Lately, Grassroots Alexandria has been the subject of public criticism over our engagement with City Council and our efforts to shift school resources away from policing and towards wellness. In the latest example, published by the Alexandria Times on February 10, two Alexandrians take issue with the public process. Complaints about the public process are common, but they do not usually involve personal accusations and innuendo. While scorched-earth politics is sadly accepted on the national scene, it should not be tolerated at the local level. We should never pit neighbor against neighbor by demonizing each other. If people who engage in the public process are attacked for doing so, we might not have a public process at all. Continue reading “In Defense of the Public Process”
By Rebecca Loesberg, writing for Grassroots Alexandria
Recent fighting and community tragedy at and nearby Alexandria schools have many residents raising the issue of safety in our schools. These residents are right—there is a safety issue in ACPS, but it’s not the one you think. And, there is something we can do about it. What we do have is a bunch of children returning to in person school after over a year of at-home learning, some in-person learning, and continued isolation due to COVID-19. From a mental health perspective, it’s no surprise that these kids are overwhelmed and overstimulated during our collective trauma, resulting in increased tension and expression of that tension through physical violence. After all, we are also inundated with videos of grown adults losing control of their emotions in supermarkets, on airplanes, and in shopping malls.
“For the health and safety of our students, please increase the implementation of restorative practices, which models active discussion and resolution of conflict. Please add staff, training, and an active plan that can be measured for accountability. Please fast track the hiring and implementation of more mental health resources for our kids that was promised when the School Resource Officer (SRO) money was re-allocated. Please implement greater structure around free/lunch periods. Let’s please, listen to our students, many of whom spoke out against implementation of SROs. Let’s not rush back to implement an ineffective program, but use this as an opportunity to increase resources for our students.”
We do not make this request lightly. We urge you, when contemplating what safety means for you, your children, and our school system, to look at the broader context. To encourage you to act, we offer this fact-based assessment:
The Affordable Care Act modified the Internal Revenue Code to require nonprofit hospitals, like Inova, to conduct “a community health needs assessment with an accompanying implementation strategy.” Inova’s 2019 Community Health Needs Assessments (CHNAs) recognized the nexus of health and housing, indicating that housing affordability significantly impacts the health of Northern Virginia communities In each of five reports for Inova’s Northern Virginia hospitals, including Alexandria’s CHNA, “affordable housing” was residents’ most common response to the question: “What would most improve the quality of life for our community?” Conducting studies and producing reports is not enough. Inova must deliver on the required “implementation strategy.” Inova must act. You can help make that happen (see below for requested action). Continue reading “Inova must address housing and health needs in Alexandria”
Like much of northern Virginia, Alexandria has been a kind of affordable housing desert for decades, actually decreasing the number of affordable units, especially deeply affordable units, as housing prices, both rental and mortgage, have risen steadily. With the arrival of Amazon and Virginia Tech, it was anticipated that housing costs would rise even more sharply. With the extraordinarily hot real estate market that has occurred during the pandemic, prices are rising more even more quickly and more steeply. But part of a solution is in sight … perhaps.
In December, Inova Health System announced its plan to build a billion-dollar medical campus on the currently vacant Landmark Mall lot, on Alexandria’s West End. This is welcome news, and the move is anticipated to occur in about seven years. That leaves open the question of the disposition of the land on which Inova Alexandria Hospital currently stand. There’s a great opportunity here, if the City of Alexandria and Inova Alexandria Hospital seize it, an opportunity for Inova to take an important step toward addressing inequities that impact the health of the communities it serves. Thus far, that’s not what the hospital seems to have in mind. Inova has applied to rezone its current property from the current designation as “Institutional” to “Residential Medium,” which would convert the land on which the hospital currently sits into single-family housing units. Alexandria doesn’t need more single-family houses, certainly not now. Alexandria needs affordable housing, which will mean higher density. Continue reading “A prescription for fair housing in Alexandria is in reach”
Grassroots Alexandria has joined the Partnership to Prevent and End Homelessness in the City of Alexandria (“the Partnership”) Governing Board in the Advocacy seat. The Partnership serves as the Continuum of Care for housing services in the City of Alexandria, responsible for the planning, coordination and implementation of an effective and system-wide response to homelessness within the city. Grassroots has a record of advocating for an “all of the above” method to increase affordable housing in Alexandria, partnering with different organizations to maintain current affordable housing options and push for increased opportunities. By joining the Partnership, Grassroots will expand its reach and the Partnership will have access to an organization of community members who support its vision. Grassroots is excited to grow its advocacy capacity with the Partnership, joining with the vision to ensure that every Alexandrian has access to affordable housing.
