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by Larry Roberts — May 25, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Lawrence Roberts

In the aftermath of the November 2016 election, Democrats in Arlington were stunned by an outcome few anticipated.

Once reality of the defeat was absorbed, it was time to assess signals President-Elect Donald Trump would send about his agenda.

Even before Inauguration Day, it became clear to local Democrats that the Trump agenda would run counter to their values and that the new President would seek to dismantle key Obama Administration accomplishments.

Thus began the resistance – the Women’s March; the March for Action on Climate Change; impromptu protests at airports around the nation to push back against detention of immigrants returning to the country; the March for Science; and the formation of groups such as Indivisible dedicated to resistance at the grass roots level.

Democrats and previously unaffiliated independents began showing up in droves to local Democratic events and committee meetings – in numbers not seen before.

The resistance has led to efforts to defeat Republicans around the country in special elections.

It has also led to efforts to define a progressive agenda that is more than opposing the actions of President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress.

It is no surprise that Arlington progressives are deeply involved in the efforts to resist and to define a progressive agenda.

One reflection of a progressive agenda was defined recently by a set of 32 resolutions adopted by the delegates to the 8th Congressional District Democratic Convention held on May 23. The 8th Congressional District – represented by Rep. Don Beyer – includes all of Arlington County as well as the cities of Alexandria and Falls Church and portions of Fairfax County.

Like Arlington, the 8th District voted overwhelmingly for President Obama and for Hillary Clinton.

It is not a stretch to say that the 8th District’s resolutions are a reflection of an agenda that Arlington County progressives would view as a blueprint for moving beyond resistance toward rising up and mounting a progressive comeback.

Presented here and in future columns without editorial comment is a summary of the resolutions adopted by the 8th District convention.

$15 Dollar State and Federal Minimum Wage. The state and federal minimum wage should be increased from $7.25 to $15 an hour by 2020 for all workers. Tipped workers in Virginia should be paid a $10 minimum wage instead of the $2.13 per hour they are currently guaranteed. Both the state and Federal minimum wage should increase annually as the cost of living increases.

Creation of Appalachian Power Administration District. Virginia state government and its universities should conduct a study of the feasibility of an Appalachian Power Administration District based on renewable resources. The study needs to determine the applicability of mountain-based renewables in Appalachia including wind, load sharing, and pump storage methods. The study should provide an actionable plan within four years.

Cannabis Reform. We support bi-partisan efforts to allow states to establish their own regulatory scheme for cannabis distribution and use. Virginia cooperative extension should conduct outreach programs on industrial hemp cultivation. Medical use of cannabidiol should be expanded beyond epilepsy and obstacles should be cleared from both the state and federal levels.

College Affordability and Student Debt. We support the Commonwealth’s investment in higher education through initiatives such as the Affordable Pathways grants. We also call on Virginia lawmakers to study and implement initiatives that would allow students to reduce debt after employment in public service and to explore similar opportunities for students to reduce debt after completing approved unpaid civil and/or community service.

Congressional Review Act. In response to the Trump Administration’s hasty partisan action that ignores the basic rights of citizens and the responsibilities of government, we call for the repeal of the Congressional Review Act and in the absence of complete repeal, call for the Congressional Review Act to be amended to provide that a 2/3 vote be required in the House and Senate House to adopt a resolution of disapproval.

Criminal Justice Reform. Virginia should: increase the threshold for felony larceny to $1000; increase payments to court-appointed counsel for indigent defendants to the national average hourly rate among states for such services; provide for payment of experts and translators as appropriate and approved by the court; permit a convicted defendant who obtains DNA evidence of his innocence to petition to have his conviction overturned even after a guilty plea; and cease suspending the driver’s license of a defendant who lacks resources to pay outstanding court fees for offenses unrelated to driving.

Larry Roberts is an attorney in private practice, a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee, and a former Counselor to the Governor. He has followed Virginia politics for more than 30 years and chaired two successful statewide political campaigns.

by Progressive Voice — May 18, 2017 at 1:30 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Juan Arteaga

The gathering of so many Americans in Washington and around the country to demand action on climate change has inspired me to tell my personal story of moving to Arlington. I shifted my definition of success toward enacting values I learned as a youth to appreciate our environment — doing so through a job in which I now am able to support investment in energy generation that serves to protect our health and our planet.

An appreciation of nature became one of my core values early in my life. Growing up in Houston, Texas, I remember camping trips and visits to city parks. Those early experiences encouraged me to seek adventure and experiences rooted in a love for the outdoors and nature’s beauty.

One of the positives of moving to Arlington is that while living close to the Nation’s Capital, I can also enjoy accessible locations where I can explore more adventurous excursions such as rock climbing in the Shenandoah Valley and long hikes in national parks.

I am able to combine a professional career devoted to improving our environment in economically sound ways with a wide variety of outdoor activities. That balance has not always been how I defined success.

During my time in college, while I still loved being outdoors, I found myself increasingly caught up in a pursuit of financial success. When you are chasing success in Houston, that success is generally tied to money and the money is frequently tied to oil in some way. So when I landed a job with a large oil company while I was still in school, I was convinced that I had it made.

My work for big oil did not blind me to the effects of energy production on our environment, but signaled that the childhood value of appreciating nature and what I learned in history classes remained important to me.

I found myself paying more attention to the news, trying to put into context what I was learning and hearing at work with what I was seeing in the broader world.

As I witnessed environmental disasters either personally or through media reports, I became increasing concerned about how human activities were causing or exacerbating dangerous weather patterns. The lack of actions to counter these trends began to create serious cognitive dissonance for me.

I began to feel a direct conflict between the profession I was in and my desire to protect the natural spaces which had offered me so much throughout my life. The longer I worked with a major oil company, the more I felt certain that my own actions were making an impact — and not a good one. So I left the job.

As risky as that decision felt at the time, I was incredibly fortunate. I was hired for a position at a well-respected consulting company, a position I went after because the values of the organization match my own.

By letting go of a culture pushing money at the expense of the environment, I found a new definition of success. I am consistently able to learn more about the environment and our impact on it and I challenge myself to make sure that the actions that I take are making a positive impact. Now I’m part of a fight to get our community to commit to 100 percent renewable energy, something that I know is a huge part of protecting the outdoor spaces that have shaped who I am.

Anyone can change their definition of success. For me, it meant letting my fundamental principles guide me to greater involvement in the fight for our shared environment.

What is most important to you?

Juan Arteaga is an infrastructure analyst and a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He moved to Arlington to become more active in environmental causes.

by Progressive Voice — May 11, 2017 at 12:00 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Alfonso Lopez

On April 29, tens of thousands of people – including many Arlingtonians – made their way to the Nation’s Capital to march and demand action on climate change.

