On June 23, 2022, five leaders in the political and equal rights movements came together to discuss the current state of democracy and women's role in advancing it.
- Nicole Melaku, executive director of the National Partnership for New Americans;
- Christian Nunes, president of the National Organization for Women;
- Noelle Damico, director of social justice for the Worker's Circle;
- April Albright, legal director of the Black Voters Matter Fund; and
- Moderator Allison Riggs, board director for the League of Women Voters of the US and co-executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Touching on subjects including voter suppression, empowering underserved communities, and attacks on gender and sex-based equality, the panelists had several messages for women — and all people — working to defend our democracy.
- April Albright
Speaking on the eve of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion, Albright spoke directly to many in the audience's greatest fears.
Indeed, as Albright predicted, the Supreme Court released a number of devastating decisions in June 2022 involving reproductive rights, gun control, climate change, and the tribal sovereignty of Indigenous and Native American communities, among other issues.
As activists, we're familiar with the intense social, emotional, and physiological tolls that these decisions take. This is why more people, particularly woman of color, are leading a movement to treat rest as a radical act. As one writer says, "when we don’t rest, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to restore our health and well-being in ways that will help us stay grounded in our bodies." Without this essential restoration, we're unable to bring our best selves to the movements that mean the most to us. Further, we deny the very messages we want to bring into the world: that our voices, bodies, and needs matter equally.
That's why we must breathe — or nap, take time off, unplug from social media, etc — in the face of hardship.
And once we've walked the walk of honoring our personhood, we can stand up, invigorated, to fight for our rights.
- Christian Nunes
The spread of false information, intentionally (disinformation) or unintentionally (misinformation), is one of the greatest threats to our democracy in the digital age.
A September 2021 report demonstrated how the spread of false information on Facebook has led to "ethnic violence and harm to teenage girls and has undermined COVID-19 vaccination efforts." Meanwhile, politicians, researchers, and everyday Americans have voiced concerns over the relationship between mis- and disinformation and incidents like the January 6 insurrection, attacks on health workers, and the attempted "Pizzagate" shooting at a family restaurant.
The League is committed to countering mis- and disinformation through the Democracy Truth Project, one of the four pillars of our Women Power Democracy program. This includes advancing research on mis- and disinformation, expanding civic education, and enhancing public awareness of the issue.
- Noelle Damico
Throughout the tragedies of the past several years — the pandemic, fatal shootings, violence against people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community, and the overturning of the constitutional right to abortion — many of us have relied on our communities to provide care, inspiration, and hope.
This has certainly been the case with the League.
Last year, we stood in partnership with members of People For the American Way and Declaration for American Democracy in the continuing battle for voting rights.
On the day that the right to abortion was overturned, hundreds of League members, already together in Denver for our biennial Convention, organized a march to the state Capitol Building, where we joined a crowd of Coloradans in taking a stand for reproductive freedom.
It's crucial for all of us to identify and honor the spaces where we're emotionally safe and free to express our feelings about recent events. What's more, these are the spaces that may inspire us to take powerful action. Whether we find these spaces with friends, family, advocacy groups like state and local Leagues, or elsewhere, they are necessary for the work ahead.
- Nicole Melaku
On a similar note, Nicole Melaku reminded us of the importance of unity in times of both victory and loss. All work across the voting and equal rights fields, whether it's focused on voter suppression, immigration reform, laborer's rights, or the environment, are interconnected. We must celebrate our mutual successes and support one another in our intersectional work.
When faced with obstacles or disappointments, we must resist the temptation to cast blame and instead combine our diverse perspectives to build strong, impactful responses. Every loss is an opportunity to reexamine our tactics. Had we left anyone out of the room in previous actions? Were we getting through to the needs of everyday people? These questions make us more powerful.
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We are winning. We have to remember that.”
- April Albright
This is not the first time we've faced seemingly insurmountable hardship. It has been less than 170 years since slavery was abolished; less than 70 years since Black and brown Americans gained the right to vote; less than 50 years since women were considered completely legally subordinate to their husbands; less than a decade since the legalization of same-sex marriage.
In the face of violence, political discrimination, and feelings of hopelessness, Americans — particularly women — have always fought to create a fairer, more just democracy that better represented all of its people. We have made gains that were previously unimaginable, because as Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice."
We will continue to push forward. We will take time to rest and restore our bodies and minds, and will find solace and inspiration in our communities. We will tackle false information and unite over our shared goals. And we will do this until we win.
And then we will keep going.
Watch the full panel discussion below.
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The League was founded to empower women to fully participate in our democracy, and today, we continue that work alongside our allies who focus on empowering other marginalized communities.
To that end, we’re investing more than $5 million this year alone into a new programmatic focus — Women Power Democracy — to support initiatives that will help us realize a stronger, more representative American democracy.
‘Women Power Democracy,’ the new programmatic focus of the League of Women Voters, will advance a stronger, more representative American democracy.