Peaceful Crowd Holds Vigil Outside NRA Headquarters

IMG_2743There were an estimated 22,000 people from all over the country who swarmed into Richmond yesterday in order to express their opposition to commonsense reforms to end gun violence. Shortly after all of this wrapped up, however, a group of concerned Virginians gathered outside the NRA’s national headquarters in Fairfax County to listen to students and others speak about how gun violence has impacted their lives.

The optics of the two events were drastically different as the crowd in Richmond was filled with predominately older white males dressed in camouflage and military tactical gear while carrying assault weapons. It almost appeared as though the crowd was a poorly organized military unit waiting for the high command to let them know the plan as they headed into battle.

In sharp contrast, the group outside the NRA headquarters was extremely diverse. Perhaps the most noticeable part of the crowd was a couple dozen students who had spent the day down in Richmond, but the entire group was made of people of all ages, races, and backgrounds.

The rhetoric used at the two events was also noticeably different. In the lead up to the rally down in Richmond, many members of the crowd had been spreading misinformation and even resorted to sending death threats to some folks who supported commonsense reforms. The misinformation and hatred they preached continued during the day as they tried to scare people into supporting their cause.

The group outside the NRA headquarters was a somber affair, however, and featured the personal stories of several community members. It’s truly unfortunate how many people in the are have lost a loved one to gun violence and we got a vivid reminder of this since the first people to speak was a father who lost his daughter during the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in April of 2007.

In a sign of how much work needs to be done, he reminded us of how everybody thought there was going to be sincere action after the tragedy at Tech. But while there was a significant amount of attention given to the issue during the initial few weeks following the shooting, it appeared as though many folks simply forgot about it and moved on. At least until we saw another one of the countless other mass shootings in the years since — including in Virginia Beach last year.

“Many of you will remember back in the aftermath of the shooting in Virginia Beach when our governor and his administrator vowed to finally bring sane gun laws to this commonwealth,” the father said in an attempt to frustratingly illustrate how action never seems to happen. “He convened a special session and you’ll remember what happened. The gun lobbyists shut it down after 90 minutes.”

He went on to point out the Republican leadership, who allowed the NRA to set up a war room in the speaker’s office, claimed we needed to do more studies before any real action could be taken. Of course, he was also quick to mention we’ve seen study after study conducted while the NRA continues to fill the campaign coffers of candidates who block any real reform.

With all that being said, the students who spoke made it clear they were determined to see action taken by our elected officials. Many of them had traveled down to Richmond in order to lobby the General Assembly. Interestingly, they coordinated with members of the House of Delegates via social media to make sure they’d be safe while doing making their voices heard and were able to avoid harassment from the anti-gun violence prevention extremists who swarmed the city.

One of the first students to speak told the crowd about how inspired he was after having the opportunity to help organize the trip and work with his fellow students. He also passionately spoke about how they realize they have the backing of other tireless advocates and therefore refuse to give up until some sort of concrete action is taken.

“As you talk about the moral arch of the universe, we’re there and really witnessed and felt the strain of that bending today,” he told the crowd. “It’s because of all you showing up at the ballot box, showing up here, showing up every day to make a change, and we really deeply appreciate it. We really carry all of that with us and we’re imbued with purpose because of all of you. We’re never giving up and we’re not going to hand this to the next generation.”

Several of the students also spoke about how the outrage over gun violence shouldn’t just happen after mass shootings because they only account for “1.5 percent of all gun violence.” To really have an impact, the students argued, “we need to address to address the root cause” of all the violence. And according to some of them, it’s communities of color who are impacted the most.

“The reason that we’re here today, especially as a black woman, is because we are the most effective by the gun violence,” a young female student said while addressing the crowd. “We are the most affected in these low income communities. The gun trafficking of these guns needs to be regulated. It needs to be stopped. And they’re doing nothing about it.”

“We might not have changed anyone’s minds today, but we spoke to a lot of different delegates from both sides of the aisle,” another student of color said after highlighting how the group was “lucky enough” to have supportive people as they advocated for commonsense reforms. “Our opinions might not have mattered to them, but we made sure that our opinions were heard and that they know that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere.”

