Dear League members,
I love the League because this is an organization developed by women to address the needs of women who had been locked out of political power. It is about women largely rescuing themselves and committing their lives to their beliefs. We each come from that lineage. We each come from that power and we can tap into that power today. It does not matter what our gender is or how we identify ourselves, who we love, we can all be proud of the tenacity and willingness to play the long game that so many suffragettes had before they crossed the finish line to enfranchisement for women.
We are the heirs to Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. This is not to say that our predecessors were perfect. By no means. But their struggles and their determination inspire each of us to continue on the path to that “more perfect union” promised to us all.
Our legacy informs us that the work of enfranchisement is the work of a long game. Our work will not be done in a weekend or a year or a decade but it is incumbent on each of us to carry on and improve upon the legacy of our predecessors. I see that same type of determination in the hearts and actions of so many of our League members. It’s in our passion for work on early voting, gun safety, education, Medicaid expansion, restoration of voting rights after a felony conviction, and other issues. We will harness the passion, creativity and can-do attitude that we all share and we will reach our goals. I would not want to go into a battle for voting rights with anyone but you all.
I love the League because there have been many times when the League has considered a thorny problem but there was no remedy to be had except to litigate. I love that the League is well prepared to use every legal tool in the toolbox and litigate if necessary such as the fair district’s litigation about ten years ago and in our efforts today against the voter suppression contained in SB 90.
As your new president, I will rely upon the demonstrated strengths of the League, our passion, our curiosity, our studiousness, our focus, our ability to implement state-wide action to address the many challenges that we will face.
I will also bring some experiences that I have had in my life and share the knowledge that I have gleaned from my life’s experiences as additional tools in our tool kit.
I look at the mosaic of my life and it reflects intersections of some of the leading issues of our time. I have also seen the opportunities sought and struggles endured that African Americans experienced in this country. When I was growing up on the small Caribbean island of Antigua, my parents made no mention of the humiliation or pain of segregation. I learned that my parents sat at the back of the bus and were denied entrance to many opportunities by counting backward in my college African American history class. I came home livid at my parents’ refusal to tell me about what they experienced about racism. They said they did not want to scare me or turn me away from the white people in my life. At that point, at 19, I made a promise to myself that I would spend my life working on civil rights and injustices. I changed my plan to be an architect or designer to becoming a civil rights lawyer. Like the League, when we see a wrong, we try to resolve it with a conversation or a compromise, but if the compromise is not good enough then we must consider all lawful responses and that includes consideration of filing a lawsuit.
I also come to the League, like many of you, with a lifetime of experiences of being a woman in a male-dominated environment. In college, I received the benefit of newly won athletic opportunities for women by being able to play a varsity sport of soccer at college a few years after Title IX passed. In the courtroom, I have had to fight for equal time to present my case.
In terms of our path forward, I have a few concepts that I would like to share with you to increase our opportunities to be successful.
I have found that the local Leagues can do more for others when we strengthen ourselves and our members. There is so much strength and knowledge and creativity that can be found in each local League. The State Board will highlight your strengths and share your best practices with other local Leagues. If West Palm is doing something well, the State needs to bottle it up and facilitate its transfer to Escambia or vice versa. We want to strengthen the community that we have with each other.
I plan to visit with each local League to get to know you better and see firsthand what you are doing well and what could use some additional work. I have enjoyed my road trips with so many Leagues as we worked on Medicaid Expansion and Amendment 4 and as we did lawyers CLE training.
We can be intentional by attending community festivals, by buying fish dinners at local church fund-raising events, by participating in Martin Luther King Celebrations, Asian History Month, Hispanic History Month, Ramadan, and community parades and different community events so that we demonstrate our interest in diversity and inclusion, not only by the issues that we take up but by some of the company that we keep. We all know that our state is made up of communities that have borne the brunt of systemic racism and many of them have given up on civic engagement. To those families that have to give their twelve-year-old son “the talk” that the police may fear them and shoot them without provocation, we will need to demonstrate our relevance. Those are hard-to-reach communities that we will reach out to with renewed personal contacts.
We have outreach opportunities not only to different racial and ethnic communities but also to different economic communities that feel abandoned and neglected by the local state and federal government.
We will focus on personal connections, member to member, local League to local League and local League to state and we will glean expertise and support for each other as we do this hard work. At the same time, we will double down on our personal interactions with local communities, building bridges now that will bear the weight of civic engagement.
The League’s core mission is to vitalize democracy and educate and empower voters. To some, there has been tension between voting issues and so many other concerns. But I believe it is the passion and interest that we each have for specific issues that is the fuel in the engine of change. It is our passion for public education or juvenile delinquency or reproductive rights or eliminating poverty and racism, or safeguarding the environment, or gender equity that sustains our commitment to strengthening our civic voices and ensuring that each vote counts.
We will take these passions about specific issues and help citizens to see that the way to protect their interest is to care about registering to vote, like the young man I convinced to register to vote and the many people each of you have registered to vote. We will stir their passions for a safe and clean environment to encourage citizens to understand and care about redistricting. We will listen to the concerns of local communities about access to health care and gun safety so that we can amplify their voices as they try to address their needs. We will work to preserve the foundation of democracy, a good and strong public school education, and in doing that we will be able to educate and alert citizens to voter suppression contained in bills like SB 90 and threats to our First Amendment rights found in laws like HB 1.
Our pathway to empowering voters and defending democracy will be long and challenging but we can look to each other for ideas and inspiration. Let’s remember too that we can have fun while we are doing good work. Good work can be good fun! I know that we are up to the challenge.
Cecile M. Scoon, Esq.