A League Of Her Own

 

In 1920 women in the United States were given the right to vote. Since then, the League of Women Voters has been at the forefront of the political arena engaging with legislators and people across the country in affecting policy and helping to facilitate important discussions on both sides of the aisle that impact all Americans.

Below, is my interview with Dr. Sondra Cosgrove, President of the League of Women Voters for Nevada.

M: You’re the President of the League of Women Voters for the state of Nevada and a Full-Time History professor at College of Southern Nevada. In addition to those titles, you’re a mom, a mentor, and a volunteer. How do you juggle?

SC: I’ve figured out how to lead a three-dimensional life. I layer my time to efficiently multitask: through technology, I can use every minute of the week as effectively as possible. This means that much of what I do happens virtually. I teach half my classes online and half in a hybrid modality, which gives my students the freedom to complete work on a schedule that best fits their lives. It also allows me to create course content and assignments while I am on break; to stay connected through email and messaging; and to grade anywhere I have an internet connection. I manage my community and family roles similarly. While League has in-person meetings, most of what I do as President of League of Women Voters Nevada happens in virtual space. I manage our social media accounts and blog electronically and I can do voter registration, community outreach, and mentor our younger members through a combination of in-person and virtual activities. My children are grown, so I’m at an age where I have a lot more time for my own goals.

M: For those who don’t know, how would you describe the work and mission of League of Women Voters?

SC: The League of Women Voters began on February 14, 1920, six months before the 19th Amendment established women’s right to vote. The suffragists who fought so hard to gain the right to vote realized that women would need help registering to vote, engaging with elected leaders, and running for office so they created the League as a women’s organization to promote civic engagement. Since it’s founding, League has added issue advocacy to its mission. There is sometimes confusion over this part of League’s activities. We are a non-partisan, but political organization under the I.R.S. This means that we do not work directly with either political party and we do not endorse candidates, but we do advocate for issues with elected leaders. Our 501c3 legal designation allows us to do this type of political work. We still spend much of our time ensuring that every eligible voter can register to vote, learn about candidates and issues, cast an easily accessible ballot, and engage in legislative processes, but – especially since the Civil Rights movement – we also advocate for issues legislatively and through litigation to strengthen our democracy. These two main focuses make League one of the oldest women’s groups in the country that gives women leadership opportunities and a political voice outside the political party structures.

M: LWV is neither Democrat nor Republican and is issues focused. It’s been around ninety-eight years and is still going strong. How would you like to see the organization grow?

SC: To survive for almost one hundred years, League had to become adept at evolving early in our history. This doesn’t mean that change is easy or even orderly, be we do understand that League must reflect the needs of women in each generation. We are currently refreshing League practices and issues to better align with Millennial and Gen Z needs. In addition to access to voter registration and election processes, younger women are also worried about access to affordable higher education, various forms of harassment in the workplace, and affordable healthcare. In the current iteration of League, we’ve increased our use of online forms of communicating and advocacy and we’ve integrated more professional development on diversity and cultural competency into our training programs. Each day, League of Women Voters of Nevada is listening to our very diverse community and offering opportunities for empowerment and action that reflect local needs.

M: The current political climate evokes a lot of impassioned emotion from many people. What are some of the issues that most concern you as a woman? How is LWV participating in that conversation on a regional and national scale?

SC: While I would definitely describe Leaguers as passionate, what mainly attracted me to League is how the organization uses rational, academic processes for determining outcomes. We’re sticklers about adhering to Robert’s Rules of Order to manage our meetings and organizational processes, which ensures every member can participate and feel safe and heard. This strong commitment to using good processes to produce good outcomes also applies to how we decide which issues to support. Before any issue comes up for a vote of the membership, it goes through a detailed study process. By the time we vote on adopting an issue or position, we all feel included, heard, and sure the outcome will be fair. Personally, I am working to guarantee women have equal opportunity and are treated fairly in the workplace in political spheres. The League of Women Voters US is currently working through Congress and the Courts on redistricting reform, immigration reform, and restoring the Voting Rights Act. And in Nevada, League is working with our legislature on behavioral healthcare, renewable and sustainable energy, and reforming how we manage legislative sessions.

M: Recently, I attended a meeting where you had speakers sharing their thoughts on Intersectionality and how LWV can be a part of that process. For people who don’t know what Intersectionality is, how would you definite it and moreover, why is it so important?