On what was perhaps the best message to end the event on, the final student to speak talked about how coming together as a group can actually empower individuals. And if we’re going to be successful, he said, it would be “by using love.”

“It’s easy to feel helpless when we’re doing this work, but after spending the last 24 hours with these people, I don’t feel so helpless anymore,” the young man proclaimed. “The way we’re going to win this is by using love. Love of humanity and love for people all around us. That’s something that we have that I truly believe the other side lacks.”

“We’re not going to make the difference unless we’re doing the action,” he added. “We can’t honor these individuals like Dr. King without getting involved in the fight.”

And it was in that spirit that the crowd sang a few choruses of We Shall Overcome. The group wasn’t necessarily filled with the best technical singers in the world, but it was definitely a beautiful moment. So for those who are interested, here’s a little audio of the signing.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Virginia Democrats Respond to Trump’s Iranian Airstrike

There’s been a lot of questions raised since news broke that Donald Trump launched an airstrike against Iran that killed Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. While there doesn’t seem to be any doubt the Iranian general was a horrible man who needed to be held accountable for his past actions, people from a variety of different backgrounds are questioning Trump’s actions.

The airstrike seems to have been carried out almost on a whim without consulting Congress through things such as the tradition of notifying the “Gang of 8” before the mission was launched. There’s also no clear strategy, which puts the country’s national security at risk as there are already reports of potential cyber attacks by Iran in retaliation for the strike.

While Congressional Republicans have mostly praised Trump for launching the attack that could potentially lead to war with Iran, most national security experts and Congressional Democrats have spoken out against the careless manner in which the attack was conducted. Those making public remarks about the president’s decision include Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA10).

“Suleimani was a brutal killer who deserved to meet justice, but President Trump’s airstrike has brought us to the brink of war with no clear strategy or plan,” Wexton tweeted. “The American people are not seeking a war with Iran, nor did Congress authorize one.”

Wexton not only criticized Trump’s actions, but would also later on focus in on some legislative options the House of Representatives is considering.

“Article 1 of the Constitution places the power to declare war and authorize military force with Congress, not the President,” the Congresswoman said while retweeting remarks by Rep. Andy Levin. “I’m cosponsoring the bipartisan #AUMF Clarification Act because there can be no war with Iran without the express approval of Congress—that must be clear.”

Rep. Gerry Connolly, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and was a senior staffer for the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee before running for office himself, also spoke about how Trump’s actions could have a devastating impact on our foreign policy.

“President Trump has unleashed the dogs of war in approving the drone attack that killed Iranian General Qassim Suleimani, the head of Quds forces in the region,” Connolly tweeted. “It will enrage Shia communities in the ME, further destabilize the Iraqi government and bring Iran and the US to the brink of war. A dangerous and portentous decision.”

Connolly would also later appear on MSNBC to say Trump’s behavior isn’t acceptable just because his “enabler-in-chief Lindsay Graham happened to be at Mar-a-Largo with his golfing partner and therefore got briefed.” He added that “the legislative branch” needs to be “consulted and informed” on matters such as the airstrike.

In response to the airstrike, Rep. Don Beyer took to twitter to highlight how the House has passed legislation that would have blocked Trump from attacking Iran without Congressional authorization, but “the Senate’s obstruction is a huge problem.”

Rep. Bobby Scott has also echoed the sentiment that Congress needs to receive justification in a tweet that said “it is important that the Trump Administration immediately present to Congress all the information it relied on to justify this airstrike, as well as its strategy as to how it intends to address this situation moving forward.

In other words, Virginia’s Democrats are actively making it clear their opposition to the attack isn’t because they don’t like Trump. It’s because his actions are part of a larger trend of ignoring the foreign policy ramifications of his decisions and refusing to follow his constitutional obligations to respect Congress as an equal branch of government.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Scott Surovell and Patrick Hope Introduce Legislation to Ban Conversion Therapy

There have been countless studies over the years that show conversion therapy not only doesn’t work, but can be extremely harmful for children who are forced to go through it. Considering how kids already are going through enough while trying to figure out who they are in general, not just in regards to their sexual orientation or gender identity, there’s absolutely no reason for them to be forced into going through something that’s proven to have potentially devastating impacts on their life.

