Although I have lived in Virginia for 43 years, I had never visited the State Capitol or General Assembly until this past week. But when lobbying days were scheduled on four straight days for organizations and issues I cared about, I decided to make the trip. It helped, of course, that I am retired and that my son’s family lives in the Richmond area. But I found it to be a very enlightening and satisfying experience.
The first draw was the Northern Virginia lobbying day for OneVirginia2021, the bipartisan coalition working on redistricting reform. (OneVirginia2021 has planned lobbying days for every Tuesday in the session.) On Wednesday, I attended the League’s Women’s Legislative Roundtable (WLRT), which is held every Wednesday (February 7 is the designated League Lobby Day; see https://lwv-va.org/womens-legislative-round-table/ for more information). And on Thursday and Friday, I participated in a rally and legislative visits organized by a coalition of organizations, including the League, seeking ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
In each case, the day began with a briefing by the sponsoring organization. In the case of the WLRT, we met with Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, executive director of the Virginia ACLU, who focused on issues related to voting rights and incarceration. Afterwards, I tagged along with members of the Williamsburg League to meet with the press secretary of the Senate Republican Caucus to discuss several issues, but particularly those related to the state League’s study of funding related to behavioral health care. In the afternoon, I watched the House of Delegates session, and enjoyed seeing the newly elected women delegates in action.
On Tuesday, redistricting reform activists met with our state senator, Dick Saslaw. We had a good discussion about redistricting issues, that followed up on questions I had asked at his town hall in Falls Church a few days before. I met with Del. Marcus Simon two days later. In all of these instances, the legislators or their staff members were gracious in making time for me, particularly since I had not made an appointment.
On Thursday, I joined women and men at a rally on Capitol Square in support of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. In 1982, supporters fell three states short of the number needed for ratification. In March 2017, Nevada became the latest state to ratify the amendment, and we would like to make Virginia the next. On Thursday Dels. Dawn Adams, Hala Ayala, Cheryl Turpin, Alfonso Lopez and Mark Keam all spoke at the rally. It was interesting to hear several of them say that they remembered being taken to pro-ERA rallies by their mothers during the earlier ratification battles. When the Senate session began that day, ERA supporters filled several rows in the gallery and were introduced and recognized. I stayed on to listen to the debate and vote on a pending redistricting bill. On Friday, I took my 20-month-old granddaughter to a meeting with the staff of HER legislator. This was a more challenging discussion, but one I was happy to join in. After a diaper change, we were late to arrive at the Friday rally. But Lucy and I were rewarded when a speaker stopped to interact with her and to try to adjust her mittens. It turned out to be First Lady Pam Northam, whose staff caught the moment for her Twitter feed, and published a heart-warming message about how ratification of the ERA was so important for the next generation of women.
If that wasn’t enough reason to travel to Richmond, there is much interesting history surrounding the Capitol Building itself, and I also made time to visit the Museum of Fine Arts, which has interesting permanent exhibits, and a special exhibit on China’s terracotta warriors, continuing on into March. Even if you can’t make it to Richmond, the General Assembly has made it easier to track its activities. You can now follow sessions and committee meetings through video streaming. See https://virginiageneralassembly.gov/membersAndSession.php?secid=1&activesec=0#!hb=1&mainContentTabs=0. You can access the State League’s action alerts at https://lwv-va.org/alerts/, or follow those of organizations whose issues you most care about.