Constitution Day

The following post was written by LWVNJ intern Nakea Barksdale

Today marks the 229th anniversary of the signing of the most influential document in American history: the United States Constitution. On September 17, 1787, the Founding Fathers worked to develop a framework for the U.S. government that not only accounted for federal and state interests, but individual human rights as well. Since then, America has grown tremendously and the Constitution has been able to endure 229 years of remarkable change and growth.

What can you do to celebrate?

  • Read it. What better way to celebrate Constitution Day than to increase your understanding of it? There are even quizzes online for you to test your knowledge, and if you are already familiar with the Constitution, consider learning more about the Framers or discover the ideas behind the document.
  • Spread the word. There are numerous ways in which you can share what you know and learn about it with others around you. Pass out copies of pocket Constitutions. Use social media as your platform and post a blog, or even submit an article to the newspaper. You can also share what you know by participating in discussion panels or forums.
  • Celebrate with your community. Your community may be hosting their own celebration for Constitution Day, such as festivals, displays, exhibits, and tours of government documents.
  • Get involved. One way to get involved in politics is to attend your local city council and board of supervisor public meetings. Then, you can consider at what level of commitment you want to participate in, whether that means running for council, a board position, or even joining a political organization that represents your views and/or concerns. Consider joining a nonpartisan political organization, such as the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, where you can work with others in your community to help improve our government and public policies.
  • And most importantly, REGISTER TO VOTE! Voting matters to the health of the American political system.

Happy Constitution Day!


The Paycheck: Still Fighting For Equality

The following is a guest post written by Maggie Kurnyta, LWVNJ spring intern

As a college student, vocal feminist, and future member of the American workforce, I find myself anxious about what is to come. Currently, white women earn 80 cents to every dollar a white man earns, a drastic disparity that is often overlooked or rationalized with ludicrous theories.

What’s even more ludicrous than that is women in minority groups earn close to 80% of what a white women makes. No, you weren’t reading that wrong. Women of color earn even less than white women, a fact that should come as no surprise to anyone with even the smallest bit of knowledge about our country’s history.

I know, it seems like we’re back in 1919 still fighting for our right to vote or in 1963 yearning for bodily autonomy and freedom from the domestic sphere we were pushed into, but we’re not. This is 2016, and while the “equal pay for equal work” motto is one I am proud to support, it’s also one that I have never seen put into practice.

A few days ago, I came across a quote from Maya Angelou, and as an English and Women’s and Gender Studies double major, Maya Angelou is a woman I deeply admire. Her quote was “I’ve been a female for a long time now. It’d be stupid not to be on my own side.” More often than not these days, women are realizing the injustice that is the gender wage gap and are actively fighting against it.

Pay equity shouldn’t even be a fight, but the most basic rights are often disputed and debated over as we have seen time and time again. However, if you were to ask me two years ago if men and women were being paid and credited equally for the same amount of work, I wouldn’t hesitate to say, “Of course.” It is truly amazing what some time, education, and disillusion will do to a young feminist.

I think that would be the word to characterize my emotions best: disillusion. I cannot fathom a society that would enforce and perpetuate a cycle of gender discrimination because I have met some of the most hardworking, ambitious women in my first two years of college. How can I tell them to try their best when their “best” is only going to be worth about 80% or less than what they really deserve? Pay inequality is a reality that we can no longer run from. That’s not to say that people won’t try.

Here are a few ludicrous theories we have most likely heard at least once in our lives:

“Women are more likely to take lower ranking positions because they want to start and maintain families.”

“Men earn more because they are smarter and work harder.”

“Women are not as skilled in negotiating for higher salaries as men are, so they are stuck in a perpetual state of wage inferiority.”

If you aren’t rolling your eyes yet, there are still dozens of other myths used to justify the wage gap. However, the term is “equal pay for equal work,” not equal pay for different fields and quality of work. Some employers may even claim they do not see gender while they are hiring workers, which in my opinion, is just an excuse to hire more men and promote less diversity.

Therefore, while the majority of myths are fabricated, there still lies some truth to them. Why would women be more likely to take off from work for a sick child instead of splitting time with their significant others? Why would women feel uncomfortable negotiating their salaries? How is it that female students can outperform male students, but still earn less than them on average when they enter the workforce?