With that in mind, Del. Patrick Hope and Sen. Scott Surovell have introduced legislation preventing healthcare professionals licensed by the Department of Health Professions (DPOR) from engaging in conversion therapy. They’ve both worked on the issue in previous legislative sessions, but homophobic and transphobic Republicans did everything they could to prevent the legislation from actually becoming law. Now that there’s a majority that believes the LGBT community deserves to have its basic rights respected, there’s a stronger likelihood of the legislation passing.

Similar legislation has already been passed in over a dozen other states including Maryland and DC. And the Virginia version would simply codify regulations put in place last year stating that any licensed professional who engaged in conversion therapy with minors would be subject to disciplinary action from their licensing board for what’s considered unprofessional conduct. By codifying the regulations, future administrations wouldn’t be able to suddenly change the policy in a desperate attempt to implement an anti-LGBT agenda.

This is most definitely a step in the right direction, but there’s also a glaring loophole as religious leaders wouldn’t be impacted by the legislation since they’re not licensed healthcare professionals. This move’s likely designed to overcome objections that a conversion therapy ban would amount to religious discrimination, but it also means many homophobic parents would simply bypass licensed professionals who could truly help their child figure everything out and lay a foundation that would allow them to thrive.

In a statement announcing the legislation had been introduced, Sen. Surovell highlighted how this is about protecting children who are statistically already at an increased risk of suicide.

“Not only is this practice harmful to our youth developing their gender identity, but from a legal standpoint, conversion therapy is abusive given the mental health repercussions and has been associated with increased suicide risk. It is a fraudulent practice, found to be malpractice in some states, and this will protect our children from beliefs rooted in bigotry,” Surovell said. “The General Assembly has a duty to permanently protect children from being targeted and hurt by these dangerous discredited practices. Failure to codify this could result in a reversal of these regulations by a future administration.”

While echoing Surovell’s sentiments, Del. Hope also highlighted how it’s simply wrong for people to be promoting the idea that being gay or transgender is something that’s “a sin or disease” that prevents people from being worthwhile human beings.

“So-called “conversion therapy” is not only ineffective it is a harmful and dangerous practice, especially when targeted at our children. It’s based on the evil notion that being a homosexual is a sin or a disease that needs treatment,” Hope said. “It’s past time Virginia joined the medical professional societies of the world and outright banned this backwards practice. Virginia is a place of acceptance and inclusion and the General Assembly will take whatever steps necessary to protect our children from this destructive practice.”

This isn’t the only legislation that’s been introduced designed to respect the basic rights of the LGBT community. There have been bills introduced to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in housing or employment, for instance, in addition to legislation making it easier for transgender people to get ID with their proper gender marker. Other bills also protect LGBT students Virginia schools.

For what it’s worth, these bills aren’t just being introduced as a way for lawmakers to act like they’re doing something good for the LGBT community. I’ve had people like Sen. Jennifer Boysko passionately talk with me in one on one conversations about how she’s taking the lead on some bills to help stand for basic equality. While this might seem like something small, I think it goes a long way in showing how the new Democratic majority is truly interested in creating a Commonwealth where everyone has an opportunity to succeed.

In other words, Virginia has leaders who truly believe we should stand up to the values of being a “Commonwealth.”

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

House Announces Articles of Impeachment

In a press conference this morning, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the Democratic leadership announced they’ll be introducing articles of impeachment on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Ever since Pelosi announced she had asked the relevant committee chairs to draft articles of impeachment, there had be questions about what specific charges would be used. The Speaker and other members had been noncommittal on giving an answer and said they were working together to draft articles that lay out Trump’s inappropriate behavior and are supported by the available evidence.

