Civics is Fundamental

By Katherine Murphy
Thank you for your interest in our Civics is Fundamental Program! We’ve had many requests to share our materials so we are adding them to our website to make them accessible to you. I have included the materials and links we have started with over the past year. This introduction will walk you through our process of program development.

We started with some program objectives:

  • Increase Civics literacy throughout Clark County
  • Develop ongoing partnerships between the LWV of Clark County and schools throughout the county
  • Develop a Civics program that other Local Leagues can adapt in their communities
  • Offer opportunities for League members to develop and use their presentation skills
  • Increase awareness and reach of the LWV of Washington’s textbook, The State We’re In: Washington (TSWI). The 8th edition to be available March 2018.

Civics is Fundamental is a developing project that aims to improve civic literacy and participation throughout Clark County. Since this is a work in progress, this page may change frequently. If you would like to be notified of updates, please email Katherine Murphy, kbsmgb (at) gmail.com. Feel free to also email suggestions, questions, or expansion to the program. If you adapt our presentation, please share it with us so that we can improve our efforts. Thanks for helping all of us Make Democracy Work ®.

Starting the Buzz in our League: In February 2017, I joined the League with the intention to work on civics outreach. Since our League was rebuilding I took the opportunity of a reduced price for TSWI to buy 100 copies of the 7th edition. We sent a copy to each member, shared with some teachers in my school district, and presented them to Clark County’s legislative delegation.

TSWI is available online for free.
For more information about TSWI, contact Karen Verrill: gokar1@comcast.net

civicsMeetingConnecting Our League to the State Program: We invited TSWI Program Manager, Karen Verrill, and TSWI author, Jill Severn, to our October 2017 program meeting. (See meeting notes below). Many of our members have been very impressed by the book and we are planning to be a stop on the 8th Editions Book Tour.

LWVCC Program Meeting Agenda, October 14, 2017
Civics is Fundamental Program Meeting Notes, Version 1

Establishing a Relationship with a School/School District: To get started on the partnership process, I first confirmed with the Clark County League President that this was an appropriate partnership and what I was planning to share was in line with League principles.

Then I met with the Evergreen School District’s Community Outreach Supervisor to explain that we wanted to partner with middle and high schools to bring in League speakers to talk about civics and perhaps register students to vote. (We recommend this approach because it forges a partnership that is beyond one teacher and one school.) The district checked us out and then offered to put me in touch with high school civics teachers. (Two of those teachers in my local high school have also independently reached out to our chapter.)

The school district sent photographers and included a story about the partnership in their newsletter. This publicity feels a little odd (we are not used to blowing our own horn) BUT we are gaining positive visibility for our League in the larger community, which increases our impact and reach. The story is on page 3.

Creating a Pilot Presentation: One of our objectives is to have a basic presentation that each speaker can adapt to different audience needs. So, I met with two Evergreen High School teachers to understand how the presentation fits into the Current World Issue (CWI) class (required senior class). I developed a 30ish minute presentation that covers the history of the efforts to get to full enfranchisement, history as aims of the LWV, what’s unique about Washington’s election laws, how ballots are processed, how to be an informed citizen, and the importance of voting and community involvement for the long term. I also gave a bit about my personal history to explain why I use my time and treasure doing civics work.

KatherineMurphyI’ve now presented this talk to nine class periods of seniors at two high schools (about 170 students). One important tip is to be really flexible! Some teachers like to break up the talk to emphasize points or have students do an activity. Sometimes the class period is shorter or longer than “normal.” I make sure that I hit the top points – universal franchise did not (and has not) happened overnight, voting makes a difference (even when “your candidate” didn’t win), this is why voting is easier in Washington. I have voter registration cards, and tell them the League of Women Voters of Clark County is here to help.

