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.
I 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.