About the Film
By Beth Pitton-August
Why this film now
Following decades of low voter turnout and declining faith in communities and the government, fervor for civic participation is rising up across the country. Likewise, following decades of declining membership, participation in community-based groups such as the League of Women Voters (LWV) is surging. The historic 2018 mid-term election -- with record-high voter turnout and numbers of women running and winning public office -- shows that women’s activism and political power is only just beginning to be felt.
One hundred years ago, winning the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment to the Constitution was just the beginning for women as agents of political power. Since that time, LWV members and allied groups have worked tirelessly to empower voters, help facilitate informed civic participation, promote non-partisan policy formation, and increase women’s influence in government, including training and equipping woman leaders.
Whether protecting voting rights, health, human rights, and the environment, whether promoting education or more transparent and accountable government, this unique, grassroots membership organization is a recognized force in shaping public policy, molding political leaders, and promoting informed citizen participation at all levels of government. The League of Women Voters’ 100-year history is a model of civil discourse and problem solving for our time.
The film is meant to be more than a history of the League; it puts the relevance of the League and its allies in the context of many progressive gains we enjoy today, as well as today’s fight to protect and expand those hard-won victories. These include voting rights, the environment, public education, health care, women’s reproductive rights, criminal justice, and more. It aims to put the LWV in the broader context of the progress of women and their achievements in pushing for legislation and policies that are consistent with women’s values and concerns.
The League has not worked alone. Through a variety of formal coalitions and informal alliances, the League’s history is one of finding common ground and working together with diverse groups to take action, shape policy, and improve people’s everyday lives.
The League’s history is not without its blunders and failures. Leading suffragist and the organization’s founder, Carrie Chapman Catt made regrettable racist remarks. The woman suffrage movement has been rightly criticized for excluding and ostracizing black women, and failing to address the oppression and racism black women faced. Later, the national League failed to formally support the Voting Rights Act of 1965 due to a technicality of their bylaws -- even despite overwhelming support of League members from across the country. Soon after, the League corrected this issue and joined in the support for the Act.
When examining the full spectrum of work of the League and its policies, positions, and actions, it is also clear that racial remarks like Carrie Chapman Catt's and similar failures are, in fact, inconsistent with the progressive values and inclusive aspirations of the League's leaders and members. The League has put its full weight behind promoting voting rights and fighting against voter suppression of all kinds and particularly those that disproportionately impacting people of color and other under-represented groups.
Similarly, the early membership of the LWV and the second wave feminist movement of the 1970s could be criticized as primarily consisting of privileged white women. However, those facts do not negate the important accomplishments of those movements, which include access to power and policy changes that benefit the majority of Americans, including immigrants, minorities, the poor, and low-income. Today's feminist groups, including the LWV work consciously to avoid repeating past mistakes, and are growing, and becoming more effective through greater diversity and inclusiveness
What difference will it make?
My hope, as the creator of this film, is to help expand the vision of what is possible for our democracy by sharing stories of women (and men) who have dedicated themselves to making a difference. Viewers and participants will hopefully be inspired to get involved and make a difference on issues they care about too. Real solutions to our country’s most entrenched problems need everyone engaged and empowered.