting on Wednesday, November 14 at 5:30 p.m. in the community room at Douglas County Library. Community members are invited to attend, share ideas and learn more about the league.
LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS' MISSION
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 influence public policy through education and advocacy.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.