I think before any work can be done to solve this injustice, we need to reach a consensus about the problem. Women are paid less than men for completing the same type and amount of work. This is not a myth; it is an institutional issue that can only be changed through legislative change and institutional enforcement. As I learn from and work with the League of Women Voters of New Jersey on this particular issue, I am pleased to say that I see pay equity coming to the forefront instead of being on the backburner. By denying women wage equality, we solidify their place as the inferior sex, a notion that is replicated in every other aspect of their personal lives.

Stacey Faella: Leading a New Generation of League Leaders

The following is the final post in a series highlighting the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Young People’s Network – a group of leaders that will keep the League going strong for many years into the future. The author is YPN Chair Stacey Faella.

Stacey Faella (second from left) with members of the Young People’s Network

Election Day in 2004 was an important day for many Americans, and it was especially memorable to me for another reason: it was my 18th birthday. I still remember feeling a sense of pride that I got to exercise my right to vote for the next U.S. president on my very first day of being a legal adult, but I’ll also admit that I was not as clear about the choice I was making as I should have been. While I had learned the basics of government and civic duty in school, I was not very informed at the time about the candidates among whom I was choosing and the issues for which they stood.

Over a decade has gone by, and in my professional life I now run a family foundation in New York City, where one of the projects I’ve been working on has revolved around engaging millennials for social change. I’m also a new board member of LWVNJ and the committee chair for our recently formed Young People’s Network (YPN), which is focused on increasing civic engagement and League involvement among young people in our state. Both in the work that I do and as a U.S. citizen and NJ resident, I feel a sense of urgency about engaging more young people in politics. We’re a huge generation living in a time and place where so many social and political issues are affecting our lives. I’ve gone from feeling proud about exercising my right to vote to feeling that voting is just the beginning of civic responsibility and opportunity.

For me, getting involved in the League has been a fantastic way to learn more about the political system in the state I live in. Through the YPN committee, I’ve had a window into what it’s like to run for elective office in NJ. Through LWVNJ communications and member activity, I’ve learned about grassroots activity and organizing across the state on all kinds of issues, from our environment to immigration to education. I’ve benefited from the knowledge of longstanding members who have decades of experience and a nuanced understanding of NJ politics. And I’ve had so many interesting conversations with other young people about our political system and key issues that matter to them.

Later this year I’ll be voting in a presidential election for the fourth time, and I can say with certainty that with each election I’ve been more informed on voting day than I had been in the past. This year in particular, I not only have a better understanding of national politics but feel more connected to issues at the state and community level. I have the League to thank, and I feel so lucky for it. I highly encourage young NJ residents to take advantage of LWVNJ’s resources. Check out the LWVNJ website to learn about local political issues and find out about events you might be interested in. Download the Citizens Guide to refresh yourself on our state government. Follow LWVNJ and Young People’s Network on Facebook to stay connected. Join the League so that you too can stay informed and in touch with political activity in our state and even your community. And get involved with YPN so that you can connect with other young members and help encourage an informed and engaged NJ citizenry!

S Nadia Hussain: Opportunity and Inclusion

The following is the fourth post in a series highlighting the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Young People’s Network – a group of leaders that will keep the League going strong for many years into the future. The author is YPN member S Nadia Hussain.

Nadia-classroomI heard about the League of Women Voters back when I lived in the Bay Area in California almost two years ago, before I moved back home to New Jersey. Back then I knew some incredible activist friends of mine who served on the board of LWV in California but I was too busy with other activities to be involved, though I was interested in finding out more, after all “women” and “voting” are two elements that are very significant within the lexicon of my life. When I geared up to make my big move to New Jersey I will admit that I felt some sense of trepidation of how I would continue my civic involvements. During my five years in California I had become very active politically and civically and though I was happy to be home, New Jersey was a whole new political ball game for me.

Relaying these anxieties to my friend Beth Hyre, she immediately recommended that the League of Women Voters of New Jersey was the perfect place for me. She assured me that there was a great need in the League to engage young people in the civic engagement process in New Jersey and that this could be a great resource for me as I worked to re-establish my activism.

I moved back to New Jersey in August 2014 and within 6 months, the League of Women Voters, particularly the League of Voters of Fair Lawn welcomed me with open arms, enthusiastic smiles and free cookies. I met with senior LWVNJ leadership and the newly formed LWV Young People’s Network, which connected me to new friends who supported me and had my back as an activist from day one, something that is not always easy to come by. Within six months of my return, the LWV Fair Lawn gave me the opportunity to present on youth voting at an open forum. Though my current job sees me organizing college student leaders across the country around voting registration, education and engagement, I had no idea if anyone would actually show up to see me talk. I was delighted and very touched to see that the event was not only packed, but was standing room only as League members and new friends throughout the state came out on a snowy evening to engage on a spirited discussion on young people and voting. It was the best welcome New Jersey could have given me!

