This is What Happens When More than 400,000 Enthusiastic Advocates Rally Together to Save Our Planet

The following blog is written by Toni Zimmer, President, League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

You Make Friends…

ToniFrom the moment I stepped onto the bus chartered by the Sierra Club, I knew this was going to be an extraordinary day. How could it not? Our bus captain was Susan Williams, President of the Highlands Chapter of the Sierra Club. Susan is a dynamic woman who never seems to run out of energy. She’s also a very dedicated advocate for just about every environmental cause you can imagine. We smiled as she checked my name off on the roster, and I found an empty seat next to Michele Guttenberger. Like me, Michele is a member of the LWV of Sussex Highlands. She is also the president of AAUW-Sussex. We really never had the chance to chat in earnest. In fact, we hardly knew each other. Little did I know that Michele and I would end up spending the entire day and a good part of the evening practically joined at the hip. Literally! I’ll explain later.

It took us about one hour to reach the Lincoln Tunnel and make our way ClimateMarchthrough the darkness and into the brilliant sunlight of the city. There was another Sierra Club chartered bus leaving from Morris County, and my friend, LWVNJ VP of Advocacy, Nancy Hedinger was on it. I gave her a call.  “Are you there yet?” I asked, “Yes. We’re here,” she said. “I’m on West 84th between Central Park West & Amsterdam Avenue.” Good thing I had worked in the city for many years before moving to New Jersey, so I knew just where to find her once we arrived.  “Okay,” I told her, “We’ll see you soon!”  The bus meandered its way through heavy traffic as we headed uptown. People on the bus were beginning to speak just a little bit louder, their voices a tiny bit higher. We were getting excited. I turned to Michele and said, “I feel like a kid – ‘Are we there yet?’” We laughed.

You Ride the Subway…

We finally arrived at our destination, and Susan was busy giving us last minute instructions on where the buses would be parked once the March was over. “Please mClimate Marchake sure you get back to 23rd St. and 11th Avenue by 4 p.m. everyone. Okay?”  We all replied in unison. “Okay,” and then we shrieked and gave Susan and our bus driver a loud round of applause. Now, I was anxious to meet up with some of the League members I knew were going to be there. We met Nancy a short while later, and she left us to meet her daughter who would also be joining in on the March. We said goodbye, and that was the last time we saw each other. Sigh.

climatemarch3It seemed sensible to take the subway to travel from 86th Street downtown to 66th Street, one of the main staging areas for the March. It was almost 10:30 a.m. and the March was scheduled to start at 11. Michele and I bought a metro card and took the subway downtown to 72nd Street. It was humid outside, but the subway car was air conditioned and we were loving it. “Nice,” said Michele, “I would never have imagined.” When we stepped off of the subway and made our way to the street, we were in awe of the magnitude of people, some already lined up within the wide margin solely cordoned off for those who were ready to march. Others crammed together on the sidewalk and strained against each other in the side streets, angling for position to make headway toward the coveted center margin area where they would eventually be part of the march. “Wow,” was all I could say. I looked around at the endless sea of faces, listened to the constant tune of chatter and chanting, and I knew. We wouldn’t be marching together with Rosalee Keech, or Ellie Gruber, or Ann Armstrong, or…well, you get it. But we were all there. United and connected as kindred spirits. Ready to represent the League of Women Voters as one, to show our support to the world for this historical effort.

You Feel the Goodness…

This was turning into something bigger than I could have ever imagined. I had ClimateMarch6been to events, rallies, last year’s March on Washington. But this was different in so many ways. There were people here who were so like-minded, and they had no personal agendas, other than to see to it that they, their families, and the future generations of our planet would have a chance to survive. And they were determined to march for more than two miles beneath the glare of the hot sun to prove it. Believe me, it’s very warm when you are in such close proximity to other human beings — elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder, back to stomach. These were good people, and we were all there for the same reason. Yes, I felt the goodness that day. But I missed meeting up to prepare to march with the rest of our League members.