Supporters joined together for similar marches and rallies in hundreds of locations across the United States and around the globe.

With the impacts of climate change being felt worldwide, it was important to send a very clear message – we must not retreat from the actions that are necessary to address this crisis.

Marchers intended to resist the Trump Administration’s open hostility toward measures to address climate change. They also called on decision-makers to continue taking the necessary constructive and positive steps to combat the causes of climate change at the national, state, and local levels.

Over the last eight years under President Barack Obama’s leadership, the United States did more to combat climate change than ever before. We committed to the Paris Global Climate Change agreement, improved fuel efficiency standards, and put forward the Clean Power Plan to cut carbon pollution from power plants. We invested in renewable energy, which has led to a rapid expansion of our clean energy economy and significant increases in the generation of wind and solar power.

However, it has become abundantly clear that we can no longer rely on the federal government to lead the way on environmental protection or renewable energy investments. In just the first 100 days, the Trump Administration has worked to repeal the Clean Water Rule, delayed implementation of the Clean Power Plan, delayed implementation of the new chemical storage rule and attempted to diminish the EPA’s effectiveness through budget cuts, staff cuts and dismissing scientific experts from advisory commissions.

With the EPA and environmental protections under attack, it is incumbent on the commonwealth to act on behalf of Virginia residents – especially since strong majorities in Virginia have expressed their support for staying on the path toward clean energy and climate action.

One such action for which we can be thankful is Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) issuance of Executive Order 57, which created a working group to develop carbon reduction strategies for Virginia’s fossil fuel power plants.

Last week, I submitted a letter to that working group – signed by 18 members of the Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy Caucus in the General Assembly – that called for the working group to recommend: investments in energy sources with low or zero emissions footprints; utility-run efficiency programs; allowing utility customers to work together to install carbon-neutral renewable energy systems; and identifying revenue sources for transition assistance packages to help coal communities adapt to our changing energy economy. We hope McAuliffe and the working group will take bold action to promote these and other clean energy initiatives.

While these are important first steps by the Governor, the Virginia General Assembly also needs to do more to protect our environment for future generations and help transition Virginia away from a dependence on fossil fuels, stay on the path of climate action, and build on the progress we’ve made to move America toward a climate-friendly 21st century clean energy economy.

Through investments in the development of solar and wind energy sources, the Governor and General Assembly can not only put Virginia at the forefront of harnessing the potential of clean, renewable sources of energy, but also grow our economy and create jobs throughout the Commonwealth.

In the 2017 elections, Virginia voters have a tremendous opportunity to send a clear message about the importance of addressing climate change and protecting our environment.

Through the June 13 primaries and the November 8 general election, voters will choose Virginia’s Governor, Lt. Governor and Attorney General for the next four years. All 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates will also be on the ballot in districts across the commonwealth.

If you care about climate change and want Virginia to keep moving forward toward a sound environment and a thriving economy, it will be vitally important that you vote and choose candidates who will make climate action a priority.

Whether it is ensuring that our water supply is not contaminated like that of Flint, Mich., or ensuring that we do not suffer chemical spills of the magnitude of the Elk River spill, we need to combat inaction at the federal level by electing leaders in Virginia who will push the commonwealth toward national leadership in climate action, renewable energy, and environmental protection.

Let’s make sure our voices are heard.

Alfonso Lopez represents Virginia’s 49th District in the House of Delegates, which includes parts of South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax County. He is the founder and Chair of the Virginia Environment and Renewable Energy Caucus in the General Assembly.

by Progressive Voice — April 27, 2017 at 12:30 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz

Early this year, the County Board and School Board voted to create the Joint Facilities Advisory Commission. I am honored to join 20 other Arlingtonians as JFAC members.

We are committed to finding innovative, practical and fiscally-prudent solutions to tackle Arlington’s big needs within our limited space reality.

Arlington’s population has grown approximately 1 percent per year over the past three decades and is forecasted to grow another 10.5 percent — 23,000 people — by 2026. School enrollment is also growing — projected within five years to exceed 30,000 students — which will increase capacity needs.

With growth comes increased demands for schools, fields, and other services, including essential operational and support services. Land to support these services is desperately needed.

I strongly believe that local initiatives such as JFAC that assess challenges and opportunities holistically can best promote community wellbeing in the years and decades ahead.

As I wrote last December, “local initiatives and solutions are stronger, more effective and efficient when the community is broadly represented throughout the decision-making processes.”

Four months into my tenure as a JFAC member, I believe it is a model for how to incorporate multiple voices, perspectives, opinions and needs at a broad, strategic level.

JFAC’s Mission

JFAC’s overall mission is to help the Boards assess capital facilities needs, capital improvement plans and long-range facility planning options for residents, county government and our schools. It can provide feedback and recommendations to the Boards on key matters that impact the lives of all people who reside, visit, play, and do business in Arlington.

JFAC’s Progress

Under the effective leadership of chair Ginger Brown and vice chair Greg Greeley, JFAC has met monthly since January. We have received briefings from County and APS senior management about their short- and long-term needs assessments, and we have started to develop a list of community aspirations and goals for the next 30-40 years.

While the Boards asked JFAC to place a special emphasis on long range planning for future County and APS facility needs, they have also directed JFAC to immediately undertake two time-sensitive matters: potential uses for the Buck site on N. Quincy Street; and what the County should seek as compensation from Virginia Hospital Center in return for the County-owned Edison site: cash, VHC property on Carlin Springs Road, or other VHC-owned properties, or a combination thereof. Two subcommittees within JFAC have been formed to dive more deeply into these time-sensitive matters.

By building a sufficient knowledge base about various needs and sites, we can proceed expeditiously to consider recommendations pertaining to longer range and big picture planning.

Public Involvement

JFAC wants to engage community members about two key goals: education and awareness about the facility and space challenges and opportunities facing the County; and insights from the public to help inform the JFAC’s recommendations.

Throughout March, JFAC hosted 10 community roundtables that provided a broad range of perspectives, interests, complaints, plans, ideas, ideals, visions, goals, and challenges. I had the pleasure of co-hosting a community roundtable at Washington-Lee High School on March 23.

It was great to hear the visions and ideas my neighbors shared on topics including traffic impact, recycling, bike lanes, park space, using I-66 air rights to create additional land, maximizing and/or co-locating County and APS facilities.

Arlingtonians can also get involved by:

  • Checking out JFAC’s website to stay updated on our meetings, presentations and reports;
  • Attending our monthly meetings; and
  • Joining us on May 24 (7-10 p.m.) for our interactive public forum at Wakefield High School, where you will have a chance to provide feedback on possible options JFAC members are exploring.

