Arlington, VA

Progressive Voice is a weekly 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 Maggie Davis

While there are many ways to define the Arlington community — subjectively and objectively — one crucial factor is the baseline data of how many people live in the County, as collected by the decennial Census.

Last year, I wrote about how census data affects Arlington’s bottom line. While there are still concerns regarding the logistics of administering the Census, the larger concern now is the Trump administration’s aggressive and persistent fight to include a citizenship question in the Census. Wrangling over this question has sowed distrust that is expected to result in an undercount. Arlington has to come together and work harder than ever to ensure an accurate and thorough Census in 2020.

In July 2018, then Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol submitted a letter on behalf of the County Board to the U.S. Department of Commerce urging it to omit the Trump administration’s proposed citizenship question from the 2020 Census because it “is divisive in nature, is unnecessary and will result in an undercount of residents.” Similarly, several states and other interested parties sued the Trump administration to prevent the question from being included in the 2020 Census, with the issue eventually rising to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The question before the Supreme Court was whether the Commerce Department Secretary, Wilbur Ross, had the authority to include a citizenship question in the Census. In its June opinion, the Supreme Court determined Secretary Ross did have the discretion to include the question. However, a narrowly divided (5-4) court found the Trump administration’s stated reason for including the question — to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act — to be pretextual.

Recently uncovered evidence showed a key section of the administration’s rationale for the question was written by a longtime Republican strategist who asserted a census citizenship question would disadvantage Democrats and be “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites.” The Supreme Court did not rule that the census could not include the question — only that the administration needed to provide a different and more convincing rationale for the question to one of the U.S District Courts with pending cases (New York and Maryland).

Then the process got weird.

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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 Claire Noakes

Remember reading those books, with choices every few pages? Now we live in one, where we have multiple decisions to make on clean energy policy that could lead to breakthroughs and a resilient community, or to dead ends. Choose wrong, however, and we fall into a trap that lulls us into believing we have made virtuous choices when we have in fact overlooked a huge variable. Let’s start the storyline.

It’s 2013, and you generate 12.9 metric tons (mt) of carbon dioxide emissions annually, which is unsustainable. You create a Community Energy Plan (CEP), with goals (but no budget or regulations) to lower that amount to 3 mt by 2050, and to improve economic competitiveness and energy security. Turn the page to the year 2018. You read the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report, which states dire consequences if emissions are not dropped further.

It’s 2019, and the County Board responds in the CEP Update, aiming for 100% renewable electricity for County operations by 2025, 100% renewable electricity for the community by 2035, and net zero emissions by 2050. Net zero is ambitious– if a resident uses a gas stove, there must be a carbon offset. If this draft CEP Update is adopted (and you can provide input during the July 13 County Board meeting), where will we choose for this storyline to go next?

Here’s a favorable set of possibilities:

We have chosen well at every turn.

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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 Sheila Fleischhacker

It’s unthinkable any child goes hungry or experiences “summertime anxiety,” which is associated with summer’s unstructured nature and is marked by the lack of predictability in what each day is going to look like or, for some children, whether there will be enough to eat.

Yet hunger among Arlington kids does exist. One in 10 Arlington Public Schools (APS) middle and high school students reports having experienced hunger. A third of APS students qualify for federally assisted school meals — from less than 1% at Tuckahoe to 81% at Carlin Springs.

“Many Arlington children rely on school meals,” explained Charles Meng, executive director of the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), which served more than 12,000 people last year. “During the summer, our families face higher food costs on already-tight budgets (an estimated additional $800 per child).”

All APS summer school programs offer federally supported meal services. Any child not enrolled in summer school can participate in summer meal services at Barrett, Carlin Springs, Kenmore and Hoffman-Boston. “While enjoying a delicious school breakfast with Carlin Springs students, I have seen first-hand how dedicated our schools are to getting students excited about school meals,” observed Matt de Ferranti, an Arlington County Board member. “It’s inspiring to hear about creative solutions to ensure access to healthy meals while decreasing stigma, such as breakfast in the classroom at Oakridge and Hoffman-Boston.” Strengthening each school’s local wellness policy is another important tool.

Outside of school, Arlington’s community centers, parks and recreational centers, childcare centers, Boys & Girls Clubs, faith-based organizations, and others participate in federally assisted programs that provide free, healthy summer meals to children. SummerFoodRocks helps locate meal sites or text “FOOD” to 877877 and, after providing an address, you will receive a message about free summer meal sites.

