League of Women Voters of Brookhaven navigates tense political climate

League of Women Voters of Brookhaven navigates tense political climate

Carrie Chapman Catt, center, in white, leads a group of suffragists in a New York City parade staged in the fall of 1917 to gain support for woman suffrage. Photo from League of Women Voters website

In an increasingly polarized and heated political climate, a historic, nonpartisan, multi-issue grassroots organization is doing its best to remain focused on important matters. Representatives from the League of Women Voters of Brookhaven, a local “league” or chapter of a nationwide organization, discussed their mission amid today’s politics during a May interview.

Belle Sherwin, center, wearing plaid coat and hat with feather, and other women members walk down from jury panel to hear civil and commercial cases in Cleveland, Ohio, court in February 1923. Photo from LWV website

The League of Women Voters of the United States was formed after the 19th Amendment was passed, with the purpose of informing women about the issues by studying both sides of each question and coming to an agreement on what they would support. The Shoreham-Wading River League was started in 1934 and others in South Brookhaven and North Brookhaven were formed in 1949. Shoreham-Wading River and North Brookhaven merged in 1960, then the North and South Brookhaven Leagues merged in 1979, to form the present-day League of Women Voters of Brookhaven. The various leagues do not endorse any candidates running for office but instead select several important issues to local voters and carefully establish league positions on them. They also monitor government activities on all levels in the hopes of presenting facts to the public.

“We don’t ask what party you’re with, we don’t ask your nationality, we’re very careful to be in support of issues and we don’t discuss candidates or parties or anything like that,” Joan Nickeson, a three-year member of the Brookhaven League said.

Issues on the league’s agenda for the current year include a desire to reform campaign finance, defending the environment, reforming immigration policy to establish a path to citizenship, ensuring access to affordable health care for all Americans and many more. The agenda for the National League is established from the ground up, with local leagues brainstorming important issues and positions on those issues.

The Brookhaven League, which currently has 67 members — including two men — has public board meetings once a month, 10 months per year. There are also two yearly public meetings, one in the spring and one in the fall, to discuss issues and establish positions. The league also produces and distributes pamphlets with lists of elected officials in all levels of government, helps people register to vote and overall strives to inform voters above all else.

Nancy Marr the current president of the Brookhaven league and a member of the various Suffolk County versions since 1954 said the goal is to examine both sides of issues before taking a stance. However, Marr said she could see the league getting slightly bolder in their positions should they ever see fit.

“When you look at some of those suffragette pictures, they’re really out there in costume,” Marr said of the enthusiasm of those around when the league was first created. “I would think the league would do that if we really wanted to support say climate change.”

A League of Women Voters march in the 1920s. Photo from League of Women Voters website

League member Jean Baker said the current political discourse has made it difficult at times to remain neutral and adhere to the league’s principles.

“It’s tricky because sometimes you have to hold your tongue and keep your cool when people are saying things you think are crazy and not thoughtful,” Baker said.

Nickeson reiterated that there are other grassroots activist organizations out there for people interested in creating controversy or boldly attacking or endorsing specific candidates. The league plans to remain a steady, guiding example of issue-first political conversation.

“I think we’re so concerned about our integrity,” Nickeson said.

To learn more about the League of Women Voters of Brookhaven or to become a member visit www.lwv.org/local-league/lwv-brookhaven/.

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