ClimateMarch8“So,” I asked Michele, “What do you want to do now?” We were both feeling as though the March was not happening soon enough. Police officers stood guard around the perimeter of the barricades that separated the people who were lined up and ready to march, from those who were packed in on the outside – observing or, in some cases, begging the police to move the barricades aside to let them in. “Let’s take some pictures,” she said. And so we did. We took pictures of colorful banners and people with signs that spoke of the horrors in store if we didn’t bring about change.

But then, I noticed that we were beyond being “caught up” in the moment. We were, literally, caught up in the crowd. Outside of the marching perimeter, people were well-meaning, but they wanted to get closer to the street and were pressing us toward the barrier and we could barely move. At that point, I looked at Michelle and said, “I think I’m done for now.” She nodded her head, “Fine.” As it turned out, we had to call on a police officer to ask him to move a barricade to let us through to an “off-limits” space, so we could walk down and exit out of the area. At first, he said he couldn’t do it. I pointed to my button and sign. “I’m the president of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey,” I told him, “You can trust me – We’re honest people, and we won’t jump the line.”  He pulled back the barricade and let us through.

You Feel Human…climatemarch8

Michele and I had something to eat, and then we went back to join the crowd. We didn’t see any celebrities or famous politicians that day. We missed spotting Sting, Mayor DiBlasio, and Leonardo DiCaprio. The truth is, the people carrying the signs, the ones who chanted and walked for miles with hope and conviction in their hearts and smiles on their faces, those were the true stars. Each one a unique part of humankind that made the People’s Climate March so special. I’m truly grateful to have been a part of that and truly grateful to be a part of an organization that recognizes combating climate change as a top priority. I hope you will join our efforts as we go forward and join the League today.

People’s Climate March: March with the League!

The League of Women Voters of New Jersey, the League of Women Voters of the United States, and other Leagues around the country are participating in the People’s Climate March on Sunday, September 21. The March will bring together citizens from across the country and around the world from different backgrounds all with an interest in elevating the conversation around climate change.

People's Climate MarchThe League is excited to be a part of this historic event. League supporters wishing to attend the March can find resources for arranging for transportation on buses or trains that are being arranged by attendees from around the country. You can also follow news and information leading up to and live from the event on social media using the hashtag #PeoplesClimate. Sign-up to attend the People’s Climate March or find out more about how you can get involved!

Over 1,000 organizations will gather just north of Columbus Circle in New York City and begin marching at 11:30 am on September 21. Attendees are encouraged to bring signs, banners, and flags containing positive messages regarding the need to move forward in the fight for climate change. Attendees are also encouraged to wear t-shirts displaying the name of their organization or locality where they are from. A full page of logistical information including an overview of the march route is available.

The League of Women Voters of New Jersey will be joining up with the League of Women Voters of New York City. We will meet up at the Women’s group assembling area to be announced on the People’s Climate March website soon. Look for the League banner and a helium balloon of the earth.  LWVNJ President, Toni Zimmer is attending. Please email her at tzimmer@twgpower.com to let her know that you plan on attending.

Women’s Equality Day: The Journey Continues

The following is written by Toni Zimmer, President, League of Women Voters of New Jersey.

“We ask justice, we ask equality, we ask that all the civil and political rights that belong to citizens of the United States, be guaranteed to us and our daughters forever.” - Susan B. Anthony, Declaration of Rights for Women, July 1876

Today we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, the historic anniversary of August 26, 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified giving American women the right to vote. But please, don’t pop those champagne corks just yet – there is no denying that there is still so much more to be done, as well as undone.

Once again, women find themselves in a position where their right to make personal health care choices is being severely compromised and, in some cases, absolutely denied. In a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the court stated that corporations with religious beliefs that condemn the use of contraceptives are exempt from covering the cost of contraceptives to employees under their health care plans. We must continue to stand up for our rights to have control over how we choose to manage our own personal health care needs.

One of the most egregious decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court came to us last year, when it struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This decision gave nine states, mostly in the South, the ability to change their election laws without advance federal clearance. Section 4 was created to determine which states would need approval from the Justice Department or a federal court to make major or minor changes to voting procedures, such as relocating polling places or redrawing electoral districts. We applaud the vigilance and efforts on the part of the U.S. Attorney General to protect the voting rights of citizens in these affected states. However, we must continue to implore Congress to pass a new bill to determine which states would be covered under the special provisions of the Voting Rights Act once again.