On May 13, 2021, Grassroots Alexandria partnered with Tenants and Workers United to host a City Council candidate forum. The COVID-safe event took place outdoors at the Tenants and Workers parking lot and was streamed online; the forum was simultaneously translated into Spanish. Thirteen out of fifteen candidates running for City Council attended: Canek Aguirre (D), Sarah Bagley (D), William E. Campbell (D), John Taylor Chapman (D), Alyia Gaskins (D), Kevin Harris (D), Florence King (I), James C. Lewis Jr. (D), Kirk McPike (D), Patrick Moran (D), Bill Rossello (D), Mark Shiffer (D), and Meronne Teklu (D). Early voting is currently underway for the June 8th primary. For a full rundown of the short answer and lightning round questions, please refer to this document.
Candidates were given the opportunity to make opening statements and answer four open-ended questions on the topics of healthcare, affordable housing, dismantling white supremacy, and reimagining public safety. An eight question lightning round followed, in which candidates answered yes or no using hand-held signs; candidates were asked to answer “no” if they could not answer affirmatively without reservations. Lightning round topics included affordable housing, access to preschool, school resource officers, mass transit, and waterway health. Candidates also made closing statements in which they highlighted their top legislative agenda item should they be elected to Council.
Our thanks go out to all who help organize and run this event. Thanks also to members of NAACP Alexandria and Racial Justice Alexandria for assistance with the questions.
This is an essay about hope. I am a student of the Grassroots Alexandria Anti-Racism Working Group. This area of study gives me hope that we can address racism more honestly and effectively than in the past. For example, I have learned that my previous understanding of racism was based on socially acceptable disinformation. White people, like myself, have been telling ourselves a story about racism that let’s us off the hook. When I abandon that story, I face conflicts between socially-acceptable misperceptions and difficult truths. Recently, a good friend gave me some pushback. I was told that my current view, that racism is utterly pervasive and (almost) everyone is complicit, cannot gain widespread acceptance. If, however, we embrace a paradigm of truth and forgiveness, ‘everyone is complicit’ becomes a bit easier to accept. It is certainly more honest and, I will argue, much more useful. But it will only work if we stop freaking out over the ‘racist’ label and get on with the hard work of truth and reconciliation.
These are some of the ways that my thinking has changed.
DASH Bus is proposing the most significant change in DASH Bus operations in 37 years. If approved by the Alexandria Transit Company (ATC) Board on May 12, 2021, the New DASH Network would dramatically increase the percentage of residents who are served by frequent, all-day service:
• from 27% to 66% for all residents (a 2.4x increase);
• from 29% to 73%, for low-income residents (a 2.5x increase);
• from 22% to 70% for residents of color (a 3.2x increase); and,
• from 23% to 62% for Seniors (a 2.7x increase).
We in Grassroots Alexandria strongly support these anti-poverty, pro-environment updates to the DASH network. We are asking for your support for this plan and for the next logical step: Reduced or no fares for low-income residents.
Over the past few weeks, youth leaders supported by Tenants and Workers United have engaged city council members to advocate for removal of school resource officers (SROs) from the city’s public middle and high schools. Last fall, after discussing whether to renew the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and the police department, the school board voted 6-3 to renew the MOU and keep police in schools. This decision was a blow to student leaders and community advocates that have explained time and time again that, yes, even in Alexandria, systemic racism is inherently baked into police culture. Continuing to allow SROs inside our school buildings causes harm to our Black and Latinx students. Grassroots Alexandria wrote about this issue back in August and we continue to stand with students today. Continue reading “Police Have No Place in Public Schools”
On Wednesday January 6, the Capitol Police allowed white nationalists to invade Congress and, perhaps worse, to leave without being arrested. The racism of policing was on full display. Compared to the common, almost daily scrutiny and arrest of social justice protesters, the deference showed by police to white nationalists was shocking. The problem, as a former FBI agent has documented, is that police culture is intertwined with white nationalist culture. Historically, they are one and the same. Police deference to white people over Black people isn’t just a problem in DC, it is a problem in Alexandria. Because police fealty to police culture is stronger than police fealty to the public, no one is safe.
During the November and December protests in DC, as reported to me, police were disinterested in arresting violent white nationalists, including one that knifed a Black Lives Matter protester. BLM protesters witnessed Metropolitan Police Department cops physically separating BLM protesters and white nationalists. Again and again, BLM protesters were arrested while white nationalists were not. As on Capitol Hill, white nationalists were allowed to go on their merry way.
Here in Alexandria, unlike in DC, police culture has not been lately put to the test. Police culture is evident but, for white residents of our city, it is largely hidden. Describing encounters between police officers and people of color, my friends of color tell me that they experience disrespect. They tell me of instances when officers seem to have decided in advance that they, the person of color, are breaking a rule, even while the police office cannot or will not articulate what it is they are doing wrong. In Alexandria Police Department data, racial disparities are certainly evident. Black people, 21% of the population, received 36% of traffic tickets in 2017 and 2018 and 37% of tickets in 2019. Because police officers are not required to record ethnicity, we cannot provide similar data for Latinx Alexandrians. Continue reading “How Police Culture Affects Alexandrians”