Women voters seek to inform public
PORTLAND – When South Portland resident Lorraine Glowczak joined the Portland Area League of Women Voters two years ago, she was looking for a way to contribute to society. Glowczak knew she wanted to make a difference in her community, she just didn’t know which organization would best match her civic principles. That is, until she sat in on a meeting of the group.
“I was impressed with the nonpartisan approach the league takes when educating the public on various public policy issues,” Glowczak said. “The biggest factor, however, was, and continues to be, the integrity in which the league adheres to their mission. I didn’t witness that in other organizations I had been considering.”
According to the League of Women Voters’ website, www.lwv.org, the nonpartisan organization was founded in 1920 during a National American Woman Suffrage Association convention, six months before women were given the right to vote, thanks to the ratification of the 19th amendment. The founders eschewed political loyalties to prevent the organization from being entangled in party politics. Today, the league functions on a local, state and national level.
Approximately 70 members strong, the Portland Area League of Women Voters includes residents of South Portland, Freeport, Windham, Raymond, Cumberland, Westbrook and Portland.
Glowczak said the League of Women Voters provides a platform for people to become self-educated about hot-topic issues through study and education.
In October, for example, the Portland Area League of Women Voters hosted a panel discussion on the right to privacy versus the right to free speech titled, “Whose Rights?” The informational meeting was held in response to the debate over whether a “buffer zone” should be implemented between Planned Parenthood in Portland and anti-abortion protesters.
Although the Portland Area League of Women Voters invited representatives from both camps to speak at the informational meeting, none of the protestors responded to the request.
“We provide an opportunity for all sides to speak their perspective. Then the people in the audience can ask questions. In the two years that I’ve participated in this, it’s always been a very civil discourse,” Glowczak said. “That’s why I really enjoy (being a member). It helps people to make their own decisions without being intimidated.”
In addition to self-education, national board member and South Portland resident Anne Schink said the league has spent the last five to 10 years working to protect residents’ voting rights regarding restrictions on absentee ballots and early voting, as well as voter ID laws.
“Maine has had a very liberal voter registration process and we’ve had to fight hard to protect that,” Schink said.
The League of Women Voters actively advocates for voting rights, clean elections, campaign finance reform and ethics and disclosure on a national, state and local level. But when it comes to taking a national position on newer, controversial issues, the process can be painstakingly long.
Before coming to a consensus on an issue, the league studies the topic in question for at least two years.
Glowczak conceded the process can be frustrating for some people.
Just before Portland voted to allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, the Portland Area American Civil Liberties Union approached the Portland Area League of Women Voters and asked them to back them in support of legalization.
“Well, you can never come to the league if they don’t have a position on something. It’s going to take us two years,” Glowczak said. ”So it frustrates some people, but because they came to us, now we have a platform. So maybe in November we’ll have an informational meeting to discuss the issues that this organization wants to discuss.”
Although the league has had a presence in Maine for more than 90 years, Glowczak said the organization’s work will never be done.
About 10 years ago the Portland chapter was extremely active, boasting a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer. In the years that followed those seats have become empty and now Glowczak and the rest of the leadership team is tasked with reestablishing those positions.
“We started about two years ago and we have done exceptionally well. We’ve accomplished a lot in two years, but we have so much more to do,” Glowczak said.
In addition to increasing community awareness through monthly informational meetings, the Portland area chapter also plans to reestablish an active board of directors – as well as a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer – by the end of 2014, increase membership and host at least two voter registration drives a year.
In the future, Schink would also like to see the Portland Area League of Women Voters provide leadership training opportunities to those who are interested in organizational development. She would also like to see the group support immigrants in their effort to become active participants in the election process.
Though the Portland area league has its work cut out, Glowczak said she’s found the last two years extremely rewarding.
“Civic engagement is important for obvious reasons, which is to serve and help your community and the people within it – to make the world a better place to live,” said Glowczak. “But more importantly, I think we reach our greatest potential and thus become happier participants in the world when we step outside of ourselves, to create just a little hope, to lighten just a little burden from others’ lives and to live for something that truly matters.”
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