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

I recently moderated a forum for the Leadership Center for Excellence (LCE) on advocacy. After years of lobbying and grassroots advocacy, I enjoy learning how others influence our elected officials and community leaders.

The panelists shared their best practices for building relationships, understanding the process, connecting with people as individuals, and coalition building.

Carlos Velasquez, past chair of the Arlington Human Rights Commission; Kim Phillip, co-founder and steering committee member of Arlington for Justice; and Edie Wilson, President of the Shirlington Civic Association, all recounted numerous personal stories about how they have advocated for different causes.

Carlos focused on the importance of listening first, and getting to know our neighbors, before we even engage in advocacy at a more traditional level. Edie stressed tenacity in her work, and having a larger vision that staff and elected officials may not yet understand. Kim articulated doing your research and while advocating with the County, we have to understand the role that staff play in the process. She also noted that while some may go to the County Board with their concerns first, one may not even need to contact the County Board unless they have exhausted other channels.

As we stress equity and engage more people in our community, it’s essential that we are transparent about who advocates, and how to do it effectively. Forums like these are an essential part of a transparent government. Some lessons from the panelists include:

Listening First: Carlos shared that listening is an important part of the advocacy process, and recommended amplifying the stories of those for whom we advocate. The personal stories of our community are powerful advocacy tools which give elected officials a valuable perspective on the issue.

Vision: Edie was clear that sometimes she had to pull others along to see her vision for Arlington or a specific project. I think this is critical and also goes along with something that Kim noted, regarding the importance of thinking long term. I believe that advocates get frustrated when they don’t see immediate results. If we want real progress, we have to understand that it won’t happen overnight.

Know the process and do your research: In my advocacy experience, I have found that being the “go to” person is particularly valuable. Elected officials, as Kim noted, have a lot on their plate. Making their work easier and being dependable, is a great position for an advocate to be in.

A key takeaway for me from the session was how simple advocacy can be, although we often try to complicate it. As the policy issues and concerns of Arlington evolve, let’s not forget to encourage more people to be involved by understanding the basics of being a successful advocate. Advocates are a critical constituency of our civic engagement process, and we should do all we can to support their voices.

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.

This weekend, I was preparing to give a speech on racial equity and I decided to get an image consultation.

The session started off well and towards the end, we discussed what hairstyle I should wear. I have been in the process of exploring different styles including natural styles. The consultant recommended that I wear a wig, as she saw me in a longer, straighter style. While one could argue that a wig might be more complimentary to my look for this event, we have to question why one would think it would be a better option.

It wasn’t lost on me that a Black woman was advising me to wear a more European-inspired hairstyle as opposed to my natural style which clearly shows my African roots (literally!). The fact that the talk was on racial equity made the scenario all the more interesting. I would define this as a microaggression: “a statement, action or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority.”

I would not have taken the time to process what happened if I had more engagements this weekend. This was a reminder that some members of “marginalized” groups experience microaggressions often, and the effects over time can be psychologically damaging, to the point we don’t even realize it.

Later this weekend, I also did research on John Mercer Langston, after whom the Arlington County Board voted to name Langston Blvd, to replace Lee Highway/Route 29.

I first learned of Langston when I wrote my master’s thesis at George Washington University about the lack of Black congresspeople from Virginia. At the time, Langston and Bobby Scott were the only two people who had held the honor of being Black members of Congress representing Virginia (Donald McEachin was elected in 2017).

Serving as a member of Congress was only one part of his impressive career. Langston was an attorney, an abolitionist and served in leadership roles at Howard University and Virginia State University.

His connection to Arlington began in 1867 when he was appointed inspector general of the Freedman’s Bureau overseeing Freedman’s Village, a settlement for formerly enslaved people on land that is now part of Arlington National Cemetery. According to the Washington Post, from 1925 until 1966, all Black children in then-segregated North Arlington attended John M. Langston Elementary School, which became a cherished part of the local Black community. Four students at that school would go on to attend the all-white Stratford Junior High, making it the first in Virginia to racially integrate.

Representation matters; that is clear. Yet, it is much more than just putting a “diverse” person in a position. It’s the pride, connection and affinity we can create by lifting up the lives well-lived of people who look like you, despite the “isms” that were in place to hold them back, and still burden us today. Additionally, it’s one thing to learn more about their life in a book, it’s another to have their accomplishments lauded by your local government and recognized as a street name, especially when it was formerly named after a Confederate general.