Later, I would be given an even more exciting opportunity to present on an esteemed panel on voting with other incredible activists from around NJ at the League of Women Voters “Reclaiming Democracy” Fall Forum. I was able to present to members from throughout the state on how to engage youth and Asian Pacific Islander voters. I continued engaging on the topic of voting by also presenting at local middle schools in Northern NJ on the importance of voting and held mock presidential primaries with the students.

Though these opportunities have been a great experience, the biggest thing that struck me about LWVNJ was their commitment to not only getting more young people involved with the organization but to get more diverse communities involved. Too often, organizations expound a need for diversity and youth but do nothing to promote the people they say they want to involve. The League has done the opposite of that, they have given me forum after forum to share my thoughts and experiences and for that I am very grateful. True democracy is about opportunity and inclusion; this is what the League has shown me. In return, through the League, I hope to help bring more young people and people from diverse communities and backgrounds into the fold.

The League of Women Voters has a most honorable mission, that of upholding the ideals of nonpartisan voting, so that every American has a voice and is heard in our democratic process. Often times this can feel like an uphill battle to activists such as myself, but I realize that the legacy of the League, from its work to engage and educate women voters, to protect voting rights today is not only a noble cause, but it a cause that upholds the very foundation of what makes our nation great. Democracy, freedom and liberty mean nothing without the vote and equal access to the vote.  I look forward to working with the League to help the state of New Jersey live up to its greatest democratic potential through efforts to greatly improve our state’s lowest voter turnouts in history, to improving the voter registration numbers of the rapidly increasing demographics of different immigrant groups to increasing the registration numbers of young people and college students, many of whom do not currently believe that voting or democracy will work for them. It is tough work, but I have faith that together we can make this happen.

Casey Olesko: Feminist and Leader

The following is the third post in a series highlighting the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Young People’s Network – a group of leaders that will keep the League going strong for many years into the future. The author is YPN member Casey Olesko.

It was the summer of 2011, and I was about to enter into my junior year of college at The College of New Jersey, located in Ewing, the city right next to Trenton. I was a Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies double major, and both curricula required me to partake in a semester-long internship at an organization of my choosing. When I discovered a listing for an internship with the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, I was ecstatic: my research showed me that the League’s positions aligned exactly with my values as a budding young feminist, and the breadth of the issues that the organization worked on would allow me to expand my horizons and learn about more pressing topics in today’s society.

At TCNJ, I was involved in reproductive rights work, and it was becoming abundantly clear to me that many – but by no means all – young people on my campus were not well-informed about the political process. When I talked to my peers about feminist issues and the work I did, many expressed that they felt that government was “too complicated” or that nothing they could do as an individual would make change. I knew that this was not true, but it was hard for me as one person to educate an entire community.

After I was accepted for the internship position and I learned more about the League and its educational work, I realized that this organization was doing exactly what I had wished I could do. The League demystified the political process for New Jersey residents; as I worked on the candidates’ questionnaires for that year’s election and as I prepared myself to take calls on the Voter Hotline, I saw first-hand how League members were dedicated to encouraging informed and active participation in government, as our mission statement says.

I was so thrilled with what I saw during my time as an intern that I vowed to stay involved however I could. Several years later, when I was asked to help work on a new initiative to encourage young people to participate in the League and provide education to young people on the issues the League advocates on, I was more than happy to take part. Now, the Young People’s Network is a growing group of young people who are passing along the message that being involved in the political process and advocating for issues you care about isn’t a scary task – it is fully within reach, and it is every young person’s right to get involved and have their voice heard.

I am proud to say that I am a member of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. I have learned so much from the League, and I look forward to passing that knowledge on and continuing to work to educate our communities.

Brendan Keating: An Alternative to Partisan Deadlock

The following is the second post in a series highlighting the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Young People’s Network – a group of leaders that will keep the League going strong for many years into the future. The author is YPN member Brendan Keating.


I joined the League at a time in my life where I had been incredibly disillusioned by national politics. Years earlier, I had finished my B.A. in Political Science from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and was active in party politics. Over the years that followed I grew increasingly tired of partisan deadlock that was pervasive in national politics. I took a break from the news, and felt like I needed to recharge my batteries. I wanted to make a difference, but it was a time when it felt like there wasn’t much of a difference to be made.