Next Steps 

Arlington can be a stronger as well as a more stable and equitable community by hearing from a broad range of voices. It helps when we get proactively involved in creating and developing public policies that will affect us for decades to come.

Our work at JFAC is just getting started. The right initial steps are being taken. Stay tuned and please assist us in ensuring we achieve our mission.

My own personal interest in JFAC’s success is that the better our community does, the better quality of life my family will have and the better educational opportunities our children will have in APS schools. My wife, our two kids and I are in it for the long-term.

Joseph Leitmann-Santa Cruz is the Associate Director of an asset-building and financial capability organization in Washington, DC. In the Arlington community, he is a JFAC member, a member of the Board of Directors of the Dream Project, and served on the South Arlington Working Group.

by Progressive Voice — April 20, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Rip Sullivan

This year’s General Assembly session saw one highly partisan bill after another pass both Republican-controlled chambers, with little or no apparent interest in seeking input from Democrats.

This left Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) to wield his veto pen to strike down such extreme bills as one that would shield from civil liability those who would actively discriminate against same-sex couples, and another that would legalize the carrying of concealed switchblade knives.

Veto Session is the day on which the General Assembly reconvenes to vote on whether to sustain or reject the Governor’s vetoes, and to consider amendments that the Governor made to legislation passed by the General Assembly. This year, every one of McAuliffe’s 40 vetoes was sustained, and the vast majority of his amendments were adopted.

For critics of McAuliffe’s extensive use of the veto power, it is worth a closer look at the bills that he prevented from becoming law in the Commonwealth. This year alone, the Governor vetoed bills that were directed at weakening LGBT rights, defunding Planned Parenthood and putting more guns in more places.

Some of the bills passed by the Republican majority were simply messaging bills, often redundant of current law. For example, McAuliffe vetoed one bill that would criminalize the act of giving or receiving any money in exchange for registering to vote. This is already a crime under federal law.

There were other bills that sought to perpetuate the myth of voter fraud by encouraging investigations into Virginia voters without clear standards for when and how those inquiries would be conducted. Voter fraud, though it is exceptionally rare, is already a crime in Virginia.

The Governor also vetoed a number of bills that Democrats universally agree would undermine the economic security of many of Virginia’s most vulnerable individuals. For those living in poverty and receiving public assistance, one bill would have prohibited anyone with a criminal history from receiving this help. Keeping those who have committed a crime – for example, petty theft – from receiving public assistance would make it even more likely that those individuals would be forced back into a life of crime and reduce public safety.

Other vetoed bills included one that would encourage companies to pay workers less – Democrats universally rejected these anti-worker bills and I am glad that the Governor vetoed them immediately. Two bills would have prohibited a state agency and a local government from entering into a contract with a company that requires that company to pay workers at rates above prevailing wages and benefits. We should be encouraging contracts with companies that are willing to pay workers more, not engaging in a race to the bottom for wages and benefits.

Another agenda item that Republicans targeted unsuccessfully was making life more difficult for immigrants and refugees. One particularly dangerous bill included a requirement that the Commonwealth publish personally identifiable information for every refugee settled in Virginia. A reminder: refugees are here legally.

This bill was not only an invasion of privacy, but also a reckless move that would put refugees in immediate danger. Refugees are classified as such because they are fleeing oppression – they have specifically been targeted by the government of their home country. To make a list of their personal information public would be to make those who have sought refuge in our country targets again – even exposing them to their oppressors.

Finally, perhaps the most widely covered issue of this year’s Veto Session was whether the Governor’s budget amendment to expand Medicaid to about 400,000 low-income working Virginians should stand. The Governor’s amendment would have allowed him to expand Medicaid on October 1, 2017, if the Affordable Care Act still stood in its current form with respect to Medicaid. The amendment was rejected along party lines, 66 to 34, meaning Medicaid will not be expanded this year and Virginia will continue to lose billions of Virginia taxpayer dollars reallocated to states that have expanded Medicaid.

During this Veto Session the priorities of both parties were revealed in stark contrast, and I am glad that Democrats were able to fight back through McAuliffe against the most extreme of the bills passed by Republicans.

It will be a far different Veto Session in 2018 if we do not have a Democratic Governor and a strong Democratic presence in the House of Delegates after this November’s election. As we have seen at the national level, turnout matters and elections have consequences.

Rip is a Northern Virginia community activist and a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Virginia’s 48th District, which encompasses parts of Arlington and McLean.

by Progressive Voice — April 13, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Paul Friedman

Although it is a tragedy that remains fresh in our minds, this week will mark 10 years since the shootings at Virginia Tech that cost the lives of 32 people, physically injured at least 24 others and traumatized many more.

One day after the April 16, 2007, tragedy — having traveled back overnight from a trade mission to Japan, then-Gov. Tim Kaine (D) spoke movingly to the Virginia Tech community at the memorial convocation on campus:

“There are deep emotions that are called forth by a tragedy as significant as this; grieving and sadness by the boatload,” he said. “Anne and I have unashamedly shed tears about this and I know virtually all of you have as well.”

Kaine added that anger is a natural reaction. He observed that there is anger at the gunman and the circumstance.

Then he asked a fateful question: “What could have been done different?”

It was not long after he spoke these words that Kaine did figure out what could have been done. The shooter should not have been able to buy the two guns he was able to purchase.

Although the shooter had been found by a court to be a danger to himself, he wasn’t entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System because he was receiving outpatient – and not inpatient – mental health treatment.

After hearing from some of the family members and survivors of the shootings and consulting with Virginia’s Attorney General, Kaine issued an Executive Order to clarify when a report to NICS is required. At its next opportunity, with the support of the groups including the National Rifle Association, the Republican-dominated Virginia General Assembly supported his action with legislation.

Family members of those who were killed as well as survivors and their families continued their work and helped to pass a federal law providing funds to incentivize states to set up a system that would ensure their full participation in NICS. That would mean states submitting the names of every person found to be a danger to themselves or others and committed for treatment. Once entered, those people would be barred from being able to buy a gun from a licensed dealer.

Over the years since the Virginia Tech shootings, the Brady Campaign, the Education Fund to Stop Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and, notably, the NRA and the National Shootings Sports Foundation, have been working to achieve this goal and have been making progress.

As well, it’s a goal supported by our nation’s largest mental health organization, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Yet the job is far from complete.

That’s why, in connection with the 10th commemoration of the worst mass murder on an American college campus, the Virginia Tech Victims Family Outreach Foundation – the independent non-profit formed by affected families and survivors of the Virginia Tech tragedy — is making this issue our top priority.

That’s also why we have decided to move to the forefront of the fight. After all, our story is the best known reason for why this must be done.

While Virginia is now an example of a state that has made progress, there are a number of others, including Maryland, Ohio, and Massachusetts for example, that could be doing far better or are not engaged at all.

