Last Saturday morning I attended the Democratic Women's Caucus in Richmond. Many of the eleven newly-elected women bound for Virginia's House of Delegates were there including former journalist Danica Roem, our first openly transgender elected official. The atmosphere was electric, given the tremendous victory for women and Democrats November 7th. Danica gave a rousing speech about not shying away from who you are and received a standing ovation. She soundly defeated Bob Marshall, Virginia's self-styled "chief homophobe" known for his bathroom bill and handing out plastic fetuses on the floor of the House. "Bathroom Bob" will not be missed.
I then headed over to the Virginia Conservation Network gathering to hear presentations on climate policy, renewable energy and the proposed fracked gas pipelines threatening the 5th District. Bob Shippee, Legislative chair of the Virginia Sierra Club talked about solar power. "Job creation will be massive if we can increase solar generation to 10% of Virginia's needs. That means 64,000 jobs." Solar jobs in the US are growing 6 times faster than any other jobs. What holds Virginia back is the 1% net metering cap which Shippee says must be eliminated. Solar, he said, should not have to be dominated by Dominion. "We need real community solar."
Peter Anderson of Appalachian Voices gave an update on the high pressure fracked gas pipelines that threaten so many farms, businesses and communities in the 5th district. The pipelines, he stressed, will not benefit Virginians. "These pipelines will not save us money on our energy bill and are not needed to keep the lights on in Virginia". The climate impact is truly alarming. Leaking methane from the pipelines, he said, will produced greenhouses gases equaling 46 new coal-fire power plants.
I then joined the #waterislifeva demonstration at the Capitol. Hundreds of people gathered to hear the Reverend Paul Wilson talk about Union Hill, the historic freedmen community in Buckingham County, that will be blighted by a fracked gas compressor station. Participants from many counties formed a human chain around the Capitol building to protest the inevitable pollution of over a thousand waterways in the path of the pipelines, including the James River. Carolyn Reilly and her family from Four Corners Farm in Franklin County were there with teeshirts and signs. They have just received notice that their land will be seized by eminent domain. "They dropped the papers in the driveway," Carolyn's mother said. "They didn't even bother to knock on the door." Virginia's property rights are being trampled and lives are being crushed.
Monday night I was back at the Moton Museum in Prince Edward County, the old high school where the desegregation movement began. All of the candidates were invited to speak and I invoked the memory of Barbara Johns and the students who showed such courage in their 1951 strike against poor conditions in the African-American high school. (450 students were packed into a building built for 180 and some classes had to be held in the bus.) After the speeches, a woman approached me and said, "I was one of those students. That was a long time ago. And it's terrible to see that it's happening again." The emergence from the shadows of white supremacists has sent a profound chill through this community. There are many older African Americans in Farmville who never learned to read and write properly because the Black schools were shut down for so many years after the walk out. White families were given tax breaks to send their children to private schools. The squeeze on public school funding today and embrace of vouchers is the reincarnation of what happened in Prince Edward County 60 years ago.
Thursday night I was at Staunton Hill in Charlotte County where Janet Bruce and Anne T. Pettus hosted a meet-and-greet. A hundred guests from many surrounding countries turned up and I was delighted to be the excuse for such a gathering. There were farmers, local officials, lawyers and entrepreneurs, a woman who runs an opiates clinic, the Superintendent of Schools, Democratic Committee Chairs, a tree farmer who is turning a thousand acres over to solar panels to farm the sun. The Superintendent talked about how state funding for the schools had been cut by 17%. Everyone stayed late. They were thrilled to see so many Democrats in one room.