Lois Van Alstine Holler wrote the following article for the May, 1947 issue of Action, the newsletter of the National League of Women Voters. Holler had been president of the League of Women Voters of Iowa from 1944 until 1946. In this article, Holler addressed the role of the League in national politics and specifically in women's lives. Holler encouraged Leaguers to persist in their political efforts and to expand the diversity of League membership and activities.
Are We Doing Our Job?
By Lois Van Alstine Holler
We're more than half the citizens of the U.S.A.--we women. Are we doing more than half the job of citizen support for democracy? We'll have to admit that we don't do our share, either in party activity, such as caucuses and conventions, or in molding party policy. And more the pity, when we stop to realize how much we have to add to political thinking, with our fresh feminine viewpoint. This is true not only in matters close to our hearts, such as child delinquency, and slum clearance, but in fields of economics and world affairs, where we are learning fast.
"I don't know anything about taxes," says Mrs. X. "My husband looks after things like that." Trite, yes. And why? Because it's said over and over so many times.
We members of the League of Women Voters owe a special responsibility to Mrs. X, and thousands of other American women, for we are lucky enough to belong to a group which not only sees and studies the work to be done, but has considerable experience in ways of doing it. We've caught the inspiration that one gains through informed participation in politics. Think how many miss out on this satisfaction because we Leaguers don't exercise that extra initiative required to take the League to varied groups of citizens!
"But women aren't interested in politics!" We've all heard that. Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Carrie Chapman Catt heard it, too. It's lucky for us it didn't shake their faith in the role of women! They saw it as a mental block that would be lifted with experience. Yet even today women are hampered by political immaturity.
It isn't I.Q. or economic level, or educational background that determines the degree of interest in public affairs. Politics are popular with all kinds of men, from garbage collectors to chairmen-of-the-board, because it is a field with which they feel familiar.
The League, because of its acquaintanceship with public problems, and the opportunity it gives for action, should make more kinds of citizens feel at home in the realm of government. Someone has said that in the school of experience, the class yell is "Ouch" and the colors are black and blue. The risks and rigors of politics, which sometimes temper the interest of the inexperienced, no longer frighten the League of Women Voters. Affairs of government we respect for their complexity, but this very complexity, instead of paralyzing us with fear and inaction, reminds us that we're part of the puzzle, and that we're pikers if we don't help solve it. We say that our purpose in the League is to stimulate participation in government. We talk about our organization representing a cross section of the citizens. Do we really have a cross section, or do we just wish we did?
To be sure, we have remarkable power in relation to the size of our membership, and our faith in ourselves carries us far. We are like the boy who came to the door selling vegetables. "Quite a business," observed the housewife. "I'll say! I'm out to make a million dollars." "A million dollars! All by yourself?" "No," the boy conceded, "I have another guy to help me." League members have the same sort of assurance. It's a virtue, of course, but it's a danger too, for we have so many plans and possibilities, that we very much need a lot of "other guys" to help us!
Many of our League activities are "naturals" for putting us in touch with more and varied people. Our discussion-group techniques, for instance, have taught us how we can make the issues of the day "come alive" for all citizens. Our special activities, such as public opinion polls and citizen's handbooks, touch the lives of many, as do our community campaigns for getting out the vote, for clean swimming pools and better milk. Our work has an appeal far greater than we realize.
Yes, we have the means for reaching more people than we do. Then what's the trouble? The chances are that we're so busy carrying out the projects, we don't stop to evaluate what they could do for membership. The project is not only and end, but a means to an end.
The thrilling possibilities of our purpose--to stimulate citizens in a working democracy--should never be lost sight of in the busy-ness and the details of carrying on our League activities. A project is a double-barreled shotgun, but we use it like an air rifle when we fail to employ it as a means for getting a better cross section in membership.
It is not only for the sake of the League itself that we must recognize our weakness and make ourselves stronger, but for the sake of our nation and the world. We know that no system of government will work unless the people do. It's a time when ordinary folk must be jogged into extraordinary roles. It's up to the people of the U.S.A. to prove our system is worth the respect and consideration of the troubled millions who are fumbling for a governmental plan to live by.
It is wonderful that we do so much with so few; but it's good to remind ourselves that America is made up of many more kinds of people than we have in the League, each with a helping hand and a viewpoint that we can't afford to miss. Let us bear in mind that the nearer we come to a real cross section in membership, the nearer we'll be a valuable and mature organization.