New League of Women Voters chapter forming

  • Warwick's antique ballot box counted 362 ballots near 4:30 p.m. Tuesday. RECORDER STAFF/SHELBY ASHLINE

  • Erving residents vote at the town hall on Tuesday night in the privacy of patriotic voting booths. Recorder/Micky Bedell

Recorder Staff
Sunday, January 08, 2017

SHELBURNE FALLS — Sparked by concerns over November’s presidential election and worries that western Massachusetts isn’t being heard on Beacon Hill, about 40 people gathered last week in the Arms Library to hear plans for starting a Franklin County League of Women Voters.

The Thursday meeting was organized by Marie Gauthier of Shelburne Falls.

“My resolution this year is to be of use in the world. Paying attention and contributing to the civic life of my community seems like a good place to start,” she said. Gauthier, who works for a small, nonprofit press and has three children, recently joined the League, soon after the presidential election.

“I go to school committee meetings and town meetings, but I don’t see as many others of the community attending,” she said. “I want to get others involved; I want to make sure we can make a difference. After the election, people feel they need to do more, to become more engaged — starting locally.”

Besides those who came to the meeting, Gauthier has at least another 35 people interested in joining, she said.

Next meeting: Jan. 29

On Jan. 29, a second meeting will be held in Greenfield, at a time and place to be announced. Jean Cherdack of Ashfield, president of the Northampton Area League of Women Voters, spoke to the group at the Arms Library. She said the LWV state membership chairwoman, Marilyn Peterson, will attend the Greenfield meeting, and people will be able to join.

Gauthier will head the new Franklin County chapter.

Although the League must stay nonpartisan — supporting platforms instead of political personalities — Cherdack said the League has seen rekindled interest in the organization since Donald Trump was elected president.

“Our membership is increasing,” Cherdack remarked. “Our Concord-Carlisle League took on 20 new members. We have an opportunity to grow again, but we have to stay nonpartisan and work on the issues.”

The last big growth spurt for the League was when the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was approved in 1972, she said.

Cherdack said the League of Women Voters was started in 1920, and that the Northampton League is a 97-year-old, founding League.

“There used to be a League in Greenfield, but it folded,” she said.

When asked why they had come to the meeting, many participants mentioned the recent election and their concerns that voters were uninformed and confused by “fake news” and other conflicting stories on social media. Others, including Charlemont Selectboard Chairman Beth Bandy, said they wanted to work on issues through the League that most affect rural western Massachusetts.

“We do have a lot of clout on Beacon Hill,” Cherdack said. “We’re an old, very well-respected organization.”

Many said they wanted to go into high schools, working with students and giving them information about registering to vote.

“They seemed really energized,” Cherdack remarked. “I think we’ll be ready to be recognized by the state in early February.”

Last fall, the Northampton Area League participated in Senate candidate forums and distributed information about the proposed ballot questions.

Among the actions taken by the LWV in Massachusetts have been support of automatic voter registration, expansion of early voting and measures to increase voter turnout. They want more civic engagement and more civility in public discourse, reduced health care costs, and support for women’s rights issues, including abortion and gender equality in wages, insurance and other areas. Cherdack said a group is completing a two-year study of charter schools, which was underway well before last fall’s ballot question arose. Another group is beginning to study climate change, which might eventually result in a platform for the League.