Editorial: League’s influence on staying in the know, politically, is worth praise

  • Attendees of the first meeting of the League of Women Voters of Franklin County fill a room at Temple Israel in 2017. Recorder FILE/Matt Burkhartt

Friday, March 02, 2018

It’s hard to believe it’s been just over a year since the League of Women Voters of Franklin County formed.

The advocates of democracy, starting at the local grass roots, were energized and came together after the last presidential election, in large part because women felt voters had been uninformed and confused by “fake news” and other conflicting stories on social media. And judging from all the real news that has emanated from Washington since those days, the league leaders were prescient.

But unlike so many of us, the league, starting with the organizer of the Franklin County chapter, Marie Gauthier of Shelburne Falls, hasn’t settled for hand-wringing or resting at the oars. In the past year, league members were actively involved in organizing several candidate forums and debates in Greenfield, and programs designed to encourage people to run for office at every level.

And they are at it again.

The League has planned a Sunday forum to encourage voters to become candidates for the upcoming election season.

“Run for Something! A Forum on Public Service” will be held at 2 p.m. at 170 Main St. in Greenfield. Panelists include Charlemont Selectboard member and Rural Commonwealth Co-Director Beth Bandy; Greenfield Town Council Vice Chair Penny Ricketts; and former Greenfield School Committee member Francia Wisnewski, who chairs the Hampshire-Franklin Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. It’s wonderful to see these smart, experienced women who have been dedicated to good governance locally, set an example and actively encourage others to follow their lead.

“We’ll discuss practicalities, the nuts and bolts of running for office,” said League President Gauthier. “But we also want to highlight the other opportunities to serve that exist, and encourage people to seek them out.”

She said the league is “all about actively participating in democracy, not only through voting, but by taking part” by seeking office. While there are efforts to attract women to run for higher office, she said, this forum is aimed at providing information to anyone interested in serving at any level.

“There are so many open seats for positions that are volunteer driven,” she said, “and this free, and open-to-the-public forum is geared to conveying that ordinary citizens are “completely capable of taking these things on.”

We encourage as many people as possible to attend Sunday’s program.

Just weeks after it formed last year, the league ran a similar program that featured several elected local government leaders, who happened to be women. The message of that forum bears repeating, and the more we can do to encourage women — and people from other under-represented groups — to run for office, the sooner our legislatures and town governments will reflect the makeup of our communities. And we’ll be better for it, too.

The league’s chapters in Massachusetts have supported automatic voter registration, expansion of early voting and measures to increase voter turnout. They want more civic engagement and more civility in public discourse.

After the last election, people feel they need to do more, to become more engaged — starting locally. And we have the league to thank for leading the way.