“We have a complex system of government. You have to teach it to every generation.”
The words of, not only one of the most important jurists in our nation’s history, but also a leading voice for civics education in our country: Sandra Day O’Connor.
While she is largely acknowledged for her historical turn as the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, her importance transcends even this remarkable milestone. Justice O’Connor stands alongside the great Americans in our history who fundamentally understood the unique nature, political culture and founding ideals of our country. And a person who infused that fundamental understanding into every aspect of her public service—before, during and after her time on the Supreme Court.
That includes her recent work as a leading proponent for civics education, specifically to ensure that our nation has the kind of informed, engaged citizenry that has always been at the core of the great American experiment.
“As a citizen, you need to know how to be a part of it, how to express yourself – and not just by voting.”
The Junior League was deeply saddened by the news that Justice O’Connor is retiring from public life. As an organization, we rely on her example of the enormous power that comes when women’s empowerment and civic engagement go hand in hand.
The Junior League strives to model this example in our work to educate our members and our communities on critical matters of public policy. Our nine state public affairs committees are not only focusing on advocating for public policy, but also educating their fellow members on those policies as well as relevant legislation. Individual Leagues, including those in Tampa, Philadelphia and Bakersfield, are coordinating voter education programs as part of their voter engagement, from creating discussion forums on policy to holding information sessions on ballot initiatives.
And while being a citizen does mean knowing how to express yourself beyond voting, as Justice O’Connor mentioned, it does include voting as well. It is very easy to overlook the role Junior Leagues and Junior League members are playing all over the country to support voters this election year: from providing their office spaces for early voting and polling, to enacting voter registration drives, to sponsoring candidate forums. None of this includes the Junior League members who are running on ballots this year.
Our work in this area is just another example of what sets our organization apart. Our members are deeply invested in driving the best possible civic and political engagement they can for their friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. And they are invested for no other reason than the fact that they live, work and participate as citizens in the same communities they work in as members of The Junior League.
In this deeply divided time, we are showing that a single organization can carry out the same kind of patriotic, non-partisan civic engagement throughout the United States.
Thank you, Justice O’Connor for continuing to be the example we model ourselves after. We will not match that example, but we will always try.