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.

Jane Goodall’s Adventure Story

The following blog post was written by Danielle Blackmore.

Jane Goodall is someone many of us recognize for her work with chimpanzees, but the significance of her work in the scientific community and for women is something people are less familiar with. However, after learning more about her and her work, I think that her accomplishments warrant a closer look not only for the gains she made for science, but also for the path she helped pave for other women scientists to come after her. So, in the following post I share the importance of Jane Goodall’s accomplishments in the hope that her work for science and for women can be better appreciated.

Jane grew up in England in the 1930’s, and at the age of 26 began observing chimpanzees in Tanzania. During this time, she took unconventional routes to conducting research that challenged previous scientific findings. Instead of numbering chimps for example, she gave them names and observed them to have unique and individual personalities. At the time it was believed that naming chimps would take away from the observer’s ability to be objective, but in Goodall’s case it added to her findings. Jane for instance, found there are more similarities that exist between chimps and humans than just in our genetic makeup- we have emotions, intelligence, and family and social relationships in common. She also made other findings that challenged longstanding beliefs at the time, such as the belief that only humans could construct tools and that chimps were vegetarians.

Before she initially took the trip to Tanzania to conduct this work, a lot of people doubted Goodall’s abilities because she didn’t complete her degree and lacked a formal science education. Furthermore, Jane Goodall conducted this work at a time when women were fighting for rights in the third wave of feminism, and encountered challenges deeper than scientific credibility.

In her current life, Jane Goodall travels around the world giving talks at college campuses and advocates for animal and human rights issues. She mentioned that since her time in science, the field has definitely changed, but that there are still a lot of misconceptions about women and science. For example, Goodall explained that in a trip to China, she met a young woman who was studying pandas but didn’t believe she could become a scientist due to her gender.

However, the girl told Goodall that after she read a book Jane wrote about her experiences in the field of primotology, it gave her the confidence she needed to pursue her dream of studying pandas.

Fun Facts about Jane:

☆ Her favorite books growing up were Tarzan and Dr. Dolittle (she said herself she knew she’d be a much better jungle companion for Tarzan than that other Jane).
☆ She is still alive and active today, speaking to groups of students, meeting with government officials to discuss conservation issues, sitting before television cameras for interviews, and meeting with donors to raise money for the Jane Goodall Institute- which is a global nonprofit that empowers people to make a difference for all living things.

Did you Know…

Jane Goodall is a vegetarian and advocates for others to take up a vegetarian diet for ethical, environmental, and health reasons.

She has an affinity for working with young people and is determined to use just about every minute she has working to save chimps and to empower people- young and old- to do what they can for a better world.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: A “***Flawless” Figure

The following was written by Becky Celestina, League Intern

3527cd41287ab9d66473e112dbd339c6e515ef38_1600x1200Though you may not know Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by name, you may know her by voice; Beyoncé, in her popular song “***Flawless,” sampled a talk on feminism that Adichie gave. The feminist principles that Adichie discusses as well as her influence as a writer makes her a woman worth talking about this Women’s History Month.

Adichie was born in Nigeria, and moved to the United States when she was 19. She is an acclaimed short story and novel writer and has won a variety of awards for her writing. She has also given two TED talks, one about the concept of the “single story” and one on the importance of being a feminist.

In Adichie’s TED talk on the dangers of a “single story,” she states that the idea of a “single story” flattens groups of people and values certain narratives over others. This concept of one story or one version of a story is a something we see all the time in movies, television shows, books, etc.

As a storyteller, Adichie defines this concept in relation to our predispositions about other people, specifically, saying that it, “[shows] people as one thing, over and over again, and that is what they become.” She says that:

“How they [stories] are told, who tells them, when they are told, how many stories are told are really dependent on power. Power is the ability to not just tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person”

Power dictates what stories we hear to the point that we expect people from other countries to fit the stories we hear about them. The reality, however, is that people cannot be compacted into such rigid and small boxes. Adichie calls for more diverse stories to be published as well as for more diverse voices to tell their stories. She says that the single story, “creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete.” We need to hear many stories to avoid these incomplete stereotypes.

