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RANDY: When you think about the idea of “civic duty,” or “civic engagement,” one organization that immediately comes to mind is the League of Women Voters, founded in 1920 following the suffrage movement to help American women carry out their newly-ratified 19th Amendment rights and responsibilities as voters, in the belief that citizens should play a critical role in their democracy.
[Background audio fades up as a “Making Democracy Work” recording session at KSMU is about to start.]
LESLIE CARRIER: Are we good?
MICHELE SKALICKY: We’re good—you guys ready?
GUEST: Are you good with sound?
MICHELE: It’s time for “Making Democracy Work,” a weekly program produced in cooperation with the League of Women Voters of Southwest Missouri. And your host today is Leslie Carrier.
LESLIE: Welcome—our guest today is... [fades out]
RANDY: KSMU has a long-standing relationship with the local Southwest Missouri chapter of the League, who for some 30 years have produced a weekly program discussing issues and topics of interest to area citizens. The show’s current title reflects the national League’s slogan as displayed on its website: “Making Democracy Work.” I talked with three local members of the League of Woman Voters to get their perspective on “civic duty” and the role it plays in a democracy. Allison Cash, Vice-President of Marketing for Made Drinks Company, is in her second year as President of the local League chapter.
ALLISON CASH: I love the idea of the League because the League is non-partisan, and the League does not endorse—or oppose—any candidate. And I love that because I wanted to just be educated—I wanted to go to the polls and understand what I was voting for, who I was voting for, and what they really stood for. So I got involved in the League from totally wanting an education. What we do is educate, engage, and advocate. We try to educate our local community here about the issues that are pertinent to them, and we try to get them involved—because democracy only works when people get involved. “Civic duty” is doing your part in your community to support the process of democracy. So civic duty is giving something back, and doing something for your fellow citizens—and yourself—in the process. To me, fulfilling your civic duty is participating in the process by voting.
RANDY: The League of Women Voters use their KSMU radio program as an educational and informational outreach: to fulfill their civic duty, and help the general public do the same.
ALLISON CASH: One of our foundations, really, is education. So having that program, even if it just gets someone thinking or asking another question, is absolutely part of our civic duty And we volunteer our time to do that show—and our guests, of course, volunteer their time too, away from their other commitments, to do that show—because we feel like it is a value from a civic standpoint.
RANDY: Kay Murnan teaches political science at Ozarks Technical Community College, and first started volunteering for the League’s radio program in about 1985.
KAY MURNAN: Civic duty is vital to our type of country, to the kind of government we have. When they were writing the Constitution and they were just wrapping it up, a lady asked Ben Franklin, “What kind of government have you created for us?” And he said, “A republic—if you can keep it!” Part of “keeping it” is being active, seeing it as a duty and a privilege. It’s NOT just an obligation: it’s a “Wow, I get to!! I get to be a citizen, and I get to participate, and I get to help others!” We’ve taken on the obligation to present to the voters information, or opportunities to get information. That’s why we are non-partisan, we don’t support political parties. Let’s hear what everybody has to say. And I try to use that in my classes too, when I tell them, “I can learn from you. And I have my own opinion, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change.”
RANDY: Why volunteer your time to help produce a radio program?
KAY: First of all, you can cover things that aren’t necessarily on the evening news but the people might need or want to know, and a different perspective. And so we would always try to have balance. And, uh... it’s fun! (chuckle)
RANDY: Lisa Langley from the Springfield Public Schools Community Relations Department has been one of the volunteer hosts on the radio program for about five years. She agrees with Kay Murnan that civic duty, civic involvement, is both a responsibility and a privilege.
LISA LANGLEY: It’s a privilege, but it’s a duty for us to continue to honor that privilege: to learn about the issues, and to learn about the candidates, and to understand who we’re voting for, what we’re voting for. So definitely it’s a privilege, but there is a duty that comes with that privilege.
RANDY: Or maybe it’s a privilege to fulfill that duty.
RANDY: As Kay Murnan is quick to point out, men are welcome in the League of Women Voters too.
KAY: It is notfor women only, and we’ve had men presidents. So it’s an equal-opportunity learning experience.
RANDY: To find out more, visit the League of Women Voters’ local website: www.lwvswmo.org.