Why Restorative Justice Matters

by Sharon Solorzano

The Vulnerable Communities team met this week to view and discuss the documentary “13th,” which researches the dramatic rise of prison populations since 1970. The film exposes the disturbing racism and profiteering behind imprisonment; in fact, according to the NAACP, “African Americans are incarcerated at more than 5 times the rate of whites.”

I expressed frustration that the film educated us, yet left us lacking in direction for what we could do. Jonathan Krall countered that  Grassroots Alexandria is doing something about it, by backing Restorative Justice and Data Transparency Initiatives in the City of Alexandria.

What is Restorative Justice, and why should we care in Grassroots Alexandria? Restorative Justice is an educational philosophy that:

“…empowers students to resolve conflicts on their own and in small groups, and it’s a growing practice at schools around the country. Essentially, the idea is to bring students together in peer-mediated small groups to talk, ask questions, and air their grievances. For the growing number of districts using restorative justice, the programs have helped strengthen campus communities, prevent bullying, and reduce student conflicts. And the benefits are clear: early-adopting districts have seen drastic reductions in suspension and expulsion rates, and students say they are happier and feel safer.” Continue reading “Why Restorative Justice Matters”

#takeaknee4justice

by Brian Sando

On August 26, 2016, before the 2016 election, NFL player Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem of a preseason game to raise awareness of police brutality and white nationalism. Kaepernick and others are speaking out against mass incarceration and violent policing.

Taking a knee is not about the flag, but is rather a courageous stand for justice. To quote Kaepernick: “I am not going to stand up [during the anthem] for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Kaepernick and other athletes are exercising their free speech in the context of militarized sporting events. The Department of Defense paid $5.4 million to fourteen NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 for military displays including fly-overs, Jumbotron veteran salutes, and recruiting efforts. Such activity by the Pentagon represents two crucial elements of Fascism: powerful and continuing nationalism, and supremacy of the military.

By taking a knee, we are taking a stand for criminal justice reform and for democracy. As a member of Grassroots Alexandria who is committed to opposing white nationalism, I invite others to join me.

The “Appomattox” statue isn’t history

by Jonathan Krall

Like many other Civil War monuments, the Appomattox statue was erected during the Jim Crow era for the purpose of intimidating African Americans into submitting. In the era of the New Jim Crow, it continues to serve its purpose. It reminds the Black community that they are not yet equal. If African Americans had greater standing in our society, those statues, along with the confederate flags, would be long gone. These Civil War statues aren’t history. They are active players in our modern political arena.

The active presence of white supremacy is all around us. It marched in Charlottesville. It lives in Old Town, in the person of Richard Spencer.  When the nazis in Charlottesville, chanted “You will not replace us; Jews will not replace us,” they were literally saying that only “white” people should hold prominent places in our society. Is it any coincidence that Trump’s shutdown of the DACA program will remove college-educated immigrants from jobs coveted by white supremacists? Instead of accepting white supremacy, we must ensure that these hateful monuments no longer hold prominent places in our society. To be silent is to be complicit. Continue reading “The “Appomattox” statue isn’t history”

Alexandria City Council takes a stand on Healthcare

By Sarah Stott

On September 12, the Alexandria City Council unanimously passed a resolution entitled, “Regarding Affordable and Attainable Health Care in the City of Alexandria: A resolution to protect and expand access to quality, affordable health care services for all Alexandrians.”

After 10 WHEREAS clauses with important background information, the resolution made the following points:

  • The City supports initiatives to improve the Affordable Care Act and to expand Medicaid in VA.
  • The City opposes repeal of ACA, cuts to Medicaid or Medicare and cuts to the Prevention & Public Health Fund.
  • The City requests that the Public Health Advisory Commission keep the City Council informed of changes in State and Federal programs.

This resolution is important at a time when members of Congress are attempting to weaken the Country’s current healthcare system. The Graham-Cassidy bill released last week is a perfect example.
Continue reading “Alexandria City Council takes a stand on Healthcare”

No Is Not Enough

by Jonathan Krall

We follow the daily news with a sense of horror. Some of us tune in to the Politically Reactive podcast, where two comedians help us make sense of the news. Recently, author Naomi Klein, author of No is Not Enough, appeared on that show to remind us that we must do more than simply resist the anti-democratic policies of the current White House.

She spoke about Trump’s “brand.” Trump, she tells us, is selling the idea that “winners” have no limits. They can act with impunity. Giving attention to his individual acts of lawbreaking and rulebreaking helps him build his brand. Instead, she suggests, we must identify and oppose the brand itself. We must direct attention to the moral black hole that that his brand represents. If oligarchs have no limits, then the rest of us have no protection.

Looking at the big picture, Klein suggests that we must present better, moral, ideas in contrast to those of white supremacists and oligarchs. Whether discussing healthcare, the environment, or civil rights, we must expose this simple fact: The Trump “brand” is the destruction of any and all protective safeguards, such as the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, that are the hallmark of civilization. Those of us who believe that government should protect citizens from, for example, poverty in old age, have a duty to act.

The podcast can be heard here. The Naomi Klein interview begins 23 minutes into the podcast.

Anti-Fascist Protest FAQ (frequently asked questions)

by Jonathan Krall

Q: Huh?
A: We in Grassroots Alexandria, along with our allies in Christ Church and other groups, hold rallies to oppose white supremacy and Fascism on the 2nd and 4th Sundays each month. The protests are held at King and Patrick Streets in Old Town, near the residence and offices of our local Nazi, Richard Spencer, and the National Policy Institute. We are often questioned. Here are some answers.