A number of issues of inequality still cast an oppressive shadow over many women today. One of the most pressing is a quest to obtain equal pay for women. Today, women earn approximately 77 cents of one dollar that men earn. We know that two-thirds of households in the U.S. depend on a woman’s income to survive. In April, the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2014 failed to pass by six votes in the U.S. Senate. It was the third time in recent years that wage equality legislation failed to pass. The number of working women continues to grow, but the inequity does not change. We must continue to call on Congress to do the right thing and pass legislation that will help hard working women secure equal pay for equal work.

One of the most crucial solutions to resolving our ongoing quest to attain absolute equality, is for women to become more directly involved in government. Unfortunately, there has only been a slight increase in the number of women running for legislative office in New Jersey and collectively throughout the country. According to the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP), there are significant advantages realized when women succeed in government: “The American public rates women above or equal to men in seven of eight traits considered crucial for leadership – women are perceived as outgoing, hardworking, honest, intelligent, creative, compassionate, and ambitious. Women are ranked higher in public polling than men in five of seven key policymaking areas, including working out compromises, keeping government honest, standing up for what they believe in, and representing constituents interests.”

Let’s remember that Women’s Equality Day is also a time to celebrate our successes. So, lean back and close your eyes. Let your mind wander to that historical day in 1920 when women received the right to vote. Feel the joy, the emotion, the hope that filled the hearts of so many. Take genuine pride in knowing that the League of Women Voters was there to usher them across a new terrain, and has been present ever since to help ensure democracy, and equality, for all. Then join us as we keep working toward a brighter future.

 

Civics 101: Voting

The following blog post was written by Vishali Gandhi, LWVNJ summer intern.

The United States was founded upon principles of democratic government and freedoms, among them the right to vote for representatives in government. However, voting was not always universal. Voting rights were initially reserved for only white, property-owning males, but as the country grew and progressed, suffrage (the right to vote) expanded to include non-land owners, people of color, and women. While requirements to register differ according to state, in order to vote in New Jersey you must be a citizen of the U.S., 18 years of age by the time of the election, a resident of NJ for at least 30 days prior to the election, and you cannot be serving time in jail or on probation or parole for a felony.

In order to register to vote, you must complete a Voter Application form and either mail it or hand it in to either the Commissioner of Registration or Superintendent of EVotelections, depending on your county. You can check to see if you are registered and where you are registered through the Division of Elections website, or by calling your county’s Commissioner of Registration or Superintendent of Elections. You must register to vote at least 21 days before the date of the election in order to participate in that election.

General elections, including elections for the President, Governor, members of Congress, state legislators, and some county and municipal officials, are scheduled for the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November during a year in which an election is due. Primary elections, during which parties nominate a candidate to run during the general election, are held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June. New Jersey has closed primary elections, meaning that only voters who have registered with a party may vote in that party’s primary election (party affiliation can be declared when initially registering to vote on the Voter Registration form or can be declared or changed by filling out a Party Affiliation Change form). Municipal elections are generally held with the General Elections. However, some municipalities hold nonpartisan elections (in which officials do not affiliate with a particular party) on the second Tuesday in May.

The process of voting is relatively simple: once you enter the voting booth, you will see a screen on which there are options for each position that must be filled (you will receive a sample ballot in the mail before the election so you can familiarize yourself with the layout of the ballot beforehand). Before submitting your ballot with your choices, you can change your decision as many times as you like. Once the ballot has been submitted, however, it is final and cannot be changed. If you have any questions or concerns, poll workers are available to aid in the process.

VP of Advocacy Nancy Hedinger answers voter questions through hotline

LWVNJ VP of Advocacy Nancy Hedinger answers voter questions

In addition, you can call the League of Women Voters of NJ at 1-800-792-VOTE (8683) or contact@lwvnj.org with any questions, concerns, or comments. Lines at polling places are known to get very long, especially during particularly important elections such as general elections for the Governor or President. By law, if you are in line at your polling place when the polls close, you have a right to vote. In New Jersey, polls are open from 6:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.