Individuals can engage in partnerships or volunteer opportunities such as developing innovative transportation approaches to sites or providing musical entertainment during lunchtime. AFAC, for instance, depends on more than 2,200 volunteers to help bag, distribute, drive, glean or grow food for participating families.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly 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 Laura Saul Edwards

What’s a surefire way to get people talking in Arlington? Tear down an old house and replace it with still another McMansion that will be listed for more than a million dollars on the market.

“In neighborhoods across Arlington last year — at the doors, in coffees, and at civic associations — I heard concern regarding the size of single family homes being built to replace smaller, older homes,” confirmed County Board member Matt de Ferranti recently.

Meanwhile, teardowns continue. Neighbors and passersby watch an excavator methodically rip apart an old house, and they wonder how much the new house will affect the neighborhood, the environment, flooding and school crowding.

In one recent teardown, an approximately 1,500 square-foot home built before WWII was demolished, and all the surrounding trees were cleared, to make way for a new house more than triple the size of the one it replaces.

What can be done about this trend?

“While we can and should respect individual property rights, we also should recognize the impacts large homes can have on our neighbors, including storm water runoff,” de Ferranti said. “We must make sure the regulations are enforced, monitor and update our own ordinances, and work to obtain additional authority from Richmond, where appropriate, to make sure Arlington remains a sustainable place to live.”

The high price of land in Arlington and Virginia’s strong property rights laws generally mean a homebuilder will construct the largest allowable house to maximize economic value. Sales figures validate market demand for these large homes. Moreover, some of Arlington’s small older homes are too decrepit and outdated to make renovation a practical option.

This doesn’t mean, however, the county’s footprint and height allowances can’t be reviewed or tightened. The last time the County Board dug into this issue was in 2005, when Arlington’s 1950 zoning ordinance was amended to reduce the maximum lot coverage for single-family homes.

“Home sizes that were once the theoretical maximum are now the de facto minimum for new home rebuilds,” observed County Board member Erik Gutshall. “Arlington needs to initiate the modernization of our zoning ordinance with a frank discussion of just what character do we want in our neighborhoods.”

Longtime Arlington real estate agent Bob Adamson said, “Affordability is a worthy aspiration. Economic feasibility is crucial. The devil resides in the details.”

Updating Arlington’s zoning and land use requirements for single-family homes could be a genuine success story if it identifies practical, feasible changes responsive to factors that vary across the county, such as topography and lot size — while also honoring the rights of property owners.

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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 Jill Caiazzo

The 2019 Democratic primary in Arlington was a bruiser. On all sides, emotions ran high while the rhetoric ran disappointingly low at times. With the votes now in, the hue-and-cry of the campaign trail has given way to calmer calls for unity. This article is not one of them.

Don’t worry, I’m not calling for ripping up the cobblestones and taking to the barricades either. Instead, my post-primary call is this: Stay passionate, Democrats. Whatever else can be said about this year’s primary, it was passionate! The 2019 primary sparked many discussions about important issues in our community that are too often muted for a variety of reasons — not the least of which is the cacophony of terrible from the Trump-led GOP.

The extreme nature of the Trump-led GOP has grown our already big tent, as people of conscience of all shades of blue, purple and even a little red have sought refuge within the Democratic Party. This is a joy — but also a challenge, for of course such a diverse array of people will not always agree on each and every policy or candidate. To that end, not everyone is happy with the outcome of Arlington’s primary. That’s OK. I, for one, am not asking you to pretend otherwise.

Whether you’re happy or not, by all means, stay loud. Keep it clean for the kids of course, and perhaps try some civil leadership training courtesy of the Arlington Young Democrats. This training seeks to improve community relationships and individual interactions, to foster better understanding of differences across race, class, culture and politics.

Bridging these divides is important and possible only through active participation. So stay loud. Remain engaged. Keep at it. Democrats didn’t lose the 2016 presidential election because we were too boisterous; in the end, we lost because of apathy (with some help from several thousand Russian bots).

Let’s not make the same mistake this time around. Pour your energy left over from the primary into one of the many candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

Even better — give everything you’ve got to a Democratic candidate for the Virginia General Assembly who best reflects your views. Our entire state legislature is up for election this year, and Democrats have the opportunity to retake the majority and move the Commonwealth forward on issues that matter to your daily life. If you want to protect access to affordable healthcare, improve education, implement gun safety measures, and combat climate change, only a Democratic majority in the state legislature can do it. Help make that majority happen, and ensure that the legislature includes at least one member who really gets you and will champion your key issues.

