Hoping to catch the wave of public involvement that has been building across the country since last year’s general election, a group of Coastal Georgians have revived a long dormant local chapter of the League of Women Voters.
Members of the League of Women Voters of Coastal Georgia elected their first set of officers on May 4, and new President Cuffy Sullivan said the organization has already formed subcommittees to tackle its single largest point of focus — the vote.
“It’s very exciting to see what’s coming up,” Sullivan said, as she sipped a glass of tea recently at a Savannah coffee shop, creating a picture that closely resembled one described by the League’s newly elected at-large member Rebbeca Rolfes in a column in the Savannah Morning News in February.
It was in a Savannah coffee shop, Rolfes wrote at the time, that a small group of women got together to lament the loss of civic discourse in the 2016 election. It was also where they decided to do something about it.
Now, several months later, Sullivan reported the local League has formed an Observer Corps to attend meetings of the elected councils and commissions in Coastal Georgia and report back on the local issues. Another committee is working to improve voter registration among local high school students. The Coastal Georgia League itself, Sullivan said, will be hosting regular events throughout the year to promote more public engagement and, in the meantime, will develop the local version of the organization’s famous Voter Guide.
It’s a sight to behold, said Elisabeth MacNamara, a former president of the League of Women Voters of the United States and of the state League in Georgia. MacNamara, who joined the League in the 1980s, made the keynote address at the Coastal Georgia group’s inaugural meeting in Savannah.
“It’s really wonderful,” she said. “I’m so glad to see that folks are not only deciding to get active because it’s what makes our democracy work, but that they’re coming to the League, which has a history of helping all voters make their voices heard. It makes us all stronger.”
Relaying the organization’s history over the din of the cafe, MacNamara pointed out that the formation of the original League of Women Voters was an act of incredible foresight. When it was founded in Chicago in 1920 — just before the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the right to vote — it signaled that the work was only beginning, she said. There would still be a need to provide all the information necessary for this new group of voters to make their voices heard.
The League is now 97 years old and operates in every U.S. state. And since the general election last fall, MacNamara said she seen more and more local chapters come online. Along with the Coastal Georgia chapter — which is returning after a nearly 30-year hiatus — MacNamara said new chapters are popping up in the Georgia cities of Augusta, Columbus and Rome and in Rabun County, in the northeast corner of the state.
“What we’ve seen since the election is we can’t have everything on autopilot, and our vote really matters. Our voice really matters,” MacNamara said. “It’s really wonderful that folks are looking for ways to be active and for ways to be involved. I don’t care where you were on the political spectrum. The fall election was really a shattering experience. … It was just a feeling that, ‘Oh my gosh, we just need to get out there and do something.’”
Sullivan said about 30 or 40 members attended the League of Women Voters of Coastal Georgia’s recent meeting, but another 300 are on the chapter’s mailing list. Now that the group’s official, she said, they’re ready to get started on the initiatives she listed, and working with other organizations like the Savannah Branch of the NAACP to get more voters registered.
Like the NAACP, Sullivan said, the League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization. It takes a position only on issues — not on candidates or political parties.
In the past, MacNamara said, the Georgia and national leagues have focused on fighting against the spread of voting restrictions, pushing back against gerrymandering and encouraged new voter registration in schools and naturalization ceremonies.
“It’s always been true, from the very, very beginning, from when the Constitution was first ratified — if you’re going to have government of the people, by the people and for the people, you need the people to stay involved, and that can be hard to do,” MacNamara said. “We’re one of the few organizations that has real people in real communities.”
GET INVOLVED: For more information about the League of Women Voters of Coastal Georgia, visit www.lwvsavannah.org or search for the League of Women Voters of Coastal Georgia on Facebook.
The League of Women Voters of Coastal Georgia
President Cuffy Sullivan
Vice President Stacie Coffin
Treasurer Beth Orford
Secretary Katherine Williams
Parliamentarian Susie Myers
At-Large Rebecca Rolfes