Making Democracy Work


Celebrate 90 Years of Civic Engagement with the League of Women Voters

Join us for art, wine, fun, and birthday cake!

When: Friday, February 19, 2010 -- 6:00 - 8:30 PM

Where: Pro Arts Gallery, 150 Frank Ogawa Plaza near Broadway and 14th in Downtown Oakland

What: Join League members, community leaders, and local artists. Raise a toast to the 19th Amendment and our first 90 years of civic engagement and Making Democracy Work.

Information: 510-834-7640 or

Co-sponsored by the Leagues of Women Voters of Oakland and Berkeley-Albany-Emeryville
where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement
League of Women Voters 90th Anniverary


By Katherine Gavzy

An evening at Oakland's beautiful wedding cake City Hall building attending a City Council meeting provides a fascinating look at grass roots democracy at both its best and its worst. Some of our readers are among those citizens who go regularly to observe and participate and know what to expect; others have never been to a City Council meeting and read about the debates and decisions afterwards in a press account that provides the facts but not the flavor. I am part of a third group: we find ourselves occasionally at City Council because an issue we feel strongly about is on the agenda.

Each time I come away amazed at how, in spite of the messiness (even rowdiness) of the proceedings, conflicts are resolved, needed change is accepted and prepared for, and the business of democracy advances. The Council members sit in a raised semi-circle facing the public and press. After routine business is taken care of an astonishing variety of people of all ages and ethnicities, from business-suited lawyers to shaggy-looking Bay Area eccentrics, come up to the public mike in an orderly line. Speakers have to first submit a card specifying which agenda item they want to speak to. They address their questions, lectures, demands and scoldings to the Council members who often seem bored or annoyed, whispering to their staff and colleagues. It is easy to feel cynical and conclude that the important decisions are made in behind-the-scene hallway meetings. And in fact that is sometimes the case. But at the January City Council meeting when Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting) was on the agenda something else happened. As Leaguers know, RCV was approved by 69% of Oakland voters after years of hard work and campaigning by a dedicated coalition of groups including LWVO. We expected it to be implemented for the 2010 elections but arguments were presented to delay it due to the budget crisis and the need for public education. Individual citizens as well as representatives of many different local groups, including Oakland's traditional black churches, Common Cause, political party clubs, Oakland Rising, and of course LWVO came to the mike to tell the Council that they had to implement RCV now simply because it was approved by the voters and is the law. Speakers also pointed out that their members were willing and ready to help with public education.

After all the public speakers are heard from, which can take a very long time if an issue has aroused public passion (Council meetings ending at 1 AM are not unheard of), it is Council members' turn to express their views and state how they will vote. At January's meeting two Council members who were reportedly wavering on the issue, Larry Reid and Desley Brooks, explained that they had decided in the end to vote to support RCV implementation because they felt they had no choice but to listen to the voices of the voters.

So we have a victory, as you will read elsewhere in this VOTER. But we also have a responsibility: LWVO has to work together with Oakland's many different community groups on a wide-ranging and effective program of public education that reaches citizens who are disillusioned with the election process. Public education about RCV is a great opportunity to turn these self-disenfranchised people into participating and informed voters. It is also a great opportunity for outreach and to broaden our membership. We will call on our members to lend their experience, knowledge and energy to this work in the coming months.

Save The Date -- More Info in March VOTER

Our 19th
Annual All-City Luncheon
Wednesday, April 28

Belva Davis the host of KQED's "This Week in Northern California," will moderate a conversation between Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts and Oakland Schools Superintendent Anthony Smith as they share their visions for Oakland's future.

Scotts Seafood Pavilion at Jack London Square

PEC Grapples With Ethics Issues

On January 4th the Public Ethics Commission again found itself without an LWVO member on the Commission as it has since Sukey Wilder was termed out in 2008. It voted for Dr. Richard Unger to replace retiring Commissioner Andrew Wiener. LWVO members are encouraged to think seriously about applying for a Commissioner seat the next time there is an opening -- we will notify you in the VOTER when this happens. The Commission was created in 1997 when voters passed the Sunshine Ordinance which created the Public Ethics Commission to administer the Ordinance. The Sunshine Ordinance was a direct child of the League Task Force on Sunshine in the early 1990s. The PEC now administers Lobbyist Registration, Oakland Campaign Finance Reform, False Endorsement in Campaign Literature, the Oakland Code of Ethics, and open government provisions of the Sunshine Ordinance. It also adjusts City Council salaries with approval of the Council. It offers a place where citizens can ask for adjudication of complaints regarding any of the above responsibilities and has authority in some cases to issue fines and penalties.

