President's Notes (Diane Hastert)
Workshop for Discussion Leaders and Recorders
Report from the Hill
Convention '74 - Keynote Address (Lucy Wilson Benson)
Planning & Land Use - pull-and-save for Oct. Units
Convention '74 - Keynote Address
KEYNOTE ADDRESS by Lucy Wilson Benson—we cut it down for the Voter.
...During the past six years, I've spoken before hundreds of League groups--at national and state conventions, and councils, and at local LEAGUE meetings. It was therefore a little surprising when I found it inordinately difficult to work up my remarks for this afternoon.
The trouble was not with you--my intended audience, nor did it come from any great uncertainty about what I wanted to say. The problem stemmed from what became my own personal time warp. I found myself looking back at more than two decades of active League work and thinking, also, about events in earlier periods of League history. Then I'd be pulled back to the present and to the critically important business that will occupy all of us this week. And then my head would go where I really wanted it to go-- to the future. The future of the League and of the society in which it functions.
...These are not easy times--for us or for the nation. As is generally the case, the wizards of the pop culture establishment have given us their trendy view of the national mood. The name of the fad is nostalgia. Vogue and Harper's swathe their models in clothes of the 20's.. and 30's. The Andrews Sisters are packing 'em in on Broadway. The Great Gatsby gives us a slice of the booming Twenties and The Waltons face the post-boom depression with grit and determination.
Our image makers are busy putting together a new, mythical past:. one that urges us to escape the harsh realities of today; to go back to the way we • never were. I'm just waiting for some apple-cheeked politician to premise to beat current food and energy shortages with chicken in every pot and a gassed-up car in every garage."
The past can teach us many things, But not when we manipulate its pluses to compensate for our minuses,
...If one goes by media interest in this convention, it would seem that our most earth-shaking action will be the bylaw vote on whether to allow men to be full voting members. It's an issue that mode the front page of the Now York Times, Newsweek and received heavy wire service play. I wasn't overly surprised at the extent of the coverage but I was a little peeved. We're doing a helluva lot of other things besides considering whether men should have a vote in the League. Take our early stand on maintaining the integrity and openness of the impeachment inquiry; our nitty-gritty approach to the trade bill or the national drive for campaign finance reform Certainly, it's been tough getting adequate press coverage. I'm not claiming any male chauvinist media conspiracy-- just pointing out that women are not yet fully accepted in the political world.
Of course, we do got and deserve substantive coverage. I'd just like to see it flow as readily when we dc something on the political scene as when we're involved in something that fits into the media-exaggerated battle-of-the-sexes view of the women's movement,
There is a lesson to be learned, however, it's expressed by that honored adage: "One colorful quote is worth a thousand dry press releases." I'm not suggesting that we resort to PR gimmicks or blast opponents as sexist know-nothings. Just that we relax a little more; swing with rather than shrink from controversy; project the fun, enthusiasm and excitement that's part of any important LEAGUE action or education program.
Our vote on full male membership is, nevertheless, a very important one. For a great many reasons. One is that our present bylaws perpetuate a form of discrimination which I believe it's time to end. There's an element of hypocrisy in our fighting full strength fur the Equal Rights amendment while we continue to deny equal League rights to men. Let's face it, our Human Resources position calls for an end to discrimination against minorities--and statistically men are certainly a minority group...
In the last few years, we've heard an awful lot about women as "second class" citizens. That's something I agree with. All of us are familiar with the subtle and not so subtle discriminations which impinge upon women fulfilling their potential in society. Sex stereotyping has stamped out approved roles and modes of behavior for each of us--whether we choose to follow them is another question. Every League represented In this room has had to fight to be recognized on the political scene. In short, we have a double-edged syndrome. One that fosters thoroughness but one that also fosters unwarranted uncertainties, tensions and self-doubts„
...But the League was never intended to be a shelter or a safe harbor. Certainly, the efforts of early League leaders, Carrie Chapman Catt, Maude Wood Park, Belle Sherwin, were directed at outgoing activities. At seeing to it that women played a key role in political arenas and social. That we stopped chatting among ourselves and made our voices and opinions felt.
