Making Democracy Work

Steering Committee

FEBRUARY MESSAGE FROM THE STEERING COMMITTEE

No one needs reminding that we are less than a year away from a major presidential election year. Recently it was pointed out that this election year will be one of the most important in a generation. The next president will likely name one if not more Supreme Court Justices. The importance of change in the Justices sitting on the Supreme Court on decisions regarding campaign finance and voter rights is evident in recent reversals of decisions on these two topics.

This will be the first federal election without the full protections of the Voters Rights Act of 1965. We have heard of numerous state laws passed recently which have the effect of disenfranchising voters. We in New York State have limited options for voter registration and voting options outside of our polling place on Election Day. There is much work to be done to make voting easier and to encourage participation by all eligible.

This will probably also be the most expensive federal election ever with a large portion of the dollars coming from a small number of very wealthy donors (a majority estimated to come from just 159 families).

In January our League held a consensus meeting to update a position on campaign finance to recognize the effect of First Amendment rights decisions on campaign finance regulation and allow the League to take action to protect our democratic process from the influence of a small number of large donors and the effect of large contributions from corporations and other organizations with large pocketbooks. This study was part of the process of collecting grassroots ideas from local Leagues to determine priorities.

Program planning meetings by local Leagues in 2014 resulted in approval at the National Convention in 2014 of three areas of program and study. One area was money in politics, another was a study of the process of amending the United States Constitution, and the third was a review of the redistricting process for federal Congressional offices.

This year there will be another National Convention of the LWVUS which will be held in Washington, DC in June 2016. In preparation, our League and all others will hold program planning meetings in order to identify priorities for the next two years.

Some of the most important work done by the League includes:

1) Registering and educating new voters on voting procedures and how to arrive at the correct polling place prepared to have their vote count.

2) Work done to protect the vote so that each vote cast is counted.

3) Empowering the vote with nonpartisan information about candidates and issues with our Voter Guides, campaign forums, and web-based candidate information at VOTE411.org.

4) Getting out the vote. New York has low voter turnout numbers. Many feel that elected officials don't represent their needs and that their vote does not count. Yet the best way to combat big money's influence is to get more informed voters participating in the election.

A recent survey of League members nationwide indicated that the most important issues faced by our nation today include the influence of money in politics, voter rights, redistricting, and climate change. As we hold our February 9th program planning meeting, let us identify what issues we in Schenectady County think need to be the focus of our organization on both a national and a local level and consider the positions we have previously developed to see if they allow us to take needed action. We can then provide our input to the national League for planning the direction Leagues at all levels will take in 2017-2018.

This is important work and a great way to see how the League functions as a grassroots organization. This meeting is your chance to have your opinions influence both our national League and our local Leagues. Please join us on February 9th!

Carol Furman, Lead

DECEMBER / JANUARY MESSAGE FROM THE STEERING COMMITTEE

It's December. The last month of the year. Short days, dark nights; lights strung up in trees and around houses...points of light in the gloom...little beacons of hope for brighter days ahead.

There have been bright spots in a rather dark 2015..., a nuclear deal was reached with Iran after decades of sanctions were unsuccessful at stopping the development of nuclear weapon capability, diplomatic relations were reopened with Cuba after 54 years, Obamacare subsidies for low income Americans were upheld by the Supreme Court. What else has 2015 seen?

January saw the offices of Charlie Hebdo attacked to punish the Paris magazine for publishing cartoons of Mohammed. In March, Hillary was revealed to have used personal email for State communications while she was Secretary of State...leading to endless hearings...and Netanyahu was invited by the Speaker of the House to speak to Congress against the Iran deal.

In April, mandatory water restrictions were imposed on Californians by Governor Jerry Brown in response to a multi-year drought. He warned, "..It's a different world...the climate is changing...we're in for tough times..." A huge earthquake hit Nepal killing over 8000 people. And Freddy Gray died in police custody in Baltimore, provoking protests against racially motivated police violence. Just one of a number of incidents of questionable police behavior toward blacks which came to public notice after Ferguson became news in August 2014.

In May, Ebola was declared over in Liberia after a yearlong effort to control and eradicate the disease. `Grexit' was the watchword as we held our collective breath while Greece decided whether it would accept the bailout terms being offered and stay in the EU or not. It did.

Pope Francis visited the US and spoke to Congress and the UN in September...and continued on to Cuba. Speaker Boehner resigned from his position in the House of Representatives not long after the Pope's visit. After several uncertain weeks, during which Boehner did manage, with bipartisan support, to get a two year budget deal passed, Paul Ryan became the new Speaker. In Paris in mid-November, coordinated bombings by ISIS killed 130 people.

Refugees are flowing into Europe at an unprecedented rate; many from Syria, but also from countries in Africa. Syria is still at war. ISIS has become a worldwide concern. Many issues seem intractable but on the positive side, Secretary of State John Kerry is still hopeful about negotiating.

Also positive, in December, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference will, for the first time in 20 years of climate meetings, aim to achieve a legally binding agreement to keep the increase in global temperature less than 2 degrees C...believed to be the point at which life on the planet would fundamentally change.

Little points of light...may they grow and shine more and more brightly...

Ruth Bonn, Lead

STEERING COMMITTEE

Carol Furman (346-2746)

Lead for December 2015 - January, February, June 2016

Cheryl Nechamen (346-4820)

Lead for March - May 2016

Ruth Bonn (384-0804)

Lead (completed)