At the January 4th meeting the PEC discussed the ongoing problem of quasi-governmental organizations that receive taxpayer money from the City. These organizations may or may not adhere to parts of the Sunshine Ordinance. The issue is one that involves organizations such as Fairyland, Chabot Space and Science Center, the Oakland Museum and the Zoo. Lawyers as well as ordinary citizens have failed to see eye-to-eye on whether and to what extent such entities should follow the Sunshine Ordinance. Laws seem to conflict but the intent is to make sure that use of taxpayer money is transparent.

Issues before the PEC are important for Leaguers, red meat for lawyers, confusing for some of us and not easy to resolve. Efforts continue and the League intends to remain involved.


Do Oakland Citizens Need a Public Ethics Commission?

Guest Speaker
Andrew Wiener
Past Chair PEC

Come join the League in a lively discussion of what "sunshine" means in the affairs of your city and your rights as a citizen to know what and how your government is doing. Oakland passed the Sunshine Ordinance in 1997. Among other things it created a Public Ethics Commission to administer the Ordinance. It was the LWVO Task Force on Sunshine in the early 1990s that shone a light on the need for the public to have access to public records and the activities of their elected officials. To this day debate follows the decisions of the PEC as it administers the Sunshine Ordinance.

Wednesday, February 24 6:30-8pm

Redwood Heights Community Center
3883 Aliso Avenue
(Redwood Road just below Highway 13)

LWV Piedmont 90th Anniversary Party

The League of Women Voters of Piedmont cordially invites you to a tea party to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the foundation of the League of Women Voters of the United States

Join us to hear three of the early leaders in the cause for women's suffrage talk about their lives and work (thanks to Stagebridge Theater).

Sunday, February 7 * 4 PM
Piedmont Community Center
711 Highland Avenue, Piedmont

The League of Women Voters

90 Years of Making Democracy Work

Founding and Early History

From the spirit of the suffrage movement and the shock of the First World War came a great idea − that a nonpartisan civic organization could provide the education and experience the public needed to assure the success of democracy. The League of Women Voters was founded on that idea.

From the beginning the League took action on its stands; for several years, through effective lobbying, the League got selected issues included in the platforms of both major political parties and worked for enactment of legislation furthering its program goals. The League is political, but non-partisan. It never supports political parties or candidates, but it does study issues, develop consensus positions and then actively work to support those positions.

Over the years many procedural changes have been made in the way League program is defined, adopted and structured, but through all the changes the basic concept of study-member agreement-action has remained constant.

The 1920s

Since the League had inherited its structure from the National American Women Suffrage Association, in 1920 it was a federation of affiliated state Leagues. By 1924, the National League was organized in 346 of 433 congressional districts.

The first League program adopted in 1920 contained some 69 items grouped in broad subject areas: child welfare, education, the home and high prices, women in gainful occupations, public health and morals, and independent citizenship for married women. The League's first major national legislative success was the passage of the Sheppard-Towner Act providing federal aid for maternal and child care programs.

The League also set up classes to train volunteer teachers for citizenship schools. And the League organized institutes to study defects in our system of government, initiated "Know Your Town" surveys, candidate questionnaires and meetings, and nationwide get-out-the-vote campaigns activities. In 1928 the League sponsored "Meet the Candidates," the first national radio broadcast of a candidate forum.

The 1930s

The depression of the 1930s and the onset of World War II brought far-reaching change to the League. Membership fell from 100,000 in 1924 to 44,000 in 1934. The National League's budget was cut in half, necessitating a major reduction in staff and services to Leagues. Perhaps the most important change was that because of gas rationing, League members started meeting in small groups in their neighborhoods to discuss fundamental issues. These issues included the threat to democracy itself and the importance of the informed individual to the success of democracy. Grassroots activity thus was firmly institutionalized as a way of assessing concerns, studying and strategizing.

