League of Women Voters president, the late Dr. Deborah Ann Turner, shared many moments of wisdom throughout her nearly four-year tenure.
We hope these words will inspire you as we continue Dr. Turner's legacy to empower voters and defend democracy.
On Who She Is, the Midwest, and Diversity
"I am, simply put, 'just a cornfed kid from Iowa,' and proud of it! Yes, I am one of those people who is asked, ‘But where are you really from?’ Well, I am really from Iowa, born and raised.
I am part of a vibrant and important demographic that many times is overlooked or not acknowledged. Unless you hail from a big city in the Midwest, there is very little understanding that people who look like me were born and live there. I’m actually from Mason City, a small town with a population of just under 28,000. I grew up in a diverse community with friends of multiple ethnicities and religions. I received a really great founding education there, in a place where most people don’t realize that Black people exist and succeed.
I point this out for two reasons. One, it reminds us…that we must strive to look beyond what is portrayed in the media or what we have been taught about our country, into communities large and small, for hidden diversity. And two, we must acknowledge that many…communities like my hometown have unique and hidden diversity."
On Voting Rights
"In our country, voting rights exemplify freedom — the freedom to determine who we are, who we want to be, and who we want to make the decisions about our country and our bodies."
"Casting a ballot is more than a decision on representation; it is an homage to the women and men who have been locked out of the process."
"Partisan politics are overshadowing American values — and the cornerstone of our democracy, the freedom to vote, is under threat. Let us be clear: voting rights are not a partisan issue; they are an American issue."
"At the heart of the issues, democracy, social justice, and civil rights are intersectional, intertwined by the collective goal of advancing the right to vote."
On Reproductive Freedom
"We’re at a turning point in our history. And to me, it all hinges on this: our leaders must act according to the will of the people — and they must realize those people include women."
"I am angry that pregnant women and those who can become pregnant have been reduced to the status of political footballs. These women are individuals with individual stories, making what is always a serious decision to them. I know. I have sat in the room with them and heard their stories, held their hands, and shared their tears and relief at being treated in a nonjudgmental manner…
Moments like this fuel our fight…We hold the power to create a more perfect democracy. Women’s rights are human rights, and we will continue to fight until the right to abortion is restored."
"I hope for a world where we can once again leave these choices to the people who experience them firsthand rather than unaffected, calculating politicians. It should not matter what your age, zip code, political or religious beliefs, or reason for seeking abortion care are — it should be your choice."
"In challenging women and those who can become pregnant, the people who want to restrict our rights made a grave miscalculation. They forgot: women power democracy."
"Today, and every day after today, I challenge women of all backgrounds and experiences to find time to get to know those that came before them — or even those who live just down the block.
In this pursuit, they may find women who have changed the world across generations, like Gertrude Rush, a Black lawyer from Iowa who founded the NBA in 1925; Shirley Chisholm, who ran for president; Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who helped put Americans into space; Althea Gibson, who not only played at Wimbledon but won the singles title in 1957; and many more who dared to show up in spaces where women, especially women of color, were not just made to feel uncomfortable but in some cases were made to feel unsafe."
"Exactly 100 years after women won the right to vote, America has elected a woman to serve in the White House. We will not allow another 100 years to pass before we have many more women in the White House and the presidency."
"It is important for us to remember our history surrounding women’s right to vote because it reminds us that the fight for equality is not over, and it will not be complete until ALL of us are included in its liberation."
"We need the ERA because we need equal pay, fair health care coverage that addresses maternal mortality and coverage for caregivers, protection against gender testing laws, prevention of discrimination against LGBTQ+ persons, protections for men in occupations and roles traditionally held by women, and protection against rollbacks in women’s rights.
We need the ERA because, just as many women of color faced added barriers for voting until the Voting Rights Act, today, women of color are more likely to be underpaid and discriminated against than white women. The ERA would make the Constitution prohibit discrimination on the basis of race AND sex.
But more than that, we need the ERA because our nation must close the book once and for all on the idea that equality of rights is a debatable issue.
Because a constitution is not only a set of legal protections: it is a proclamation of a nation’s values. It is time we enshrined our values in the Constitution."
"No one deserves to be discriminated against based on who they are or who they love…our right to free speech should never be used as a weapon for discrimination."
On Racial Justice
"Structural racism touches our lives in many ways, from education to health care, to economics, to policing. The Band-Aid has been ripped off. Now is the moment to heal the egregious wound and not rebind it and hope it will heal itself, out of sight, out of mind. It doesn’t work that way. Trust me. I’m a doctor."
"We must continue to tell the stories of Black women that will inspire the next generation of Black women to seek elected office. We must never forget our history and the tireless work of Black women and allies to advance voting rights, push for change, and continue to shape a more equitable America. More importantly, white America must be moved to appreciate, acknowledge, and understand the contributions to our country by these women and their other colleagues of color."
"Let us also acknowledge the many Black women who serve as mayors and elected officials in the many communities that we don’t see on the six o’clock news. They are working hard, too, and making a difference."
"We cannot assuage our feelings of guilt or inadequate action of the past by celebrating Black History Month. As we celebrate this month and honor these Black sheroes of the voting rights movement, we must make a conscious effort to continue that celebration all year long. I look forward to the day that we will no longer need a Black History Month because America will finally acknowledge that Black history IS American history."
On DC Statehood
"DC statehood is not a partisan issue but a civil rights issue, which cannot be separated from the fight for racial justice."
On the League
"What may seem like small acts to us — setting up a registration booth, sharing a VOTE411 resource, encouraging someone to write to their local elected official — can be life-changing for the people we encounter.
Many people go through life believing — based on experience — that our democracy does not include them and that their voices will never be heard. At its core, the League is here to show them that their voices are the power behind their democracy and to fight to make sure they are heard. We, as League members, have never taken democracy lightly, and we never will."
"The League is my endorphin!"
"Our work is more important than ever, and we must stand in our power. Our network is vast because it is rooted in our communities. Our passion runs deep, and our voices together form a resounding chorus. We are one League, and we fight on behalf of every voter in every corner of this country."
"At the League, we protect the vote. For everyone."
"I have been struggling with the tension between what we have to be thankful for and the quest for a better tomorrow for not just us, the privileged, but for all those who are struggling to survive in a sometimes less than compassionate world. I find it is hope that keeps me going — the hope of a better tomorrow, the hope of a world where we all respect one another, and the hope of social justice — for without hope, we cannot face the day, nor can we realize a better tomorrow. So, here’s to hope and the promise of a world we can all be thankful to inhabit."
"My mother used to tell me you should wake up every morning and be grateful for one more day."
"Keep on keeping on."
The Latest from the League
WASHINGTON — It is with profound sadness that the League of Women Voters announces the passing of our esteemed president, Dr. Deborah Ann Turner, who passed away on Sunday, January 28, 2024, from complications from a pulmonary embolism.
Dr. Deborah Ann Turner elected 20th president of the League of Women Voters of the United States.
There is only one way we can ensure that the promise of democracy is kept: by fervently participating in our nation’s political processes, ensuring our voices are heard.