Moreover, it is simply unknown right now how many states are submitting the names of people who have been ordered to get outpatient treatment, which constitute the bulk of commitments due to a lack of inpatient facilities.

Campaign 32, named for the 32 who were killed at Virginia Tech, will do the research and advocacy to get the job done. Together with people who want to join in this effort, we can make real, measurable and meaningful change. To make your voice heard, please donate $32 or more at www.campaign32.org!

Paul Friedman is a long time resident of Northern Virginia and is serving as the Executive Director of the VTV Family Outreach Foundation.

by Progressive Voice — April 6, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Bill Rice

In the age of the Trump administration and its new, draconian immigration policies, many Arlingtonians are looking for ways to stand with their immigrant neighbors and actively fight back against such intolerant measures.

Thankfully, such an avenue for action occurred on March 28 as members of the Arlington community gathered at Patrick Henry Elementary School for an immigration-focused community forum, sponsored by the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

Forum panelists included Michele Waslin, senior research and policy analyst at the American Immigration Council; Azaz Elshami, a Sudanese human rights activist who was affected by the travel ban; Tram Nguyen, co-executive director for the New Virginia Majority; Laura Peralta-Schulte, senior government relations advocate at the Network Lobby for Catholic Social Justice; and Karen Vallejos, a graduate of Arlington Public Schools and a DREAMer.

The panelists provided information and action items at the federal, state and local levels.

At the federal level, Waslin outlined a number of pernicious policy goals of the Trump administration, including plans to significantly decrease refugee resettlement in the United States, block entry of individuals from certain Muslim-majority countries, drastically curtail legal asylum for those fleeing violence in Central America (many of them mothers with their children), potentially end the Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs, and introduce new barriers to legal immigration.

The Trump administration has also moved away from the prior deportation policy of targeting individuals who are serious criminals and/or a security threat to the United States. Trump’s new deportation policy, Waslin said, is “so overly broad” that it would make all 11 million undocumented individuals a priority for deportation.

The panelists urged people to contact their elected representatives to not only voice their opposition to these policies but also voice their support for comprehensive immigration reform that prioritizes humanitarian-based, employment-based, and family-unification-based immigration policies – with a legal pathway for otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants.

At the state level, Nguyen explained, “it’s not enough to protest…it’s not enough to attend rallies.” People must help register new Americans to vote, resist General Assembly legislation targeting immigrants and promote General Assembly legislation supporting immigrants.

Nguyen also stated that Virginians should resist attempts to turn local law enforcement into immigration/deportation agents (like through 287(g) agreements), explaining that “when you have local law enforcement dealing with immigration issues, it has very chilling effect on community policing.”

Peralta-Schutle explained that while Arlington is “fortunate to have a really strong network of activists” working on immigration issues, there is still much to be done.

Forum attendees specifically requested clearer answers from County officials on the role of ICE in our county jails and schools.

Perhaps most heart wrenching were the personal testimonies of Elshami and Vallejos.

Vallejos elaborated on her experiences as a DREAMer in the Arlington school system and community — “I figured we were going forward and we were progressing but after this election things changed,” she said.

For Elshami, the travel ban was a particularly frightening and perplexing experience. Born in Sudan, she left the country at age 3, eventually arriving in the U.S. through the lottery program. She has worked as an activist against policies of the Sudanese government. “I was really happy that finally I had found a place where I can call home and feel safe.”

The travel ban changed this atmosphere. Abroad when Trump issued the first ban, she was unable to return to the U.S. solely because of her Sudanese birth, while her 77-year-old mother remained in the U.S. alone. After the courts enjoined Trump’s order, Elshami was able to return.

“I saw a different face of America. This is not the U.S.,” said Elshami, who began to develop panic attacks during this time period at the prospect of the U.S. permanently sending her back to Sudan. “It shocked me…something beautiful, something ideal, something that you really associated yourself with…it turned into something smeared.”

Yet Elshami experienced a glimmer of hope the moment she returned to Dulles International Airport and saw that members of the Dulles Justice Coalition, a group of volunteer attorneys and activists, had established a presence at the airport to assist those affected by the ban.

“Knowing that there are lawyers sitting out there, giving their time…that was great…that was America,” Elshami said. “That made me feel like not all is lost.”

Hopefully we all can continue to strive for the America Elshami saw at that moment.

Bill Rice works as a government consultant. He serves as a volunteer in the Arlington community and with the Dulles Justice Coalition, a “nonpartisan alliance of individual volunteers from legal non-profits, law firms, and all walks of life.”

by Progressive Voice — March 30, 2017 at 2:30 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Lisa Nisenson

In another example that transit system improvements don’t happen overnight, we now know that we will need to wait another year, at least, for promised Columbia Pike bus improvements.

To be fair, the delay is due largely to investments in Metro’s SafeTrack repairs. Moreover, on the positive side, Arlington is moving forward on 13 new ART buses, estimated to arrive either this year or next.

But new transit models around the world show that we can have service improvements without waiting for years. On-demand rides and real-time information only a few taps away on a mobile app create public expectations for innovation in all aspects of transportation, both public and private.

So in addition to what happens next with bus improvements on Columbia Pike, we need to ask:

  • Are there ways to quickly combine the best of on-demand rides and the regional power of Metro’s rail and bus service?
  • Can we extend the benefits of high performing transit throughout Arlington — not just transit stops and station areas?
  • What are other regions doing we can adopt or adapt quickly?

Last December, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced winners of their Mobility on Demand Sandbox. The sandbox reference suggests play, but the aim is research into “what works” for integrating personalized mobility features into transit programs. While there were no winners from our region, the 10 selected transit systems have features we can copy — especially for first/last mile service to Metro stations.

For example, Pima County, Ariz. is building the Adaptive Mobility with Reliability and Efficiency project that augments existing fixed route transit with Uber and Lyft-like on-demand, shared rides, integrated payment systems and advanced traveler information systems.

Los Angeles and Seattle are working directly with Lyft for a mobility on demand partnership for trips beginning and ending at select transit stops. Customers can use the Lyft app or call a dispatcher phone number, providing equity to lower income individuals.

San Francisco is building a carpool match program to link drivers with riders based on their transit destinations, including a seamless payment platform that assigns preferential parking for carpoolers while increasing transit ridership by improving access to BART stations.

Other programs are built around on-demand shuttles comparable to hotel shuttle service that circles Crystal City and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. One is a Boston-based company called Bridj. Ford Motors recently acquired a similar service called Chariot. These shuttles provide a “missing middle” in transit that can be more demand-responsive than larger buses.

