Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 6, 2013

Local League of Women Voters marks 75 years

'Democracy training ground' group to hold panel on status of women

by Chris Kenrick

Democracy is not a spectator sport, goes the saying that's popular among members of the League of Women Voters of Palo Alto.

The local group marks its 75th anniversary this Saturday, Dec. 8, with a panel discussion titled, "The Status of Women, Past, Present and Future."

Though Palo Alto league membership at 265 has dropped from its peak in the 1950s and 1960s, the group's president Mary Alice Thornton calls the league an essential "training ground for how to be a citizen in a democracy.

"Democracy requires an educated citizenry and people willing to put some time in to keeping that democracy, and it starts at the local level," said Thornton, a retired teacher of early childhood education.

"If people want to keep our democracy, they have to be involved citizens and not sitting on the sidelines."

In its 75 years, the Palo Alto league — which forms study groups on issues before finding consensus for a group position — has worked for civil rights and an end to racial discrimination, on behalf of fair and affordable housing, for the acquisition of Foothills Park and for transparency in campaign finance.

The league does not endorse individual candidates.

It has spawned League of Women Voter groups in adjacent communities of Los Altos and south San Mateo County.

Several Palo Alto league members also were instrumental in creating the Smartvoter website, which provides unbiased election information in California and has been copied in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Members gather to hear from local experts, such as physician Don Barr, one of the founders of Palo Alto's Opportunity Center serving the homeless, and City Council member Liz Kniss.

The Palo Alto league also maintains active committees researching local issues such as housing and education.

Saturday's panel on the status of women, for which the registration deadline was Dec. 2, will feature retired Superior Court Judge LaDoris Cordell, former Smith College President Carol Christ, and Myra Strober, founding director of Stanford University's Clayman Institute for Gender Research.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can emailed at ckenrick@paweekly.com.

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