The short answer is yes — positive and passionate politics is possible. And, it is necessary. But it is not easy. Even Benjamin Franklin, the oldest and probably wisest delegate at the Constitutional Convention for the United States, recognized it would be difficult to practice such politics in our country.
Today, what passes as passionate politics is seen by many, if not most, as just a brutal competition involving well-financed partisan candidates, paid campaign strategists, one-sided mass media outlets, public policy wonks and voters struggling to make common sense of it all. Moreover, the further one gets from the local community, the bigger the issues, the more brutal it all seems to become.
There is a better way to consider politics. Consider this mission: to “encourage informed and active participation of citizens in government and to influence public policy through education and advocacy.”
If you believe in a representative, law-abiding governmental system, how could you not agree with this mission? But what does it really involve?
First, it involves grassroots stewardship of common-sense for the public good. Grassroots politics starts and ends with “we the people.” Voting for or against a candidate or issue is the end of the process, not the beginning.
Second, the beginning for “we the people” means as individuals we care to expand our own personal spheres of influence by civic engagement and civil discourse. It means organizing with like-minded others to exercise quality leadership linked to projects for fixing real public problems.
Third, it recognizes “we the people” is an expansive principle. It means recognizing the civil rights of others and reaching out to them as partners.
The mission stated above is that of the League of Women Voters, a nonprofit public benefit political organization. By the way, the League is not just for women. Many men belong to the League. And, believe it or not, even elected politicians belong to the League. We are financed by dues, donations and fees paid for our Education Projects and Voter Services.
What counts as our Education and Voter Service Projects?
Volunteering at polling booths.
Moderating candidates’ forums.
Offering “pros and cons” forums on all ballot propositions.
Monitoring private elections according to the law, such as for housing associations.
Sponsoring community informational panels about public services, such as mental health services.
Studying a particular public issue (local, state, federal) needing leadership until League members reach a consensus on it.
The League is also a public policy advocacy organization. That means we take stands to support or oppose certain local, state and federal legislative policies after we have studied them. The best way to illustrate this is by examples.
Locally, the League has a position supporting policies that “provide for the periodic evaluation of locally levied taxes, licenses, and fees.”
At the state level, the League has a position that supports measures that “contribute to a system of public finance which emphasizes equity and fair sharing of the tax burden as well as adequacy.”
At the federal level, the League has a position that “improve methods of financing political campaigns in order to ensure the public’s right to know, combat corruption and undue influence, enable candidates to compete more equitably for public office, and promote citizen participation in the political process.”
If you have questions about the League, contact
Sharon G. Whitney is president of the League of Women Voters of San Luis Obispo County.