Much of the political landscape — local, statewide and across the nation — has changed in the past five decades.
But members of the nonprofit, non-partisan League of Women Voters of Clallam County say their focus remains unchanged: “To promote informed and active citizen participation in government.”
“There are crops of people who are interested in good government,” says local league member Sue Erzen. “I don’t find that’s changed (over the years). They’re interested in transparency and integrity.”
With about 100 members strong, the League of Women Voters of Clallam County celebrates 50 years of encouraging good grassroots government via forums, activism and voter registration with a historical exhibit and drama, “Shattered Ceilings,” all set for Sunday, March 18, at the Old Dungeness Schoolhouse, 2741 Towne Road. Directed by Carol Swarbrick Dries, “Shattered Ceilings” is is a dramatic performance celebrating women who were directly involved with the Suffrage Movement (see side).
In addition, league members will have on display at the schoolhouse historical photos, documents and other milestones from the organization’s first 50 years.
“I think it’s one of the most respected non-partisan groups in the U.S.,” said Vicci Rudin, a league member.
The League of Women Voters was founded by Carrie Chapman Catt in 1920 during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The convention was held six months before the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote after a seven-decade struggle.
As national league members note, the organization began as “a ‘mighty political experiment’ designed to help 20 million women carry out their new responsibilities as voters,” encouraging them to use their new power to participate in shaping public policy.
The League of Women Voters’ presence in Clallam County dates back to early 1967, when a group of women attended a meeting held at Peninsula College. Representatives from the Washington State League attended, providing guidance about how to launch their local branch. Meeting minutes indicate that the new league had 35 members. Initial interest to league members were the subjects of Hollywood Beach development and Dungeness Spit proposals.
The Clallam County league was recognized as an official chapter of the League of Women Voters of the United States in 1968.
In ensuing years, the league has organized local studies and advocated on many issues of significance to the residents of Clallam County; highlights have included opposition to Port Angeles Harbor becoming an oil port, and developing positions on natural resources, growth management, local agriculture and sustainability, Clallam County’s charter government, healthcare and local and state taxation.
Clallam’s local leadership now includes president Linda Benson, vice president Paula Barnes, treasurer Mickie Vail, secretary Elaine Baker, membership representative Nell Clausen and members-at-large Helga Montgomery and Marcia Radey.
Active, bipartisan efforts
One of the hallmarks of the League of Women Voters, Rudin said, is a level of civility that, in essence negates outlying political agendas.
“Part of the basic tenant of being in the league is your willingness to discuss issues in a civilized manner,” Rudin said. “We have people who want to come together and understand issues.”
The league has Republicans and Democrats, Erzen said, but instead of focusing on partisan politics the league focuses on issues affecting all citizens.
“We get consensus because (we focus on) broad-reaching ideas, not the details; it’s definitely a bipartisan effort,” Erzen said.
“We certainly try to have strong positions on election procedures and campaign finance,” Rudin said.
Rudin joined the league in 1969 when she was living in California.
“At that time I had been teaching civics and history,” she said. “The league was a good source of information.”
She’s served as a board member for local chapters for several years and taken part with several committees, including one focused on the Clallam County charter.
But that isn’t atypical of League of Women Voters members, she said. Clallam County’s league has more than a half-dozen active committees, ranging from the Dungeness Watershed Group to the Heathcare Committee to a book discussion group.
Erzen, a League of Women Voters member for about 50 years, joined the league when she lived in Maine and kept her membership when she moved to Clallam County about 20 years ago.
She has chaired the Observer Corps for the last decade. The group attends public meetings of local government jurisdictions such as Sequim and Port Angeles city councils and the Board of County Commissioners, then provides written summaries of these meetings to league members.
“It’s a way for people to know what’s going on in addition to what’s in the (news)paper,” Erzen said. “We try to be the eyes and ears for our league members.”
Erzen noted that those sub-group members do not speak for or against any issues.
“We’re not there to speak for the league,” Erzen said.
The League of Women Voters may show support for an issue but they do not back one candidate or another, Erzen said. Still, the league will host candidate forums for citizens to get information about their potential representatives. The league also produces publications such as TRY (“They Represent You”), providing contact and other information about area government leaders.
In looking through history of the League of Women Voters of Clallam County, Erzen said she found several interesting league activities, from hosting solar home tours in the 1980s to a kind of tongue-in-cheek production called “Morese Creek Members,” about the threat of nuclear war. (These and other pieces of league history will be on display this weekend.)
“It (the play) is done with humor, but you see these patterns in history,” Erzen said.
For more about the League of Women Voters of Clallam County, see my.lwv.org/washington/clallam-county.