Looking back and looking forward: Expanding democracy in the new year

January, the month that is named after the Roman god, Janus, with one face looking back to the past and the other face out to the future. The League of Women Voters looks back on a past that has propelled us into being one of the leading organizations in the country dedicated to making democracy work. We draw strength and knowledge from our past allowing us to continue to meet the future and the challenges we will face.

Two very important challenges that the League faces are reflected in last year’s National Convention mandates for action. One is to work on reinforcing and moving forward on the Voting Rights Act. The other is to help move this country forward on legislative district redistricting. Both of these issues are core to making our democracy work for everyone.

Looking back in time to 1965, we championed the Voting Rights Act’s progress helping the country take a huge step forward in making democracy work for all, especially people of color! Looking forward this January, we see that we have much to do to save the VRA!

The second Convention mandate we must work on will be a real challenge, especially in the national arena, but one that is crucial to making democracy truly work for all, and that is fair and reasonable redistricting. In 2020 the census will again be taken and it will require adjustments to district boundaries at local state and national levels. These adjustments can either make our voting districts more representative or less representative of the people who vote at all levels of government.

In California, we are fortunate to have a Secretary of State who is a champion of enfranchising more people’s voting rights, including those of the formerly incarcerated. California also has lead the way with a redistricting process that has been widely seen to fairly reflect the electorate of each voting district.

What will we be doing here in Oakland on these two important matters? As to the first, we will be focusing on this issue at our 2017 All City Luncheon with our speaker, Ari Berman, a nationally recognized journalist, who has written an authoritative history of the Voting Rights Act in his book Give Us the Ballot. Under the VRA, which closely followed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, across the country we made more forward progress on voting rights for all than was made than in all previous generations. That Act was gutted in the 2013 Supreme Court ruling Shelby vs. Holder, led by Chief Justice Roberts, a long time foe of the VRA.

As to redistricting, we will begin our work to ensure that within our City of Oakland our electoral districts are fair. We have a year before the more formal work starts on local redistricting in 2018, but a year is not a lot of time and it will go by quickly.

In February, our League will hold its annual Program Planning session on February 11. Please come and be a part of important decisions we will make about what issues the League will focus on in the coming year. Also, February 6th is the deadline for receiving nominations for our Making Democracy Work awards. These awards celebrate local Oaklanders who have led the way to make democracy work here at home. Please consider making a nomination.

Lastly, don’t forget Bay Area League Day, Saturday, Jan 28th in San Jose. This year the focus is on the issue of affordable housing.

It is 2017 and we need our past to be reflected in our future. Be Bold, Be Active, Be Part of the Solution!

Louise Rothman-Riemer

President, League of Women Voters of Oakland