Q: What is Fascism?
A: Robert Paxton, who is widely considered the father of fascism studies, defined Fascism as “a form of political practice distinctive to the 20th century that arouses popular enthusiasm by sophisticated propaganda techniques for an anti-liberal, anti-socialist, violently exclusionary, expansionist nationalist agenda.”

Q: What does white supremacy have to do with Fascism?
A: Similar to the Nazi persecution of Jewish, gay, or other groups of people in Germany, white nationalists in the USA want to deport or lock up Hispanic, Muslim, Jewish, African American, and other peoples. Richard Spencer has been clear: he wants to turn the USA into a “white enthno-state.”

Q: Are you disrupting businesses in Old Town? Are you costing them money?
A: Our Anti-Fascist Team volunteers, and our allies, protest for one hour, twice a month, from 12:30 to 1:30pm. To minimize our impact on businesses, we begin on time, end on time, and keep the sidewalk clear.

Continue reading “Anti-Fascist Protest FAQ (frequently asked questions)”

Educating Myself

by Jonathan Krall

This post is personal. I’ve been reading a lot of books and attending a lot of meetings. A constant theme has been “intersectionality.” Intersectionality is the simple fact that social justice issues intersect. Improved healthcare creates economic opportunities. Restorative justice in our schools strengthens our communities to better withstand over-policing. To do this work I have to learn, constantly. My fellow volunteers do the same, sharing what they’ve learned. If we’re going to get through this, together, we’ve got a lot of learning to do.

My first glimmer of the scope of the problem came in the Occupy Wall Street days. I wasn’t occupying anything, but did want to understand. I picked up a thick book on economics. Within a few pages, I learned that I am not an enthusiastic student of economics. I learned that the economy is a mess because the people in charge of making it work aren’t. I learned that many of those people are Congressmen. Long before finishing the book, I concluded that clobbering a Congressman with a thick book on economics is a pretty appealing idea, especially in comparison to the thought of reading it.

Since joining Grassroots Alexandria, I’ve learned more than I ever thought I wanted to know about fascism, healthcare, Israel & Palestine, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, over-policing, welfare reform, and white supremacy. On the other hand, I’ve been privileged to learn about civil rights, restorative justice, police reform, gender, and intersectionality. I’ve been privileged to meet and learn from amazing people. I’ve learned to narrow my work to just a few issues. I’ve learned that I’m not the only one who feels we are standing on the verge of a new civil rights movement.

As we move forward, we will share what we learn, and see how others help us integrate our ideas with their own. To do this, we need to speak up in public. We will also speak up in Congress, but I won’t bring along that thick book on economics. I might be tempted to use it. This is a nonviolent movement.

Alexandria demands action

We at Grassroots Alexandria are horrified by the shootings in Del Ray on June 14, 2017, which targeted US government officials and workers, ordinary citizens, and law enforcement protecting them. Our thoughts and prayers go out to our hero citizens who, simply by being present or doing their jobs, found themselves in harms way. We affirm our commitment to nonviolent, nonpartisan political action and stand with groups such as Moms Demand Action against gun violence.

As a community, we must take concrete action to reduce violence. Thoughts and prayers are not enough. The way forward is through community dialogue and collective action that are guided by the principles of respect, equality, and justice. We value all members of our community, especially the most vulnerable among us, and stand with them against violence and injustice.

Alexandria responds to hateful signs posted in Del Ray

As everyone has seen, signs supporting white supremacy appeared all over Del Ray this weekend. Here is the story.

LaDonna Sanders, past president of NAACP Alexandria, posted this in response to a FaceBook  post about this issue:

“I truly need for ppl to stop acting surprised…and stop blaming these kinds of acts on  Richard Spencer’s move into the City or Trump…white supremacists, white supremacy,  oppression, and injustice occur in Alexandria City everyday and people turn a blind eye!

Take a look at the disproportionality in suspension rates between students of color and their counterparts….look at how the police department, and neighbors responded during those community meeting after those shootings last year uptown…That darn confederate statute still standing in the middle of S. Washington St despite the trauma it causes for the few black people left living in the City (yes I know City Council voted to have it removed…and neither of our state delegates drafted legislation to have the statue removed)”

Our neighbors have been asking “what should we do?” This response comes from Jonathan Krall of Grassroots Alexandria:

“I’m pretty sure white supremacists would like us to continue to oppress communities of color. Perhaps an appropriate response would be for us to adjust our policies so we are no longer doing that.

Put another way, white supremacists are using our criminal justice system to accomplish their mission. Perhaps we should stop them.

Having said all that, I understand that my neighbors really are shocked. I’m on a learning curve myself. The basic reality is that we are living in a society that withholds opportunity and places barriers in the path of non-white residents. The polite way to say this is ‘white privilege is real,’ but even that makes it sound like everything is basically OK except that white people are getting a little something extra. The reality is that everything is not OK.”

Hello world!

Grassroots Alexandria was born on December 19, 2016, at a meeting called by co-founders Sarah Stott and Jonathan Krall. The impetus was the 2016 election, which led many to worry that democracy in the USA was not working well enough.

A founding idea of Grassroots Alexandria is that, in a democracy, individuals need a personal political practice. A political practice is like an excercise practice or a spiritual practice. It is an element of a healthy life.

“A personal political practice keeps me, my political allies, and my political leaders informed about my most important political goals. I will devote time, on a regular basis, to my practice.”

To support each other in developing our political practices, we found common interests and formed “teams.” Our current teams are: Environmental Stewardship, Healthcare, Vulnerable Communities, Anti-fascist, LGBTQ, and Communications.