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League is owning its racist history -- Kerry Helmer

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For more than a century, the League of Women Voters of Dane County has actively campaigned for equal voting rights and effective government.

But the League’s history is also one of exclusion. Many early suffragists abandoned women of color, including our founder Carrie Chapman Catt. The Wisconsin native was a complicated character: a fierce advocate and visionary leader who also used racist arguments to further the movement.

This May, the League of Women Voters of Dane County is launching a campaign, “Owning our Past, Charting our Future.” This is an opportunity to investigate and own the disparate impact of our actions and systems in our diverse community, and eliminate barriers to full participation on the basis of any characteristic that can be identified as recognizing or illustrating diversity.

This includes renaming our annual honor for “years of excellence in contributing to the community and sustained commitment to the League and its governing principles” from the Carrie Chapman Catt Award to the Defender of Democracy Award.

We know one action and one month are not sufficient in erasing our past and becoming truly inclusive. Through diligence and collaboration, we will continue our efforts to be true community partners and allies.

Chris Clements, Dunkirk, president, and Wendy Hathaway, Fitchburg, executive director, League of Women Voters of Dane County

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