If there is trouble with your registration, you may be asked to fill out a provisional ballot. A provisional ballot is a paper ballot that is administered in the following cases:

  • If your registration information is missing or is not complete in the poll book
  • If you moved from your registered address to another one in the same county and did not re-register at your new address
  • If you are a first-time voter and when you registered to vote you did not provide proper identification or the information you provided could not be verified and you did not bring your ID on Election Day (for your provisional ballot to be counted, you have until the close of business on the second day after the election to provide your county elections officials with the required ID information)
  • If you requested a vote-by-mail ballot but you never received it

Provisional ballots are counted only after they have been verified by the county’s Board of Elections.

Voting is a fundamental right and is vital for sustaining a democratic system, so it is very important to be aware of your rights when you go to vote. For first-time voters, familiarizing yourself with the ballot as well as knowing what to expect can be very helpful. The League of Women Voters of New Jersey has a wealth of information on voting rights, important dates and upcoming events, as well as a comprehensive “Frequently Asked Questions” page to help keep you informed.

Civics 101: How a Bill Becomes a Law

The following blog post was written by Vishali Gandhi, LWVNJ summer intern.

The United States government, both at the federal and state level, is divided into three distinct and separate branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. The legislature passes laws, the executive enforces them, and the judiciary resolves disputes with the law. The legislative branch is comprised of the U.S. Congress on the federal level and the N.J. State Legislature on the state level. Both bodies are bicameral, meaning that they are split into two “houses”. Congress is divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate and the N.J. legislature is divided into the General Assembly and the Senate. They are similar in structure and they have almost identical procedures for passing bills.

The legislative process can be incredibly daunting, to say the least. The passage of each bill is a laborious (and often long) process that starts with the conception of an idea and can end in either passage and enactment  or failure.

Rally in front of NJ State House

The first step in the process is the introduction of a bill onto the floor of the legislature. Bills can only be introduced by members of the legislature; however bills can often be inspired by concerns from constituents or interest groups (so contact your representative!). Once the bill has been drafted, it is assigned a name, which is read aloud on the floor of the legislature (this is referred to as the “first reading”). The member who introduced the bill is called the “sponsor”; if there are multiple members introducing and working on the bill, they are called the “co-sponsors”. Bills can be introduced in either house, both at the state and federal levels (except for federal money bills, which must originate in the U.S. House of Representatives).

After the bill has been introduced, it is sent to the appropriate committee for consideration. Congress and the N.J. Legislature each have their own sets of committees in both houses, each which deals with a particular area of legislation. A federal bill concerning the budget, for example, would be sent to the Ways and Means Committee in the House and the Appropriations Committee in the Senate. The committee considers the bill very carefully and often makes changes or amendments to bills (this process is called the “mark-up”). The committee can also decide to send the bill to a more specific subcommittee for further consideration and amendment. If the bill returns from the subcommittee, it can either be reported to the floor for a vote or it can be “tabled” (in effect, killing it).

New Jersey State House in Trenton

If the committee decides to report out the bill, it is put on the legislative calendar and is presented on the floor of the legislature once more (known as the second reading). At this time, any legislator can offer amendments to the bill and the floor is opened to debate. In the U.S. Senate, the bill can be filibustered, which involves delaying or stopping the passage of a bill by debating it for an extraordinarily long period of time (the record for the longest filibuster belongs to Senator Strom Thurmond who filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for over 24 hours). The only way to end a filibuster is to invoke cloture, which requires a three-fifths majority to vote in favor of ending the debate period. Once the debate has concluded and all amendments have been discussed and voted on, a third reading of the bill occurs.

After the third reading, the bill is put to a vote. The entire house votes on the passage of the bill, and if a simple majority (50% plus 1) votes in favor, the bill passes and moves on to the next step. The bill can also be sent back to committee for further consideration. This process is the same in both the federal and state legislatures.

If the bill passes, it is sent to the other house for consideration, where it may pass, fail, or be amended. After the process is complete in the second house, a conference committee, comprised of members from both houses, is formed to resolve any differences between the two bills. They must be approved in identical forms by both the houses in order to move out of either the Congress of the N.J. State Legislature.

