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League of Women Voters’ mission is as relevant now as ever

In this volatile political climate, where everyone has an opinion and wants it heard, it can sometimes be difficult to attend family dinners, local barbecues and even a casual chat with the neighbors. The last year-and-a-half has been a challenge for our divided country and surely a challenge for any politically minded organization, especially one whose mission it is to be bipartisan and neutral, such as The League of Women Voters. Over the past year, the League has been extremely active while keeping to its mission, working to increase understanding of public policy issues through education and advocacy.

 We ventured out to answer questions, qualify news reports, and clarify voting issues and rights in our state of Connecticut. Nestled in the comfortable hills of Litchfield County, we may feel we are living in silos, and yet neighbor-to-neighbor conversations can be one of the most effective forms of sharing political information. 

The League is inclusive, counting Republicans, Democrats and Independents among its members. We strive to stay on a course of neutral, unbiased, informative and educational programs so we can support our community. We turn to one another in our neighborhoods, and at work, to vent our frustrations and confusion, hoping we can join together, get clarification and bridge the divides. 

Our local efforts have been quite successful, always following a very fine line to take stock of what to do and how to engage for the best possible outcomes. As we comprise all parties, we carefully outline our discussions to include all viewpoints. When the League board organizes its various events, we plan each group meeting to reflect all concerns:  What does our community most value? What issues seem most important? What worries them?  What matters most? What are the core values the community holds most dear and would like to support together?

Since the point of political conversation is to exchange views and to learn, one of the main goals of the League is to bring vital information to the forefront so we can be educated about our community, state and country.  As Thomas Jefferson said, “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.” 

At a time when many of us are trying to channel agitation and anger into effective action, small, neighbor-to-neighbor groups are one of the most effective forms of political discussion and an antidote to lack of knowledge and isolation. The League has made a point of organizing these types of activities to discuss controversial topics that encourage civil discussion and offer an exchange of ideas and opinions.

At a discussion on gerrymandering in January, for instance, featured speaker and U.S. history scholar John Dasher enlightened us on how and why this process may give one party an unfair advantage over its rival. We were happy to learn about the basics of redistricting and how important it is to us as we head into future elections. 

Connecticut has concealed, as well as open carry of firearms. This topic carried over to an open discussion for the entire chapter on the matter of gun safety in February. The March Lunch and Learn was then dedicated to further action on how to educate the community and collect feedback on concerns and ideas for action.

Our belief is that the proliferation of guns is a health and safety threat, and we support regulating firearms for consumer safety.  To further that position, we encourage discussion and the creation of gun-free zones where the public gathers.

When you are on opposite sides of the fence over a very fiery issue, control is sometimes not easy. However, if we are to see a return to civility, a time of easy-going neighbor-to-neighbor over-the-fence chats, now may be the time to listen and to hear. Persuasion is the opposite of curiosity, and it may not be the time to campaign or persuade, but rather to listen and share varying positions and points of view. After all, we must live, work, and enjoy our lives together as neighbors here in Litchfield County. We hope to attend concerts, fairs, sit next to each other in restaurants and at the Lakes and appreciate in harmony all the natural beauty we are afforded, together.

 

Doreen Deary lives in Litchfield County and has been a member of the League of Women Voters of Litchfield County since 2008.