Building a noisy and diverse coalition of independent thinkers with shared core values always should be our goal. I chafe at the notion that an effective Democratic Party must require its members to move in lockstep. That’s a fool’s errand — not only because it’s impossible, but because its pursuit is destructive.

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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 Cheryl W. Moore

(Updated at 9 a.m.) Several years ago, my then 13-year-old son announced that he had been hit by a car on Washington Blvd. in Westover. He quickly added that he wasn’t hurt; a car had lightly tapped him when he was riding his bike. That memory came back to me when I heard that Arlington County is collaborating with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) on repaving a portion of Washington Blvd in the Westover neighborhood near where I live.

A lot has happened in the years since my son’s incident. New retail establishments have made Westover a magnet for more visitors, and there are more walkers, drivers and cyclists on Washington Blvd. Reed Elementary School will undoubtedly add to the congestion when it opens in 2021.

All of these factors raise the likelihood of accidents involving pedestrians, cars and bicycles. Last fall, a woman was struck by a car while she was in a crosswalk, resulting in serious injuries. That accident spurred many calls for improvements on this busy street.

While Arlington County takes safety concerns seriously, staff also know that Arlington residents want to be involved in decisions affecting their neighborhoods before they are set in stone (or in this case, asphalt). The challenge is how much and what kind of public engagement, for which kinds of projects, will be most effective. County staff say they are trying to be clearer about expectations for community involvement.

The Westover repaving project is one example of how county staff are trying to engage the community more effectively. When staff learned that Washington Blvd was going to be repaved between N. McKinley Road and N. Frederick Street, they saw an opportunity to improve lane striping, replace crosswalks and add bike lanes. A routine repaving project might generally involve communicating with the community. However, the Department of Environmental Services (DES) staff determined that this project required a higher level of involvement, due to multiple uses of Westover Shopping Center and the project’s potential to change the character of the road.

Community members had feedback opportunities at two open houses at the Westover Library, a “pop-up” at the Westover farmers market, and via an online survey (which garnered 900 responses). Not surprisingly, the main concern was for greater safety, including better visibility of pedestrian crossings.

Three different proposals included such elements as high-visibility crosswalks, bike lanes on one or both sides of the street, back-in parking and reducing the number of parking spaces. From the final plan submitted to VDOT, it’s clear that community feedback had an impact. For example, the back-in parking concept was not favored by a majority of the community, so it was eliminated. It was also decided to include a bike lane only on the eastbound side of the street.

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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.

 To inform voters, Progressive Voice asked each candidate in the upcoming Democratic primary for the State House of Delegates to respond to this question: “If elected, on which progressive initiative will you lead that you believe would be beneficial to the constituents of the 49th District?”

Alfonso Lopez

During my first campaign, I made a pledge to my community that I would be a champion for our Northern Virginia values — leading the way on issues like protecting the environment, defending civil rights, supporting our schools, standing up for reproductive autonomy, and advocating for our immigrant neighbors.

In the General Assembly, I’ve taken that pledge to heart and have worked tirelessly over the last eight years to secure progressive victories that benefit our community, including:

  • Increasing incentives for solar energy projects and jobs in renewable energy
  • Raising the outdated felony threshold and combating the school-to-prison pipeline
  • Expanding Medicaid access to include immigrant mothers and children and working with the Attorney General to grant in-state tuition to DACA-recipients

In recognition of these efforts, I have consistently ranked among the most progressive legislators in Richmond and am proud of my record working to find solutions to the many problems we face.

In particular, I’m proudest of the bill I passed in 2013 creating the Virginia Housing Trust Fund (VHTF), which has already invested $1.7 million on affordable housing projects benefiting the 49th District.

As our region grows, our housing crisis will continue to worsen — unless Virginia dedicates sustainable funding for affordable housing.

Many of my constituents are deeply concerned about ever-rising rents and property taxes and fear that they’re being priced out of neighborhoods they’ve lived in for decades.

To address those fears, I’ve been fighting for a dedicated source of funding that would increase the VHTF’s budget and keep it on secure financial footing for years to come.