League members worked successfully for enactment of the Social Security and Food and Drug Acts, as well as the TVA. In 1934, when federal and state government agencies were hiring thousands of employees to administer the new social and economic laws, the League launched a nationwide campaign in support of the merit system for selecting government personnel. In those years the League was the only national organization acting consistently for the merit system. And due, at least in part, to League efforts, legislation passed in 1938 and 1940 removed hundreds of federal jobs from the spoils system and placed them under Civil Service.

The 1940s

During the post World War II period, the League helped lead the effort to establish the United Nations and to ensure U.S. participation. The League was one of the first organizations in the country officially recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization (NGO); it still maintains official observer status today and has special consultative status to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The League also supported the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as NATO, economic aid to less developed countries and the Marshall Plan.

The 1950s

The witch hunt period of the early fifties inspired the League to undertake a two-year community education program focusing on the individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. Next came an evaluation of the federal loyalty/security programs and ultimately a League position that strongly emphasized the protection of individual rights. In 1955 League President Percy Maxim Lee testified before Congress against Senator Joseph McCarthy's abuse of congressional investigative powers. "I believe tolerance and respect for the opinions of others is being jeopardized by men and women whose instincts are worthily patriotic, but whose minds are apparently unwilling to accept the necessity for dissent within a democracy."

Dating back to a 1920s study of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the League's concern about the depletion and conservation of natural resources was rekindled in the mid-1950s with a study of water resources.

The 1960s

In response to the growing civil rights crisis of the 1960s the League directed its energies to equality of opportunity and built a solid foundation of support for equal access to education, employment and housing. The League also added apportionment to its national program and supported presidential suffrage for the residents of Washington, DC. In 1969, the League was one of the first organizations calling for the United States to normalize relations with China. The League also hosted an exchange with women from the USSR and the OEF Institutes for Latin American women were inaugurated.

The 1970s

In the early 1970s, the League addressed the issue of income assistance and also began its efforts to achieve a national Equal Rights Amendment, an effort which ultimately failed. The League also adopted a position on direct popular election of the President, on Congress, on the UN and on Campaign Finance. And, in 1976, the League sponsored the first televised presidential debates since 1960, resulting in receiving an Emmy award.

The League's deep interest in the environment was dramatically evident in the 1970s and it has since built a sequence of broad national positions on water, as well as air, waste management, land use and energy.

The 1980s

The League was in the forefront of the struggle to pass the Voting Rights Act Amendments of 1982 and contributed significantly to enactment of the historic Tax Reform Act of 1986. It also adopted a position on fiscal policy and one on US Relations with Developing Countries. In the arms control field, LWV pressure helped achieve Senate ratification of the groundbreaking Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) in 1988. In that same year the League also completed a study of U.S. agricultural policy. And through the Agenda for Security Projects in 1984, 1986 and 1988, the League underwrote some 150 debates focused on national security issues among congressional candidates. The League also sponsored Presidential Debates in 1980 and 1984, but withdrew as a sponsor of General Election debates in 1988. In 1983 the League adopted a position on public policy on reproductive choice.

The 1990s

Members adopted a position on gun control in 1990 and Congress passed reauthorization of the Clean Air Act, capping a ten-year legislative campaign. The League also launched "Take Back the System", a voter campaign to reclaim government and elections and sponsored a Presidential Primary Debate in 1992. In 1993, the League adopted a position on health care and won passage of the National Voter Registration Act, better known as Motor Voter.

In the last years of the decade, the issue for emphasis, Making Democracy Work, included increasing voter turnout, campaign finance reform, civic education, diversity of representation, civic participation and voting representation for the residents of the District of Columbia. During that same period LWVEF activities included Running and Winning, a program that encouraged young women to consider careers as political leaders, as well as community dialogues on water resources, energy and health care.

Following the end of the Cold War, the League began several international programs: hosting emerging women leaders from Poland and Hungary; Strengthening Women's Rights in the NIS; Voices for Women + Forces for Change, Women's Leadership Workshops for Russia and Belarus; Building Peace in the Bosnian Community; a Bosnian Citizen Get-Out-The-Vote Campaign; and Woman Power in Politics: Building Grassroots Democracy in Africa.

