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LWV Volunteering Pays It Forward

Published on 12/30/2023
“You can study government and politics in school, but the best way to really understand the process is to volunteer your time.”
— Rob McKenna 

In a recent conversation with Bari Weiss, The Atlantic’s Caitlyn Flanagan reflected on her father’s constant response to Flanagan’s arguments about issues that mattered. “But what’s the other side’s best argument?” He’d ask to her dismay. 

Any teacher of critical thought and rhetoric worth their salt always asks their students to address the counterargument and the audience. When that happens poorly, the currency of ink is wasted and participants in a democracy miss out on understanding the “other” side. Since democracy is a civic bargain that necessitates compromise, understanding both sides means understanding what we’re giving away to make a peaceable bargain.

Also recently the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik reviewed two books on the state of democracy, and noted that historian Heather Cox Richardson misses the mark with her book Democracy Awakening: Notes on the State of America. She seems to preach only to a sympathetic audience, prompting Gopnik to ask, “To whom is it directed? If you accept this history, you’ll accept her diagnosis, and if you don’t, her book won’t make you. Opposing arguments aren’t seriously entertained, even to be dismissed.”

Then Gopnik turns to the Civic Bargain by Brook Manville and Josiah Ober to be challenged about recent hype that democracy is in a state of demise, particularly because the previous president resisted the American tradition of a peaceful transfer of power. Yes, that stressed our democracy, and, yes, we may be in either a crisis or experiencing growing pains. It all depends on how we the people elect to respond to those surprising stressors. 

Having read Manville and Ober’s history and analysis, one can appreciate their approach to how self-governing citizens deal with tensions around unbending moral mandates (whether this is addressing abortion, climate change, equity for all or poverty) versus compromise. Democracy never finishes the work, they assert. Democracy requires its people to remain awake, active and engaged, not as angry vigilantes but as contributors. That is the civic bargain, they say. Those tensions between moral imperatives and compromise remain an uneasy but effective means of giving citizens the right to self-governance in the most pitched battles of our day.

Since its founding, the League of Women Voters has pledged itself to this civic bargain with its expectation of civic engagement. Each local League has the mandate to study critical issues - where tensions may arise - and to take stances, but all Leagues are called to invite membership of people of all ideological persuasions, to educate each other and to hold our representatives accountable to the people, because that is the central functioning principle of democracy. 

It’s what drives the volunteers who chair the League’s board, attend the meetings and run the Observer Corp. Each is committed to the role of democracy in working on governance issues between people who inevitably have strong stances that disagree with one another. Our volunteers include pro-life and pro-choice people. Some support school choice in some forms, while others stand strongly for the protection of public education. Each can see the best arguments for both sides and is working out how to vote for a healthy democracy in their time and place.

The League invites diverse volunteers and welcomes you. Here’s what some of our volunteers, say about being members of the League of Women Voters - why they participate and why it matters.
Joyce Burnett, who has been treasurer since 2008 and a member much longer, says,” Democracy won't survive unless we make an effort to support it. It is important to be connected to your community, and volunteering helps me do that.”

Karen Gunther, board secretary, has served with the League for nearly 17 years. Like many of our members, she’s filled multiple positions and learned about the League when she was younger. Her mother was a member. - Over the years, Gunther and other League members have given resources to multiple “valued” causes. It’s sort of a truism that active people tend to support many causes. Locally members support the Free Clinic, Youth Services Bureau, Animal Welfare League, HUE and its many smaller committees, local churches, the Economic Health Committee, Crawfordsville Planning Commission, the Zoning Board, teaching classes at the library, and Community Growers of Montgomery County, to name a few. Each of those makes our community better in unique way.

Board member Alex Thomas has worked with the League off and on for years. She and Board Co-president Summer Ervin head the Lunch with the League. Thomas says the League is an asset to our community, educating citizens about exercising their right to vote and government transparency which helps democracy work.

Myra Dunn Abbott facilitates the Acter Voter Services Committee because voting is “paramount to democracy!” She and her husband Paul ensure that there are rack cards with dates and voting locations in 20-plus locations county-wide. Her committee promotes 411 to help voters check their registration and learn about candidates. 2024 is a critical year, she says. “Our ultimate goal is increasing voter turnout. We work closely with Karyn Douglas, Clerk-Treasurer for Montgomery County.  [Douglas] believes our work has helped make Montgomery County citizens aware of the importance of voting and increased voter turnout.” Having been in the League in multiple states since Dunn Abbott was young, she found that “People of all stripes have revered the League for its work.”

Currently serving as co-president, Helen Hudson has volunteered for 50 years in all manner of positions, building a memorable network of friends in the League. Hudson taught students for 40-plus years that “democracies don’t just happen. They are very intentional attempts to honor each individual in a society’s ideas and thoughts.  What a precious heritage.  League always helps forward that mission of democracy.” Hudson adds, “The League began with the mission to educate women newly empowered to vote because of the 19th Amendment.  From the start, women leaders knew that it was not registering to vote that really made the difference but helping all citizens become aware and understanding about issues at the local, state, and national levels.” 

Happy Holidays from the League of Women Voters!