Arlington, VA

Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Kathie Panfil, with the Abuelitas

“I feel like you really are my Grandma.”

The child who shared that thought with a retired Arlington teacher is an English Learner (EL). Her tutor is an “Abuelita” (grandmother) with both wisdom and special skills.

When schools went online, former Arlington teachers of English as a Second Language knew how hard distance learning would be. Acquiring skills and vocabulary from English-speaking peers couldn’t happen. Relationships would have to be developed remotely. Parents would have to figure out the technology, and support their children’s learning, while fearing job loss and illness.

While we knew our community would face overwhelming challenges during the pandemic, we did know one we could tackle in Spring 2020 — we knew how to teach. Identifying the children who would most benefit from our one-on-one tutoring was done through our networks. Old friends still teaching in our schools told parents about the Abuelitas, and soon we had waiting lists. The Abuelitas also needed a communication platform, so we learned to use WhatsApp, which most parents preferred, letting the children both see and hear us on their parents’/caretakers’ phones. Abuelitas had translators within our ranks when needed.

Abuelitas know oral language is critical for English learners, and that it develops both on the playground and in the classroom. So the Abuelitas ask questions, such as “Is there anything you want to talk about?” Some days the children tell about the lessons they are learning online from their “real” teachers, practicing new vocabulary. Sometimes, the Abuelita and the child talk about feelings. One child beginning hybrid classes said, “What if my friends don’t remember who I am?” His Abuelita reassured him, and phoned later to hear about his wonderful day. The personal connection is a gift to both the student and the Abuelita.

How do we know what to teach? “The scope of what the children must learn is huge,” one Abuelita explains. Sometimes we hear from the child’s teachers, but mostly, we use hands-on activities, and we follow the interests of the child. Sometimes we work on reading and writing, but often we read to the children, fiction and non-fiction, because they need listening skills. “Don’t stop,” the children say. Some of us have developed and published materials: on gratitude, on the coronavirus and more.

We’ve taken advantage of free resources in Arlington: we thank Arlington Library for its Take and Make Crafts which we sometimes send to our children. We got Mars Base Camp kits from Virginia Cooperative Extension Service, and some gooey slime kits from Arlington Parks and Recreation. The whole family often gets involved in craft projects.

We became strong advocates for internet access, because despite efforts within the schools and the community, some families lack sufficient connectivity. We joined broadband advocacy efforts. We know connectivity is as essential as water and electric services. We like ArlFiber.org.

In fall 2020, when schools continued virtually, we heard about pods forming in some Arlington homes. Our students lacked the space, strong internet and English-speaking supervision needed for a pod. We continued one-on-one tutoring but we also wanted to form pods for students who lived in Gilliam Place, affordable housing apartments.

We looked for a location nearby and Arlington Presbyterian Church became a caring sponsor. A skilled parent volunteered to run our first pod in fall 2020, and a second pod was added in January 2021. Two nonprofits, Edu-Futuro and Our Stompin Ground, became strong collaborators. These pods worked well, with Covid safety protocols, Arlington Schools online, and everyone working together.

Throughout, we have been deeply impressed by the dedication of our former colleagues: teachers, other school staff and those providing technology. Abuelitas have touched the lives of about 40 learners, although there are many more children who need support. Each of us knows the strong contributions our former EL students made to American society, so as these children grow, we are eager to see what lies ahead.

Kathie Panfil is a former principal at Key and Randolph elementary schools. She is now a retiree active in Arlington community affairs.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column.  The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Maurine Shields Fanguy

The January attack on the United States Capitol reminds us of our duty to protect democracy and the importance of local civic engagement, especially as Arlington prepares for gubernatorial and local elections this year.

At the same time, a year in quarantine also has opened up new opportunities to support democracy–more important than ever to combat voter suppression efforts springing up across the country.

Virtual Citizen Comment.

In a historic first, Arlingtonians now may address the County and School Boards over voice and video conferencing. Commenting on this development, County Board Chairman Matt de Ferranti remarked, “We are able to hear from more citizens online, but it is also important to consider the Digital Divide.”