After the sting of the microaggression, that felt good.

If we really want to get to the root of racial equity, this is an important conversation. We can’t control the personal microaggressions that others may sling at each other, but it’s our responsibility to consciously lift each other up on a systemic level. Let’s all do our part to ensure representation in all Arlington spaces and build pride as a community.

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.

On Saturday, I made an interesting discovery. In 2008, I volunteered on a campaign and in the process met Kevin Vincent and his wife Pat Haman. I was relatively new to Arlington community work, and I remember being appreciative of the opportunity to connect with great people.

Anyone who has had a conversation with me recently knows that I have become fascinated by genealogy over the past couple of years. I was looking through my list of distant relatives and came across a distant cousin with the profile name “Kevin Vincent.” There was no photo on his profile so I looked at his ethnicity and it was 100 percent European. I reached out to Kevin, and he confirmed that it was him. There is a 97+ percent chance that we share a distant relative.

Some may not think much of distant relatives, and others in my situation may try to hide (or refuse to discover) these relationships. Considering the fact that our connection probably dates back to some time in the mid-1800s in Alabama, we can guess what the circumstances were. I can’t help but marvel at yet another reminder that we are all much more connected than we think, no matter how hard we try to distance ourselves.

As we both search to find the exact connection, it has made me think back to how much I enjoyed working with Kevin and Pat here in Arlington, and it has opened up a new clue in my own family history. Through our research, I am already exploring new branches and asking questions about certain people in my tree. It also makes me think about something a friend told me the other day — they believe that when people leave this earth, their energy stays and their descendants will someday reconnect.

Arlington is a special community with a rich history. We pride ourselves on our commitment to civic engagement and responsive government. Our challenges throughout the years have helped us grow stronger. Each civic association, community group, county board, newsroom and any other organized group is made up of people with individual lives and stories, with a multitude of connections and relationships, both known and unknown.

I would like you to consider the idea that our individual relationships, as a part of these organizations, are what make Arlington strong, and if we strengthen them, we will be an even stronger community. It is those bonds and that energy between individuals which will help us tackle some of our most pressing challenges.

For Kevin and I, I am proud of the work that we did in Arlington, and in our own way now, we have continued to work on similar projects and issues. No matter what threads you hold in the fabric that makes up Arlington, I challenge you to reach out to an old connection or even start a new relationship. You don’t want to miss an opportunity to build a relationship with an individual with whom you think you could create some amazing energy that would be felt today, and for generations to come.

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.

As Arlington organizations seek to be more inclusive, and we adopt policies as a community to end structural racism, the elephant in the room is time and patience.

Many of us know that it is the right thing to do, but when it comes down to individual decisions that we know could move us in the right direction, we question whether we have the patience to weigh our options and do the right thing, in the right way, at the right time.

Training is often a default with diversity work, yet workplace diversity consultant Josh Bersin notes that training increases awareness and sensitivity, but it does not change behavior. Nancy J. Di Dia, chief diversity & inclusion officer for pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim USA Corporation says it “simply takes time… it’s a marathon… and the key is to be patient, knowing that you may not always get through… but be persistent.”

There are a few instances when I have seen time and patience become an issue:

Inclusive decision-making. I have had a few circumstances lately where I or others wanted to make a quick decision. We often resort to believing that those who are the representatives or leads will make the decision for the group. While I am as guilty as anyone of wanting to move through processes quickly, there are often repercussions when we don’t get everyone’s feedback. Possible solutions include using platforms and establishing processes that facilitate quick feedback ahead of time. For example, email may not be the best way to reach everyone. We can also broaden our top decision-making team to be representative of different interests.

Recruiting diverse candidates. By now most people have heard of the Rooney Rule, an NFL policy requiring every team with a head coaching vacancy to interview at least one or more diverse candidates, and this concept has been adopted for other organizations. I believe that when an organization doesn’t have diverse networks from which to recruit board members, they should conduct programs that reflect diversity, recruit diverse panelists and program leads, highlight the diversity they do have and express their desire to learn more.