Every Virginian deserves the opportunity to live and work in the community they call home and, if re-elected, I will continue to lead on this issue until the General Assembly properly addresses this crisis once and for all.

Julius D. “JD” Spain Sr. 

May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month, but the somber statistics of how many kids do not receive adequate medical care deserve our focus year-round. The obstacles are numerous: untreated mental illness in parents may prevent infants from receiving the responsive care needed for development. Toddlers may miss timely screening for developmental disorders unless childcare providers are trained to make referrals. Even timely diagnosis doesn’t ensure treatment — Virginia ranks 40th in the nation for access to behavioral health care treatment.

Access aside, low-income families may not be able to afford treatment. On top of everything, stigma surrounding mental illness remains.

Yet by neglecting to tackle stigma and invest in screening, training, and treatment options, we are making a terrible choice. If we wait, treatment often is less effective. The criminal justice system may become involved — 90% of incarcerated youth require mental illness treatment. Delaying care disproportionately impacts communities of color, because black youth receive a court referral three times as often as white youth.

I support the General Assembly’s recent efforts to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for psychiatric services and leverage pediatricians for certain mental health treatments. These stop-gap measures help while we implement an adequate system of care. I support funding school counselor positions and peer counseling programs. I want to stop the “schools to prisons pipeline” — Virginia schools have twice the referrals than the national average — by training school personnel in trauma recognition to better address what underlies student misbehavior.

We should increase the availability of crisis-prevention services and encourage community-supervision as a diversionary alternative to costly incarceration. Finally, I will aim to fully fund early intervention services, because provider availability and reimbursement rates have not kept pace with rising enrollment. We must make better choices because children, at the very least, deserve good mental health.

Del. Alfonso Lopez has represented the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2012, where he serves in Democratic Leadership. During his time in the General Assembly, he has been a Progressive Champion for his community fighting for Affordable Housing, expanding Medicaid to cover over 400,000 Virginians, increasing Teacher and Educator pay by 5%, and fighting for criminal justice reform.

Julius D. “JD” Spain Sr. has always been focused on the well-being of others and has dedicated his entire adult life to public service. A lifetime member of the NAACP and a 26-year Marine Corps veteran, JD believes in uplifting the community and fighting injustice and inequality.

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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 Laura Saul Edwards

From the time I began reading, the image of libraries that came to mind was of a building warehousing books that I checked out and tried returning on time to avoid fines. Thumbing through card catalogues and scrolling through microfiche film joined the memory bank in high school and college.

This outdated view of libraries is as much a historical relic as the Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt. The Arlington Public Library is more than a mere circulating book collection. It is an indispensable part of Arlington’s infrastructure with a diverse menu of services — and a leading example of data-driven, continual improvement that is a cornerstone of progressive governance.

A reason Arlington stands out among other communities is that our generally well-educated and well-off population places a high value on libraries. Arlington’s 2018 Community Satisfaction Survey reported an overall satisfaction rate with library services of 91% versus 74% elsewhere.

However, this high satisfaction does not mean the library can rest on its laurels. Continual improvement depends upon using data to develop budgets and policies that will make the library even more effective and responsive to public needs.

According to County Board member Katie Cristol, the satisfaction survey is helpful in this regard because it “sheds insight into the relative value that residents place on disparate functions of the government.”

For example, recent survey results revealed dissatisfaction with the rate at which the library was acquiring books. Arlington residents said they wanted more e-books and shorter wait times for borrowing titles. This information led to a $300,000 increase in the library’s acquisition budget, including e-books.

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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 Paul Ferguson

Progressive Democrats care deeply about the environment, the dangers of climate change, and the scientific data that support it. During my 12 years on the Arlington County Board, I learned that getting public policy changes done takes a practical, pragmatic approach and a clear-eyed view of what’s actually possible.

It is in this spirit that I want to assess the Green New Deal. Climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately, and the Green New Deal, a non-binding resolution introduced in Congress, has gotten more people talking.

To me, the Green New Deal (GND) stands for the proposition that the time is past for half-measures. We must decarbonize our economy rapidly. If we had acted 20 years ago, we would not be in such a precarious situation. However, we delayed, denied and tiptoed around the issue. The 10-year timeframe called for in the resolution is an aspirational goal. The real timeline will be in legislation that comes later.