This allows people to make their voices heard from home, instead of sitting through lengthy board meetings to share opinions. Board members also foster engagement through virtual office hours. De Ferranti noted that although, “we miss the sense of community from in-person meetings, there could be benefits to retaining remote engagement options alongside in-person. At the very least, we must modernize the Arlington Way and make it much more inclusive. Allowing for online options is worth exploring as a step in the right direction.”

Voting Early and Conveniently.

November 2020 saw the largest voter turnout in Arlington history, with 63% of active Arlington voters voting early. More than 45,000 voted by mail and nearly 60,000 through early in-person voting – nearly a three-fold increase over 2016 early voting.

Arlington’s Democratic Committee demonstrated impressive alacrity by shifting to a mail-in caucus just a week after the Governor’s stay-at-home order in March 2020. A historic first, the May 2020 caucus resulted in over 5,700 ballots cast, nearly eclipsing prior county caucus records. Future caucuses, primaries and general election must allow the same flexible options for early voting.

Welcome to the Next Generation of Election Officers.

2020 marked an incredible response to calls for Election Officers who facilitate free and fair elections. The Arlington County Board of Elections reported a wait list of more than 500 citizens who offered to serve in 2020. Election officers are unsung heroes in any election, arriving at 5 a.m. and staying until the last vote is tabulated. (Disclosure: I served as an election officer this year and in prior elections.)

This year was particularly challenging with the need to implement new safety measures during the pandemic. Anyone who has served as an election officer or as an observer in our county has seen first-hand the stringent measures to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. If more people served as election officers or observers across the country, perhaps we might hear less “stop the steal” rhetoric and citizens would appreciate the beauty of our electoral process. It is important to encourage the newly minted election officers of 2020 to serve again in 2021 and future elections.

Candidates Embrace Virtual.

School Board Vice-Chair, Barbara Kanninen observes, “People in Arlington have traditionally liked to kick the tires when it comes to local candidates. Unfortunately, with the pandemic, so much engagement is on social media — not an ideal format to get to know how a candidate thinks.”

The COVID-19 pandemic forced candidates for elected office to change how they engaged with voters. Video conferencing allowed candidates to reach more people through virtual events. Advocacy groups promoted virtual candidate forums and debates, enabling participation by a wider audience. And voters could join all of these events conveniently from their homes.  Kanninen predicts that “…post-pandemic, I would expect to see a spectrum of campaign strategies, including those that rely heavily on social media and others that focus on old-fashioned, personal engagement at farmers markets and community meetings.”

Every Vote Counts.

Although Arlington did not experience close races in 2020, we saw across the country how even a hundred votes could swing an election. We must reach out to neighbors who have recently become U.S. citizens and those who recently moved to Arlington to keep their voter registration information updated. The acceptance of elections as free and fair depends upon broad participation in the process.

Maurine Shields Fanguy served as an election officer in 2020 and in prior Arlington elections. An Army brat who lived around the world, she is proud to adopt Arlington as her hometown where she works and raises two children.

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 Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Rev. Jonathan Linman

A year ago, Resurrection Lutheran Church in Westover voted to call me as their pastor. Shortly thereafter, the global pandemic was declared and the congregation, in keeping with safety protocols, discontinued meeting for Sunday worship. Only once have I experienced this congregation as a people that actually congregates in the church building in person on Sundays!

Meanwhile, our entire nation entered into at least three intersecting crises – the pandemic, the economic upheaval that resulted, along with people pouring into the streets throughout the country to protest unjust killings of Black persons at the hands of police.

What a way to begin a new ministry with people I barely knew, and to seek to lead them through these crises. Yet, there was significant energy among leaders in our Congregation Council (our board of directors) to respond to the crises.

In response to the pandemic, motivated by love of our most vulnerable neighbors, and like most other churches, we went online and provided resources for worship at home. In response to the economic crisis, we are collecting food twice a month, a doubling of our usual practice, donating what we collect to the Arlington Food Assistance Center. In response to the call for racial justice, our Council voted in June 2020 to place Black Lives Matter signs and banners on our church property to publicly signal support for racial justice.

This latter initiative, as you can imagine, provoked the most energetic response. Within an hour of the signs’ placement, I began to receive emails and phone messages both from members of the congregation and people in the wider community expressing opposition to the signs on church property. There were also expressions of support for this public witness.