Facilitating Belonging. One of the most important pieces of the puzzle is ensuring our new team members feel like they belong once they have been recruited, or else this is all for naught. This step definitely takes time, patience, and being willing to fail a few times. I strongly believe that if our hearts are in the right place, we can overcome this barrier. If we have taken previous steps like listening, understanding and quality recruitment, it can save us time in this step.

The truth is that diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging will not happen overnight, and we will have challenges along the way. Some of those challenges include battling our own need to move quickly. If we are clear on our final goals and follow the necessary steps, we can avoid having to do earlier parts of the process again. As we work together and support each other in this journey, there is no way to deny that we will need plenty of patience along the way.

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.

As the U.S. withdraws troops from Afghanistan, there are discussions around the world about whether it’s the right course of action. It is a complicated decision, and it’s natural to think about the factors that went into the decision and what could have been done to produce a different outcome.

Recently, I have thought a lot about that moment in time when you decide to do the easier process instead of using all of the training you have received, all of the articles you have read and conversations you have taken part in, and go with the decision that is out of your comfort zone. When we think about what will make Arlington stronger, in all spaces, we have to be ready to push through the gray area of discomfort and come out stronger on the other side.

For example, I have observed teams thinking through the process of choosing a path related to diversity issues. Sometimes one person will bring up what they have heard or learned and apply that to the situation and another will bring up the traditional wisdom or the current process. Others may chime in to say that they see both points of view. Then the group has to make a decision.

Let’s say, for example, your team or organization has little diversity of any type, but someone suggests that there is a need to diversify. You may have a conversation about the true reason that you want to diversify, i.e. is it for appearances, is it because you want to change the quality of your product or service, is it because you want to do your part in ending structural racism or simply doing your part to create a more inclusive society?

Next you decide what you will do — will you essentially continue on the same course (which may be easier, less work, less expensive and less vulnerable) or take a step in the other direction. These are a few proactive steps which may make the decision easier:

Ensure diverse voices around the table. So many of our organizations struggle with not only recruiting diverse people in the organization but finding ways to retain them and make them feel like they belong and have a voice at the table. When you are at critical decision making points, your discussions will be richer if you have the right people at the table. Until then, start from a place of wanting to grow and do the best for your organization and society based on your organizational values.

Test people’s true intentions. This may be a little more controversial, but whether it’s through your recruitment or one-on-one conversations, I believe you need to know where people stand before it gets to a vote and discussion and you realize that their values are not aligned with the direction of the organization.

Make sure your training and conversations (diversity or in general) address potential challenges to different ideologies. A lot of groups are taking the right step by training and having important discussions on different topics. During the training, make sure you discuss potential challenges and be prepared to address the more difficult parts of organizational growth.

As we all make progress in growing as individuals and organizations, let’s be prepared to make the small and large decisions that will truly make Arlington a world-class community.

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 week I moderated a conversation on Covid-19’s impact on Black women and girls, specifically around health and education. It was an important discussion, and the topic naturally raises questions about data collection.

We highlighted several topics including the current vaccination rates, the myths preventing someone from taking the vaccine and how some students have benefited emotionally and psychologically from learning in a virtual environment, away from the pressures and microaggressions they face at school. In order to find solutions to these challenges, good data collection is critical.

While there are always people who do not want to provide their demographic information, I am a firm believer that the disaggregated data should be readily available and easy to understand. For example, Arlington County sets a great example by providing easy to read statistics divided into different categories. Arlington County’s COVID -19 dashboard clearly provides Covid-19 data by race and ethnicity, age, etc.

It feels like it was not so long ago when there was a significant debate about whether data on minority groups should be collected, whether someone should be asked their race, and how it should be used. Some believed we shouldn’t call attention to anyone’s race or differences in our “post racial” society, and others simply didn’t want to acknowledge that inequities existed. Today, I think there are more organizations and individuals who see the value in collecting demographic data to better understand where the disparities exist.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation uses the following principles when outlining their data collection practices:

Principle 1: Survey respondents, whether internal or external to our organization, must be asked to report on the same set of demographic measures.

Principle 2: Survey respondents must only be asked to report demographic data for themselves.

Principle 3: Inclusivity of all identities is key across all demographic measures.

Principle 4: Transparency is important, but sharing demographic data should be an anonymous, confidential, and voluntary process.