Those who do not want to address climate change falsely claim that the GND will outlaw hamburgers, air travel and more. This is not true. There are thoughtful concerns about the GND: that it is a laundry list; that it calls for too much, too fast; that it should focus on climate change and not try to solve many social problems at once; and that it should strive to be bipartisan.

I tend to agree with those concerns. I think they point in the likely directions the GND could take as it evolves toward passage as legislation in the next Congress.

As a first step, if there is any hope of bipartisan support in Congress, legislation will need to separate the environmental components of the GND from the social justice ones. Putting a price on carbon and investing in renewable energy are issues we can achieve consensus on. Policies that focus on income inequity are needed but will be more challenging to enact.

Locally I was encouraged when I recently met with Jim Presswood, former chairman of the Arlington Republican Party. Presswood runs a non-profit dedicated to convincing conservatives to address climate change. Democrats should work hard toward a bipartisan approach that accomplishes what science says is necessary.

The original New Deal in the 1930s was not one thing, but an approach toward ending the Great Depression, getting people back to work and restoring faith in the country’s financial system. Many ideas were debated and some were implemented. Some worked for a while, some failed, and some have stood the test of time.

I expect the same from the Green New Deal. It’s time to do the best we know how based on science and experience. Let’s put a price on carbon; invest more in clean energy research; invest more in renewable energy infrastructure; and ensure that the benefits of the new energy economy benefit all Americans, including those now dependent on the fossil fuel industry.

There are many variations on the New Green Deal. There already is a proposed Virginia Green New Deal that focuses on state policy. There should be a practical Arlington Green New Deal, too. Here are a few ideas to start:

  • All new County buildings and schools should commit to be net-zero energy. The School Board should be commended for achieving this with Discovery Elementary School, FleetElementary School and Walter Reed Elementary School.
  • Arlington County government should commit to 100% renewable electricity for County operations by 2023.
  • Arlington County as a whole should commit to 100% renewable electricity by 2035 at the latest.
  • Arlington should commit to converting all of its vehicle fleets to electric power.
  • The County should commit to being powered by clean renewable energy across all
    sectors by 2050 at the latest.

As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1939, “The most serious threat to our institutions comes from those who refuse to face the need for change.” Today’s Green New Deal is a call to action that can be modified and refined to achieve consensus. My hope is that all of us will collectively face the need for urgent change to protect our climate and environment.

Paul Ferguson has served as the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington and the City of Falls Church since 2008. He served as a Member of the County Board from 1996-2007.

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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.

To inform voters, Progressive Voice asked each candidate in the upcoming Democratic primary for State Senate to respond to this question: “What is your one most progressive accomplishment for Arlington citizens and how does that reflect your progressive leadership?”

Barbara Favola

As an Arlington County Board member, I initiated a coordinated community response to domestic violence and sexual assault; and chaired the roundtable that guided the community response for five years. That effort, now known as Project Peace, continues to educate, protect and empower Arlingtonians.

Project Peace has “buy-in” from the police, judicial system, faith community, non-profit service providers, legal service groups, and the public schools. The goal is to educate the community about domestic violence and sexual assault, enhance the protections offered by the judicial system and address gaps in services. An important component of Project Peace is preventing unhealthy relationships and discussing this topic in an age appropriate manner with both sexes.

As a State Senator, I allocate dollars in a way that ensures a seamless local response to domestic violence and sexual assault. For example, Inova Hospital, with the help of a state grant, was able to expand the number of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) to ensure that survivors could access the exam without long delays in a waiting room. Additionally, I passed legislation to require that a backlog of Physical Evidence Recovery Kits (PERKs) be evaluated by the State Department of Forensics.

On the prevention side, I passed legislation that requires the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission to include lessons in patron safety for bartenders. This idea came from a Project Peace program that voluntarily encourages establishments to join the “Ask Angela” Campaign.  If an individual feels threatened or unsafe, she can utter the words “Ask Angela” and the bartender is trained to take corrective actions.

The General Assembly established a Sexual Assault Advisory Committee and I have chaired that committee for the past four years. More needs to be done and I look forward to keeping my pragmatic progressive values at the forefront in Richmond.

Nicole Merlene

Integrating our regional economy is a top priority of what I hope to achieve in Richmond. Two years ago, I wrote in ARLnow about bringing more people to the table to achieve local policy goals. Our planning processes were insular with people from different areas of the county talking past each other and, rowing in their own directions with blinders on.