SC: Intersectionality is an introspective approach for pursuing social justice. The theory of Intersectionality teaches us that to truly address social inequality and discrimination it’s vital to be aware that every person’s reality consists of many identities and experiences. Intersectionality informs anyone dedicated to advancing social justice to be acutely aware of the oppression people of color and other minority groups face in American society. Intersectionality reminds me that what I view as important, may not be as important to distressed community members. And, to achieve social justice outcomes, I must listen, work to provide spaces where anyone can feel safe to ask for help, and be ready to address the issues that are most important to those who ask for help. League members want to make things better – it’s our reason for being. So, for me, it makes sense that the concept of intersectionality should guide how we prioritize our advocacy and how we marshal resources for immediate community needs.

M: On days when you’re not teaching, what’s a typical schedule like for you in terms of your LWV duties?

SC: As I mentioned, I live a layered life. During most of each day, I am a professor, a League president, and many other roles simultaneously. Daily, I post reliable news and political analysis on our League social media accounts to keep folks updated on important issues. I attend events and community meetings as they arise. I find and invite speakers to our League meetings, which happen on the third Saturday of each month. We have a very active Behavioral Healthcare committee that meets once a month and we have board meetings quarterly. During the legislative session, I testify during hearings related to our issue priorities, watch hearings to keep track of votes on important legislation, and post legislative updates on our League blog. I also speak at civic and community group meetings to provide legislative updates and advocacy training. Lastly, because I am the state of Nevada LWV President, I travel to Reno/Carson City area at least once a quarter to meet with our northern League and to Washington DC or other cities to engage in national-level League business.

M: You’re invited to speak at many events and spend a lot of time with legislators and policymakers too. What’s the most rewarding and most challenging aspects of that part of your responsibilities?

SC: I guess I’m a bit weird because I like to attend meetings and other types of events. I find that each is an opportunity to meet people with different perspectives, to exchange information, and to form new coalitions. I see every person as an expert in something and I’ve found that most people are happy to share their expertise if asked. Political work can be frustrating at times when someone disregards established protocols, practices, and rules but, by and large, the lawmakers and other elected officials I work with are all dedicated to making Nevada a better place.

M: Nevada is among the states with the greatest proportion of female lawmakers, is home to the first Latina Senator in the United States Senate, and had a DREAM Act recipient elected to the United States Congress. In a state as diverse as Nevada, how does that affect LWV?

 SC: Nevada is an awesome place to live for all those reasons! Because League is a federated organization, state and local Leagues have great latitude to adapt in ways that reflect individual community needs. For the Nevada League, that means recognizing that every part of our rich and diverse population has unique challenges. We are aware that we cannot assume to know what issues need to be addressed on a day-to-day basis, so, we strive to maintain a constant stream of information coming in from our members and community partners. Leaguers are ready to listen and then act to help.

M: What would you say to encourage a young person about the importance of civic engagement?

SC: As a history professor, I am an ardent advocate of civic engagement. Our political systems and processes do have problems, but I can professionally attest to the fact that our nation has achieved great things, despite these problems, when more people vote and advocate for their needs. Why would our history be so full of epic battles over voting rights if voting and fair representation didn’t bestow power? League recognizes that the fight to empower voters and defend democracy is still with us. As long as people of color and the poor are denied the right to vote and the right to fair representation, League will stand strong to eradicate those strains of injustice.

M: How can people find out more about League of Women Voters?

SC: The League of Women Voter’s US website offers League’s history and a summary of our current efforts nationally. The URL is www.LWV.org. Anyone can access our state and local Leagues through our state League website at www.LWVNV.org. We also have a blog with updates on meetings, elections, and governing processes. The URL for that site is www.LWVNVblog.org. In addition to those tools,we have Facebook pages for the League of Women Voters of Nevada, League of Women Voters of Southern Nevada, and League of Women Voters Northern Nevada. On Twitter, you can follow us at @LWVSNV.

Hello. I love you. Won’t you tell me your name?

We all have an idea of who we are as people. Younger people often confuse their real identity with who they want to become. Although to be fair, I’ve seen older people do this too so it’s not like Millennials have a monopoly on this behavior. Are you as big a believer in spirituality as your girlfriends at yoga class and in solstice festival you attended believe? Are you as open-minded in real life as you espouse to be online or at cocktail parties? These are just a few examples for the sake of this post and there’s no right or wrong answer – only you know the truth.

