By Laura Schofer
Barbara Epstein, of Wantagh, a long-time member of the East Nassau League of Women Voters, was looking for a way to get involved in the community. The year was 1970. Epstein, home with her young children, joined a local bowling league. There she met someone who told her about the League of Women Voters and encouraged her to attend a meeting. “I was hooked from my first league meeting,” she said. “I started going to Town [of Hempstead] board meetings and my interest grew from there.”
Since then, Epstein has served two terms as president of the East Nassau League of Women Voters and worked on a number of local issues including campaigns on voting rights, voter registration, campaign finance reform, town and county redistricting, transportation, management of natural resources and an issue dear and near to Epstein’s heart — affordable housing. “I feel very strongly that we need more housing for 18 to 30 year olds and for our seniors,” Epstein said. “But to make it happen, the people and the politico must have the will.”
The League of Women Voters is a grassroots, nonpartisan multi-issue political organization. Its mission is to encourage informed and active participation of citizens in government, work to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influence public policy through education and advocacy. There are five local leagues in Nassau County. The East Nassau League stretches from Freeport through Massapequa on the south shore of Nassau County and includes Wantagh, Seaford, Levittown and East Meadow, as well as the communities in the Town of Oyster Bay. Membership is open to all men and women, 18 years or older.
Carrie Chapman Catt founded the League in 1920 during the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The convention was held just six months before the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote after a 72-year struggle. Ninety-five years later, the League is still going strong. The East Nassau League has about 50 members including several men. “We are strictly nonpartisan,” Epstein said. “Members have the opportunity to work on issues that interest them.”
LWV member Peggy Stein, a member of East Nassau’s steering committee is “passionate about politics,” Stein said. She is particularly interested in the Women’s Equality Agenda, such as preserving access to reproductive health care, ensuring fair treatment at work and helping survivors of violence. “There is so much more to do on this issue,” she said.
Meanwhile, League member Barbara Josepher is working on supporting the protection and management of Long island’s natural resources in the public interest including energy conservation and energy options from renewable sources. The League recently opposed the local LNG proposal as well as hydrofracking in New York state.
“Water is a big issue,” added Epstein. “We are looking at the problem of salinization (buildup of salts) of our aquifer and we don’t know about the impact New York City could have on our water supply while they are working on their wells.”
Norma Shaeffer is director of Voter Services and has been involved in the League since 1996. “Our thrust is to get people to the polls,” Shaeffer said. “In the last election, it was a weak electorate so our efforts are going to try and impress upon people the importance of local elections.”
Shaeffer said the League would try to schedule a candidate forum before the March 10 vote to replace Legislator David Denenberg in the 19th County Legislative District. Additionally, Shaeffer helps to register voters, schedules candidate meetings and works to assist in monitoring voting in the housing project at Freeport.
“People need to be more educated about the election process,” Epstein said. “People think local elections are not important, but they are the most important and affect people on an everyday basis. One vote matters and can change the outcome.”
The East Nassau League of Women Voters meets the third Wednesday of each month at the Levittown Public Library at 7:30 p.m., except this month and March when they meet at 3:30 p.m. To learn more about the League of Women Voters, call the county office at (516) 431-1628 or go to www.lwvoeastnassau.org.