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.
LR: 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.
LR: 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.
LR: 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.
LR: 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.
LR: 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.
LR: 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.
LR: 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.
LR: 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.
LR: 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.
LR: 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.