The decision to place the Black Lives Matter signs was the result of thoughtful deliberation by the lay leaders on our Council. But the deliberation was undertaken via meetings on Zoom and within group email exchanges – not ideal ways to engage on sensitive and difficult topics. Yet, the urgency of our days prompted the decision to go forward with the signs.

Alas, thoughtful deliberation about all of this did not benefit from the salutary effects of people gathering in person, face to face, for heartfelt conversation. Moreover, there was not occasion to hear from wider segments of the congregation so that viewpoints across the political spectrum could be heard. I regret that, but the urgency of the crises and the limitations of our digital formats precluded what otherwise might have been a more holistic and orderly process of discernment and decision-making.

As pastor of this congregation, I certainly hold forth a vision that our church will be a community of moral discernment that thoughtfully engages the salient issues of our day in ways that honor and respect a wide array of viewpoints – conservative, progressive and moderate. I especially envision this congregation to be a place of civil civic discourse, a reality in short supply during these divisive days across our nation. I hope that ours will be a congregation in which we can agree to disagree on some topics, and yet remain in community together, bound to each other in the love of God for the sake of the healing of the nations.

Still, amidst the messiness of our pandemic-induced realities, our Council resolved to make public our support for racial justice. It strikes me that this is in keeping with our congregation’s Lutheran tradition when Martin Luther, protesting the materialism and the spiritual and theological abuses of the church in his day, nailed his 95 Theses to the church door, ultimately saying, “Here I stand, I can do no other. So help me God.”

Jonathan Linman is Pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church on Washington Boulevard in Arlington. In May of 2020 he relocated here after 18 years in New York City, where he was a professor at The General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church and a Bishop’s Assistant in the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’. 

“A thankless job.”

“Your life is not your own.”

“A toxic environment out there.”

These are perceptions among some in the community of what it’s like to be on the School Board these days. If even some of the comments are true, why should a good person run? And why should we care?

For starters, the decisions the School Board makes deal with two things most valuable to many people who live here–their children, and their property values. Good schools are a top factor in choosing where to raise a family and they contribute to strong property values. Good schools also strongly influence what makes Arlington an attractive place for businesses to locate and grow. With all that at stake, we need strong, principled, experienced leaders making the decisions on the School Board and thinking strategically.

Given the upcoming School Board vacancy and a Democratic caucus likely in May, the Progressive Voice editors sat down with a few knowledgeable experts to ask their thoughts on what makes a top-notch board member.

Big-Picture, Whole System Outlook. “The primary quality I want to see is somebody that sees all of Arlington,” says Stacy Snyder, who has served on the APS Advisory Council on Facilities and Capital Programs (FAC) and is currently vice-chair of the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission (JFAC). “They understand that every decision, whether a boundary or something else, affects all of Arlington.” Snyder understands that “we all come with our own perspectives, experiences with certain schools,” but says, “I’d want to see someone who’s open to learning, evolving.”

Long-Term Perspective. The Arlington school system has had challenges with growth and capacity of buildings over the past decade, leading to a slew of construction projects amid frustration over a lack of land. Greg Greeley, a veteran of FAC over several years, refers to this situation when explaining why he’s looking for a candidate’s long-range mindset. “The thinking has been more ‘Where can we build the fastest?’ when it should have been ‘Where can we build to best fit the needs of the system?'”

Greeley adds that “There’s a good chance we’ll need a fourth high school in the next 20 years.” Hearing a candidate detail how she or he would approach the problem would “reveal a lot.” Greeley explains that in discerning a candidate’s long-term perspective, he would be listening for depth in how “they describe the problem.”

Deep Knowledge of Facts, Strong Work Ethic. Many candidates list various organizations they’ve been involved with. But a person’s depth of experience and contribution can vary greatly. To get a clearer picture, former School Board member Tannia Talento says, “I’d zero in, like ‘I see you were on the Budget Committee. What did you think of last year’s budget?’

Snyder observes, “When candidates talk…I want to see that they know their facts. If I heard a candidate talk about an inequity that’s not really based on fact, but more in outrage, then it’s a sign.” She worries “when people choose outrage over information.” Snyder says, “If x percent of third-graders aren’t reading at grade level, I don’t want [candidates] giving a solution without showing me how it’s going to work.”

Greely agrees that School Board candidates and members must go beyond platitudes. “The question should be ‘How would or could you make this good idea happen?'” Read More

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the authors’. 