While this might not be something folks would say directly, how much support various articles of impeachment would get from individual members of Congress and the public at large was also likely taken into consideration while deciding exactly what charges would be brought. This could be an important factor as the Republicans are already trying to portray the entire process as a partisan witch hunt and it’s unlikely 20 Republicans will vote to convict (which is how many would need to do so to reach the 2/3 majority required for removal).

This concept hasn’t been lost on the Democrats. During her appearance on a CNN Town Hall, the same day she publicly asked committee chairs to draft articles of impeachment, Speaker Pelosi said that while Democrats took their oath to defend the Constitution seriously, it appears as though the GOP has “taken an oath to Trump.” Other Democratic leaders have made similar remarks, both during official hearings and during interviews with the press.

We’ve seen this locally here in Northern Virginia as Rep. Gerry Connolly told a crowd of Democrats in Fairfax County this weekend that he would be voting to impeach Trump. This wasn’t a surprise to anybody in the room as Connolly called for an impeachment inquiry back in August and frequently highlighted how the president’s behavior, especially surrounding the interactions with Ukraine, was an abuse of power that Congress had to hold him accountable for.

Connolly went on to bluntly say he didn’t think the Republican controlled Senate would actually vote to convict the president. The obvious implication was the GOP has put loyalty to Trump ahead of loyalty to the Constitution and the best interests of the American people.

Perhaps the obvious question that comes from all this is why move forward with impeaching Trump if even Members of Congress are admitting the Senate is extremely unlikely to convict him on any charges. There have even been some suggestions that Congress simply move forward with censure instead of impeachment, which would only require the support of four Senate Republicans and would still hold Trump accountable to some degree.

As was pointed out during today’s press conference announcing the articles of impeachment, however, Trump’s actions have “threatened the integrity of our elections” and “are consistent with President Trump’s previous invitations of foreign interference in the 2016 elections.” In other words, moving forward with any action other than impeachment would allow the president to potential steal an election with blatantly illegal behavior.

Rep. Adam Schiff also highlighted how delaying impeachment in order to hear from the Trump Administration also is not an option. Trump has already order administration officials not to corporate with Congress and there has been a lengthy court process already taking place for other matters trying to force executive branch officials to comply with subpoenas. Waiting on impeachment would therefore likely result in the process extending beyond the 2020 election, which would allow Trump to take even more illegal action to swing the election in his favor.

The House Judiciary Committee is likely going to vote on the articles on Thursday and the full House will follow with a vote next week. They will then be sent over to the Senate where Mitch McConnell will have to set up the timeline for the trial.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

I was Part of the Studio Audience for Nancy Pelosi’s Town Hall on CNN

E6572926-3459-46A3-BA19-74A06DEEF1F6I was in the CNN studios last night for the town hall Jake Tapper moderated with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Although it’s been scheduled for awhile and impeachment was always going to be a topic that was likely asked about, the timing worked out to be extremely interesting Speaker Pelosi held a press conference earlier in the day to announce the House will be moving forward with writing articles of impeachment.

For what it’s worth, the town hall had an audience of about 75 people in studio, which made for tight quarters because it was a relatively small space, and lasted for just over an hour. Members of the audience where asked to submit up to three questions when they registered for the event and CNN staff members then pre-selected the people who would be allowed to ask their questions on air. These folks actually had reserved seats right along the aisles so they could easily make their way to the designated spot when it was their turn.

It’s also worth noting that while the crowd was definitely filled with some political insiders, it was relatively diverse — not just racially diverse, but there were a variety of ages represented and (based on conversations I had with folks) a good mix of professional backgrounds and political beliefs. And there was a noticeably large contingent of college students as John Hopkins, George Washington, American, Maryland, and a few other schools had students in the audience — several of whom were selected to ask questions.

