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League of Women Voters sees surge in local activism

Molly Bergmann (left) listened at a forum on the environment sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Lexington.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe staff

LEXINGTON — Debbie Packard was part of a crowd of 60 people packed into Cary Memorial Library on a recent Friday morning to hear about efforts to promote green energy within the town’s borders.

But national politics were foremost on the mind of Packard, who said she attended the League of Women Voters forum because of the White House’s newest occupant.

“I’ll tell you one of my reasons: It’s because Trump has been elected,” the retired teacher said.

Packard opposes the Dakota Access pipeline project to connect oil fields in North Dakota to a terminal in Illinois. Former president Barack Obama blocked a stretch of the project near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, but Trump has allowed construction to resume.


“I’m just trying to find a way to get involved and counter what’s he’s trying to do,” Packard said.

Trump has dismissed global warming and called for deep cuts to federal environmental protection, but he may have inadvertently jump-started interest in local political activism — from green energy to get-out-the-vote campaigns.

Membership in the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts has grown by more than 180 since the Nov. 8 election, said Jean Cherdack, the group’s president, to about 2,600 statewide.

The nonpartisan organization, which operates in every state and the nation’s capital, grew from the national effort to extend voting rights to women in 1920. It has been open to men since the 1970s.

The league encourages voter participation at all levels of government, including candidates nights, debates, and in the case of the Lexington forum, a discussion of environmental issues.

“They want to get more people registered to vote, they want to get more politically active, they want to know how to run for political office,” Cherdack said.

In Needham, the league branch has added 11 members, reaching 159, said Karen Price, who heads it. People want to make a difference in their communities, she said.


“I think people can feel more engaged on the local level,” Price said. “It’s grass-roots.”

Brookline league officials said members want to make sure the public is kept informed about decision-making in government, said board member Sanford Ostroy.

“People are concerned about the continuation of good government,” he said.

Roberta Glass, a member of the board of directors for the league’s Sudbury branch, said that since the presidential election, more people have begun to realize that they have to participate in democracy. The local group has added about six new people since the election, with about 60 total members currently .

“They need to be politically active and talk to their representatives in government,” said Glass.

Jeanne Canale, who has belonged to the League of Women Voters of Lexington for the past 12 years, has already seen residents spurred to run for local office and Town Meeting member posts since the November election.

“People are now seeing what the impact of an election really means,” Canale said.

“It’s getting to be on a personal level: ‘How it will it impact me, and how it will impact Massachusetts?’ ”

Lexington’s league sponsored the environmental session, which was presented by members of the Sustainable Lexington Committee.

Mark Sandeen, a committee member, pointed to studies that predict the region’s climate will begin to match that of Virginia or South Carolina in the coming decades.

“Climate change is here . . . and there are a lot of things we have to be thinking about to take that into account,” Sandeen told his audience.


That advice contrasts with the stance taken by President Trump, who famously tweeted that he believes the concept of global warming was “created by and for the Chinese” in order to harm the manufacturing sector in the United States.

While many environmental concerns go far beyond a town’s borders, working on local initiatives to promote green energy can be empowering, said Marcia Gens, a member of the Sustainable Lexington Committee and the Lexington Global Warming Action Coalition.

Gens said she has seen an uptick in interest in local environmental issues since Trump took office.

“You want to think about the national scope, but this is where we can really make a difference,” Gens said.

That attitude appears to be rubbing off:

Bedford residents Carol Reynolds and Janet Powers attended the Lexington session, and they hope to create similar environmental programs in their town.

“Trump’s initiatives, they are not going to make progress on the national level, so we’re going to do all we can on the state level,” Reynolds said.

They’re part of a citizens group in Bedford that has grown from a handful of members to 16 people since the election.

“We’re getting more and more people working on it, and we think it’s more likely that things will happen locally,” Powers said.

John Hilliard can be reached at john.hilliard@globe.com.