By Detta Kissel and Charles Head

A growing group of Arlingtonians are calling for the County to form a broadband authority to provide high-speed, low-cost internet.

This movement arose in response to scenes of school children accessing lessons in fast food parking lots, along with others seeking jobs, vaccines, and assistance. The pandemic has only highlighted what was there all along, excessively high-priced internet access that created a digital divide, leaving some Arlington residents without access to services essential to modern life, and everyone paying more than we should.

The pandemic also revealed that not just any internet connection will do. During this pandemic, working parents compete with their children for bandwidth, and social and civic engagement requires a reliable connection. Non-fiber connections are quickly overwhelmed, leading some providers to respond with data caps, price-hikes, and throttling. Only optical fiber provides reliable, high speed internet connectivity that can handle the demands of any household, now and in the future.

To eliminate the digital divide and protect all residents from higher rates, slower speeds, and reduced services, Arlington should join other jurisdictions in Virginia and around the country that treat the internet as a utility, with optical fiber infrastructure owned by the locality.

Virginia law allows localities to establish broadband networks by creating a broadband authority, an entity similar to a utility commission. A broadband authority is a flexible tool that can build and own infrastructure, and provide internet service directly, or license network access to multiple internet service providers who compete for customers. While customers would not be required to switch to service provided through the broadband authority, experience shows that broadband authorities provide higher quality internet service at lower rates, due to the increased competition. What’s more, Arlington need not go it alone; we could partner with adjacent jurisdictions to create a regional network with greater economies of scale and cost sharing.

Does this sound expensive? There are three things to remember. The first is that Arlington already built the backbone of this network. Nearly 10 years ago, the county government made a strategic investment that has more than paid for itself — it chose to build a fiber network to provide its own internet services rather than remain dependent upon a large telecom. While building its network for government needs, the County included fiber sufficient to provide service to every home and business in Arlington. The task that remains is to extend the County’s network by running fiber to homes and businesses in Arlington.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s. 

By Reid Goldstein

We all talk about it, but without pulling together, we can’t achieve it. Equity, that is.

Arlington Public Schools’ definition of equity is found in its Strategic Plan, which aspires to “Eliminate opportunity gaps and achieve excellence by providing access to schools, resources, and learning opportunities according to each student’s unique needs.”

However, eliminating opportunity gaps and achieving excellence is more difficult when our students — upper and lower income, native English and English learner households — are separated from their peers due to decades-old land use and housing policies that exacerbate inequity. When the County Board approves new housing developments or expands density in the same few areas of the County, the same set of schools are repeatedly impacted. And where schools are repeatedly impacted, stability is disrupted, and opportunity gaps can and do widen to adversely impact equity in our school system.

Newly approved multi-family residences bring increased school enrollment which inevitably spurs additional relocatables, potential capital expansion, boundary changes, staffing changes, bus route changes, program moves, and parent organization leadership and advocacy changes. While these are normal growing pains, the growing happens repeatedly in the same places.

To eliminate opportunity gaps and achieve excellence, the School Board needs the County Board’s help in managing growth and looking at its consequences, especially where increased density is contemplated. One strategy needs to be a commitment to greater socio-economic integration in the classroom.

Greater classroom socio-economic integration is a path to universal opportunity for a shared educational experience and the social intelligence and awareness that comes from exposure to peers from wide-ranging walks of life. The Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg has written extensively on its benefits. In addition to improved academic outcomes, classroom socio-economic integration can narrow the opportunity gap and create a 21st century workforce and citizenry adept at collaborating across diverse groups.

To reach the excellence that equity promises, all schools require sufficient funding for unique needs, high-quality staffing and professional learning support, and student and family engagement — all factors that strengthen a school’s stability. APS provides additional resources through increased staffing for schools with higher proportions of English learners, as well as staffing and funding through the Federal Title I program for students from economically disadvantaged households. Yet those additional resources have not achieved equity.

On its own, APS has limited tools to accomplish greater socio-economic integration in classrooms. Doing so through boundary readjustment faces the challenge of overcoming the geographic concentration of socio-economic disparities in the County. Relocating students out of their neighborhoods was one factor creating near-universal dislike of busing as that practice played out in the 1970s and 1980s. Further, school boards and communities have to wrestle with which neighborhoods are bused, and why.

