Boulder County League of Women Voters works to engage a more diverse membership in its 100th year
By Tanya Ishikawa
Shiquita Yarbrough works two jobs to support herself and help her two sons and two daughters get into and through college. As a busy single mother, the Longmont resident may not appear to be someone who would make time to volunteer for the League of Women Voters of Boulder County (LWVBC). But she’s not only an active member who attends League activities, she’s also the organization’s Youth Engagement leader and recently presented a talk on diversity at the LWV of Colorado annual meeting.
The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization that turns 100 in 2020 and educates people about the voting process and participation in government. It also advocates for policies that support voter empowerment and a strong democracy. Born out of the federal passage of the women’s right to vote amendment, the volunteer-based organization also includes male members and functions at the national, state and local levels.
Up until four years ago, the Boulder County chapter—like many others—could have been described as outdated and almost invisible—a shrinking group of 60- to 90-year-old retirees, almost entirely white. But, as representatives of Colorado’s largest and oldest chapter founded in 1931, the members rallied for their future, developing and implementing a strategic plan that has, in part, resulted in 31% membership growth and increased diversity.
“By participating in league activities, you gain knowledge and wisdom from being around people who know what they’re doing and care about the facts. That alone is priceless for me,” explains Yarbrough, who is a younger member at 49. Her 18-year-old daughter, Genesis Kebede, also spoke at the annual state meeting about engaging youth.
Reaching Young Voters Where They Are
LWVBC is now reaching more young people by piquing their interest about political issues through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. It also has a new multifunctional, streamlined website with accessible information and member tools that provide updates, event details and photos of activities to attract new people.
The League offers free membership for students in exchange for a few hours of volunteering and reaches out to Latino and African American-led organizations and individuals.
Perhaps most importantly, members created new events to engage people from a wider range of ages and backgrounds. Beyond traditional candidate forums and voter registration drives, the members host movie screenings followed by discussions at theaters, such as at the recent “Black Panther” screening co-hosted by Families of Color Colorado and YWCA Boulder County. The chapter also hosts casual “Drinks and Dialogues” and “Community Conversations” to share information about political issues and encourage different perspectives.
Advocating for a strong democracy has helped bring together more people as well. A successful November 2018 ballot initiative on the National Popular Vote (NPV) was a significant accomplishment for all League chapters across Colorado. The initiative aligned with the long-held national league position that the electoral college takes away personal voting rights and seeks to make a voter’s presidential choice count. Boulder members sponsored two community workshops about it, testified at legislative committee hearings, wrote letters to the editor and lobbied members of the legislature to support NPV.
This year, LWVBC applied for and received a grant to train members about diversity as well as create Community Conversations about racism and toxic masculinity. The group is working on a Living Wage campaign in Longmont, and the Voting Methods Team is increasing awareness of alternative voting methods and proportional representation. Members are gearing up for the 2019 local elections as well as the 2020 census and elections.
“I make time for what matters in my community and the future for my children,” Yarbrough says. “I appreciate that the League has helped me grow as a citizen in my community to know why I am voting for this person or this law.”