Considering how the first 40 minutes or so were devoted to impeachment related questions and impeachment was a big part of how CNN staff stressed the importance of the event to audience members before we went on the air, it was relatively clear this was going to be the topic of the day. With that in mind, here are some of the interactions worth highlighting regarding impeachment questions:

  • Pelosi said she didn’t support impeaching George W. Bush despite calls from many Democrats to do so because she didn’t believe using misleading information about weapons of mass destruction in the lead up to the War in Iraq was an impeachable offense. She also said she didn’t impeaching Clinton because the GOP just impeached him “for being stupid” and suggested he did something relatively minor in hopes of sparring himself and his family some embarrassment.
  • The Speaker repeatedly highlighted how the founders created a system of checks and balances because they didn’t want a President who was basically just like the king they’d overthrown. Members of Congress are therefore continuing their vision and upholding their Constitutional duty by using the impeachment process to hold the president accountable. She did take a jab at the GOP by saying that while she’s taken an oath of office, “they have taken an oath to Donald Trump.”
  • When asked about the House was moving forward with impeachment when the election was relatively soon and could be used as a potential way to hold Trump accountable, Pelosi highlighted how the president openly encouraged foreign governments to threaten our electoral process before and is already doing it again to help his reelection campaign.
  • The Speaker said members of the Democratic leadership are working collectively to write the articles of impeachment and wouldn’t say whether or not the findings of the Mueller report would lead to any of the charges.
  • Pelosi said that the White House officials who have been subpoenaed should testify before Congress. She mentioned how one of the articles of impeachment being proposed for Richard Nixon focused on his obstruction of Congress.

While the majority of time was spent on impeachment, there were some other topics covered. The speaker did lightheartedly say after awhile that she wanted to move beyond questions that were addressing the White House’s perspective of the impeachment process.

  • When asked about whether the USMCA would be implemented before the holidays, she said they’re still working on language to make sure it’s enforceable. She added that it can have some great ideas in there, but it doesn’t do any good if there’s no actual way to hold all the parties accountable.
  • Pelosi said on several occasions that health care would be the most important issue of the upcoming campaign. It is worth noting that she said she’s a strong backer of Obamacare and is proud of the fact that she was speaker when it passed. When pressed, she said she would prefer to strengthen the Affordable Care Act rather than immediately go to Medicare for All. She did admit, however, that we might eventually get to a single payer system.
  • Jake Tapper highlighted how Pelosi had stated she might have retired if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election and wanted to know if she’d be retiring if a Democrat won in 2020. She responded by saying “I’m not on a timetable, I’m on a mission.” This might have been the biggest applause line of the night.
  • Since we’re rapidly approaching a deadline for a new budget (or at least a short term CR), Jake Tapper asked if another government shutdown was likely. She said she didn’t foresee that happening after the last one showed the political consequences for the GOP if they failed to even consider working to come up with an agreement.

There wasn’t really anything tremendously groundbreaking that took place during the town hall. If it had taken place on any other day, the headline might have been that she was pretty clear about her support for making adjustments to Obamacare and perhaps adding the public option instead of going straight to Medicare for All. Since this has been one of the biggest discussions during the Democratic primary, the comments would have likely received a lot more attention if they weren’t overshadowed by the day’s events surrounding impeachment.

Combine what Speaker Pelosi had to say during the town hall with the rhetoric other Democrats have been using recently, however, and it’s pretty clear they’re trying to channel the founding fathers and suggest impeachment is part of their constitutional duties and they’re fighting for our democratic (small d) version of government. In other words, they’re being patriotic and standing up for American values while holding Trump accountable for blatantly disregarding the rule of law.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Happy Thanksgiving Turkey

I simply wanted to set politics aside for a little bit and wish everybody a happy Thanksgiving. While we all are hopefully enjoying some delicious food and perhaps watching some football before slipping into a turkey coma and eventually getting up early to take advantage of Black Friday sales, I also hope everyone takes a few moments to take in the true meaning of the holiday by expressing gratitude for some of the positive things in their life.

Shortly after Thanksgiving last year, I spent almost two weeks in the hospital for a serious medical scare. I’m therefore grateful for improving health and for the reminder the anniversary provides that its something that can’t be taken for granted. I’m also thankful for having a job I truly enjoy and being surrounded by amazing friends and family.

