Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Andrew Schneider
Election season is upon us and, thankfully, the end is near. While it is fashionable to tout this election as a uniquely negative one, I still find myself encouraged and enlivened by the citizen activism that this election, like most elections, has engendered in Arlington.
Just this week, as voter registration draws to a close, the Arlington Democratic Party celebrated their efforts to register 19,000 new voters in Arlington. Regardless of party affiliation, I hope we can all be proud that an engaged and informed electorate helps shape our community.
Civic engagement and informed residents are what led me to host a local weekly radio program. For the past six months, I have had the honor of hosting a weekly radio program, Arlington Voices, on WERA-LP — Arlington’s community radio station and an offshoot of Arlington Independent Media.
The show has given me (and hopefully listeners), an opportunity to discuss and learn about the fabric created by our community ties. I have had the chance to talk with thought leaders, non-profit managers, educators, coaches, musicians and academics. Each has had an impact (and been impacted by) life in Arlington.
As this is the political season, in the past two weeks I have interviewed Delegate Rip Sullivan and our Congressman Don Beyer. Soon, I will host Libby Garvey, Chair of the Arlington County Board.
While each interview is different, I see common threads that seem to weave throughout every guest’s journey. They note in their careers and their lives more generally the value of life-long friendships, inclusiveness and yes, progressive values they have found in Arlington.
These values can be found throughout our community fabric and they are one of the reasons that my wife and I chose to raise our family here. As Senator Mary Margaret Whipple recently noted in this column a few weeks ago, Arlington is frequently touted as a best County for many things including places to raise a family and our schools are consistently ranked among the best in the state, and the nation as well.
Arlington’s schools also shed a different light on life in Arlington. Even though Arlington ranks as the sixth richest County in the nation according to U.S. Census data, over 30% of Arlington’s school population (over 7,500 students) are on a free or reduced lunch plan.
Similarly, estimates indicate that over 10% of Arlington’s populations is living in poverty (estimates vary by how the data is analyzed and broken down). Each day, the organization that I work for, Arlington Thrive, helps some of these residents with same-day emergency financial assistance. This assistance is often what helps them avoid eviction, having the power turned off or not having access to important medical assistance.
So while I am disheartened that we live in a community where there are many people living in poverty amidst so much wealth, I am also thankful that we live in a community that supports efforts to reduce poverty with forthrightness. Our policies do mitigate poverty and often provide a blueprint and an inspiration for other communities around the United States.
These are not just County government efforts. For example, Arlington’s 10 Year Plan to End Homelessness is a coalition of government resources, local non-profits like Arlington Thrive, and support from the local business community.
As the election draws to a close I am mindful how the greater conversations taking place across the country have resonance here in Arlington.
Whether it is the populist appeal of candidates as different as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, or the release last week of a forward thinking anti-poverty plan by Hillary Clinton and Tim Kaine, the issues of our country are also issues within our community.
My hope is that Arlington will continue to lead the charge on these issues and that, as we do, the people of our community — from those living in poverty to those living in wealth, continue to find Arlington voices — of reason, of hope and of inspiration — that signify a successful and a caring community we can proudly call home.
Andrew Schneider is a lifelong Arlingtonian who is the Executive Director of Arlington Thrive, a non-profit that provides same day emergency financial support to neighbors in need. His weekly radio interview program, Arlington Voices, can be heard every Friday at 10 am on WERA-LP 96.7 FM.