...It's probably more appropriate to ask whether they're ready for us. I know that there are some who feel that giving full voting privileges to men will radically change the nature of the League. I very much doubt it. There is certainly room for change in the League but I really don't think it has much to do with sex.
One area of concern is that men will become impatient with our method of program-making and insistence upon study before action.
Well, men can be rational animals too, and there certainly are many women who, for one reason or another don't find the League their cup of tea. One of our society's great faults is role stereotyping—clumping, for convenience or from lack of knowledge, individuals into homogenous, single-purpose categories- Blacks, Chicanos, youths, and now, men and women.
Most of what the League does, is directed at a diverse audience, one that certainly includes our still predominantly male political establishment. We've seen the positive reactions of city councilmen, legislators, community leaders to a cracker-jack League study. Both we and they know the tremendous difference it makes to hove our decision-making process buttressed by an informed and concerned membership. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Thought is the seed of action." Given the present state Of disarray in the political world we certainly could use some Johnny Appleseeds helping us spread the word.
During the past year, I've been tremendously impressed by the dialogues about program and decision-making which have gene on at every level of the LEAGUE. We are reaching out, looking for new ways to arrive at policy decisions. The so-called quickie consensus on campaign financing was, I believe, a great success. It's not a process that would necessarily fit every 'item that might appear on the League agenda. When we move to program debate, I hope all of you will think as much about how we do something as you will why we do it. In considering the merits of the proposed program or new issues for the League agenda, we should all establish some inventory controls; Co a little stock taking. Is the issue one that demands a long, step-by-step study period ? Is it one that charts new ground_ in public policy making ? Does it respond to forces and principles already in play? Are there relevant League positions already established or will we have to draw on new disciplines and bodies of knowledge?
...However, the way we manage programs is not my main concern about the League. Rather, it's the way we manage ourselves. As all of you know, an extraordinary amount of time and energy goes into just holding this organization together. Getting people to do the jobs that need doing. Wrestling with the ever present money problem. Finding now members and seeing to it that they get involved in some facet of League work which interests them shuffling through and making sense out of the mounds of paper generated by every level of this organization.
…Some of our problems stem from the fact that we've been around for such a long time. Our basic structure isn't all that cumbersome--it's just that it's been covered over with a few layers of barnacles that need scraping. The League has a tendency to add--and never subtract. We also have an abiding belief in the writ -ten word. Never mind if those guide lines on meaningful meetings were put down twenty years ago. That's the way it says to do it.
This organization changes constantly but you'd never know it from some of our internal publications. This year you'll all be getting revised local and state League handbooks. Parts of the versions now in print sound like edicts out of the Old Testament. Thou shalt or shalt not--and if you don't the earth will tremble and locusts shall descend on your League.
...We want active member involvement but we're still not quite prepared for it. Some of our procedures and practices are geared to the life and time style of the non-working woman. As the Ketterling Self-Study clearly shows more and more League members have pest or full time jobs. And, more significantly for our future, the trend is for young women to live in a world that includes both job and family. I question whether they will have time for the League unless we spend some time adapting ourselves to their schedules and needs. We tend_ to make a shibboleth about every member involvement in every aspect of League program. It's just not realistic. We need to offer members more options--more chances for purposeful participation in activities that mean something to them.
The League is still to full of busy work--often it falls on the shoulders of already over-burdened leaders simply because you can't find anyone else to do it. Well, if that is the case, maybe the job just doesn't need doing. There's a strong strain of guilt running through the LEAGUE. feeling that one isn't living up to one's responsibilities if one isn't able to do everything suggested in a committee guide or program memo.
It's not practical to expect that a small League of 60 or 80 members will be able to find the bodies and time to tackle the same range of activities that a larger League can. It's part of the whole business of' priority setting--of determining what's most meaningful for your members. What will give them and you the satisfaction of a job well Cone instead of the frustrations of a job half done.
This overload tends to make martyrs of us all. I don't think there's anyone in this room who hasn't reacted to some phase of League work with the question, "Why did I ever let myself be talked into doing this?"
Well, why did you? Because it was something you wanted to do or something you were made to fool you had to do. We can't really talk about options for League members unless and until we can talk about and deal with the options that exist for League members.