For as long as I can remember, my family has a history of alternating between Northern Virginia (where I grew up) and the Philadelphia area (where some of my cousins grew up) for Thanksgiving. Even as we’ve gotten older, this has remained a tradition and I’ll be spending the day with family just outside of Philly.

Considering my brothers now live in New York and my cousins have scattered, it’s nice to have this annual tradition where we all come together. It’s been especially rewarding since we’ve added a whole new generation to the mix.

With all that in mind, I sincerely hope everyone enjoys the day and gets to carry on traditions or potentially even start some new ones.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Jeff McKay Says Voters Showed They Support One Fairfax

During the campaign, Republicans in Fairfax County essentially tried to turn the election into a referendum on One Fairfax. The policy essentially requires elected officials to take into consideration the impact policy decisions would have on communities who don’t traditionally have a seat at the table, but the GOP tried to portray it as some sinister plot that would destroy the region.

In the various school board campaigns, for instance, conservative candidates decried it as a “radical agenda” that would force students to be bused all over the county. There was even some talk about how Fairfax students would even be bused outside of the county to schools in Prince William. They claimed these efforts would not only be horrible for students, but would end up lowering home values and harming the entire community.

All of this was an attempt to channel the rhetoric used by folks who opposed integration during the civil rights movement in hopes that it would win them a few votes. Fortunately, the tactic was soundly rejected at the polls as every single Republican candidate lost their school board races and we saw other gains in Fairfax County.

During a Fairfax County Democratic Committee meeting on November 19th, Supervisor Jeff McKay (who won his bid to be the next Chairman of the Board of Supervisors) spoke about how the message of One Fairfax helping to ensure all residents have an opportunity was well received by voters. They rejected the divisiveness the GOP was trying to stir up and embraced the message of hope and inclusiveness.

“I remember years ago sitting down with Supervisor Hudgins and talking about this concept of One Fairfax, which we thought was pretty normal stuff,” McKay said. “We’re in a progressive area, we want to fight for all people. We want to give all everybody an opportunity to succeed. This should not be hard stuff.”

McKay also stressed how this wasn’t just something leaders suddenly started talking about recently. It’s been a concept that’s been discussed openly for years as Fairfax has been trying to create a more welcoming community that recognizes the benefits of having a diverse population.

“We were talking about this before Donald Trump was in office, about how we double down on that,” the Chairman-elect said. “It wasn’t a response to Trump, it was about being a Democrat in progressive Fairfax County.”

“If you told me years ago that Republicans would try taken this issue and divide our community and think that running against One Fairfax, that unites all of our people in every corner of the County, and guarantees equal opportunities for people,” McKay added, “if you would have thought that would be what the Republicans would have run against the Democrats on, that is absurd.  And the voters saw right through it.”

In other words, running against a policy that brings people together in order to make a stronger community is a horrible campaign strategy. And the voters made it clear they wouldn’t support bigotry and divisiveness here in Fairfax County.

For those who are interested, here’s a recording of McKay’s remarks.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

UFCW Fights For Fair Contract at NoVA Safeway and Giant Grocery Stores

Helmer UFCW2Since the centerpiece of the holiday is gathering with friends and family around a big turkey dinner with all the fixings, this week is extremely busy for grocery stores. Everybody’s running in and out trying to pick up all the ingredients they need for Thursday’s big meal and it can be hard to keep things running efficiently. This is especially the case as Turkey Day recipes often require ingredients customers aren’t used to searching for and, on occasion, might get a little frustrated with trying to make sure they have everything.

While all of this is happening, there are workers at the store working extremely hard to keep the shelves stocked and the building’s clean so everybody can have a pleasant experience when they come in to do their shopping. They unfortunately do all this while often not receiving much appreciation from customers and not nearly enough pay to get by in Northern Virginia communities.

Their low wages come at a time when the corporate offices are demanding stores cut hours in order to help keep their payroll low. When you consider how workers already aren’t getting paid much per hour, having hours cut makes their struggle to pay the bills even harder and can often have a devastating impact on families. Far too often, it actually means employees can’t even afford to buy the basic groceries they’re putting on the shelves.

