Monthly Two Cents

How Chesterfield Became a Blue County

Kim Drew Wright

This is how Liberal Women of Chesterfield County & Beyond helped turned our county blue in a gubernatorial race for the first time since 1961. Now, this past year I conquered my fear of public speaking through a compulsion that the message is larger than myself, or any one of us. In just the two weeks prior to the Hanover speech, I introduced the former Vice Presidential candidate, Tim Kaine, to a crowd of about 200, went head-to-head with Trump supporters on CNN New Day, and shouted “We’re coming for your seats” to Virginia House Delegates at the close of a Privileges & Elections Committee where they refused to vote on the Equal Rights Amendment bills. That’s a drastic transition, and, yet, when I took the stage in a room at Ashland Coffee and Tea that Saturday morning, I became flustered and nervous. I had jotted down notes beforehand, had conversations with myself about strategies we’d used during election season…but the fact is, that even though I’ve lived 24/7 the grassroots efforts of 2017 – there is still no easy answer.

The magic equation is not just a summation of number of doors knocked and dollars raised, but more of an algebraic formula of structure and attitude that equals a shift in culture from “this is a chore we’ve got to get people to do” to “this is who I am.” And, even that abstract is not abstract enough because there is so much more, psychologically, working behind the scenes. It’s a shift from no longer searching for volunteers during election season to canvass and work the polls, to growing a base of folks for whom politics has become interwoven in their daily lives. We’re collecting a community whose members are proud to be a part of the effort to move forward in our county, in our state, and in our nation. We are changing from a slogan of “Proud Democrat” to a gut reaction of “Damn straight I’m a Democrat. Why the hell aren’t you one?” That cannot be calculated in numbers, but more in layers.So, how are we harnessing this cultural shift in Chesterfield?

First, let’s look at STRUCTURE. Liberal Women of Chesterfield County & Beyond was never meant to be solely an online presence. At its core it was meant for face-to-face interaction and likeminded support during a time of extreme stress for many Democrats, especially women who saw a misogynistic narcissist steal the presidency out of the hands of a highly qualified woman. What many thought would be an historic first for the advancement of women in both politics and leadership roles, became a trigger of past hurts and harms. We were devastated, but we rapidly funneled our anger into action. We are an overall group of thousands; however, we have smaller meet-up groups structured by location or advocacy.

Our neighborhood groups are based on elementary school districts, as most people are familiar with their school district but, perhaps, not their voting districts. We have found that it’s an organic way to organize. We, also, have advocacy groups based on specific interests, such as, LGBTQ rights, environmental concerns, religious tolerance, immigration laws, and women rights. Overall, we currently have 25 smaller meet-up groups, which MULTLIPLIES our efforts in the following ways.  I’m going to speak mostly to the neighborhood groups in this section. Some hold standing weekly coffees, others have monthly dinners, and some go on field trips. They invite educational speakers, initiate volunteer projects, and advance our LWCC name into the community. So instead of one group pushing our efforts, we have multiplied it by 25 to reach likeminded voters and project a positive image into our communities.

Candidates often participate in these meet-ups, which gives our members a chance to learn more about their positions and, also, benefits the candidates through the opportunity to practice speaking and answering questions while engaging with possible campaign volunteers. This helps members feel like they know their candidate. The frequent meetings and project efforts help form a BOND between members and bring in new members who see the groups in local coffee shops, restaurants, and libraries. This mix of social and action seems to be a winning combination.These groups sponsor a lot of our LWCC community project efforts. An example of this is our High School food pantry project. When our Education Advocacy group collected money to payoff lunch debt at a local high school, we learned through the cafeteria manager that their food pantry for needy teens did not get the attention of younger kids’ programs and often needed replenishing.

We encourage our leaders to think beyond the band aide fix, to the larger picture. Is there legislation that needs to be written? Is there a larger initiative to begin? One of our neighborhood leaders started a collection of food items for their pantry, and once it was filled, decided this was something we could easily connect and achieve for all the high schools in our county. This is a great benefit for our children, and, at the same time, puts a positive narrative out there connected with “liberal.” Which leads us to our next layer, COMMUNICATION. I had a hard time deciding between VISIBILITY and communication for this section. One of the goals for LWCC is to change the negative connotation that is often associated with the term “liberal.” I think the way to do this is to own the term and create a positive narrative through a multiple of ways. Early on we designed a logo and added our tagline, which came from our first meeting in November 2016 – Each of our causes is all of our causes. We put our logo on car magnets and t-shirts. We wore them in parades and smiled. I joked that it was the first time “liberal” and “Chesterfield” had ever been put together. I’m sure at first it was a shock to neighbors, but eventually, like all things seen often, people grow accustomed to it and it seems less strange.

