Building community political awareness and involvement through civic engagement.

Vicky Coccoluto has lived in Winchester for nearly 30 years, but didn’t get involved in civic activities until around 15 years ago, after she retired from her career as an investment analyst and portfolio manager, which—as she says—“didn’t get me into the public sphere very much.” Since that time, she has been involved with Winchester’s chapter of the League of Women Voters, a “non-partisan political organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.” She serves as a Steering Committee Member for the organization.

Interview with Vicky Coccoluto

What do you feel called you to focus on improving our community through your personal engagement?

I think that the events of 9/11, the Afghan War and Iraq War that followed propelled me into more interest in national politics and concern about the direction that the country was taking. And I believe it was the 2004 presidential campaign that connected me with the activities of the local League of Women Voters because it seemed to me that the war was taking a terrible toll and its goals were not convincingly—or certainly not adequately—explained to people. So I think that was what got me involved in politics in general and in the League of Women Voters in particular.

What did you observe as a need or gap within the Winchester community that you hoped your civic involvement and leadership would be able to fill?

I wouldn’t say I that I noticed a leadership gap in the Winchester community. I felt that there were many women in Winchester who were notable leaders, very involved in civic affairs, and that’s what I discovered by branching out a little from my previous associations. So what gap would I hope to fill? I just wouldn’t characterize it that way. I hoped to learn from the examples of others.

Looking ahead a bit—or back—can you tell us how you see your calling to civic life as enriching the lives of every Winchesterian?

That’s a tough question for me to answer. I don’t know whether it is or it isn’t. I think it’s important that people take responsibility for the civic activities that affect all of us, and in order to do that you have to become fully informed as to relevant policy issues and form an opinion on them. And to the extent that we can connect people and ideas, I think that does enrich lives by helping to make as many folks as possible aware of the educational and engagement opportunities in town. I don’t think I do much more than that in terms of assisting with the communications that come from the League.

Do you have any other dreams or visions?

I would like to see more people involved in local government, and I think that is happening. Within the past year there were quite a number of additional candidates running for local office, including for the lowest level—Town Meeting Member—which is as far along as I’ve ever gotten. The increased citizen activity in the past year I think can be fairly clearly explained as prompted by the very surprising results of the last Presidential election. And to the extent that women have become more involved in running for office…that makes me very happy. I should add to that last statement about women that, just as you would expect of anyone running for office—they should be prepared, they should do their homework, so that they are poised and ready to speak out effectively when the time comes.

When you started working with the League, were there any challenges that you faced?

Well, I discovered that I was very under-informed about what was going on in town, and it took quite a while to get any familiarity with town issues, I would say.

What do you feel like some of the biggest highlights have been for you since your involvement?

I think a major highlight was when we reached out in registering young voters to neighboring towns, such as Woburn and especially Medford, where the population is much more diverse than it is in Winchester and to see the excitement and interest in becoming registered voters in those school registration programs. That was pretty exciting and since neither of those towns is fortunate enough to have an active League, I felt that was a service where we filled a need and, we hope, contributed to civic involvement.

What has felt like a success to you in your efforts or contribution to Winchester?

I feel the efforts of many individuals to develop the Wright-Locke Farm into a true community asset, which I favored with my vote as a Town Meeting Member and in other ways, is one that feels like a success. I am hoping for a similar long-term outcome for the proposed community swimming pool. My role in either is miniscule, except to express my support.

Do you think that being a woman has impacted how people view you as someone involved in civic causes?

Probably, but I don’t really know in what way.

Since this is a month honoring women, is there one woman who’s inspired you and why?

I would name a couple of people that you’re probably going to be well acquainted with in the Multicultural Network. One would be Sandy Thompson who I think brought the concept of what such a Network could be from just an idea to a real, practical organization for good in our town, and I think the challenge of taking something so subjective, so without precedent and creating a new movement was really remarkable. The other person I would mention would be Gloria Legvold who is a wonderful organizer and always extremely well informed; very importantly, she’s consistently supportive of women, especially those who are doing good work. So that’s a couple of people I admire.

Do you have any advice to share with other young women who may be reading this?

Get involved. Ask questions. I think the mentors are out there, not just willing to help young women, but enthusiastic to welcome young women into the community effort. This is especially challenging today when so much of our communications are short-lived on email or texts. There is a loss of that important person-to-person contact, and maybe that is a generational divide, too. The younger generation might feel somewhat isolated, but I hope they will not and that they would reach out and find out what they need to know to become leaders. Unless they already know—in that case, good for them!