I have always been an activist and an advocate, and a firm believer in educating those around me about the value of raising your voice to create change.
Raising my voice in advocacy was my path to running for the Fairfax County School Board. The year before I decided to become a candidate, my daughter attended Glasgow Middle School. When I visited the school I was appalled at the condition of the building: the librarians ran to cover the computers with trash bags when it rained because the roof leaked, a small remedial class was held in what had been a janitor’s closet because there was not enough classroom space, the science teachers pushed carts full of materials from room to room for presentations because there were not enough classrooms to have a classroom dedicated to science courses. Students’ lunch periods began at 9:30 a.m. because the cafeteria and kitchen were too small. I will not continue with this list (although I easily could do so), but will end this description of the ridiculously inadequate and deteriorating school building with the incident that sent me into strident activism. One day a hallway floor melted because the steam heating pipes beneath had burst, opening up a huge and dangerous hole in that floor. The hallway had to be immediately cordoned off for the students’ safety.
I began to call my School Board member every night (I am not sure why he kept answering the phone) to ask why the building had not been renovated or replaced. I learned a lot about how our school system works and the local politics involved.
Nine years later, after I was elected as the Mason District School Board member, a new Glasgow Middle School was built. Is there a lesson here? Only that persistence and learning how our different levels of government work is the the way to effectively advocate with any hope of success.
This is a lesson I want to share. Our state government is so complicated and the legislature so fast-moving that regular newsletters, drop-in community hours, town halls, bringing advocates and legislators together in issue-based caucuses during the General Assembly session, and meeting one on one with constituents and advocates is simply not enough. Even though I regularly use all of those methods, too often constituents and advocates ask me to draft and file a bill on a certain subject or to support a particular piece of legislation long after the deadlines for doing so or after House of Delegates has adjourned for the year. Therefore, I am enriching my communications repertoire by organizing workshops and issue-based forums.
I am jointly hosting one such forum next week: “Women’s Perspectives on Criminal Justice” on March 19 from 7 p.m. – 9 p.m. at Temple Beth El Hebrew, 3830 Seminary Road. My partner in organizing this forum is Friends of Guest House. Our panel is composed of recently incarcerated women and those who work with them to rebuild their lives in our community. Please let me know if you are interested in learning more about the injustice in our criminal justice system and how we can work together to combat it.
I welcome all to attend this forum and to suggest how I can facilitate other learning opportunities.