Arlington, VA

Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Last month I spent eight hours at Arlington Independent Media (AIM) taking an audio production class. I marveled at the backgrounds, perspectives and skill sets that my classmates could bring to the airwaves.

Among us were a female veteran who is a motivational speaker, a filmmaker who has an interest in the women’s suffrage movement, an engineer and writer who focuses on environmental stewardship and historical fiction, and a woman who wants to produce a show about the downside of romantic relationships.

Next year I will be producing and hosting the Arlington League of Women Voters’ (LWV) radio show “Making Democracy Work” through AIM which will explore the importance of exercising our rights, responsibilities and civic duties. The show will feature prominent voices on a number of topics including voting rights, redistricting, General Assembly legislation and the importance of inclusivity in civic engagement.

The radio booth brought back memories of my time in the Peace Corps. While I was serving in Paraguay one of my projects was with the community radio station, Radio Villeta FM. Paraguay was transitioning from a dictatorship to a democracy, and as a champion of free speech, Radio Villeta flourished in this environment. It was gratifying to see the programming that residents produced, and their passion for their community. Regardless of its quality, the radio station was representative of what democracy means to me – open and participatory, a hub for the community, creative, and while often imperfect, always striving to represent the community’s needs.

The LWV was founded in 1920 by suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt at the National American Woman Suffrage Association’s convention. The 19th amendment gave 20 million women the right to vote (although primarily only white women could vote in practice) and the LWV helped them exercise their newfound right. The Arlington chapter has been on the forefront of civic engagement and refining our democracy since our chartering in 1944 and encourages participation.

In the midst of what is happening at the federal level, it’s easy to fear that instead of strengthening our democracy, we are moving in the other direction. In 2018, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich provided these 10 steps to make our democracy work. An underlying idea in these steps is a stronger civil society. Whether its community radio, or the LWV, we keep trying to move towards a more perfect union.

I served in the Peace Corps during the 2000 elections and Bush v. Gore. Day after day when I walked through the streets the neighbors would yell out “Is there a winner yet?” and “Are you rooting for Bush or Gore”? The United States is revered as a model democracy so it was somewhat embarrassing to teach about democracy during this time, but served as a great opportunity to demonstrate that while democracies are imperfect, we keep trying.

The LWV and AIM are only two examples of Arlington’s contributions to a strong civil society. While the national state of affairs may be disheartening, Arlingtonians don’t have to look farther than some of our longstanding institutions to be proud of the work we have done to strengthen our democracy, no matter how imperfect.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Last weekend I joined eight women activists for a retreat in Williamsburg, VA to plan the Network NoVA 2020 Women’s Summit. The third annual Summit in 2019 brought together almost 1,000 registrants who were motivated and inspired to build on and create a grassroots progressive movement powered by women.

Arlington County is revered as having an engaged citizenry, yet I would posit that oftentimes the same people are active in different areas of the community. If we want to continue to increase engagement we will need to adopt new methods to address the challenges of the next decade and expand the traditional base of leaders.

This year I managed the Commonwealth’s Attorney campaign in Loudoun County of Buta Biberaj, a previous summit attendee. With this campaign, we were faced with several challenges which included expecting traditionally low turnout in an  “off off year” election, the need to coordinate numerous individual campaigns, grassroots organizations, and party programs, and a desire to make sure state party resources flowed into our races proportionally to neighboring campaigns.

In order to overcome these challenges we felt we had to do something different. Buta’s record of community leadership, her journey to political office, and the role that women played in her campaign and so many others, provide an excellent template and justification for why we should rethink and how we can maximize engagement in Arlington.

The human element. We observed that traditional canvassing protocols (door knocking — the backbone of campaigns) didn’t take into account volunteers’ discomfort with knocking on a stranger’s door, so we provided a training before the canvass. Organizations in Arlington should encourage citizens to provide feedback on current processes and see what works for different types of people. Is meeting attendance low? Maybe the location, time or child care options don’t work for them. Are they fearful of not knowing anyone? Encourage the buddy system. It’s not enough to recognize these concerns, we must also find solutions.