We went to Board of Supervisor meetings, held events, volunteered at schools and food banks, and were involved in our local politics visibly enough that the local paper, The Chesterfield Observer, long dominated by conservative articles, began to take notice and write articles with quotes from our members. There was a battle for turf back-and-forth in the letter to the editor section. We were becoming part of the fabric of Chesterfield County in a way staunch conservatives could no longer ignore. LWCC held larger events that our members were interested in, like an environmental or candidate forum. We teamed up with already existing groups like the Chesterfield County Democratic Committee or a local branch of NAACP to co-sponsor events. We created a team to register voters, which continuously looks for ways to gain more voters throughout the year. We spotlight our candidates through Money Bombs that feature them as community members and suggests direct contributions to their campaigns. We write articles for Democrat blogs like Daily Kos, which is a good platform for Democrats around the nation to gain interest and knowledge about our local races. Our ATTITUDE in early 2017 changed from, “Do we have a candidate running?” to “Who is going to run? Because if you’re not going to, then I will.” We were no longer thinking that this is someone else’s job and we could slide by without worrying or even noticing that there are races every year in Virginia.

For the first time in the history of the current eight House Districts that comprise Chesterfield County, we ran a candidate. At least one of the Republican incumbents had not had a challenger in two decades. We were no longer waiting for permission, either. LWCC worked with a local print shop to print 50,000 GOTV cards that listed the positions up for election, the voting date, and how critical it was for you to go vote. We held educational workshops on how to canvass. We pushed our neighborhood groups to canvass with our GOTV cards. We tried to let people know that it is okay not to know everything about how local government works and that we are all learning together so folks don’t feel intimidated. We found that while many Democrats might not even be interested in talking about candidates or positions, they were, usually, intrigued by our new group and would stop and chat about being a part of it.  This became a good inroad for a larger conversation about our candidates and overall efforts.We were FLEXIBLE. We encouraged members to volunteer with individual campaigns, the coordinated campaigns, and our own LWCC efforts. We held a canvassing contest between groups and members. We thought of new ways of doing tasks. For the sign up to work the polls on Election Day, we created a Sign Up Genius, which many mothers of school-aged children are familiar with since it is often used through volunteer efforts in the schools. Folks picked their polling place and time slots. The link could be easily shared for more volunteers to access.

We had, at least partial, coverage at all the 72 polling places in Chesterfield County for the first time. LWCC is NOT JUST ABOUT ELECTIONS, but rather, about all aspects of how politics affect our lives. After the elections, when many folks were gearing down, we were gearing up by teaching members how to advocate for specific issues through communication with their legislators. We held our first LWCC Lobby Day on the second day of the General Assembly. We congratulated our new legislators and introduced ourselves to the incumbents. We encouraged members to attend and witness government sessions from local committee meetings to the state level. We want members to be aware of how our government is functioning, and to consider running for these seats. Our REACH has grown and grown. We are determined to get our message of moving forward to those in Chesterfield and beyond. Our members have written tens of thousands of postcards for different races and causes. Many of these have been accomplished during the smaller group meet-ups. I am in talks with Postcards for Virginia to see about how we can, possibly, team up to reach potential voters across the entire state for GOTV. We believe in CONNECTING with likeminded groups and working together where it makes sense. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, but that doesn’t mean the wheel couldn’t use some improvement. Liberal Women of Chesterfield County & Beyond now has an umbrella name of Liberal Women United that is focused on developing branches around the United States.

We, currently, have 13 applicants, with our first official branch being Liberal Women of Central Wisconsin.  I hope that if you’ve read this far, you will agree, that while this is a somewhat abstract list of how to accomplish our goals, it is, also, a solid springboard for advancing our causes throughout whichever community you call home. Early on, I heard the phrase, “I thought I was the only liberal in Chesterfield,” over and over from people. While we have learned many things this past year, perhaps the most empowering is that we are not alone, and with that knowledge, we have grown unafraid. We don’t have to be quiet anymore, because we have a community of likeminded folks willing to speak up with us.

Congressman Wittman

Stand On Your Principles...if you have them!

by John Mahoney

It might be useful now to recall that history repeats itself.