Principle 5: The storage and use of collected demographic data and any related dissemination efforts must be disclosed prior to surveying respondents.

Additionally, one should consider that sensitive questions can affect your outcomes, demographic questions should generally be placed at the end of the survey, and you should explain why you are collecting the data.

Despite the fact that data collection has evolved, we should always advocate for more disaggregation. For example, as I seek to encourage more advocacy for Black women and girls in Arlington and throughout the Commonwealth, it would be helpful to have more statistics on our current status.

There are many components to consider as we strive to build a stronger Arlington, some of them more glamorous than others. While data is not always top of mind, it is a critical part of our work to ensure a more equitable community.

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.

I was recently asked for my thoughts on influence. I have always been intrigued by influence – how it works, what makes some more influential than others and exactly how one can consistently influence others for greater impact.

When I think about the people and institutions in Arlington who have the potential for the most impact, in addition to elected officials, business leaders, etc., our organizational and civic leaders at all levels top the list. As we push for Arlington to evolve, I think it is critical that each of us truly understand influence.

It seems easy enough, we all influence our children, our partners and our colleagues in different ways. Sometimes it’s through commands, other times it’s through flattery, but most of us have been able to influence others in our lives.

I am often asked for recommendations on recruiting more minorities to organizations or initiatives, in particular. I have written about other advice and thoughts about authenticity, expanding your network, and simply asking – which are all essential.

When I am considering a new endeavor, something has to stand out about the ask and the work that I am being asked to do. As you consider recruiting people who are different from the majority of your current membership, consider using authentic influence. While there are a lot of people who likely fit your criteria, there are a limited number you have access to (until you ramp up your outreach). In my conversations I have noticed that many of the people who fit the commonly sought after criteria, are in high demand and recruited by several organizations at once.

Yet, there are differentiators for the people and organizations who are able to attract this talent, and I believe some of that lies in their ability to influence. We must remember that there are often concerns about trust, and leeriness that the person will be used as a token. Additionally, as with most of us, there are concerns about a limited ability to commit the time needed.

Empowerment. I have written before about providing training and preparation for those who you might want to recruit, but may not possess everything you need for the role. Whether you offer community training with the goal of recruiting, additional leadership/members, or specifically target the people you want to recruit, generally empowering them (without pandering) may be beneficial. Make a connection between the role you would like them to serve in and the work they do now. Have conversations with them and encourage them to see where they are now and where they could be by serving in that role.

Individualization. This may seem like it goes without saying, but be clear about why you want this person to serve in a role, and not just “any woman” or any “Asian American,” etc. Those of us who have been on the other end of recruiting efforts can generally tell when the person or organization knows little about what we can bring to the table.

Connect with their emotions. Within reason, I would consider really connecting with people. With so much going on in everyone’s lives, someone who takes the time to find out what is happening in my life and how I am feeling, would probably resonate more with me. I believe that those personal connections are what keep us coming back to the roles we currently have.

It can be easy to think about the new policies we are implementing in Arlington on a systemic level, but we can’t forget each other’s humanity. As we move forward with true community change, we should remember the power of authentic personal influence.

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.

It is not often that we see the opportunity for a major cultural shift in our society unfold before our eyes.

One of the many inequities that the COVID-19 pandemic elucidated was in the child care system, which represents larger gender and racial imbalances in our nation. Arlington County and the Commonwealth of Virginia have made great investments in expanding access to child care, and must continue to support our child care heroes to save the day.

Mothers have historically been responsible for caring for children, even when more women began to work outside of the home. According to The History of Child Care in the U.S. by Sonya Michel, Ph.D: at the end of the 19th century, mostly low income families used child care services and the philanthropic sector and mother’s pensions were provided to assist with the loss of income when there was not a male breadwinner.

Under the New Deal, Emergency Nursery Schools (ENS) were established, yet during World War II, “children’s experts warned parents that children in group care might suffer the effects of ‘maternal deprivation’ and urged them to maintain tranquil home environments to protect their children from the war’s upheaval.” In subsequent years, attitudes changed and the child care tax credit was introduced and there was more focus on early childhood education during child care.

In their May 27 Progressive Voice column, Arbora Johnson and Victoria Virasingh clearly outlined a number of challenges faced by Arlington parents during the pandemic and how Arlington can do more to help families with child care. In order to solve the child care crisis, it is also imperative that we support child care providers and early education teachers who had low wages and vacancies even before the pandemic, as they both are essential components to quality, affordable child care.