Those are options that you must address now or in the very near future. The theme of this convention is the LEAGUE in the next decade, It's challenging and stimulating to do some long range planning--to look ahead to the shape of the League and our society in 1984. %rid it's a task that needs doing. However, it's just as challenging and certainly much more difficult to figure out what's going to happen tomorrow--to be prepared to meet the events of next week or next month,
Earlier on I spoke about the current nostalgia kick as a form of escapism. But, one can escape into the future) as well. The key question is how do we put yesterday and tomorrow together and use them to deal with today.
In the six years that I've been League President, we've passed through some fearful times. Assassinations. Riots, Vietnam. Cambodia/ Kent and Jackson State. You can recite the litany as well as I/ However great the trauma, however strong the shocks I question whether they've has as debilitating effect upon the country as the dull agony and ache that is Watergate.
...The corruption, venality and arrogant usurpation of power which lad to Watergate has had a deadly corrosive effect on political thought and life. You've seen the polls. Sixty-six percent distrust government. Seventy-two percent feel that it's run for the big interests. Fifty-five percent believe that our political leaders don't care what happens to the average American. The University of Michigan's Institute of Social Research reports that never in its history has it charted such a drastic increase in public cynicism towards government as has been registered in the last year.
...While the inquiry into Presidential guilt or innocence will occupy center stage, the drama will be played out in a much broader cream--one which may determine, for many years to come, public attitudes towards and respect for government. For it will be an inquiry into the conduct of every member of Congress and every elected or appointed official who has a part to play in the process. It will also be a test for the media in terms of the sense of restraint and fairness with which they cover the proceedings.
And) it will test each and every one of us. Test our ability to find a way out of the political depression which now envelops this country. To see those aspects of Watergate which were aberrations in the conduct of national affairs and also to recognize and then to rectify those parks which stemmed from flaws in a still unperfect system. Congressional reform, Campaign financing. Redefining the delicate equilibrium between the executive and legislative branches. rind, of utmost importance reestablishing public confidence and credibility in government, its processes and practitioners.
It won't be an easy task. But it's one that I certainly want to be a part of. And it's one that the LEAGUE must be a part of. I can't tell you how it's to be clone but I do know that there's an essential element which must be part of our efforts. It's best expressed in one phrase—confidence.
I'm not talking about confidence in ideas or positions. I'm talking about confidence in ourselves as individuals. As functioning members of society who have something to say and who are worth listening to.
Self-worth is a very fragile but extremely important concept. Fostering it is what I believe a democracy is all about. And essentially it's what the League is all about. We didn't. join this organization out of charitable, Lady Bountiful motives. We joined it for a variety of reasons: to learn, to teach and to do. It offers us something of value--for ourselves and for the larger community.
It's an extremely important gift. One that carries its own heavy measure of responsibility. The way responsibility is fulfilled is the future of the League and, in the final analysis, it's the future of this country.
I said earlier that I had some trouble in getting my thoughts together on what I was going to say today. Part of the difficulty was certainly the time factor and trying to gain :..Lew insights into old problems. And part came from my own very personal remembrances of the League. But there was something else. I wanted to set a tone for this convention. Not -in the sense of stage setting but in a much more realistic and meaningful vein. And to do it meant that I'd have to hit some of our lows as well as our highs, poke at some of our weak spots, stress some our shortcomings.
I must admit that I do get angry and impatient and frustrated with the League. And I know there are times when it shows. I'm probably more impatient now that I've ever been. I know how terribly good this organization is but I also know how much better it can be. Throughout my League career I've never hesitated to express my opinion but I've also never forgotten that it's all our opinions that really count. I've seen a lot of changes during the six years that I've been national president--changes which I believe have strengthened the League and helped it to keep pace with the world around us. These changes just didn't happen. They happened because you, the members, asked that they happen.
...There are limits to our capabilities--we can never do all that's on or should be on our agenda. But determining our limitations is not the same as limiting our determination. A determination that, at least for me, has been born out of the conviction that we have the will, the guts, the toughness, the compassion to have as much confidence in our future as we have pride in our past.
As for the present, that's up to you.
Lucy Wilson Benson
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