I admit, I found out about Adichie from Beyoncé’s song — I was struck by what Adichie spoke about in the sample (which came from her talk on why everyone should be feminists) and after watching both of her TED talks in full, I knew Adichie had an interesting perspective on feminism, gender roles and the value of diverse storytellers.

As someone coming from a media background, I’m constantly looking at films and television shows with a critical lens and after watching Adichie’s talk on the single story I started to see how problematic the single story is in practice. I would see it in television shows that rely on stereotypes of specific groups of people and in movies that never show anyone other than cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied white people. I saw the single story in action.

The single story takes away what makes someone’s culture so valuable and interesting. Adichie writes about her life as an African and as a feminist; she’s telling another story, her own story.

I wanted to include Adichie in a blog post for Women’s History Month because she’s encouraging people to tell their own stories and take control of their identity. Adichie writes honestly and candidly, not feeling hesitant because her stories don’t conform to what people say “African literature” should conform to.

I am passionate about Adichie’s call for the expansion of the single story because, looking at my own life and experience with stories, I realize if I did not actively seek out diverse stories, I would never hear them. These stories fill in cultural gaps and help me to see people as real living beings with important lives, even if I’ve never met them.

So whether you diversify your exposure to stories through TED talks or Beyoncé songs, realize that every new story you hear broadens your sense of your own world. Adichie wants people to tell their own stories, and I think she’s pretty “flawless” for that.

Why I Vote

The following is written by Paul Barudin, League Intern.

Possibly our first really important influence as to why we vote is our parents. From an early age they teach us about our life, how to live it, and how to shape it into what we will ultimately be living in. From learning to drive, to making food, to voting, our parents help us to define who we are, what we think and more importantly, why we think those things, even if we happen to disagree. Guy Barudin is my father as well as a managing director of Terrapin Partners, LLC and a portfolio manager at Terrapin Asset Management, LLC.

We keep in frequent touch and talk often. I asked him if he wouldn’t mind answering a few of my questions, especially with November 4th on the horizon, I thought I would try to get his insight as to his thoughts and perspectives about the vote.

Guy BarudinWhen was the most recent time you exercised you’re right to vote?
Personally, I voted in the last presidential election in 2012 and in a couple of local NJ elections since then. I didn’t vote in the 2014 primaries but expect to vote this November.

When you cast a vote, what does it feel like to you?
When I walk into a voting booth physically or mark an absentee ballot, I remember my parents and all the people I know who served in the armed forces. I think of all the challenges people have around the world simply trying to vote in countries wracked by war. I’m proud to be able to vote. I get a little emotional.

When you were registered to vote (for the first time) do you remember what it felt like?
Actually, I don’t remember – it was a long time ago – but it wasn’t long after the Vietnam War ended for the US and I had to fill out some draft papers at the same time. It was a little scary, but also felt like the first “grown up” thing I’d done.

Are you more likely to vote in certain kinds of elections (local, statewide, national, referendums)?
I’m definitely more likely to vote in a local election where there is an issue I find important, and for congress and senate elections. If I think that a competent person is running and they aren’t being challenged by a dummy, I’m less likely to vote.

Do you think it’s important for people to vote? Explain why.
The very nature of our towns, our counties, our states, and our country, relies on people being knowledgeable about facts and giving voice to their opinions in ways that effect leadership. This means taking time to go to meetings, to stay informed about current events. It means maybe even to serve on committees or hold office on everything ranging from local school and town groups all the way up to groups involved in national or international issues. It’s about taking an active role in our lives, not just sitting back and going along for the ride. Our votes are one way we participate in our public lives. In the US, we have the right to vote because of great things previous generations did. We should vote to have a voice in our own lives and to honor our history and the sacrifices made by Americans who came before us.

Do you see your vote impacting your community?
Yes – absolutely. School board elections and town council elections have direct effect on the quality of our streets and towns. State and county elections lead to the management of things as tangible as road improvement and park services, school curriculum, local taxes. To not vote is to put control of our lives into the hands of other people with whom we may or may not agree.

When voting season comes around, do you ask friends and family if they’re going to vote as well, or do you keep it to yourself?
I’m a nag – I remind people they should vote. I remind them they can request absentee or advance ballots if they aren’t sure they can get to the polls physically. Probably my friends and family think I’m annoying.