In 1998 the Democracy Network (DNet) was tested and then launched nationwide in January 2000. This Internet web site was a major effort to provide information regarding elections to citizens across the nation.

The 21st Century

The League was instrumental in the enactment of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002. The League worked to renew the Voting Rights Act, and filed a number of amicus briefs relating to campaign finance reform issues, racial bias in jury selection and Title IX. Beginning in 2004, the League focused its legislative work under a "Democracy Agenda" umbrella that included redistricting, civil liberties, campaign finance reform, voting rights for District of Columbia residents, election administration reform and ethics and lobbying reform.

The League launched a nationwide voter education campaign on "5 Things You Need to Know on Election Day" in 2004 that was repeated in 2006. In addition, the League engaged in a multi-year education project on Judicial Independence. A major effort was the Local Voices Project that fostered a dialogue on the critical issue of balancing homeland security and civil liberties. Conclusion

While the League's programs, priorities and procedures have changed over the years to meet changing times, a League pamphlet written in 1919 describes with remarkable accuracy its basic aims today: The organization has three purposes to foster education in citizenship, to promote forums and public discussion of civic reforms and to support needed legislation.

League Addresses Oakland Planning Commission About Integrated Planning

On January 20, LWVO co-president Suzanne Loosen made the following statement before the Oakland Planning Commission.

The League of Women Voters of Oakland calls your attention to major new state environmental legislation, Senate Bill 375, adopted in 2008. SB 375 links transportation and land-use planning with greenhouse-gas reduction goals enacted in California's landmark climate legislation, AB 32. SB 375 is designed to address climate change by reducing emissions from automobiles and light trucks to target levels specified by the California Air Resources Board.

To reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in the Bay Area, every government agency involved in planning as you are, is asked to integrate plans for land-use, transportation, and housing. This will require a different approach than what local residents are used to seeing. The League is speaking to you now to let you know that integrated planning is fundamental to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

Plans for implementing SB 375 in the Bay Area are being discussed at meetings of the Joint Policy Committee (JPC), which coordinates the regional planning efforts of the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. These regional agencies typically address transportation and housing issues, but land-use decisions are generally made by local governments.

We call your attention to the October 2009 JPC document: Local Government Engagement in the Sustainable Communities Strategy. The Sustainable Communities Strategy is key to your work in integrated planning. We urge you to study this document and to think and plan regionally in order to create a better quality of life for the people of Oakland and to address the world issue of climate change.

League members may request a copy of the document by contacting Marion Taylor at

California Fair Elections Campaign

Oakland Fair Elections Campaign Kick-Off "Passion-Raiser"

Saturday, February 6 * 1 − 3 PM

Oakland City Hall
1 Frank H Ogawa Plaza
Oakland, CA
(at 14 St. & Broadway)

Get informed and get passionate about how Fair Elections will take politicians out of the fundraising game so they focus on our priorities!

Help pass the California Fair Elections Act on the June 2010 ballot!

Sponsors: California Clean Money Campaign, California Common Cause, California Nurses Association, American Association of University Women, Lamorinda Democratic Club, LWVO, National Women's Political Caucus, Wellstone Club, others to be announced.

Council Approves RCV

Ranked Choice Voting (Instant Runoff Voting) was approved on January 5 for implementation in Oakland by the City Council. The Council voted six (Kaplan, Nadel, Kernighan, Quan, Reid, Brooks) to two (de la Fuente, Brunner) to implement the election reform which will be used for the first time in November 2010. Berkeley is also implementing RCV in November and the San Leandro City Council approved implementation at its January 19 meeting.

Extensive voter education and training will be provided by LWVO and a variety of community and religious organizations, as well as by formal channels of voter handbooks, mailings to registered voters, posters in polling places and other methods. Anyone interested in being involved with this voter education project should contact Nikki Harris (

NWPC Dinner Meeting Series

The State Budget: Where Does the Money Come From, and Where Does it Go?

Come to this program and learn everything you never understood about where California gets its revenue and what it spends it on.

Monday, February 1

6:00 - 7:30 PM

Buttercup Grill
229 Broadway at 3rd