Consider that during the Vietnam and Nixon years, Philip Roth recalled in 1974, many Americans had a “sense of living in a country with a government out of control and wholly in business for itself. Reading the morning New York Times and the afternoon New York Post, watching the seven and then the 11 o’clock – all of which I did ritualistically – became for me like living on a steady diet of Dostoevsky …

Of course, there have been others as venal and lawless as Richard Nixon in American politics, but even a Joe McCarthy was more identifiable as human clay than Donald Trump is. The wonder of Nixon (and contemporary America) is that a man so transparently fraudulent, if not on the edge of mental disorder, could ever have won the confidence and approval of a people who generally require at least a little something of the ‘human touch’ in their leaders.

As for Donald Trump...it’s strange that someone so unlike the types most admired in the average voter could have passed himself off to this Saturday Evening Post America as, of all things, "an American.” He acts like anything but...

Our venal and lawless president and his many apologists have created a self-fulfilling prophecy where all government institutions and our political parties do appear to be rigged and corrupt, and where appealing to, let alone adhering to, higher principles is a sucker’s bet.

So, Congressman Wittman, your choice is to take the sucker's bet and stand on principles....call Trump out for the liar, the fraud and the fake that he is, OR Join other Republicans in Congress who quake in their political boots and refuse to take a stand.

You will be vilified no matter which choice you make; such is the polarization of today's politics and culture.

Given this Hobson’s choice, what should one do? I think you should take the sucker’s bet and stand on principles that will be vindicated by history. Of course, the hard part is that first,  you and your Republican colleagues in Congress will need to determine if you have principles strong enough to stand on.

Just remember Abe Lincoln's thoughts on the subject:

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

“We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.”

Are Gun Rights more important than my Life?

BY GORDON SILVER

In the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, our forefathers avowed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.” These are powerful words for they help to establish a platform upon which all democratic societies may be built and suggest we are all entitled to a certain quality of life.

However, my right to stay alive is in serious jeopardy by gun slingers who claim to have the right to bear arms according to the second amendment. The idea of gun rights was for a standing militia, and it is clear from these mass shootings that self-appointed militia have developed in our country. This conflict manifests itself over and over in the senseless mass shootings that seem to occur with regularity. The USA has more mass shootings than any other advanced country. In one study, it has been estimated that 31% of public mass shootings occur in the U.S., although it has only 5% of the world's population. And every time a mass murderer strikes, he deprives numerous law-abiding folks of their unalienable right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.

The love of guns in the United States has been well documented, as have multiple mass shootings across the country such as those in Orlando, San Bernardino, Newtown, and Virginia. The ease of access to guns in American society comes at a shocking cost.

Mass shootings drive headlines and political responses, but they comprise only 2 percent of gun deaths. Every year in the USA, a firearm is used in nearly 500,000 crimes, resulting in the deaths and injuries of more than 110,000 people. But the gun-lobby has effectively silenced the information on national gun violence research by encouraging legislation that restricts data collection of gun violence. Therefore, they deprive us citizens, policymakers and public health experts of potentially life-saving facts, which is our unalienable right.

The motor vehicle, like the firearm, is a quintessential American object. It expresses values of freedom, individuality and power. And like guns, automobiles were once a major threat to public health and safety. It is time to insist that we ought to probably test people and make sure there is as much licensing and regulation around a gun as there is around an automobile.

After the Charleston church shooting, President Obama said, "At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency." After the December 2015 San Bernardino attack, Obama renewed his call for reforming gun-safety laws and said that the frequency of mass shootings in the United States has "no parallel in the world".

“The right to keep and bear arms” from the Second Amendment of the US Constitution is the regular defense of current gun laws. This right is inherited from the militias who rebelled against the British during the American Revolution, and it allows Americans to own and use a firearm to this day.
The Founding Fathers wanted to protect their newly independent nation from the tyrannical rule of the ‘old world'. With the constitution in one hand and a rifle in the other, pioneers claimed the Wild West, and a new kind of citizenship was born.

But this gun culture was then exaggerated by the National Rifle Association, which has helped stoke sales of guns with a series of sensational fear-mongering ads aimed at taking 'gun owners' rights down to gut level.' The ads used garish photos, inflammatory copy, and hyped headlines to push for the use of firearms for self-defense. Typical captions included: 'Should you shoot a rapist before he cuts your throat?' and 'If you're attacked on your porch, do you want your neighbors to be opposed to gun ownership or members of the NRA?' It’s about time for us to demand from the NRA and their stooges, the gun manufacturers, what we demanded from the big tobacco companies. Legislation which would force them to advertise gun safety and the dangers of not reporting mental illness or identifying unsafe behaviors.

But every US citizen who acquires a gun claiming his second amendment right is also taking away my right to remain alive! A citizen’s right to life has greater merit than anyone’s right to own property, especially a gun. It’s time we choose to honor our forefathers Declaration, that all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.