Identity Lipstick-Republic blog

I had theories of who I thought I was for most of my life from about age 18 till about 33 when I realized I wasn’t any of those things. It wasn’t so much that I felt like an imposter – I mean, I genuinely DO like opera, but I’m not itching to see La Boheme whenever I hear it’s playing. Rather, I felt like I was interested in a lot of things because that’s what I felt was expected of me or needed for me to be liked or loved by those I respected and admired. Also, because I went from being a teenager to being a mother and wife so young, I believe that played a large part in not really having the time to really understand who I was as a young woman: my passions, my dreams, what made me truly happy or truly sad…those sorts of things. For a long time, this not knowing myself caused me a lot of pain through no one’s fault but my own. By the time I realized that a person wasn’t whom I thought them to be, I was exhausted and ready to move on without them in my life, becoming resentful and instead of owning my own baggage, I’d walk away from the friendship or relationship. I was honest with the “it’s not you, it’s me” thing, but in hindsight, I should have explained to those people the gravity of that statement for me and that it really wasn’t just a vapid way of blowing them off, but a very real one.

I had a friend named Talia who was really into loud music, loud men, and loud opinions. In retrospect, I think I gravitated toward her because she was strong in a lot of ways I wasn’t – she asserted herself and didn’t put up with anyone’s crap. I was soft spoken, avoided conflict, and tended to be more submissive in my romantic relationships. For a time, I loved hanging out with her and the power I thought she embodied, hoping it would rub off on me. Eventually, I began to see that while she was assertive, she was never soft and often cruel to people. I saw her need to be loud wasn’t necessarily some sort of illustration of feminist strength, but more a need to always be the center of attention that stemmed from her own insecurities. I walked away. There were other similarly dysfunctional relationships that came into my life and with each of them, I made the decision to walk away.

When I was thirty-three, after another bad judgment call in the friendship department (this time I had seen red flags early on in this particular friend, Janice. She was clearly a user and only wanted to hang out when I’d buy her things or take her places. Still, I allowed it because I always had a companion to travel with or to go shopping or eat out with because well, of course, I could count on Janice. If I was paying, Janice always RSVP’d), I had an awakening. I went to Santa Barbara for the weekend alone to do some much-needed thinking. I sat by the sea. I wrote in my journal. I made lists. I ate by myself. I shopped by myself. And –  I realized that I enjoyed being with myself. I didn’t need another person to validate who I was for me to like myself. I went home with a renewed purpose and excitedly told my therapist. I was elated. It was like a I’d been in a fog and could finally see for the first time.

Since then, I’ve learned much about myself and who I am as a human being. I no longer desire relationships that lack substance. I would much rather have a few good friends than a lot of fair weather people in my circle. Here are some other things I’ve come to understand about myself:

DISLIKES. I don’t cotton to people who are quick to criticize but not interested in doing any real critical thinking. I respond better to dialogue when asked or spoken to directly and do not like being triangulated. I don’t like when I feel rushed  (eating in a hurry to catch a movie? No thanks, I’d rather enjoy my meal and linger over conversation). I panic when I don’t know where I’m driving  and it can make me grumpy. Women who do the breathy voice, helpless act with men annoy me. I can’t be around them long before I want to vomit. I have little patience for people who talk down to others. I don’t respond well to those who proselytize or browbeat others into submission or conversion to anything.

LIKES. I like going the speed limit or 5-10 miles over it and prefer driving during the daytime as opposed to night driving. I like having alone time to read or journal to recalibrate. Afternoon naps are sacrosanct to me. I like fresh flowers and original art (that doesn’t have to equal expensive, BTW). I prefer antiques and classic style to ultra-modern decor. I think women should have a place at the table and no, I don’t mean just setting a pretty one. I like museums and galleries and can wander through them for hours.

What about you? How are you NOW different than you WERE ten years ago? Twenty years ago? Are you the person inside that you show the world outside? Do you do things because you want to or do you feel beholden or obligated to them because of other people’s expectations? Are your relationships with others authentic? Do you get out of them what you put into them and if not, why are you still friends with that person(s)?

It can be terrifying and difficult to have these conversations with yourself. Believe me, I speak from a place of personal experience in wrestling with these demons and identifying my own hang-ups. Here’s the thing though –  we’re all in this together as women. You’re not alone. Be true to yourself.