When Vicki Boyer was 6 years old, she found her calling while watching the Kennedy-Nixon debates on television in Washington, D.C: "I saw male politicians interacting with this woman. She was the president of the League of Women Voters. They were treating her with deference and respect. I knew that was unusual. I knew that's where I wanted to be when I grew up."
Now president of the 200-member Orange-Durham-Chatham LWV, Boyer has spent this election season moderating nearly a half-dozen candidate forums. (As moderator, she's never had to use her black belt in Tai Kwon Do.) She talked with the Indy about voting, civic responsibility and the League, a non-partisan group launched during the 1920s suffragette movement.
Voter turnout for the October elections was pitiful, and that's been a trend. What can the League do to help reverse it?
I spoke to two groups recently regarding civic responsibility and tried to give them reasons why they should be engaged. There's nothing like voting for someone and not liking what they did in office to make you pay more attention next time. If you want to change the world, change the world in a small way. You want bike lanes, speed bumps, a stoplight? Maybe you want to preserve the North Carolina coastline from development or your kid to come home from Iraq. You have to get engaged.
There are also many unopposed races. People don't seem to want to run for office.
It's getting harder to run for office. That people have to raise money is a deterrent. It's also time-consuming. People running for office really give up their lives. We tend to look at these jobs as part-time without recognizing the full-time demands. We expect them to be free to give up their evenings to talk to neighborhood groups, to come to our breakfast meetings to speak.
A lot of people run for office because they're angry or upset about something, but they don't know the limitations of the office. For example, if the state legislature doesn't allow us to stop development, then there's no way a mayor or town council can do so.
How diverse is the League?
We're predominantly a group of women of over 50. A lot of men are members, but we can't change our name because someone else with an agenda could come along and call themselves the League of Women Voters and take 87 years of goodwill. We're open to a diversity of opinions.
Most of the League women were active during very tumultuous time for women's rights.
We remember the '60s. Everything was in chaos; there were riots and demonstrations. We wanted to change the world, but we got a bit sidetracked by the business of life. We got married and had children; we all worked. Now we can pursue our passion. We still want to change the world. The League works to show people how government works and how to effect change in government. We're here to show people how to change the world.
How has the Internet affected local politics?
I'm watching these blogs locally and seeing that in the blogosphere, sometimes they are our new smoke-filled rooms. Alliances are being made; enemies are created. It's so easy to hit the send button, and when you're not face to face with someone you can say things that can create animosity. There are reasons elected officials speak very carefully and measure their words; they know the person you antagonize today is the person you need tomorrow to get your bill passed.
You seem very enthused about the Leagues' role in civic life.
Several years ago, we had a small Christmas parade float in Chapel Hill. There was a woman on the curb with her child. She said, "That's the League of Women Voters; if it weren't for them, we couldn't vote." It almost brought tears to my eyes.