Printed Handouts: I’ve included all the files that we currently handout. Although it is a cost (but it is educational and can be covered by educational grant or it is tax deductible), I think it is important to give your audience hardcopy to take away with them (especially if you have only a short time). This project is a work in progress but here’s what we’re now using:

  • Civics is Fundamental PowerPoint * (I print it in handout mode/6 slides per page; double sided)-this file includes my notes to myself…ignore…delete…make it yours!
  • Pages 24/25 from the outstanding Washington State Secretary of State Office’s civics curriculum guide. https://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/mock/teachers-guide.pdf
  • LWV of Clark County’s They Represent You (TRY)
  • Page with URLs that are embedded in the PowerPoint/Membership Application for LWV of Clark County (a note about embedding links – this practice makes it great if the person has the electronic version of the PowerPoint and is helpful if you want to click the link to go that page but the embedding doesn’t display the URL so that is why I did this). If someone has a non-kludgy way to do this, let me know.
  • Print out of The Paradoxical Commandments by Kent Keith as a closing because it offers a way to close the presentation in a realistic, humorous, and heartfelt way.

Voter Registration. A key reason to make the presentation is to get people to register to vote! I bring voter registration forms with me. I’ve checked with the Clark County Elections Office and people who are citizens and who will be 18 within one calendar year from the date of the form, the county will hold the registration, and “turn it live” when the individual turns 18 (check with your county office to verify).
Encourage the Audience to Share at Home. One of ways I use the Paradoxical Commandments is to encourage folks to take the handout home and ask, “Are you registered?” I explain that each person can make a difference by speaking up inside their circle.
Personalizing the Presentation. The idea here was to provide basic information AND offer your own story and slant on why you are visiting today. Share a story of how you participated in a community event/activity or work or personal team where your voice made a difference to your community. Or share why you are a member of the League. And share why you are passionate about voting and being an educated voter. A good way to focus you story choice is to reflect on the League’s new Mission, Values, and Vision Statements.

Mission: Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy.
Vision: We envision a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge, and the confidence to participate.
Values: The League believes in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy.

Just as an example, here is how I weave my personal story and passion into the presentation There are two parts.

I share my family story, which includes my father running (unsuccessfully) for office when I was little (I doorbelled with his campaign literature at age 6 – this always gets a laugh imagining me as six!), my father’s investigative journalism causing the Washington State ferries to stop dumping sewage into Puget Sound (one person can make a difference). I was a page at the Washington State Senate (I got to see government work!), and I was a member of the 1992 Electoral College (convinced me that the Electoral College has to go – also League’s position since 1970). I explain that my parents had three expectations of their kids – that they help other people, they vote, and they donate blood.

The second part is when I’m talking about registering for voting and the whole process. I share some data from the last presidential election: 14% of eligible voters (whether or not they are registered) voted for Secretary Clinton or Mr. Trump during the primary process; more eligible voters choose NOT to vote for president than voted for either candidate. I go on to say that many people who didn’t vote choose not to because they didn’t like the candidates. We often then have a discussion about voter turnout and citizen responsibility. I conclude by saying the following:

If every eligible citizen voted in every election (especially primaries where there are more candidates and it is where people “new to politics” get their start), we would have governments (local, state, and federal) that operate a lot like the America we see at natural disasters (everyone pitches in and focuses on common needs) and at family reunions (we put up with each other to nurture the community).

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* Here are the resources I used in preparation of the PowerPoint:

They Represent You (TRY). League of Women Voters of Clark County.
https://lwvclarkcountyorg.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/try-2018.pdf
The State We’re In: Washington. League of Women Voters of Washington Education Fund
http://moodle2.ospi.k12.wa.us/course/view.php?id=158
Teaching Elections in Washington State. Washington State Secretary of State.
https://www.sos.wa.gov/_assets/elections/mock/teachers-guide.pdf
Crash Course: American Government. PBS. You Tube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrk4oY7UxpQ
C-SPAN. Public coverage of gavel to gavel of the Congress plus many informational and educational shows.
https://www.c-span.org/about/mission/