Engagement, like fundraising, is a long term process. You may not get everything you want on the first ask. If you focus on cultivation, like you would a donor, with higher levels of asks over time and engaging them and thanking them each step of the way, you may get them to assume more responsibility. This also requires a coordinated tracking system to follow up with volunteers and participants.

Capitalize on our own resources and retain our institutional knowledge. During the campaign we were tempted to find a celebrity to motivate our base and recruit outside talent to work on campaigns, therefore one of our canvass launches featured local youth and they were amazing! Arlington community members should increase investments in local programs including the Leadership Center for Excellence to groom local talent. We should also invite new leaders to moderate panels and give keynote speeches at our staple community events. When you keep local leaders involved they can also develop and retain institutional knowledge which will eventually result in greater success for us all.

Continue intentional and authentic diversity and inclusion efforts. Organizations and teams are changing procedures and recruiting more diverse candidates and team members. While that’s a great start, these efforts must be authentic. We can’t only engage diverse communities when we need them to check a box. Invite them for all of their talents, not only their “difference”.

In order to continue our record of being an innovative and progressive county, we must embrace new ways of growing our community and rethink traditional engagement.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.

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Community Matters is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

Building community can be one of the most challenging and rewarding actions that a group of people can undertake. For the last 15 years of my life as a resident of Arlington, I have made a conscious decision to take part in that challenging process.

When I moved to Arlington in 2004, I admit that I did not deliberately choose Arlington. My real estate agent found a condo in the Arlington Mill (formerly known as Columbia Heights West) community that was in my price range. I was promised that this neighborhood would soon see changes under the Columbia Pike revitalization plan, and I assumed that I would move to a larger property in the near future.

Over the years the neighborhood has grown substantially. Do you remember the Safeway where the Arlington Mill Community Center used to be, and the Arlington Mill Community Center that was there before the renovated center?

Initially, Arlington was just a place I laid my head down at night. I attended my first Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) meeting around 2006, where I was welcomed, but wondered why there weren’t more minorities in attendance. I managed a local campaign in 2007 and the work I did on that campaign – from canvassing in North Arlington, to meeting supporters at events and getting to know the people of the Democratic Committee, helped me feel more a part of Arlington.

I stayed involved in ACDC and served on the boards of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, A-SPAN, the Arlington Mill Civic Association, and the Commission on the Status of Women. I graduated from Leadership Arlington in 2010 (the best there has ever been!) and worked as the Director of Outreach for congressmen Jim Moran and Don Beyer. I currently serve on the Board of the Arlington Community Foundation.

With each role, program, and activity, I learned a little more about the place I now call home.

Along my journey to help build the Arlington community, I have learned more about Arlington’s past. We should be proud of our history of being the home of Freedman’s Village after the Civil War, and our role in standing firm against massive resistance.

I am also a member of the Junior League of Northern Virginia (JLNV), formerly known as the Service League of Arlington. The first Black members of the Junior League joined around 1980. The JLNV has a rich history and counts among our successes a number of accomplishments in Arlington. As I reflect on my journey, I can’t help but note that I would not have been welcomed as a member of the Service League of Arlington in 1958, despite how we currently view our history of that time.

We may have come a long way since 1958, but we still have a long way to go. The data on the geographic disparities in Arlington is disturbing. According to an ARLnow article in October 2018, research “reveals that where children are born in Arlington can have a decades-long ripple effect on their futures, with kids in the county’s more ethnically diverse neighborhoods growing up to make less money and end up in jail at higher rates than their counterparts.”

For me, community engagement has been a personal, professional and civic journey. A manifestation of a desire to connect more, give back more, learn more, and help Arlington be “more.”

This column will seek to explore what “community,” diversity, inclusion and engagement means in Arlington. While not always perfect, we are constantly striving to be an inclusive and progressive enclave that has enough “soul” to compete with the best of them.

Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself. 

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