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Is Anybody Listening?

That question was posed to attendees at the public policy session during the AAUW-NC Summer Meeting in Hendersonville to begin a conversation on how AAUW branches can respond to the call for action on public policy issues emanating out of Washington and North Carolina. “Is Anybody Listening?” was the title of the session led by Public Policy/Advocacy Chair Elaine Ostrowski and long-time public policy advocates Mary Peterson, president of the Twin Rivers/New Bern Branch and former Public Policy Chair and Doris Bernlohr, president of the Tar Heel Branch.

After an overview of the AAUW public policy program at the federal and state level, the conversation turned to how AAUW NC addresses its advocacy mission, including

  • how we endorse specific state legislative proposals and how that process can be improved, and
  • what the branches can do to increase their members’ awareness of public policy issues and take a more active role in advocating for those issues.

Among the ideas generated were:

  • assuring that a public policy “point person” is named in all branches to receive and disseminate information;
  • asking members during branch meetings to make cell phone calls to legislators or to use an on-site computer to access the AAUW Action Alert/Two Minute Activist system to e-mail legislators; and
  • encouraging branch members to have a “public policy moment” when they set aside time to contact a legislator via phone or e-mail on a regular basis.

The group also suggested various ways to standardize a procedure for providing AAUW NC endorsement of legislative proposals. These suggestions will be used in developing a recommended procedure to be considered by the Board at the AAUW-NC Fall Meeting.

AAUW now has a new Public Policy Program for 2009-2011 that was approved at AAUW’s Convention in St. Louis in June.  The new program, while generally similar to the previous version, includes two important additions related to current national issues:  adding a provision for the protection of Social Security from privatization, and advocating for freedom in definition of family and guarantee of civil rights in all family structures. The new program is available for review on AAUW’s website and will be published in brochure form for distribution in September. At the summer Board meeting, the AAUW NC Board adopted the new program for state use and will use the AAUW brochures, with an insert containing state issues as appropriate, in lieu of printing a separate state brochure.

The Board also heard from a representative of the League of Women Voters reporting on the League’s efforts to reintroduce the passage of the ERA in North Carolina, targeting the state to be one of three states needed to ratify the legislation that did not ratify it earlier.  The League sought the Board’s endorsement of the League’s efforts and requested AAUW NC to join in partnership with the League to pass the ERA. The Board voted to affirm the intent of the League of Women Voters’ efforts to support and pass the ERA in North Carolina. The Board stopped short of endorsing the League’s efforts since the Board could not commit the branches to active partnership with the League. The League plans to contact AAUW branches to secure their participation in the League’s campaign.

In other public policy news, two North Carolina bills endorsed by AAUW NC were signed into law by the governor:  the School Violence Prevention Act and the Healthy Youth Act.  Another bill endorsed by AAUW NC, the Voter Pre-Registration and Education Act, was still in Senate committee at press time, having previously been approved by the House. Hopefully, passage of these bills was aided by several branch members having a “public policy moment”.