A third method, option schools, can encourage a measure of socio-economic diversity. The percentage of students receiving free-and-reduced lunch, a measure of poverty, cluster around the county average at option schools Arlington Traditional School (31%), Claremont Immersion (31%), Key Immersion (39%) and the Montessori Public School of Arlington (28%), for example, in the most recent data available. Yet option schools also come with waiting lists, more students bused longer distances, higher transportation costs, less walking and the character of the school system tipping away from neighborhood schools.

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Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Wesley Joe

Despite the heroic efforts of Arlington Public Schools (APS) staff, students and parents, our K-12 students are sustaining consequential learning losses this year. The declines are sharpest among more vulnerable students, such as English learners, special education students, and low-income minority kids. By the end of the school year, losses could be disastrous.

Looking at national achievement data from the fall, McKinsey and Co. found that “students of color could be 6 to 12 months behind, compared with 4 to 8 months for white students.” While the community grapples with the challenges of learning during a pandemic, we must also consider measures that enable students to make up the year’s lost ground.

In the hope of initiating a broader community conversation, I offer some suggestions. Planning for these efforts and finding funding must begin now. The recovery measures will cost money, preferably offset by temporary, supplemental state funding. Hence we must encourage our elected officials to put this issue on the agenda of the state legislative session that begins later this month. APS and the County Board also will need sufficient lead time to create alternative funding sources. A School Board member with whom I spoke acknowledged the difficulty of finding substantial new funding.

Recovery work should proceed mostly in face-to-face mode, once it is safe to do so. This view is based on parent feedback I’ve heard as a member of APS’s Math Advisory Committee, and my own experience as both an APS parent and someone who teaches online (albeit postsecondary, which in some ways is easier than K-12). APS students and teachers will recover learning losses more quickly and effectively in a live classroom. That said, virtual options should be available for families who need them.

As a start, APS should offer supplemental coursework to help reduce the learning losses. In high school, current students should be able to take an additional semester of classes. If doing so delays matriculation to college, a student could devote the remaining time to compensated community service, such as tutoring (more about this below), or earning transferable (and probably less expensive) college credits at an area postsecondary school (e.g. Northern Virginia Community College, George Mason University). Richmond should make this financially viable for the next several years, even though it’s expensive, because the long-term costs will be even greater than neglecting the learning losses.

The state, the Arlington County Board, or both should provide funding for APS to hold at least part-time summer school on a larger scale. Students who received D or lower grades, or who received low scores on key assessments, such as the highly predictive Math Inventory (a progress test that students take several times each school year), should be required to take summer make-up classes to achieve at grade-level. If we temporarily need additional teaching staff, hire some qualified, limited-term teachers. Indeed, Martin West at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education found that teachers who join the profession during a recession are at least as effective as those who start during boom times.

Additionally, limited mathematics and English language arts options (such as APS classes, Virtual Virginia, or postsecondary classes) should be available for students who perform at grade level but still need the deeper instructional engagements, such as deeper math work or more complex writing assignments and feedback, that were possibly sacrificed this year.

Summer school alone, however, will not suffice. APS must also offer supplements during the school year. APS could partner with local postsecondary schools to establish a Community Tutoring Corps. This group could be teachers’ “force multiplier” for high-intensity tutoring of small groups of students who have fallen far behind. Qualified college students and high school students could earn some kind of experiential learning course credit or perhaps tuition assistance for assisting with the tutoring.

The need to narrow the learning gap is urgent. I am certain that a community as creative and resourceful as Arlington can come up with even more ideas, which the superintendent and School Board can assess. Delay will only multiply the learning loss damage that is measured in financial costs, mental health problems, dropout rates and diminished prospects in life. Let’s begin that urgent conversation now.

Wesley Joe is a current APS parent, a member of the APS Math Advisory Committee, and a former member of the APS Advisory Council on Instruction. He has lived in Arlington for more than 20 years and teaches at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Rosaelena A. O’Neil

My daughter finally convinced me to upgrade my cell phone. I had been operating with a device that was about seven generations behind the times. She said, “Mom, it’s an investment worth making. What are you waiting for?”

