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Suffragette city

League of Women Voters hosts second annual Madam President event

National Women’s Party demonstration in front of the White House in 1918

Courtesy of Everett Historical

Tulsa’s League of Women Voters cheered from the courthouse steps as 18-year-old Iranian-born Shagah Zakerion emerged a naturalized citizen in 2006. She was greeted with congratulations and a voter registration card, and would later be heavily involved in the League. 

Tulsa is home to one of the oldest chapters of the League, which elected its first president in 1923. While the group’s initial aim was to engage women in public affairs, it has evolved into a multi-functional organization that increases voter understanding, encourages registration, and works to ensure all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote. 

In 2016, the League registered voters at all 12 naturalization ceremonies held in Tulsa County. 

The League’s website (lwv.org) is impressively comprehensive, featuring non-partisan voting guides and a directory of government officials, as well as League statements on issues such as immigration, healthcare, the climate, and clean energy. 

“We don’t endorse candidates,” said Mandy Winton, president of the League’s Tulsa chapter. “We do support or oppose issues, but we don’t get involved unless we have a thorough study done and we’ve got consensus. They’ve put in sometimes a year or two of hard work, really studying an issue, putting together a report—if people don’t agree on it, it doesn’t get voted on.”

Winton emphasized that all are welcome to join the League, including men. 

“Justin Trudeau, Canadian prime minister, put it well: ‘If we want equality, it takes everyone pitching in.’ If we want everyone to have a seat at the table, to move our country forward, to move our city forward, it takes everyone. Giving all kinds of people a seat at the table is the best way for us to really embrace the possibilities. I want us to have age diversity, gender diversity, racial diversity—I want us to have all those different voices because that’s how our organization is going to grow and survive and thrive.” 

Shagah Zakerion’s is another voice helping the organization thrive. Last year, she was honorary chair of the inaugural Madam President—a League of Women Voters’ fundraising event. This year, she’s excited to be on the planning committee. 

“This is a modern, fresh event,” Zakerion said. “The whole committee, including the chair of the event and the president of the board, are under 40—it’s really the next generation of leaders taking the helm.” 

Madam President, held this year on May 9 at Tulsa Community College’s Thomas K. McKeon Center for Creativity, honors women who show leadership qualities as members of the Tulsa community and who, according to League members, “make you say, ‘Now, SHE could be President!’” Ten women secured nominations, which were open to the public through March 24. 

As part of the fundraiser, the League will auction one-of-a-kind paintings of iconic women by artist John Hammer. Primarily known for his large, colorful portraits, Hammer almost exclusively painted men until he was approached by League members with the idea of something different—painting iconic women to help draw attention to Madam President.

“The idea was a little overwhelming at first,” said Hammer. “Once I settled in I treated them like any of my other subjects and the paint began to flow.” 

Last year, his paintings of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Malala Yousafzai were striking and well received. In the April 5 issue of The Tulsa Voice, the Voice announced the 2017 Madam President portraits: Michelle Obama, Maya Angelou, and Frida Kahlo. 

For more from Lindsay, read her article on Tulsa band and hunger-fighting nonprofit organization, Henna Roso.