Once the bill has undergone its final passage through both houses, it is sent to the desk of the president or governor. There are several things that can happen to the bill at this point: it can be signed by the president or governor, it can be vetoed (the governor has the power of the line-item veto, which allows him or her to remove any part of a  spending bill), or it can simply sit on his or her desk. If a bill sits on the governor’s desk for 45 days without any action, the bill automatically becomes law. If a bill sits on the president’s desk for 10 days (and if Congress is in session), the bill automatically becomes law. If the Congressional session ends during the 10 day period, the bill does not become law (this is called a pocket veto). If the bill is vetoed by either the president or the governor, the legislature can override it with a 2/3 vote; if there are not enough votes to override the veto, the bill is defeated. If the bill is signed (or the veto is overridden), it becomes law.

 

 

Democracy is Not a Spectator Sport

The following was written by Vishali Gandhi, LWVNJ summer intern.

On June 12th, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, in conjunction with several other groups, participated in a lobbying effort to promote the passage of Assembly bill 2108. A2108 would ban the treatment, disposal, processing, or discharge of fracking waste in our state (read the full text of the bill here). This effort involved directly lobbying specific members of the New Jersey Assembly to post the bill so that it could move from the committee to the floor of the legislature to be voted on. It also included a rally to raise awareness and show support for the speedy passage of the bill. This truly was the perfect opportunity as an intern and, more importantly, as an activist, because I was able to experience the democratic process first-hand, both inside and out.

The day began as I met with a number of supporters gathered outside the doors of a committee hearing in the statehouse. We were waiting for members of the Assembly to exit so that we could talk to them about A2108 and urge them to move the bill out of committee. As the hearing drew to a close, we began to speak with the members of the Assembly as they exited and I listened in as each person explained why the passage of this bill was important to them.

Despite having very busy schedules, they stayed and listened to what everyone had to say. Meeting with legislators face-to-face is a great way to get your voice heard. Elected representatives are more than happy to listen to concerns from constituents, and it is a very effective way to directly contact representatives.

Nancy Hedinger, LWVNJ VP of Advocacy, addresses the crowd

Nancy Hedinger, LWVNJ VP of Advocacy, addresses the crowd

After the committee hearing, we moved outside to the front of the State House where a sizable group was forming, all in favor of the swift passage of A2108. What I found really amazing as I looked at the crowd was its heterogeneity. There were a number of organizations present, all with different reasons for supporting the bill’s passage. There were mothers who were worried about the safety and health of their children, as well as student-powered environmental groups who believed strongly in the cause. Though the group itself was incredibly diverse, there was a singular passion that was common among everyone there. I was inspired to see that everyone had a shared goal of passing the bill and preventing disastrous ecological damage from taking place within New Jersey’s borders (read more about hydrofracking waste here).

As I listened to calls-to-action from representatives of each of the groups, as well as members of the Assembly who were in support of the bill’s passage, I thought about the importance of political participation. A2108 has been introduced and passed through both houses of the NJ legislature for several years now, but every year, the bill is vetoed by Governor Chris Christie. Members of the legislature who support the bill then attempt to override the veto, but they have not been able to do so yet.

So the question then is: what effect does lobbying actually have? Why engage in these attempts to pass a bill that may just fail? The reason for engaging in political advocacy is raising awareness and making change. The efforts of all of the people who rallied to show support for the bill may not directly result in the passage of the bill, but by making people more aware of the issue, there is more pressure on legislators to post and pass the bill. In fact, a few weeks after the lobbying effort, and after a lot of pressure from activists across the state, Assembly bill 2108 was posted and passed both houses of the NJ legislature and is now awaiting the governor’s signature. This truly was a victory for the League and all of the activists who showed support and it is a testament to the positive effects of engagement.

Activist participating in rally

Activist participating in rally in front of the State House

When people think of civic engagement, often the first thing that comes to mind is voting. While voting is undeniably an important part of civic engagement, struggle to create change and make progress; holding those representatives accountable for their actions and mistakes is the other part.

Getting involved in the political process does not necessarily mean attending every committee hearing and participating in every rally, but instead being aware of the issues and being a part of the process in whatever way you can. A good first step is to join the League of Women Voters so that you can stay up-to-date with issues affecting New Jersey citizens. The League organizes many events during the year that can help you get involved and learn more about issues that are important to you. The League’s website also has a wealth of information on different issues and events.