A December 2020 survey found that 60% of child care workers reported that their site-reduced expenses included implementing pay cuts. Many child care workers are minority females, who are already more vulnerable to economic inequities. These strains on the system are dire and unsustainable, not only for minorities, but also American society.

The recent uptick in the federal commitment to providing resources for child care has been instrumental to the sector, yet these funds are temporary. Long term changes to the system are needed. On July 1, the oversight of child care services in Virginia will be transferred from the Department of Social Services to the Department of Education which shows a commitment to early childhood education, a critical equalizer. Arlington County has also made important changes through our Child Care Initiative.

The Virginia Promise Partnership is a coalition of 30 organizations committed to affordable (no more than 7% of income), quality child care for all Virginia families by 2030. Success will take us a long way towards correcting gender and racial disparities for the child care industry and for society. As we work towards this bold goal, let’s not forget our heroes who will make it happen.

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.

The Network NOVA Friday Power Lunch recently focused on how little lies, or misinformation, can grow into bigger lies if they go unchecked.

Lowell Feld, editor of Blue Virginia, noted that the Washington Post made the case that one fifth of Democrats were being challenged by far left challengers in the 2021 House of Delegates primaries.

After analyzing the data, he found that there were only four challengers who were running to the left of the incumbents. He asserted that there is a common refrain in the media that the Democratic Party is at war with its “left wing/progressives” and this story fit the narrative. This “misrepresentation” can help shape a false narrative and impact other issues.

He also mentioned the idea of false equivalencies. For example, lies and misinformation spread through the radical conservative community and led to the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. Furthermore, a ridiculous comparison was made between the attack and the earlier Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests. The police response was much different for the BLM protests, and included tear gas, detentions and multiple arrests, which likely falsely fueled the public perception of the intent of the protestors.

When one side promotes racial justice and one side promotes white supremacy, we have to be clear that one is right and one is wrong. Yet, they were presented as if they were two equal sides of an issue, which also means that we feel we have to give them equal time and attention.

If gone unchallenged, this cycle changes how we think of the issue, and fuels supporters on the side of the “wrong” issue. It makes it harder for those on the side of the truth to recognize that they are in fact supporting the truth, and not just the opposite of the other side.

It’s obviously not always simple. For example, similar to any cause, there are some rogue Black activists who have strayed from the original BLM mission. Highlighting the few bad actors on any issue is a misrepresentation. It changes public perceptions, our individual conversations and thinking, and muddles policy.

Arlington is debating several issues as a community. We have already made a concerted effort to engage community voices as we reform our police practices, and are in the process of selecting a new police chief.  I challenge us all to remember why we are talking about police reform now, and push back if we see the coverage or conversations switch to a different narrative. We have also recognized a need to reform zoning laws through the Missing Middle Housing Study. Due to the history of housing discrimination and links to systemic racism, we know some may want to hold on to a system which has allowed them to thrive. As we continue to discuss these and other issues, it is important for us to check the facts, and challenge how views are presented in all forums.

The manner in which we handle each conversation, in addition to the outcome we seek, helps define who we are. A part of that process is expressing our views in a number of ways including through traditional media, social media, events, speeches and informal dialogue. We should all be aware of false equivalencies and misinformation that have insidiously shaped the narrative and coverage, and do our part to root out all lies, whether they are “sweet little lies”, or not.

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.

As a long time Arlington resident, I have seen citizen engagement from several angles.

I remember my first interactions with Arlingtonians upon moving here, and I definitely felt there was a reluctance to accept me immediately. Compared with my experiences with meeting new people in Alexandria, it felt like our Alexandria neighbors were more open to facilitate engagement and new perspectives with new members of their community.

One of my goals is to seek out community members who may not be engaged and encourage them to find their niche in Arlington. I also try to help organizations find ways to engage more residents at a systemic level.

One of the hallmarks of an inclusive community which fosters belonging is how we accept new ideas. As we emerge post COVID, after reflecting on what worked and what did not work in the “before times,” we should consider how we can encourage even more innovative ways to make our community stronger.