For the past year I helped lead “Engage Arlington” with the County Manager’s office and the Civic Federation. This brought together, for the first time ever, civic association leaders from all neighborhoods of the county, business improvement districts, apartment property owners and developers, advocacy groups representing groups like renters and environmentalists, and various government agencies.

Our problem of not working together and thus creating inefficient systems is not just an Arlington problem; it’s a regional problem.I wrote about integrating Arlington into a regional economy. Arlington is only 26 square miles and by virtue of our size, the solutions to everything from housing affordability to public transportation, business competitiveness, and even creation of more efficient recycling facilities, must be addressed with regional solutions.

To have Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun working in their own silos to try to tackle these regional problems decreases the efficiency that working through state partnerships could help solve. For example, a regional approach to transportation spending efficiencies could be addressed by an improved process between the big picture-driven Council of Governments and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, the functional vehicle for transportation funding. With respect to housing affordability, we must regionally increase density and protect renters’ rights, but as we grow be diligent to have adequate infrastructure and schools. I look forward to leading Northern Virginia forward with you and for you — not special interests — to succeed as a region in the global economy.

Merlene is a lifelong Arlingtonian with years of service to the community. She was appointed as an Economic Development Commissioner, has led on the boards of her civic association and the Arlington Civic Federation, and has served as a citizen liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District and various capacities within the Democratic Party.

Sen. Favola serves on Transportation, Rehab and Social Services and Local Government Committees and chairs the Sexual Assault Advisory Committee and the Senate Women’s Healthcare Caucus. She served for 14 years on the Arlington County Board, chairing that body three times; and was recently recognized for her public service from the National Academy of Public Administration.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly 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 Tannia Talento

How do you achieve social justice, equal access to opportunities for all, and access to the American Dream? If it is achievable anywhere, most of us believe it could be in Arlington.

We all seek to be accepting and not prejudiced.

But let’s think about what we see when we see a police officer. What do we see when we see a Black or Latino male walking down the street? What do we see when we see a person with a disability? What do we see when we see a White person? Depending on the lens you bring to this discussion, whether it is the lens of having a disability, being Latinx, being Black, being an immigrant, or being White, you will likely view each of these people differently. For instance, what I see when I see a police officer, as a Latina woman who grew up in a working-class minority neighborhood, is fear for my well-being, a potential negative disruption to my day and potential harm. What I see when I see a Latino male is my brother, my father, my uncle or my cousins.

I see the world around me with my personal lens created by my life experience. I have had to remove my personal lens to understand that some people might see safety, protection, and help when they see a police officer and understand that some might see a gang member, an undocumented immigrant, or a potential criminal when they see a Latino male.

Consider what your lens is showing you.

We consider affordable housing in Arlington a mechanism for keeping our community socio-economically diverse. This is another area in which we need to consider our lenses to successfully support affordable housing in Arlington.

For instance, do you know what it feels like to have severe limits in living choices? Limits on where you can buy food, how much food you can buy, and the type of food you buy simply based on money. Consider the limits on the location of living accommodations that are strictly based on an affordable grocery store being within walking distance and a strong public transportation system to get you to work.

Under these circumstances, you do not get to truly pick your neighborhood, your school, or your community. Depending on when a unit becomes available, if it has enough rooms at a price you can afford, and if it is close enough to a metro or frequent bus line that starts early and runs late, your home picks you. If you have never experienced this, how would you know that a bus line that runs every hour versus every fifteen minutes is a barrier to something as simple as walking your child to school before work? If you have never experienced this how would you know that affordable housing in sections of North Arlington, while affordable, may not be a choice for you if you do not have a car, because there is no grocery store within walking distance or a transit line with frequent service. If you have never been low-income, these barriers are invisible to you.

Consider what your lens is showing you.

If we want to bring about social justice, ensure equal opportunities for success for all and access to the American Dream, the first step is to acknowledge our personal lens created by our backgrounds and experiences. The next step is to put them aside and learn about the lenses of others. We need to see through the different lenses that exist within our community so that we can see where the invisible barriers are located and help to remove them. This is how we in Arlington should support and assist each other in our pursuit of equity and social justice, inclusivity, and the American Dream.

Tannia has lived in Arlington for 15 years and is currently serving as Vice Chair of the
Arlington County School Board. She is a long-time community activist and an advocate
for equitable access to educational opportunities for all.

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