The New Jersey legislature’s website is another helpful resource. On it, you can find all of the bills that are being considered by the legislature, as well as previous bills. You can also find your representatives and see how they have voted on different bills. If there is an issue or a specific bill that is important to you, a great way to get your voice heard is to contact your local representative’s office by phone, email, or by mail. You can also go and sit in on a committee hearing to find out more about a bill. Schedules for committee hearings, which are open to the public, can be found here.

Conclusion: Women’s History Month, Intersectionality, and Ella Baker

All month long, I’ve had the opportunity to highlight female leaders throughout history and sectors of society. I’ve written full posts about Anna Howard Shaw, Christie Whitman, Sonia Sotomayor, and Eleanor Roosevelt. I’ve called to memory New Jersey-specific pioneers: Molly Pitcher, Marie Hilson Katzenbach, and Alice Paul; while also commemorating the efforts of national and international leaders: Sheryl WuDunn, Coretta Scott King, Michelle Obama, Carrie Chapman Catt, Sally Ride, and Dorothy Irene Height. I’ve had the chance to reflect on some of my favorite fictional female characters from books, movies, and TV: Leslie Knope, Hermione Granger, Elizabeth Bennet, and CJ Cregg.

It has been an inspiring journey, especially prescient for me personally, as I prepare to complete my Master’s Degree this May and enter the world of politics, nonprofits, and advocacy. I am truly standing on the shoulders of giants, and I owe a great deal of gratitude to all of the women I have highlighted this month.

While each woman’s story represents a unique thread of the broader tale of women’s advancement and quest for true equality, I’ve come to realize one major central theme among them all: being a woman is only one aspect of the identity of each of these women. It is only one piece of what drove them to greatness. Identity is a tricky thing, wrought with complex layers and changing constantly as contexts change.

Many of these women faced more than “just” a gender barrier. They were racial or ethnic minorities, LGBT, students, came from a different background or geographic region, or in a field not very receptive to those outside a particular mold. In academia, we call these varying identities “intersectionality,” and I think intersectionality defines the face of feminism today and the future of where it will go.

And so, I offer as my last blog post of Women’s History Month, a truly intersectional figure: Ella Baker. Born in 1903, Ella Baker’s grandmother was a slave. Baker was smart and hard working, graduating as valedictorian of her class from Shaw University in North Carolina in 1927. From there, she moved to New York City and got involved with civic associations focused on advancing the social and economic status of African Americans and women (Are you keeping track? Baker represents women, African Americans, members of the GI Generation, and first generation college students, so far)

In 1957, Baker was tapped by MLK to help organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, where she stayed for three years before leaving in 1960 to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She believed in the power of educated young people to create social change, and the NSCC attempted to tap their collective power to tackle the issues of the day.

Like the League of Women Voters, Baker believed in the power of voting and that true freedom cannot be achieved without both voting rights and voter participation. She believed in servant leadership and shared leadership, and the need for an organization’s capacity to be strong enough to survive its first transfer of power, proving that it is sustainable even when the first strong leader abdicates. She was a facilitator and a work horse, often behind-the-scenes, so that the end result of her work could be strong and impactful. After all, community organizing requires organization. These beliefs allowed her to leave a strong institutional legacy. It was also these beliefs that contributed to her nickname: “Fundi,” which is Swahili for “a person who teaches a craft to a younger generation.” (The Child Defense Fund even has the Ella Baker trainers program built around her ideals and work ethic!)

Ella Baker died on her 83rd birthday in 1986. While she wasn’t necessarily the flashiest, big-name, in-front-of-the-cameras figure, she was a major force in the Civil Rights movement practically from its inception. She lived through a period of rapid transformation of the social and political fabric of our nation, and she was at the center of it all, bringing with her all the aspects of her identity. Ella Baker is the perfect capstone to this Women’s History Month series, and we thank her today.

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(sources: http://ellabakercenter.org/about/who-was-ella-baker, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marian-wright-edelman/ella-baker-my-civil-right_b_5052112.html)