When I fired up the new phone I couldn’t believe what I had been missing. I have a new appreciation for a “cell phone” – turns out it is a super computer!

In a similar vein, when we talk about higher education – and community colleges in particular – some people maintain an outdated, limited world view. Some believe community colleges like NOVA are “grade 13” or the higher education alternative for those less fortunate.

While the mission has always been to promote economic and social mobility, NOVA (Northern Virginia Community College) has seen an enormous “upgrade” in recent years. NOVA embodies equity and excellence in higher education.

Joel Vargas, a 2011 Wakefield alumnus, went to NOVA and earned his Associates degree in engineering. “My NOVA education gave me skills and perspective that positioned me to be successful leading diverse teams,” says Vargas. Today he is an established business owner and project manager and notes, “In my business we like to groom and grow talent. I see a bright future and long-term career in construction management.”

In education, NOVA has enabled equity through cost (less than half of the tuition and fees of other institutions); access (easy enrollment, flexible schedules, targeted advising and nearby campuses on public transit); responsiveness and agility (wrap-around services that meet students where they are and a key partner to the business community). A few examples:

  • NOVA is urgently deploying the Reemploy Virginia Initiative launched by Gov. Ralph Northam in October. NOVA already distributed nearly $1.8MM for tuition and fees to re-skill northern Virginians jobs in high-demand fields who are unemployed or underemployed due to the pandemic.
  • NOVA was awarded the Greater Washington Innovation Award for Jump Start, a tuition-free summer online course program for graduating high school seniors to earn college credit – a pandemic rapid-response program.
  • NOVA and Arlington Public Schools are partners. Arlington graduates pursue technical and baccalaureate pathways or launch into ADVANCE – a co-enrollment pathway with George Mason University concluding in a four-year degree at a fraction of the cost. Our high school students benefit from increasingly diverse dual enrollment opportunities – college credit-bearing freshman and sophomore courses in English, social sciences, math and specialized science labs.

Kate Bates, President and CEO of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, notes, “Businesses in Arlington need a well-educated and skilled talent pipeline. NOVA is essential to achieving the goal of an educated regional workforce.” Looking at its range of students, NOVA is a living example of equity, serving high school graduates, adult learners, career switchers, veterans, and individuals wanting to upskill to maintain a competitive edge.

Arlingtonian Kallan Moore, who says she “wandered” after finishing a liberal arts degree, notes, “I’m more confident today in my ability to gain new skills. I credit NOVA for helping me see that I was capable of working in a field that I had perceived as inaccessible and intimidating.” Moore says that “NOVA took the mystery and jargon out of tech. I can see building a career that connects tech with my current work in the law.”

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Matt Royer

The day after an election is often a day of rest and often viewed as the endpoint on a long path. I personally don’t believe that. No matter the outcome, moving forward on the issues you care about doesn’t stop after the election. It rests with the voice of the people to remind our elected officials why they are in office in the first place, no matter their party.

A case in point was in 2018 after the Democrats flipped the U.S. House of Representatives from Republican control to Democratic. Afterward, while some people celebrated the end of a successful campaign, I went to the Ellen M. Bozman Government Center to rally with fellow activists to protect the Mueller investigation. (Listen to “Non-Stop” for all you Hamilton fans if you feel the vibe I’m giving off right now).

After any election, whether the result was what you wanted or not, the issues you care about don’t stop demanding attention, and we still have work to do here in Arlington. Campaigns garner a lot of glory. However, it is in the legislative process and the governing that occurs between election days — especially at the local and state level — that we can make the biggest difference. So, you might be asking yourself, what can I do?

