Yesterday was the Fourth of July, the day we celebrate American democracy, history and community. But in today’s hyperpartisan climate, where the winds of public discourse blow from rancorous argument to threats of violence , how is one to exercise good citizenship? It is a fraught time in our polity, when the political landscape echoes with clashing and angry rhetoric.
The League of Women’s Voters manages to provide an oasis of cool, rational attention to our democratic practices with its non-partisan, fair and well researched observations. Its aim is to promote the exercise of voting. It is a “non partisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation of citizens in government and influences policy through education and advocacy.” The LWV does not endorse candidates or political parties but researches current issues, such as environmental concerns, health care or immigration.
At the very ground level, the League’s corps of volunteers serve as civic observers to open a window on agencies from city councils to housing and mental health agencies, all of which can affect the every day lives of citizens. Those of us who live in cities with vibrant local media can get this information from the coverage of journalists who utilize journalistic ethics and methods to give the us the information we need to make decisions. But not all communities are fortunate enough to have a Los Angeles Times or a Claremont Courier to report on local politics.
For years, the League has sent volunteers from its observer corps to sit through hours long and frequently dull civic sessions, watching to see if the meetings are open to the public, fairly publicized, and if citizen ‘s questions are respectfully dealt with. One local chapter, the Mt. Baldy Chapter, covers an area as far east as Rancho Cucamonga, with Glendora on the west, Chino Hills and Pomona to the south. It includes the cities of Ontario, Upland, Montclair and Chino as well.
On June 11, 2 pm., at the Garner House in Claremont, the Mt. Baldy Chapter of the League presented its annual report from its volunteer observers. Under the direction of Barbara Rugley, the volunteers fanned out to Glendora, La Verne and Claremont to observe city council meetings, four Claremont agencies, (Planning Commission, Community and Health Services, Unified School Board, Architectural Commission) and the Tri City Mental Health Board. Observation seems to bring out the best, as all reported that the agencies operated in a fair and open manner, with civic officials were were well informed and exhibited interest and concern for citizen input. All agencies provided adequate notice and in case of cancellation, were orderly in announcing changes. Each noted which issues drew the most citizen attendance at the meetings.
The League of Women Voters was founded in l920 by Carrie Chapman Catt and currently includes 750 clubs, from all 50 states. Its members and supporters number 500,000. The President of the Mt. Baldy chapter is Barbara Nichol, who noted that the June 11 meeting was the first in-person meeting since the pandemic. Time and Covid have taken a toll, she added, as membership has dropped from 175 to 100.
Although the Baldy chapter covers 11 cities in the tri county area where Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside converge, there are only enough volunteers to observe the cities of Claremont, La Verne and Glendora. NIchol would welcome anyone interested in the work or the activities of the League of Women Voters, in their observer mission or in simple membership. She hopes to replenish the corps of volunteers who can make the League a beacon in a dark political world.
A democracy depends upon an informed citizenry and the American public would surely benefit from a fair and cool-headed observations of our political process. Check out the LWV website for information on their activities, how to join or observe, and to find a link to a video of the Observer Corps annual report.