January 06, 2020

Century-old civil rights org evolves with the times

By Katharine Biele

Men. People of color. Youth. LGBTQ. This may not be what you think of the League of Women Voters, but it is who we are today.

As the League enters its 100th year anniversary, people of diverse backgrounds are here to celebrate with us and remember that giving women the right to vote was just one more step toward enfranchising all Americans.

The League is fully committed to the concept of diversity, equity and inclusion, emphasizing that, “there shall be no barriers to full participation in this organization.” This has not always been the case, as our League leadership readily admits.

While the 15th Amendment of 1870 gave the right to vote to black males, that right did not extend to black women. And you may not realize that the passage of the 19th Amendment didn’t extend at first to any race other than Caucasians.

Sadly, even the women’s suffrage movement was rife with inequality and racism. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, that African American women officially won the right to vote.

This is part of the League’s past, something we have learned and grown from. Empowering voters, defending democracy – that is our motto. As a nonpartisan civic group, the League neither supports nor opposes any candidate or party.

League members are up at the Capitol or at your city council meetings advocating on positions we have thoroughly studied. Clean air, for instance, has long been an issue of importance.

A 1966 League study came up with this position: “The members of the League of Women Voters of Salt Lake agree that objective evidence of air pollution in the Salt Lake area justifies immediate and vigorous abatement activities. An abatement program should attempt to balance considerations of health, economics and aesthetics.”

If you are concerned about the impact of the proposed Inland Port, this is another issue the League has taken a position on.

Ultimately, the League believes that our vote is the best way to preserve democracy, and we conduct numerous voter registration drives, including at naturalization ceremonies.

In Utah, nearly 300,000 women are eligible to vote but not registered. And many registered voters simply stay home, believing wrongly that their vote doesn’t matter. This past Salt Lake election should disprove that. A mere 182 votes separated one incumbent city council member from election. A Midvale council spot was won by only 18 votes.

The League is here for all citizens, but we also need citizens to work with us. “We envision a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge and the confidence to participate,” our national League proclaims.

The League “encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.”

To find out more about what the League of Women Voters does, how it is structured and how to join, visit https://www.lwvutah.org.

Katharine Biele is a local journalist and current president of the League of Women Voters of Salt Lake. Having served on many boards, she is actively involved in her community and church, and is past president of the Utah Women’s Forum.