THE SWEETEST PANCAKE BREAKFAST EVER!

By Toni Radler

There is just one word to describe our post election Pancake Breakfast and that word is JOYOUS! It was like a great family reunion of all those who worked so hard for the many victories of the 2017 election. We were thrilled as Ralph Northam took the Governor's Mansion, thrilled when Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring swept the election for Lt. Governor and Attorney General. But then, the unpredictable, the unbelievable happened. Race after race came in as a win for us, not once, not twice, but an incredible fifteen times. For me personally, the cherry on top was the defeat of the political ogre, Bob Marshall. Blessed irony, he was beaten by one of those he claims to hate and consistently works against...a transgender woman. How sweet it is!

Unfortunately, our two good House of Delegates candidates were not in this victorious Democratic sweep. But to the Pancake Breakfast crowd's delight,  both have pledged to run again in two years. The Pancake Breakfast crowd was thrilled to meet five candidates for the Democratic nomination to run for Congress from our First Congressional District, including two of our own from the Hanover Democratic Committee--John Suddarth and Tom Hicks. Frankly, we usually have to beat the bushes within a leaf of their lives to find even one candidate. But this year, we have five really good candidates running for the Democratic nomination.

So the campaign season ends; the campaign season begins. Let's start from today to predict a win in 2018, to believe that with our hard work, we will have a win for Congress in 2018. We've got great candidates. And we've got a great team of workers--that's you. And we are ready to go again!

Vote on November 7

By Stan Scott

Now that we’re well into the age of Trumpism, elections take on more importance.  This isn’t because electing Democrats sends a message to President* Trump or Congress – it’s a simple matter of arresting a dangerous trend in American politics and policy.  Simply put, the forces of extremism have taken over the Republican Party. If we don’t elect Democrats to public office, “conservatives” like Ed Gillespie will turn Virginia into another example of how their policies create division, destroy communities, and damage the economy.

I could ramble on about how every vote counts, and cite examples of very close elections where only a handful of votes made the difference.  Fewer than a hundred thousand votes spread across four states put Trump in office, for example.  Right here in Virginia we all remember how close Ed Gillespie came to unseating Mark Warner to become a Senator – and that Mark Herring defeated Mark Obenshain by a mere 155 votes.  But anyone reading this already knows these stories.

Instead I’ll point out that Democrats simply must to get to the polls on Tuesday to make sure Mr. Gillespie does not become our Governor, and to elect Democrats to the General Assembly in order to stop this extremist Republican agenda.  Gillespie is a good lobbyist for corporations like Enron, and we need to send him back to that life while giving him some former GOP Delegates and Senators to take with him to K Street.  If he, Adams, and Vogel win, and hold a Republican General Assembly, we can expect them to move Virginia far to the right of where it’s people want to be. 

They’ll destroy the Virginia economy by cutting taxes on the wealthy, for example, just as Brownback and the GOP did in Kansas.  They’ll continue disrespecting women and their agency by making it more difficult for them to control their own bodies.  Gillespie et al would divide Virginians further by protecting monuments – erected more to intimidate minorities than celebrate heritage - to the men who committed treason in defense of slavery. They would make our streets less safe by helping terrorists, abusive spouses, and the mentally unstable purchase firearms more easily and carry them in grocery stores.  They would take away the health insurance that many or our neighbors have today only because Democrats changed the rules, and they would continue to reject billions in Federal money for Medicaid.  And they would further gerrymander and suppress voting to keep themselves in power.

Make no mistake: Trumpism isn’t about draining the swamp or challenging elites.  Trump himself is a New York billionaire who happily appointed Goldman Sachs executives to positions of power, and a Republican Party that nominates former lobbyists like Ed Gillespie to run for Governor is no kind of populist party. It’s about achieving every extreme fiscal, religious, and white supremacist goal the GOP has salivated to make real since Nixon won in 1968. 

In 2009, more than 26,000 people in Hanover County voted Democratic in a losing effort to elect Creigh Deeds Governor.  By 2013, this turnout among Democrats in the County fell to less than 11,000 as Terry McAuliffe defeated Ken Cuccinelli by fewer than 60,000 votes.  This year Hanover County Democrats can make a statement by giving Ralph Northam, Mark Herring, and Justin Fairfax more than 30,000 votes.  We have many more than that in the County.  Let’s all show up and let Donald Trump and his sidekick Ed Gillespie know how we feel.

Please vote on November 7th.  And take a friend – or ten – along when you go to the polls.