Wilton editorial: A league of our own

While many of us will be celebrating Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, there is another moment in history that occurred on that day 100 years ago we should be celebrating — the formation of The League of Women Voters.

The impending ratification of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, gave rise to the League, which was founded by Carrie Chapman Catt during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1920. It’s hard to believe women actually had to fight for 72 years for this precious privilege, but they did and the newly formed League was ready to help 20 million women cast their ballots for the first time.

Nonpartisan, the League began as and continues to be “an activist, grassroots organization whose leaders believed that citizens should play a critical role in advocacy.” It works to educate all citizens on issues of concern to their local communities as well as the nation.

Within four years of its formation, there were League chapters in 346 of the nation’s 433 congressional districts. During its first decade, the League sponsored its first “Get Out the Vote” campaign.

Recognizing the importance of the organization, President Harry Truman invited the League to serve as a consultant to the U.S. delegation at the United nations Charter Conference in 1945. The League continues to hold one official and two alternate observer posts at the U.N.

Perhaps its greatest achievement was helping to pass the National Voter Registration Act, commonly known as “motor-voter.” It took several years and a comeback from a presidential veto in 1992, but in May 1993 President Bill Clinton signed the legislation and called its supporters “fighters for freedom.” The “motor-voter” bill enables citizens to register to vote at their local Department of Motor Vehicles as well as by mail and at public and private agencies that serve the public.

Here in Wilton, our local chapter of the League, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, has been active on a number of issues. Perhaps most visibly, the Wilton League has taken up the mantle of the national League, which sponsored its first televised presidential debate in 1976, an effort it continued in 1980 and 1984. Although the national League withdrew from sponsoring presidential debates in 1988, Wilton’s League has carried on the tradition at the local level, regularly sponsoring debates among municipal, state and congressional candidates.

The League has also researched and presented to the public information on important local issues including school start times and Wilton’s town government. On the latter issue, the League weighed in on the election process, terms of the Board of Selectmen, consideration of creating the position of town manager, improving citizen imvolvement, and considering appointment of a chief administrative officer.

Wilton’s League has also taken positions on housing, the town charter, solid waste disposal, town facilities, the Route 7 corridor, and the use of town-owned land. These positions are reviewed in-depth on the League’s website, wiltonlwv.org.

It supports voter registration, voter information, safe gun laws, education reform, energy efficiency, campaign finance reform, environmental protection, and women’s rights.

Membership in the Wilton League is open to men and women as well as students. For information, visit wiltonlwv.org or email wiltonlwv@gmail.org.