  1. Follow your local Delegate and State Senator on social media. Sign up for their email updates. Attend their town hall meetings. These are the people who are making decisions in Richmond and in a Dillon Rule state are affecting the way we govern here in Arlington County. If you have an issue you want to see worked on, email and call them.
  2. Attend listening sessions of the Arlington County Board and Arlington School Board to speak up about your issues. An example of democracy in action is the County Board’s recent review of the ordinance for short-home stays (such as AirBnBs). Renters showed up to explain that the ability to rent your home for short-term stays should not be limited to homeowners, because many renters (who comprise 60% of Arlington residents), could earn extra income to make ends meet while not displacing long-term renters. Ultimately, these concerns were taken into account and the ordinance was adjusted accordingly. This example may resonate with many folks since renters are often seen as not as invested in the local legislative process, yet and if they show up, they may find just how influential their opinion could be.
  3. Join a neighborhood group or an issue-based advocacy group, such as the Arlington Branch of the NAACP.  If you are worried about making the time due to other obligations like family, there are tons of people right there with you — juggling priorities and participating in the democratic process — like Moms Demand Action and Blue Families, that have events geared toward families. Showing up and talking with your neighbors can open your eyes to things happening around you. And through that connection comes the power of collective voices — including yours — to make a change.
  4. Get involved in a local political party. Attend their meetings and hear what other like-minded people are working on in Arlington and in Virginia. I first got involved this way and I have found a way to connect to folks and our community through so many avenues by just opening this door.

But most important, show up. I use this quote a lot in my daily work and volunteer activities, and it rings true: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” This goes for Election Day and beyond. So, if you are passionate about a local issue and want to do something about it, showing up is an important step in gaining the change you seek.

This goes for Election Day and beyond. If you see a problem in Arlington and want something done about it, show up. If you have something you are passionate about and want other people in Arlington to know about it, show up. If you don’t like the direction we are headed in as a community, show up.

In a democracy, it’s up to you to make a difference. Every voice counts.

Matt Royer is a union member and progressive activist whose work spans campaigns and elections, local party leadership and environmental sustainability. He lives in Crystal City.   

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Elaine S. Furlow

A while back, I was tutoring a young Afghan refugee when the time came for a statewide election. For that week’s real-life lesson, I dutifully collected campaign literature from both sides and used it for an invigorating session (I thought) on how Americans choose their leaders and vote.

“And in five years when you become a citizen, you can vote, too!” I concluded.

My friend recoiled in her chair — “Never!” — and instinctively clutched one arm over the other.

“But why?” I asked.

“Because they cut your fingers off if you vote!” came her quick reply.

Indeed, in her homeland there had been a few instances of the Taliban doing this, and rumors and fear had spread through the countryside. She at least had cause for her worry.

Today in the U.S., the reasons registered voters give for not voting are usually less drastic. Research from Pew shows non-voters mainly say, “My vote doesn’t matter,” “I don’t like these candidates or issues,” or “I’m too busy.”

Not good enough. You deserve to have others hear your voice. And your neighbors and family need to have your voice counted. Yes, turnout ratchets up in a presidential election year, (82% in Arlington in 2016), but still doesn’t reflect all our voices.

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Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

By Maya Jones

At five, I cast my first ballot for president, during an elementary school mock election.

In that moment, I felt I was making change, but that feeling was fleeting. I soon learned a hopeful child’s voice did not matter, and voting is a privilege. Frustrated, I vowed that at 18, I would exercise this privilege.

Seven years later, in 2008, I witnessed the world change as I watched the votes tally in favor of the first Black president. Being a young Black girl in Atlanta, I prayed my voice would matter someday. On my eighteenth birthday, keeping my childhood promise, I registered to vote.  Despite being excited and empowered, I was consumed with worry as I walked up to cast my first ballot. “Did I have my driver’s license?” Because without it, I could not vote.

Now, with the October 13 voter registration deadline approaching for the 2020 election, we must ensure every voter knows they matter. We must resist voter suppression tactics and register all eligible citizens. We must empower voters regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation to be the change they want to see in the world.

In July, there were only 434 net new registrations, in Arlington, compared to the 1,645 net new registrations in 2016. The pandemic’s reduction of person-to-person interaction is partially to blame. However, some Arlingtonians remain unregistered due to the limitations of Virginia’s Online Voter Registration (OVR) system. These eligible citizens may not have access to the internet, possess a Virginia identification card, or simply are new to the area.

That’s why I and many others spent many hot summer Saturdays, standing in front of places like the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), Shirlington Library Plaza or Penrose Square on Columbia Pike, registering voters (with our faces covered) hoping to encourage community members to join the electorate. Our efforts to help close the gap paid off and, in August, we saw 1,300+ net new registrations in Arlington, keeping pace with the upward trend in Virginia.

Our guiding principle is every person registered is a new voice being heard. A quick glance at history reminds us of the struggles we endured to obtain the privilege of voting and why we must keep fighting the good fight.

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