This is a guest post written by LWVNJ intern, Emily Garland.
On September 22, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey held their fall forum titled “After Citizens United: Democracy for Sale?” I was one of the roughly 115 attending this forum in the PSEG Conference Center in Edison, NJ. After an early trek up the turnpike I arrived at the conference center to help get things in order before everyone arrived. Many environmentally minded members had carpooled together so the attendees came in waves of chatting, joking and catching up. Eventually, everyone made it into the main conference room with plates or bellies full of the provided breakfast. It was time for the fall forum to start rolling.
After the introductions, the League of Women Voters of New Jersey presented their Young Activist award to 3 girls from MontclairHigh School. These 3 young ladies petitioned to have a female presidential debate moderator. Through their civic engagement program at Montclair High School, they discovered that the United States had not seen a woman moderate a presidential debate in 20 years. Outraged, these 3 ladies rallied together and created an online petition on change.org and garnered over 180,000 signatures. In August, CNN’s Candy Crowley was announced as a moderator. This story was very inspiring, proving that no matter how young or “unestablished” you are, you can still make a difference. When asked to talk about their future goals and what they would like to see changed in the future, one replied “seeing more presidential debate moderators of color.” These aware, engaged, and active young women were very inspiring and a great way to kick off the start of our forum.
The Citizens United discussion was very interesting. One fact I found most astounding, pointed out by David Earley of the Brennan Center, was that since 2006, campaign contributions from outside groups have more than quadrupled! PAC fundraising has reached billion dollar levels. It was astounding to learn about how much special interest money has flowed into our elections.
Upon the conclusion of the morning discussion, it was time for lunch. At lunch, I was able to chat with some League members about how it felt to be the new intern and my plans for the future. It was also very comforting to talk to members about what some of their children did in post-grad life. Eventually the lunch crowd started thinning out and I pointed many attendees in the direction of the workshop they wished to attend.
I attended the Women and Family Issues Workshop, which is what I was most excited about. I am very passionate about reproductive rights and sexual health and find learning about it very interesting. Bobbie Francis, long-time League member and chair of the ERA Task Force, National Council of Women’s Organizations talked about the history of how the League of Women Voters came to their pro-choice position. Michele Jaker, former executive director of Planned Parenthood of New Jersey, gave an interesting lecture about the status of reproductive health funding and fighting in New Jersey and the entire country. Jaker touched upon recent cuts to reproductive health funding, transvaginal ultrasounds, the importance of preventative care, and personhood amendments. Although it is hard to not become disheartened when learning about these measures against women, Jaker still ended the workshop on a positive note. She pointed out that while all these attacks on women’s reproductive rights are happening, people are noticing and fighting back. The most hopeful anecdote she provided was that a proposed personhood amendment in Mississippi failed to be passed by popular vote last year. If Mississippi cannot get a personhood amendment passed, it is highly hopeful that no state can get a personhood amendment passed.
Upon the commencement of that workshop, it was back to my post at the merchandise table and pointing attendees in the direction of the next workshop. After everyone had funneled into their respective workshop I wandered through the conference center to listen in on the filled to capacity Education workshop, and the Immigration workshop, which was also at capacity. I was able to hear an interesting sound bite about the use of the term “alien” and its dehumanization of the immigrant. Hearing that made me wish I could have heard and learned more. I’m sure any attendee could say that their knowledge was enriched by the workshops.
I attended the more spacious Board Member Development workshop, led by Bobbie Francis. It was interesting to hear the different happenings and operations of the regional leagues. Since I am interning with the League on a state level, it was very cool to hear what happens on a regional level. It was great to see so many people, mostly women, coming together to figure out how they can get people to vote and how they can ensure that when they vote they are educated about their choice.
Upon conclusion of the final workshop, I returned to my faithful merchandise table to make any final sales and before I knew it, it was time to close shop and pack up. My day ended with me loading a platter of various sandwiches and pastries in my car. I would say it was a rather successful and exciting day.