Fast forward a few years, and through an old friend, I was invited to join the LWVNJ Young People’s Network. I was finally excited again to be doing something that was going to make a difference, but I wasn’t quite sure how that would manifest itself yet. My first League event was speaking on a panel about engaging younger voters. Little did I know how important that mission was going to become over the next couple of years.

A couple of months after the Young Voter Engagement Panel, I became involved in an environmental struggle that was threatening my community. As part of an effort to become more effective as an activist, I signed up to take the League’s Lobby Corps Training with Sandy Matsen. The skills that I learned there, and more importantly the confidence that I gained, allowed me to become a very effective environmental activist and inspired me to teach those skills to others.

I started to think about how the League could help young people. I saw my generation doing 90% of the hard part by showing up to protests and letting their voices be heard, but they were neglecting the harder 10% which is the follow through to results. It was then that I realized that there was no better group in the country to teach people who are not involved in the system to work with and within the system for the change that they cared about.

Where else can you go to be intimately involved with politics if you don’t want to get involved with a party or are disillusioned by party politics? The League was established to help people that had never been part of the political process learn how the system worked so that they could affect positive changes in their lives and their communities. What is more American than that? No matter your issue, there is a home here for you in the League. We are here to support one another and mentor one another in producing change, whether that is getting a stop sign put in on a dangerous intersection or advocating for fiscal or social policy on the state or federal levels.

Having come to this grand realization, I worked with League leadership, current and former board members, fellow YPN members, and local Leagues around the state to drum up support for a League sponsored College Outreach Program. We decided that the tool we would use to reach out to college aged adults was the League’s Lobby Corps training but adapted for a younger audience. The program has been a great success! In our first year of the program, YPN Members Nadia Hussain, Casey Olesko, Stacey Faella and Nicole Scott-Harris have taught the League’s Citizen Lobby training at Rutgers New Brunswick (2 times), Rutgers Newark (2 times) and Rider University (2 times). Through the program we have made fantastic contacts with professors and students while expanding the League’s brand of non-partisan activism to a new generation.

The students liked that we weren’t trying to push a particular point of view, and that all we wanted to was give them the tools to advocate for whatever they were interested in. We believe that in addition to signing up new voters, we should focus on creating active citizens when we can. I believe that if I can teach someone civic self efficacy, we will create a lifelong voter and educated participant. And what greater way to honor the great women and men that came before us than to bring a new generation of young people, who don’t participate civically (for whatever reason), into a place where they feel that they can effect positive changes in their world by getting involved. Its a labor of love, and it is why I’m a proud member of the League of Women Voters of NJ.

Join the League today here and learn more about our Young People’s Network here

Nicole Scott-Harris: Advocate for Equity

The following is the first post in a series highlighting the League of Women Voters of New Jersey Young People’s Network – a group of leaders that will keep the League going strong for many years into the future. The author is YPN member Nicole Scott-Harris.


YPN Leader Nicole Scott-Harris

As the granddaughter of a public school teacher, a product of public education, and former recipient of free lunch, I was well nourished with an upbringing partially subsidized by tax dollars.  It was government policies and funding that made all this possible for me, and many other kids who grew up in places like East Orange, NJ. Unfortunately, today’s public policies have left us with growing systematic inequality.  My career and education have taken me on a journey in and around politics, and now I am an advocate for equity, justice, and ethics in government. I believe in the power of collective action and the power of the people to transform our world.

As a featured panelist in the League of Women Voters of NJ’s 2014 Fall forum on youth engagement and empowerment, I came to realize that there is both a need and a yearning for young voters in political discourse.  Not only do we bring fresh perspective and insight, but by using our voices and sharing our stories, we also assert the legitimacy of our lived experiences as a constituency to be recognized and respected. It is for this reason that I joined the LWVNJ and assumed a leadership role in the Young People’s Network.

Participating with the League offers me the opportunity to contribute and collaborate with others in the effort to “make democracy work” for everyone. My concern is especially for those who have been historically disenfranchised, disregarded, and denied a seat at the proverbial table of the American body politic. Further, the League is a well-known and respected organization with national reach. It offers expansive opportunities to grow my professional network, gain volunteer experience, and promote civic engagement, which is the life force of any thriving democracy.  In the age of climate change, growing income inequality, and globalization, we face serious challenges with sobering long-term consequences that successive generations will be left to grapple with. Joining the League is a great first step.