The origin of our ideas. We are often encouraged to funnel ideas through the Civic Federation and the County Board. While these can be effective, we should analyze whether there are other recommendations which come through other channels which do not make it to these bodies. We should be very clear to all residents about how to recommend new ideas.

Comfort in recommending new ideas. We should analyze how people feel about their opportunities to engage when they arrive in Arlington, and determine how those who have been here longer can connect with our new residents to make them feel welcome and involved. We should look at what methods work, and which do not. While I refer people to our existing institutions, I would like to have more confidence that they will be encouraged to stay active and engaged after joining, and that their ideas are heard.

Build on our current work. I have heard rave reviews of the Neighborhood College program. According to the Arlington County website, “Neighborhood College is a free civic leadership development program for Arlingtonians that helps participants become more effective community activists and leaders. Since its inception in 2000, nearly 400 Arlingtonians have graduated from the program, and many have gone on to become neighborhood leaders, members of advisory groups and commissions, officers in their civic associations, County Board members, volunteers at nonprofit organizations, local activists, and more.” We should continue to develop this program to encourage and grow the pipeline of engaged residents.

Provide training for community organizations. Arlington County has a great track record with diversity outreach. I was on the Diversity Dialogues Task Force several years ago, and we have made a concerted effort to engage organizations and individuals with Dialogues on Race and Equity. I would posit that there is an opportunity to provide similar general organizational outreach training. If the County government does not take the lead, we should provide a forum for organizations to share best practices on recruiting new ideas.

It is easy to say that information is accessible on a webpage, or that those who really want to be involved will find a way. This is not the best way to ensure that we have a consistent flow of new ideas and the structures to support them. We never know where the next big idea will come from that will revolutionize Arlington. When we push ourselves to constantly innovate and support new ideas, we become a better community.

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 year I joined a coalition of women’s organizations as a part of Vision 2020, which aims to increase the number of women who participate in the political process by voting and through public service. Vision 2020 had a goal of a record-breaking number of eligible women voting in the November 2020 national elections.

Over the last several months, I have also been engaged in a number of discussions analyzing next steps for women and political participation after the centennial of the 19th amendment. In order to increase the number of registered women across the nation,  women voting advocates in San Francisco, CA have challenged Arlington to participate in a pilot program and develop strategies to register every eligible female Arlington voter.

As a community that values civic participation, we should do more to consider why some decide not to register to vote. We should not congratulate ourselves on a high rate without considering why the people who aren’t registered have decided to opt out of this specific activity.

I would be curious to know whether not registering to vote is a predictor of other behaviors as well, and if these nonvoters have a particular perspective that we don’t generally consider when we focus on soliciting voters’ opinions. I addressed this in an October 2020 column, Community Matters: When “None of the Above” is Your Only Choice.

Arlington County does a great job of providing election information online. The General Assembly has expanded voter access by removing the witness signature requirement, making it easier to vote by mail and early in person absentee. Voter registration is often available at new citizen ceremonies. Organizations like the League of Women Voters of Arlington spend a large proportion of their resources on voter registration.

Despite these successes, we should consider whether we are being unintentionally exclusive.

We should do more to learn about the Arlington residents who are not registered to vote, and determine their concerns. Once we determine what their specific concerns are, we should try to address them. In Arlington, there are approximately 8,000 women who are over 18 and not registered to vote. If they are otherwise not eligible, we should determine that and strategize about how we can remove barriers.

More organizations should include voter registration in their civic engagement efforts. The State Board of Elections has facilitated voter registration training for groups, and provided QR codes for volunteers. We should also continue to diversify outreach efforts, and expand multicultural voter registration efforts.

Organizations should teach their members to address the behavioral barriers cited by nonvoters. Strategies could include discussing the specific impact certain local elected officials have on the issues they care about, as opposed to federal leaders, which are often vilified for partisanship. For those who feel they don’t know the issues well enough to vote, we should solicit their opinion on the key issues, and empower and value their perspective. We should also steer them towards resources which outline the candidates’ platforms.

While voter registration is not compulsory in the US, considering our nation’s history and current actions to suppress voter participation, Arlington should do even more to ensure that we have maximum participation in the electoral process. The work we do in Arlington to register that small remaining number of voters, could assist other localities in increasing voter registration and participation. If you are interested in participating in our pilot challenge program, please email [email protected].

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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