Perhaps the boldest experiments are with autonomous (or driverless) cars and shuttles. Most trials are on private campuses, but Las Vegas recently launched a driverless shuttle and Local Motors has begun producing 3-D printed, autonomous shuttles at National Harbor in Maryland.

We can get started now on similar initiatives, but there are some key principles to keep in mind in dealing with emerging technologies:

Prioritize Metro: Some observers predict transit’s demise with new technology. However, our region cannot operate without high capacity Metro rail and buses. There is not enough road space to host hundreds of thousands of riders in small vehicles. Well-planned programs will feed riders to Metro and support innovation with ART vehicles and services.

Understand testing: With fast-changing technology, initial service runs are used to experiment with route selection, define target riders, test pricing models, and work through program bugs. In Kansas City, Bridj ridership fell far below expectations in early tests. But the tests revealed who was most likely to try and stick with the service, and it not surprisingly includes Millennials. Poor initial results aren’t always a reason to quit, because ridership can and does increase with continuous improvements via testing.

Mobility hubs: Premier transit access is no longer tied to locations within the first quarter mile walk from Metro stations. Arlington can create hubs that concentrate certain transportation options in key locations around the County. Locating and designing these hubs, differing from highly visible Metro stations, will require knowing where people need to go, how quickly they want to get there, when they want to travel, and the best marketing channels.

In building partnerships with transportation providers, regional transit agencies, universities, and neighborhoods, Arlington can take prompt and lower risk actions to test ways that can help people get from place to place quickly without relying on single occupancy vehicles — reducing congestion and filling service gaps until transit build out can be completed.

Lisa Nisenson leads Alta Planning + Design’s New Mobility groups and is founder of the award-winning start-up GreaterPlaces. She gave a 2015 TEDxArlington talk on building better transportation networks.

by Progressive Voice — March 23, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Michelle Winters

For Arlington to realize the benefits anticipated when the County approved its first Affordable Housing Master Plan (AHMP) in 2015, we need greater urgency in making the decisions needed to implement it.

Without some bold actions, most parts of Arlington are at risk of becoming enclaves for the rich rather than communities that welcome people from all walks of life. If Arlingtonians value our diversity, are we doing enough to keep Arlington accessible to people with a broad range of income levels – Arlington for everyone?

The AHMP, a component of Arlington County’s Comprehensive Plan, calls for 17.7 percent of the County’s housing stock to be affordable to renters earning no more than 60% of area median income (AMI) by 2040. Is 17.7 percent a lot? Not really. It’s basically holding steady – representing roughly the same share of households at this income level that we had in 2015. Just holding steady on affordability may be considered ambitious in a community like Arlington, because it will take a lot of investment to make it happen.

This winter, the County published its first annual report on the AHMP – Investing in Our Community. It’s an impressive report that shows progress on several fronts. Yet, a problem remains because the County is nowhere near the pace it needs to be in adding and preserving affordable units if it intends to meet the goals expressed in the 2015 plan.

In FY2016, the County added 219 units of committed affordable housing, but lost 874 units of market-rate affordable housing that had been affordable to renters at 60 percent of AMI. Contrary to the belief of many who are skeptical of investment in affordable housing, the County’s investment is not adding to the affordable housing stock — it’s not even keeping up with the loss.

With this track record, the County Manager’s proposed FY 2018 contribution to the Affordable Housing Investment Fund is not enough to stem the inevitable losses in coming years. He has proposed a contribution of $13.7 million, flat from the level provided in the prior year. Implementing the County’s plan will actually require at least double that amount over the long run.

Housing advocates recognize that there are other important needs that deserve attention and public support, especially in tough budget years. But shortchanging affordable housing compromises other County goals.

Take the educational achievement gap as an example. Research has shown that living in housing that’s healthy, safe, and affordable has positive impacts on a child’s ability to focus on her education. It also reduces stress for parents so that they can engage more with their children and the community. Housing is a critical investment that leverages returns in many other areas, an impact many have likened to a “vaccine” that can prevent a host of other problems.

We have other real world examples. In addition to affordable homes, our award-winning local affordable housing providers such as AHC and APAH provide after school programs, food distribution, workforce development, backpack drives, and other services that enhance the lives of their residents and set them up for success. Keeping a child in stable and affordable home is probably one of the most fundamental ways of supporting them, and without that support additional investments in education will not be as effective.

What will it take to meet the County’s affordable housing needs?

A principal County priority should be allocations for the Affordable Housing Investment Fund that are commensurate to the challenge. It can also mean looking at new ways to leverage the resources that we already have. With high demand and low affordable supply, we will need more than business as usual to make a dent in the problem.

For example, we issue bonds for school construction, infrastructure, and neighborhood improvements, but doing the same to invest in the long-term affordability of our housing stock has not yet been on the table. This kind of option — used recently in Seattle and Austin — deserves a closer look.

If we are going to break through and finally start making the right levels of investment in housing, County residents need to make it clear to the Board during this year’s budget cycle that Arlington cannot stay on its current trajectory. An affordable Arlington for everyone — including our workforce, our children, the elderly and the disabled — requires an investment, not just a plan.

Michelle Winters is the executive director of the Alliance for Housing Solutions in Arlington. AHS is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization working to increase the supply of affordable housing in Arlington and Northern Virginia through public education, facilitation and action. Learn more about the Arlington for Everyone campaign at http://www.allianceforhousingsolutions.org/.

by Gillian Burgess — March 16, 2017 at 12:15 pm 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Gillian Burgess

As Arlington grows, more people will travel around our County. Realistically, we don’t have space for more pavement, so we must find a way to allow more people to make more trips without clogging up our roads and parking lots.

Over the past few decades, Arlington County has steadily increased transportation choices, by making it safer and easier to walk, bike, and take transit to get around. Despite our growth, traffic congestion has stayed steady. This year, Arlington has the opportunity to make another such improvement on Washington Boulevard.

Arlington County is planning to expand the transportation network between East Falls Church and Westover by adding bike lanes on Washington Boulevard between North Sycamore Street and North McKinley Street. Best of all, the Virginia Department Of Transportation will contribute by painting the travel markings to incorporate bike lanes after the street is repaved later this year.

These lanes, which are called for in both the East Falls Church Area Plan and the Master Transportation Plan, will make biking west from the Metro and east to Westover (both of which will have Capital Bikeshare stations by the end of this year) much easier.

The route between the Metro and Westover shops via Washington Boulevard is shorter, flatter and easier to follow than via the trails. The lanes will connect to the current bike lanes on Washington Boulevard stretching east to George Mason Drive.

In order to fit in the bike lanes, VDOT will reallocate space that is currently used for parking cars in front of 21 houses, mostly on the south side of the road. This reallocation of space will allow for bike lanes in both directions.