In addition to the staffing hours being reduced at stores, workers are extremely worried about Safeway’s new corporate owners potentially doing away with the pension program — or at least drastically reducing the benefits that workers have earned through years of working with the company. Considering how unions often accept a lower wage for hourly workers during negotiations to help ensure a pension is fully funded, this move could have a significant long term impact on folks even though the corporation is bringing in billions of dollars worth of profits every year.

It’s not just the workers’ paychecks that are being impacted here as the reduction in hours means there’s not enough staff time for all the work to get done. This eventually results in the stores not being cleaned properly, which is rather worrisome when you consider it’s where the public’s food supply is being stored. It also simply means there aren’t as many staff members available to help customers, which can make it difficult to get the assistance you might need — especially on a crowded day when you’re looking for that missing ingredient for grandma’s pumpkin pie.

With all that in mind, members of UFCW Local 400 have been heading into negotiations with Safeway and Giant grocery stores to get a fair contract. They’ve been mounting a public awareness campaign recently and had a long list of stores here in NoVA they were protesting outside of yesterday and on Sunday the 24th. The goal of the protest was to take advantage of the increased foot traffic and let the public know about the fight for a fair contract.

It’s not just the UFCW that’s been active in the visibility effort as several other unions and progressive organizations have had volunteers show up in solidarity help. The Northern Virginia Labor Council even “adopted” one local Giant store where it turned out its members and affiliates. On top of that, elected officials like Delegate-elect Dan Helmer and Senator Jennifer Boysko have even shown up to lend their support.

“I ran because I am concerned about economic justice for people who don’t always have a seat at the table,” Sen. Boysko said when she joined workers outside a Safeway in Leesburg. “My own mother was a single mom who suffered through wage theft and minimum wage jobs where she barely was able to put food on the table for my brothers and me. We can do better in Virginia and in the United States. And it’s our responsibility to stand up and stand with the workers who are doing the tough jobs.”

So as you’re heading into grocery stores to grab any last minute supplies needed for Thanksgiving, remember the struggle the workers are going through and try to show them some solidarity.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ralph Northam Doesn’t Support Repealing Right to Work Laws

NorthamWith Democrats taking control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation, there was a lot of hope they’d pass laws that would benefit workers. Not even a month after the election, however, Gov. Ralph Northam has come out in opposition to repealing Virginia’s right to work laws.

Right to work laws make it illegal for businesses to make joining a union a condition of employment. The measures are often implemented in order to curry favor with the corporate world as they’re designed to make labor unions week by making it harder for them to grow and reduces their leverage with employers.

Despite the pro-worker sounding name, studies have shown workers actually suffer in right to work states. Wages in right to work states are 3.2% lower than in their pro-union counterparts and this isn’t just for unionized workers. Even people in non-unionized workplaces usually receive higher pay and good benefits in pro-union states.

Fortunately, there are several members of the General Assembly who are standing up for workers and support repealing right to work. Lee Carter from Prince William County has introduced legislation to repeal right to work in the past and has said he’ll introduce it again for the upcoming bill. He even made it clear his efforts won’t be dependent on whether or not he can receive support from the governor’s mansion.

“Opposition doesn’t stop me from putting in good bills. And repealing right to work is a good bill,” Carter tweeted yesterday. “I’m gonna introduce it, and I’m gonna fight like hell to get it to the Governor’s desk. And if he vetoes it, he’ll be the one who has to own that.”

Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, who also represents parts of Prince William County, has also publicly said she supports repealing right to work. Her reasoning was that Virginia needs to strike a balance between being good for business and good for workers. According to her, other states have proven there’s a way to do just that without having right to work on the books.

