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Mr. U Goes to Richmond

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MW Young Democrats attending the Virginia General Assembly’s Lobbying Day

MW Young Democrats attending the Virginia General Assembly’s Lobbying Day

MW Young Democrats attending the Virginia General Assembly’s Lobbying Day

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Earlier this week, The MW Young Democrats participated politically by attending the Virginia General Assembly’s Lobbying Day. The ten students selected to attend lobbied their delegates and senators on behalf of OneVirginia2021, an organization which aims to pass a fair redistricting amendment for the Virginia Constitution by the next census in 2020. “We presented the group with the opportunity to lobby with the SCA and Friends of Virginia Governor’s Schools (FOVGS) or OneVirginia2021, and the club members overwhelmingly picked OneVirginia2021,” said Young Democrats co-President Kate Seltzer (’17). “The club officers figured this would be a good way to start up club activities after the post-election lull.”

 

At about 8:15 am on Monday, representatives from OneVirginia2021 debriefed the club and the 150 or so adult volunteer citizen-lobbyists in a City Council assembly room across Mayor Stoney’s office about the particular pieces of legislation filed this GA term for which they would be lobbying—House Joint Resolution 763, sponsored by Del. Steven Landes (R-25th), and Senate Joint Res. 290, co-sponsored by Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) and Sen. Jill Vogel (R-27th).  HJ 763 would add a single sentence to the Virginia Constitution, outlawing political intent while drawing district maps, while SJ 290 added further restrictions on the districting process. In order to amend the Virginia Constitution, the GA must pass a piece of legislation twice, once in one year and once after the next round of House of Delegates elections. If the citizens want to enact serious redistricting reform, then these amendments must be passed either this year or the next, in order to be re-voted on next year and still come into effect before the 2020 census. After jotting down notes on some of the key talking points and putting on their ‘I’VE BEEN GERRYMANDERED’ stickers, the students headed out to the General Assembly office building, a few blocks away.

 

There was only one problem. The line to enter the GA was massive—a whole host of organizations had come in to lobby that day—and it was raining, heavily. Isabel Galgano (’18) and Avery Gagne (’17) escaped the brunt of the downpour, using Isabel’s umbrella, but the rest of the group, who left the City Council building later, got soaked. Aashri Aggarwal (’19) had the foresight to bring a small umbrella, under which three people took refuge. The line slowly snaked through the GA’s security as the students grew colder and wetter until finally, the students made it into the building. Omar Karim (’17) and Catherine Qian (’18) immediately bee-lined for the closest restroom. Said Qian afterward in a hasty explanation, “I took handfuls of paper towels and did my best to dry off my jacket.” Karim concurred. The kids from Richmond and Hanover took the elevator up to their appointments, but the Henrico residents, after freshening up in the restroom, regrouped in a basement area, where the House and Senate page rooms were.

       

Seltzer and Galgano met first with Del. Manoli Loupassi’s (R-68th) staff. Galgano offered a jaded view on the effectiveness of the meeting itself in changing lawmakers’ opinions. “I don’t think [Del. Loupassi] will change his mind specifically because of my voice or lobbying effort, because that is just not how politics works generally, but I think any effort, large or small, can be effective overall, even if it’s just showing public opinion on an issue.” Dharaa Rathi (’17), Karim, Aggarwal, Qian, and Parth Kotak (’17) tried to catch Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-12th) between appointments, but instead met with Mallory McCune, her legislative assistant. Afterwards, that group of five joined Sophia McCrimmon (’17) and Gagne, back from their meetings with Hanover legislators, and Mr. Ulmschneider and met with Del. Jimmie Massie (R-72nd). Though Del. Massie was initially receptive of OneVirginia2021’s message, he quickly tried to deflect from coming out emphatically in favor of HJ 763, pointing us instead to talk to the legislators on the House Privileges and Elections Committee. He also compared districting to the sausage-making process, describing how excellent a state Virginia is on educational and economic issues—the sausage was good—and how redistricting reform may target a problem which did not exist. Maggie Walker’s students were not convinced. “I was definitely disappointed with the slightly patronizing and deflecting tone Delegate Massie took with us; it’s one thing to openly disagree on reform, but it’s another to coolly disregard our opinions,” Rathi added. Karim went a step further. “For Dunnavant, her aids were definitely supportive of young, civic activism, and I can definitely see a potential impact on her decision. Massie, on the other hand, needs to stop playing with sausages and understand no amount of gerrymandering will save him next election should he keep such an arrogant attitude towards the subject.”

 

Though they may not have been able to convincingly pull support for HJ 763 and SJ 290, the students were generally optimistic about the lobbying experience. First-time lobbyist Aggarwal learned something important about local government, saying, “Standing in the rain was unfortunate, but it was very intriguing getting to see how the legislative branch worked on the state level.” Rathi summed up the value of lobbying, stating, “Lobbying is generally an empowering experience and I’m really grateful I got the opportunity to take part in democracy.” Familiarity with lobbying and reaching out to legislators is a vital skill for Maggie Walker students who aim to be politically involved in the future, and this excursion on behalf of the Young Democrats helped further that cause.

 

Other Maggie Walker students were there lobbying at the GA as well or plan to lobby in the near future. On behalf of FOVGS, junior class officers Will Larson (’18), Ashley Nelson (’18), Caitlin Beaver (’18), and Brittani Telfair (’18) lobbied, and Kiera Goddu (’17) attended a legislator coffee at Lt. Governor Ralph Northam’s office and a reception at the Governor’s Mansion on behalf of her mentorship at Planned Parenthood. On February 7th, the Gender and Sexuality Alliance at Maggie Walker will join Equality Virginia and sponsor a day of action at the GA. The group is looking for representatives to join them for a field-trip-excused day consisting of a lobbying session, a sponsored lunch, and a legislative reception—interested students should contact Sarah Law (’17).  

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