Today I’m announcing my candidacy for Delegate of Virginia’s 26th House District. With your ideas, and support of people across the district -- from Bergton to Harrisonburg to Massanutten, we begin the work of building a future together that stands for fairness, liberty, and thriving local communities.
I grew up here in Broadway. Now I live in Harrisonburg, and I’ve been working hard to serve these communities I love. I’m involved in local volunteer organizations and local government. And I know the people of this district are resilient, creative, and caring.
I see local educators and health professionals working everyday to support members of our community facing unbelievable challenges. I am inspired by the determination of my first-generation students working full time, raising families, and still attending citizenship classes every week because they want to become Americans. When the floods hit Bergton and Fulks Run, we all saw our neighbors pull together to rebuild and support each other. When local farmers were left high and dry by a multinational poultry company, they banded together to create the Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative. After the Mosque in Harrisonburg was vandalized, we rallied behind our Muslim neighbors.
That’s because here in the Valley, we know that our neighbor’s struggle is our struggle. And we’re demanding representation in our state government that reflects our resilient, creative and loving community. We want representatives who will fight to make our voices heard in Richmond, over the demands of corporate lobbyists.
Today we’re facing a very serious social and moral crisis. We’re going to be judged by what we did (or did not) do when the federal government trampled on our Constitutional rights. Are we going to stand by as they break up the families of our neighbors and co-workers? Are we going stay home if they auction off our public land for fracking and pipelines? Are we going to remain silent as they pass legislation that makes it harder to vote? No, we’re going to stand together and fight back! We’re gonna fight back not only by resisting overreach from the federal government. We are going to do it by building a state government that puts the rights and interests of the people first.
The strategy of the elites that has led us to this point is to divide us up and distract us. Billionaires and special interest groups push hot-button social issues onto our state agendas to divide and distract us while they quietly push through legislation that robs all of us of our rights and resources. While they provoke fights about bathroom bills, they push through legislation to prevent us from seeing what chemicals are used in hydrofracking. While they pit us against each other along religious lines, they promote bills that make it harder for local governments to create affordable broadband internet services.
Our state legislature doesn’t represent the values of the people of the Commonwealth. They keep low profiles, and they thrive on low voter turnout in state elections. A lot of these incumbent politicians and their corporate donors are terrified by the prospect of millions of Virginians coming together to engage in the political process in a effective and meaningful way.
And that’s what we’re here to talk about today. There’s hope! If we all stand together, and we don’t allow political fearmongers to divide us up -- we the people have the power to build a movement that will bring jobs, health, and security -- not only for us -- but for future generations.
In the Shenandoah Valley, we have is a history of standing together. In the 1880s, white farmers and former slaves stood together to stop our state government from de-funding Virginia public schools in order to repay unfair debts to Wall Street bankers. Sound familiar? They also stood together against a poll tax that denied poor the citizens their vote. Well, guess what? Virginia legislators are using the same old tactics today. This year, Delegate Wilt co-sponsored a bill that would have required new voters to show their birth certificates, or buy a passport in order to register to vote in state elections. How many of you all have an extra $165 to pay for a passport to vote for a state delegate?
More than a century ago, the Shenandoah Valley realized that in order to get political power, they had to stand together across the racial divide. They upended the political power structure in Virginia, and I believe we can do it again in 2017.
We have to stand together and realize that our neighbor’s struggle is our struggle.
The immigrant fighting for a living wage and safe working conditions at the poultry plant -- shares a struggle for dignity and fair compensation with the family farmers who raised the birds and were just told by the poultry company to upgrade their chicken houses or lose their contract.
The landowner protesting the theft of her family’s property by a gas pipeline company -- is struggling under a rigged state legal system, alongside the ex-convict who can’t vote (or find a decent job) even after paying his dues to society.
The single parent working two jobs just to make it through the month -- shares a struggle with the small business owner whose livelihood is being threatened by the big box store that moved in next door.
I know the struggle of being both unemployed and underemployed in the Valley. In 2013 I was driving a cab to pay the bills. You meet all sorts of folks you’d never run into otherwise, driving a cab. You see lots of poverty. I would often pick someone up at a restaurant where they just finished a shift, and drop them off at Walmart to start their second job. Or drive refugees from Harrisonburg 25 miles to Timberville just to interview for a job at the poultry plant. One night, I got a call to pick up a woman at Waffle House after she’d finished her shift around 3:00 in the morning, and drove her across town to pick up her toddler at a 24-hour daycare center. These are good, hard-working folks who’ve had some unlucky breaks. The fact that they’re working hard and spinning their wheels is wrong. We need better opportunities for people to succeed in Virginia.
Politicians in Richmond tell us “we can’t afford” to pay for a living wage, or a just legal system, or healthcare for all Virginians. But we know that’s not true. It’s a matter of priorities. It’s a question of siding with the people and making large corporations play by the same rules that we have to follow.
No one can serve two masters. That’s why this will be a campaign funded and driven by small contributions from everyday people. We’re going to take our campaign directly to you all with good, old-fashioned door-to-door conversations and town hall meetings.
This campaign is about the people of the 26th District, and how we have to find a way to work together to protect our land and our people, and create new solutions to these serious challenges we’re facing.
I don’t have all the answers, which is why I’m looking forward to working with you all. In just a few minutes, we’re going to have a discussion to hear some of your concerns and ideas, so please stick around and be a part of that.
I’ve been serving the people of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County for the past decade, and I’m committed to continuing to serve -- to stand up for fairness and liberty, and to support thriving local communities. I believe that we deserve a legislature that reflects those values. Today I’m asking to work with you to bring together the people of the 26th district, so that we can create a Virginia that works for all of us, not just the wealthy corporate donors.
We’re continuing the long and difficult task of transforming Virginia, and of transforming America. When historians look back at this moment in history, we want them to say that the people of Shenandoah Valley not only took a stand against an authoritarian government trampling on our Constitution, but that we came together and created a government that represents everyone. If we all realize that our neighbor’s struggle is our struggle, we the people have the power to make that happen.