The County has studied parking along Washington Boulevard and has observed parking patterns that support reallocating this space. People will generally have to go only one block farther away to find a free parking space and, in most places, people will only need to cross the street. Additionally, County staff believes that there will be significant available parking on side streets (which were not in the study, but should have been).

Bike lanes on Washington Boulevard will improve the transportation network for everyone in this area.

By allowing space on the road for people on bikes, people biking on Washington Boulevard will be safer, and cars won’t get stuck behind slower moving cyclists.

By making biking more comfortable, less hilly, and easier to follow, more people will choose to bike, improving traffic and parking availability.  Moreover, by diverting some bike traffic off of the W&OD and Custis Trails, these bikes lanes will improve the experience for people on our trails.

Putting in bike lanes now is also fiscally responsible. Because the lanes are being installed with repaving, the costs above what would already be spent for repaving are negligible.

By building out a transportation network that gives people options beyond the car, the County stands to save significant money in the future.

Arlington is building more schools, parks, and community centers, and car parking is a significant cost to these projects.  By making it easy and attractive to get to County locations by foot, by bike and via transit, we can reduce the amount of parking needed — with significant savings to the County.

Reallocating this space from parking to bike lanes is a good deal for the County and for the neighborhood. Change, of course, is difficult, especially for those immediately impacted. The County should look for creative solutions to ease the transition.

For example, Arlington could look at options for allowing Sunday-only parking on some of the neighborhood streets around Resurrection Lutheran Church. Arlington should also work with the schools and preschools in the area to ensure there are safe places for children to be dropped off and picked up by car or bike or on foot.

Westover and East Falls Church are becoming interesting, dynamic activities centers. With the opportunity to add an elementary school at the Reed School beside the Westover Library, delicious restaurants at the Westover shops, and expected development near the East Falls Church Metro stop, we can expect activity — and travel — through this area to increase.

Adding bike lanes on Washington Boulevard is an important step in improving our transportation network to address the increased needs in this area.

More information about this project can be found on the County’s project site.  The County is accepting public comment on the project until Friday, March 17.

Gillian Burgess is the current chair of Arlington County’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, the founder of Kidical Mass Arlington, and a member of the County’s Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission and APS’s Advisory Committee on Transportation Choices. She lives in Cherrydale with her husband and three children.

by Larry Roberts — March 9, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Larry RobertsProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Lawrence Roberts

This May, Arlington Democrats will participate in a caucus to nominate the Democratic candidate for County Board. The winner of that nomination will, in all likelihood, have the opportunity to be sworn in for a four-year term commencing January 1, 2018.

The new Board member will be succeeding Jay Fisette, the current Board Chair who has served as a County Board member since 1998. Jay has chaired the Board on five separate occasions (2001, 2005, 2010, 2014 and 2017).

It is sometimes hard to notice progress, and even history, when it is occurring. But as Jay is about to enter the final nine months of what will be 20 years of service on the County Board, I think it is important to remember the odds that Jay overcame to become the first openly gay elected official in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia and to reflect on how Jay has served as a “progressive voice” in Arlington and on the Board during a time of great change and progress in the County.

When I first met Jay, he was serving as the Director of the Northern Virginia AIDS Project of Whitman-Walker Clinic, a nonprofit community health center that was a leader in HIV/AIDS education, prevention, diagnosis and treatment. He had previously served as an auditor with the U.S. General Accounting Office.

Jay’s public service was inspired by the martyrdom of Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official, who was assassinated while serving on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. In 1993, he decided to run for the County Board and joined a field that included future County Board members Charles Monroe and Chris Zimmerman as well as School Board member Darlene Mickey.

Although Jay won the March 1993 caucus to the surprise of much of the Democratic establishment, he lost a special election that May by 206 votes. His opponent did not raise Jay’s sexual orientation as a campaign issue, but there is little doubt in the minds of those of us who worked for Jay’s election that even in Arlington many voters were not yet comfortable with electing a gay public official. Only two years later with another candidate, Democrats easily won back the seat in a general election.

Jay’s loss did not deter him from remaining active in electoral politics and he won many friends and additional supporters as he re-dedicated himself to Democratic politics and community service.

As Arlingtonians became more progressive in their views about sexual orientation, the electoral climate became more favorable. Jay ran again in 1997 and made history with his election to the Board – winning nearly 62 percent of the vote in the November election.

It is a testament to Jay’s successful tenure on the Board that the history he made is now almost an afterthought while he paved the way for many LGBT Virginians serving in elective office and as community leaders.

Speaking of his own future, Jay has said that he wants to work on “embracing and advancing a set of progressive values that are so important; values we have championed here in Arlington…” That serves as an excellent description of Jay’s tenure on the County Board.

He has been a consistent champion of environmental and open space initiatives, smart growth planning initiatives, multimodal transportation options, affordable housing, inclusiveness, and a strong social safety net. At the same time, he has been integral to the County’s sterling fiscal reputation and performance, maintaining its low crime rate, and the County’s increasing attractiveness to families, millennials, and seniors.

In recent years, Jay has worked to help Arlington to respond to increased competition to Arlington’s economic successes and to promote cooperation between the County Board and School Board to keep the Arlington Public Schools system among the best in the nation.

Jay will be remembered by those who lived through the experience for his steady leadership as the County and its public safety agencies responded to the September 11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

He also has gained respect around the region and the Commonwealth through his many leadership positions in organizations such as the Virginia Municipal League, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.

Jay will accomplish even more before stepping down at the end of the year. But as people campaign to succeed him, it is a good time to consider his many accomplishments for Arlington County.

Larry Roberts has been active in civic and political life in Arlington for nearly 30 years and is an attorney in private practice. He chaired the Arlington County Democratic Committee, a successful Arlington School Bond campaign, two successful statewide political campaigns, and served as Counselor to the Governor in Richmond.

by Progressive Voice — March 2, 2017 at 2:45 pm 0

Alfonso LopezProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By: Alfonso Lopez

This past weekend, the 2017 General Assembly Session adjourned after reviewing almost 2,000 bills and numerous changes to the two-year State Budget.

While we saw bi-partisan support around many budgetary issues and took some important steps forward, there remains much work to be done in job creation and economic development, public education, transit and transportation infrastructure, environmental protection, affordable housing, and protecting civil rights of all Virginians.

Instead, Republicans wasted time pushing Trump-like messaging bills attacking immigrants, the LGBT community, and women’s health care providers. They pushed legislation protecting polluters and predatory towing companies while opposing legislation to help working families in Virginia. As a result, Governor McAuliffe will have to use his veto pen, as he already did with legislation that would restrict access to women’s health care and expand access to deadly weapons.

State Budget

We were able to close a budget shortfall while protecting core services, like K-12 education. We secured overdue raises for state police, teachers, and state employees and increased funding for opioid treatment and supportive housing for those suffering from mental illness. Other bright spots included $11 million for Virginia’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, $1.3 million for the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, and a 2.5% increase in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. 

Unfortunately, this budget does not fund Virginia’s solar development authority and the Republican majority continues to refuse federal dollars to expand Medicaid coverage for those Virginians most in need. They also shortchanged programs such as the New Economy Workforce Credential Grant Program that helps train Virginians for unfilled jobs. 

The Good

My legislation to cut red tape for small businesses that want to become certified as Small, Women, and Minority-owned passed, as did my legislation ensuring fair treatment for tenants. In addition, I am working with the Governor to improve lead and copper safeguards for our drinking water.

Other victories included requiring insurance company coverage of birth control pills for up to 12-months, ensuring that school systems test drinking water for lead in pre-1986 buildings, and requiring community colleges to award academic credit for individuals that complete registered apprenticeship credentials. We also passed the METRO Safety Compact that establishes a safety oversight authority and creates financial/operational improvements for WMATA (Metro). 

The Bad

Among the steps backward was a bill making it harder for Arlington to address predatory towing. Despite this being a real problem in our community, Northern Virginia can no longer use commonsense protections available in other Virginia localities. 

By extending coal tax credits despite market forces that have driven down demand for coal, we continue to give away millions to polluting coal companies while they slash jobs in Southwest Virginia.

Despite major pressure to end partisan gerrymandering, the General Assembly refused to support nonpartisan redistricting. To avoid going on the record, the majority used a procedural tactic in subcommittee over member objections to avoid a recorded vote. 

Also defeated were stricter oversight of the student loan industry, common sense felony larceny threshold reform, and universal background checks to reduce gun violence. 

The Ugly

The General Assembly continues to push legislation demonizing immigrants and stoking anti-immigrant sentiments for political gain. These bills ignore the complicated nature of federal immigration law and make it very difficult for Virginia’s cities and counties to use effective policies that build trust among police departments, public schools, and immigrant communities that is essential for greater public safety.

We saw more bills designed to restrict women’s reproductive rights and give people license to discriminate against LGBT Virginians. We should never be writing such discrimination into the Virginia Code. 

Reconvened Session

On April 5th the General Assembly will return to Richmond for the Reconvened Session to consider the Governor’s amendments to bills and vetoes. We intend to sustain the Governor’s vetoes of legislation that “…makes Virginia less safe, economically vibrant, or open to people and businesses from every walk of life.”

Alfonso Lopez represents the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates and serves as the Democratic Whip. He and his family are long-time residents of Arlington. 

by Progressive Voice — February 23, 2017 at 1:00 pm 0

Nicole Merlene photoProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By: Nicole Merlene

For decades, Arlington has been at the forefront of community planning and development trends in the D.C. metro region, leading to significant economic successes.

For example, we advocated for and helped finance an underground Metro system along the Wilson Boulevard corridor that spurred development in areas like Ballston, once known primarily for car dealerships, and Rosslyn, which had problems with gang crime – turning them into leading neighborhoods in the County.

ART was created in 1998 to provide intra-County transit and affordable access to Metro hubs. After these milestones, we still have important work to do to achieve new heights as a leader in regional economic vitality.

To do so, Arlington should be more proactive in our approach to build on the successes we have created and move forward successfully. We are in need of honest self-reflection about our role and place in the DMV.

First, we should exercise greater leadership roles in regional planning discussions. A more active and consistent role by Arlington representatives with these stakeholder groups is essential to both our County and regional economic development goals. Too often we are presented with options rather than formulating and presenting them.

Second, with Arlington’s physical size restrictions, a commercial vacancy rate near 20%, a population considered fully employed, and housing prices that have been skyrocketing for decades, it is imperative that we provide a state of the art transitive community to move people as easily as possible into and out of Arlington to entice major employers to move here.

Commercial real estate taxes provide almost half of Arlington’s revenue, so we should be creative in finding ways, including net positive incentives and expenditures, to lower the commercial vacancy rate. Greater and more sustainable economic development will increase the county’s resources and the community benefits that we enjoy in Arlington.

Third, we need a widely-known and available “economic development toolbox” for developers, employers, and other community stakeholders to access and easily understand incentives for doing business in Arlington.

Our highly-educated population has been a potent tool in driving development to date, but there are programs at the local, state, and federal level that have been underutilized. At the federal level, programs such as New Market Tax Credits incentivize new development in areas that include census tracts surrounding areas like Ballston and Crystal City. On the state level, many programs remain largely untapped.

With a fully integrated economic development toolkit, we can maximize the accessibility and impact to our community.

If we are not proactive and innovative we won’t merely stay the way we are, we will lose out to competing localities that are more active in pursuing major employers aggressively – including federal agencies.

Other major cities have taken on and successfully contracted creative solutions for economic development incentives. New York City, for example, has taken on a $20 billion initiative for 2025 — OneNYC — to improve infrastructure, environmental, and social service assets across the city. They are relying on public-private-partnerships with private capital firms that invest in infrastructure and finding other creative financing solutions that benefit the both residents and business interests.

Various West Coast cities are developing plans with Uber to create large scale ride-sharing that is affordable for their respective metro regions.

At the same time, we should not only be looking at new possibilities, but also maximizing existing assets – ensuring that ART bus routes are highly efficient, Metro is properly maintained, and we are also taking seriously other infrastructure priorities such as the Arlington Memorial Bridge. We cannot merely wait for the federal government when faced with systemic failures.

There is little progressives and conservatives can agree on these days, but if Senator Schumer and President Trump are serious about getting an infrastructure deal done then our Congressional delegation needs to be sure it works for Arlington. In the same vein, Arlington needs to be ready to assert viable infrastructure options in anticipation of an infrastructure deal that may well be on the table.

To assure that we are heavily engaged in discussions on all levels, we also need to forge consensus within our County. Of course no solution pleases everyone – especially without consideration of multiple options guided by proactive initiatives for receiving community feedback.

In addition to our County Commissions, we should be attentive to conversations in forums such as the Civic Federation, various Business Improvement Districts, and more. Proactive and innovative idea communities can also serve as a great way to get more people more fully engaged.

Nicole Merlene is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington Young Democrats and the North Rosslyn Civic Association. She is Associate Director of Public Policy for Invest in the USA.

by Progressive Voice — February 16, 2017 at 3:00 pm 0

Emma Violand SanchezProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By: Emma Violand Sanchez

The Trump Administration’s words and actions regarding immigration and refugee ban have sparked fear in many communities across America, including Arlington County. They have also sparked broad discontent among Americans who believe, as I do, that the United States has been and IS a nation of immigrants — a land of opportunity where newcomers can, through hard work and perseverance, achieve better lives for themselves and their families.

But in today’s world, realizing the American Dream is becoming nearly impossible for our undocumented youth, our Dreamers. Instead of focusing on their education and the positive contributions they already bring to our nation, many immigrant and refugee families are now terrified that their hopes will be quashed and their hard work will have been for nothing.

Already we are hearing news of ICE raids in communities across Northern Virginia. These news reports do not even begin to describe the tragedy that is happening in our immigrant communities.

When you see a headline that says “ICE rounds up ‘illegal’ immigrants for deportation,” I want you to picture this: Picture a family that is working two or three jobs (jobs that other Americans do not wish to do); children who arrived here as toddlers or perhaps were eve born here and feel that this is their home; high school students who, like other young Americans, have dreams for the future – dreams of college, of marriage, of good jobs – paying back to society many times over the cost of their education.

Most importantly, I want you to picture your neighbors, for this tragedy is happening under your nose, to people who you cross paths with every day — to children who sit in the same classrooms and play in the same playgrounds as your children.

Currently public schools in Arlington serve students from 122 countries, including refugees from countries banned by President Trump’s executive order. Among those immigrant and refugee students enrolled in our schools are some exceptional students who add many positives to the school environment. 

In light of this reality we founded the Dream Project Inc. in 2011 in order to raise money to fund college scholarships for Dreamers – young people who live in and contribute to our community but whose immigration status (or that of their parents) prevents them from benefiting from in-state tuition rates at Virginia colleges.

In 2016 we provided 76 such Dreamers with scholarships to allow them to pursue post-secondary education at 18 different universities. 

One such student, Ola, came to the United States with her mother and sister after fleeing a dangerous political situation in Sudan. For Ola’s mother, who was raising her children alone, the last straw was when extremists in Sudan tried to force her daughters to undergo female circumcision.

Ola was behind in her studies but was able to enroll in a local high school to catch up. With the help of the Dream Project’s mentoring program and scholarships, Ola achieved academic success is now enrolled in a four-year university. As Ola told me, “My past is not a dark story – it is an engine that drives me to shoot for the stars.”

Under the new administration, major obstacles have arisen. Ola’s mother had an interview as part of her quest to gain political asylum; but asylum approval now have been placed on hold. As a result, Ola’s mother has lost her job. A family that had hoped their nightmare was behind them is now confronting new fears and anxieties. Ola continues to persevere with her studies at Marymount University. What possible benefit is served by denying someone like Ola an opportunity to pursue her dreams?

As I wrote at the beginning, many communities across America are feeling anxiety in the new political environment. I share their concerns and encourage all of you to join us in solidarity. Because only in solidarity will we be able to turn back the forces that have lost sight of what America truly stands for – as recognized by our iconic Statue of Liberty.

Dr. Emma Violand Sánchez is the founder and President of the Dream Project Board. She is a former chair of the Arlington School Board member and retired administrator. In January 2017 she was selected as a Washingtonian of the Year.

by Progressive Voice — February 9, 2017 at 2:00 pm 0

Matt de Ferranti Progressive VoiceProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By: Matt de Ferranti

If the past three weeks are prologue, we will be called upon frequently over the next four years to oppose policies that threaten longstanding American and Arlington values.

One way we can respond is to work locally to make sure that every Arlington student, regardless of his or her income or ethnicity, has a real opportunity to obtain an excellent education and pursue his or her version of the American Dream.

Education in Arlington

Two truths about the Arlington Public Schools (APS) stand out simultaneously: (1) APS is very good for many, many students across all demographic groups; and (2) for some students, our work to make sure they receive the education they need to succeed in the 21st Century is not done.

Good news

APS’s overall graduation rates, rates of proficiency on the Standards of Learning (SOLs) that the Commonwealth of Virginia requires for high school graduates, and other external indicators of school quality and student success are very good.

APS graduates 91.1 percent of its students by the most recent measure available and has one of the highest graduation rates in the state.

On SOLs skills proficiency Arlington also does well. In both the reading and math Standards of Learning Assessments, Arlington had an 87 percent pass rate in the 2015-2016 school year. Both rates beat the statewide averages by 7 percent.

Our challenge

The numbers also show that access to the American Dream through high quality education is not yet real for all students in Arlington. 

For example:

  • Arlington graduates only 74 percent of its low-income students compared to the overall APS rate of 91 percent. Graduation rates for Latino and African-American students are slightly below the statewide average.
  • As for proficiency on the SOL’s, low-income students reading pass rates are 71 percent, slightly better than the statewide average but well below the overall Arlington average of 87 percent. Similarly, proficiency rates in math for low-income students are better but still more than 10% below Arlington’s average. Proficiency rates for Latino and African-American students, while above 75 percent, are below the 87 percent average for APS as a whole.

So, what do these statistics mean?

To be clear, this does not mean APS does a bad job. APS leadership and the committed educators in APS are skilled, high quality, relentless, and do inspiring work.

This isn’t to be critical of the significant investments Arlington makes in education. We have the best results in the Washington DC region in part because we believe in education as the path to success for all and invest accordingly. As we continue to grow, we’ll need to keep our eye on investing appropriately to educate our growing and changing student population.

This isn’t to say that more money spent on schools is the only way to improve schools. Accountability for student outcomes for every student at the APS and school level is essential.

Instead, these numbers show that Arlington is not yet a community where every child attains an excellent education.

How can we strengthen the American dream in Arlington?

It is going to take broad-based community engagement — parents and non-parents — to help all our kids get there. To be clear, APS has an important role to play, focusing more directly on identifying students who are at risk of not demonstrating proficiency of SOLs or not graduating at all and providing additional resources to improve their odds of succeeding in life.

For example, some students joining the system are behind students who have been in APS from the beginning. We should analyze with more granularity the needs of these students and how to maximize their chances for success.

Similarly, APS should focus additional resources on Arlington’s Tiered System of Support, which improves instruction for all students. APS needs a targeted strategy with specific actions and a timeline to ensure measurable progress.

But Arlington parents, community members, and volunteers should also play a greater role. We can volunteer through our PTAs and APS Advisory Committees. We can ask questions about graduation and proficiency rates for all students.

And our decisions about important topics such as boundaries, academic expectations, and investments in our schools should reflect a broad community commitment to the success of all students in Arlington.

By engaging as a community and living our values, we can successfully take responsibility for making sure all our students, from Westover to Carlin Springs and from Nauck to Spout Run, graduate from APS ready to realize the American Dream. 

Matt de Ferranti works at a nonprofit that improves education outcomes for Native American students. He is a member of the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee on the Elimination of the Achievement Gap, the Budget Advisory Council to the APS School Board, and the Joint Facilities Advisory Board.

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