It’s also worth noting that labor unions are a core constituency group for the Democratic Party. Many of their members are active volunteers for Democrats and constantly show up at rallies and participate in voter engagement activities. Throughout the 2019 campaigns, for instance, SEIU and other unions had members all over Northern Virginia supporting candidates in their GOTV efforts in the lead up to Election Day. This was huge as local campaigns often don’t have the money to buy tons of TV air time and therefore have to rely on grassroots political activity that unions can help provide.

With that in mind, it seems rather odd for Northam to be expressing direct opposition to one of the labor community’s top priorities. He could have very easily used language that highlighted how the business community would benefit from loyal workers who have more job security, quality benefits, and higher pay, but he instead implied repealing right to work would be horrible for business (which simply isn’t the case).

This hasn’t been lost on folks in labor who were quick to express their disappointment in Northam’s remarks. They also highlighted how the same organizing power they used in the lead up to the election can also be used to help rally support for their legislative priorities.

“It was unions phonebanking and knocking doors to flip the house,” Stacey Shorter, a local leader in AFGE, said on Twitter after news broke of Northam’s statement.”We have the power we just need to use it. The power of the people is greater than the people in power.”

All that being said, Northam’s announcement shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise since he’s known as a corporate Democrat. During the 2017 gubernatorial primary, for instance, he told labor union representatives that he supported right to work laws, but never said whether he’d veto legislation that repealed it. His PAC also has a lot of corporate donors, which helps to illustrate his coziness with the corporate community.

It was therefore already known that the governor wouldn’t be leading the charge for repeal, but his choice of rhetoric is what has many of his allies disappointed. The language he used suggests he won’t simply let others work on repeal and might actually work against the efforts. This is cause for concern and is why many progressives were quick to express their opposition to Northam’s announcement.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

VA Senate Democrats Announce Legislative Priorities

As members of Virginia’s General Assembly have begun pre-filing legislation to be considered in the upcoming session, the Senate Democratic caucus has announced its priorities for the session. Considering they campaigned upon similar themes this year, it shouldn’t be too surprising that they’ll be focused in on gun violence prevention, health care, education, equality, and voting rights.

“Virginians elected Democrats to tackle the challenges facing our Commonwealth,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chair for Policy Jeremy McPike. “We’re proud to prioritize commonsense legislation that addresses equality, gun violence prevention, and economic security.”

In a statement released earlier today, the Caucus made it clear they will have a busy first ten days of session once the Senate convenes in Richmond. During that period, leadership says they’ll prioritize ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), implementing universal background checks for firearms, making it illegal to deny someone housing based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity, and allowing no-excuse absentee voting.

As we’ve seen pre-filed bills trickling in, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see that Dick Saslaw seems to have taken his new Majority Leader title to heart and has taken the lead on some of the efforts to help end gun violence. He introduced the bill for universal background checks and another one banning bump stocks.

The Majority Leader also introduced a bill that would increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025. If passed, the bill would raise the minimum wage to $10 in 2020 and then increase it by $1 an hour each year until it hit the $15 mark. Although this would still result in someone struggling to get by in Northern Virginia, it’s far better than the federally mandated $7.25 an hour that’s currently used in the Commonwealth.

That being said, there’s still a significant amount of concern about Sen. Saslaw’s leadership on some progressive issues. This is especially the case in regards to environmental issues and the hesitation comes from Saslaw taking an enormous amount of money from Dominion over the years. As most Democrats have tried to distance themselves from the energy company and refuse to take donations from them, the majority leader has bragged about his relationship with the corporation.

The refusal to even give credence to the criticism of Dominion is why many environmentalists haven’t been thrilled with the Senator’s leadership. Lowell over at Blue Virginia pointed out that the over $400,000 in donations “Dominion Dick” has received from Dominion means he’s not likely going to take the lead on doing things like “moving Virginia to 100% clean energy.”

With all that being said, it’s good to see the Democrats are responding to what the public told them during the campaign season and are moving forward with a solid agenda. Much of the legislation is something that Virginians can rally behind, but Republican leaders had used parliamentary tricks to block from even being considered by the full General Assembly in the past. It’ll therefore be great to see some productive and meaningful legislation being considered starting in January.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment