Everyone is (at least a little bit) Racist

by Jonathan Krall

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.

Old: Racism = racial prejudice.
New: Racism = racial prejudice + power. Continue reading “Everyone is (at least a little bit) Racist”

Transit Equity in Action: the new DASH Bus Network

by Jim Durham

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.

1. Please attend one of the four virtual community meetings to be held between March 23 and March 31 to learn more about the New DASH Network and provide your feedback.

2. Please reach out to the ATC Board via email to dashbus@alexandriava.gov and/or speak at the virtual ATC Board meeting April 14. Register here. Ask the Board to implement free and/or reduced fares for low-income residents. Continue reading “Transit Equity in Action: the new DASH Bus Network”

Police Have No Place in Public Schools

by Alli Holte

tl;dr:  Educate yourself about the racist beginnings of modern law enforcement.  Support students’ wishes to remove police from their schools by submitting a public comment on the city’s 2022 budget proposal, demanding we remove the school resource officer line item from the police department budget.  Learn who on the school board supported police in schools, and get ready to vote them out (or run against them!) in November.

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”

How Police Culture Affects Alexandrians

by Jonathan Krall

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”

The fascists haven’t gone away; we cannot rest

a statement from Grassroots Alexandria

Democracy is fragile. To keep democracy we need to succeed at holding a free and fair election. And then do it again for the next election. And again. And again. And again. Sounds routine. So much so that some might become apathetic, which scares us. Here the thing, and we’re serious about this; for some, apathy could mean the difference between life and death.

The fascists, unlike the small-d democrats, only have to succeed once. They push their violent propaganda. They say democracy is corrupt. They say we are in an emergency. They say a strong leader is needed. Then, one day, an elected leader declares martial law and suspends the Constitution. At this point, the public either defends democracy with their lives through massive civil disobedience, or… the fascists win, we live in a dictatorship, and the executions begin.

The fascists only have to win once. Restoring democracy without massive loss of life is, as far as we know, impossible. The fascists will only attempt a coup if they think the public is apathetic. The media will only accept the situation if they think the public is apathetic. The public will only accept the situation if they think the public is apathetic. See the pattern?

This why we must always support democracy, loudly, and never, ever project apathy in the face of fascism. This is why we protested Richard Spencer and never backed down. We don’t support violence, but we do support loud, disruptive, anti-fascist protest. Indeed, we are begging for it.

Those not able to march in the streets can write to local media and political leaders. People living in DC are being asked to speak up by posting signs. Political leaders must renounce fascism and focus arrests, if any, on the fascists that acted so violently during November and December.

If fascists win, and they only need to succeed once, our democracy dies and all of our lives are in danger.

No apathy, please.

Grassroots Alexandria 4 years old today

by Jonathan Krall, writing on behalf of the Grassroots Alexandria Steering Committee

If not for the pandemic, right about now we’d be hosting a holiday gathering at my house to celebrate both the season and the anniversary of our first meeting, on December 19, 2016.

Our mission in 2016 was both to respond to specific issues, such as the Women’s March and high-profile white nationalism in Alexandria, and to promote personal engagement in democracy and personal skill-building.

I am happy to see that, four years later, we are continuing this work.

It is the nature of activism to wax and wane. Major “people power” events, such as the protests of this summer, are difficult to sustain. Indeed, any decent activism handbook will explain that the power to force political leaders to act boldly (instead of timidly) for the common good is temporary. A coalition is assembled, outreach campaigns are launched to reach political leaders and the public, and coalition-building and outreach activities build up until political leaders act. Later, a renewed coalition will come together to launch the next campaign.

While coalition power is temporary, personal activity is not. In a free country, there is no requirement that we engage in politics. However, we see what happens when most people vote only in major elections; it isn’t good. In this time of change, we see the influence of city hall and Richmond over our quality of life and that of our neighbors. Elections have consequences; especially state and local elections.

It is the mission of Grassroots Alexandria to teach effective political engagement. We focus on local politics because that is where we can most readily have an effect and can see the results of our work.

Individuals may come and go, work harder or take a break. We all need to take time for self care. Because we work together and learn together, however, no one should fail to act because they do not know how to act.

We hope that, as we work together, we are sharing that knowledge. If not, you are invited to speak up, volunteer, and help us do better.

Best Wishes for 2021.

Escaping the toxic two-party trap

by Jonathan Krall

Last Saturday I walked and biked the streets of Washington DC with friends. I participated in the collective outpouring of joy and relief as the election was called for Joe Biden. It was beautiful. It was uplifting. But now we have work to do. Job #1, as my Extinction Rebellion friends say, is to tell the truth. The truth is that the conditions that produced Trump are still in place. Normalization of anti-science predates Trump. Voter manipulation predates Trump. As long as the Republican Party talks propaganda instead of policy, uses division, marginalization, disenfranchisement, intimidation, and mass incarceration to suppress voting, is dishonest about its privatize-everything agenda, another Trump isn’t just possible, it is inevitable. As long as the Democratic Party is complicit in a two-party system that marginalizes third parties, a return to Republican control is inevitable. There is a way forward. It won’t come from the toxic Republican leadership. I doubt it will come from the complicit Democratic leadership. I am hopeful that it will come from the people.

What is the way forward? The consensus view is that President-elect Biden will “reach across the aisle.” The consensus view is that Republicans will shut him down. The consensus view is that we are stuck with gridlock. The way forward is to break the pattern. To allow third parties to come to the table. To expand democracy. Anti-gerrymandering reforms and ranked-choice voting–to encourage candidates to appeal to those beyond their narrow constituencies–would be good first steps. Electoral college reform and bringing colonies to statehood (including DC) would be significant further steps, if attainable.

Virginia’s successful anti-gerrymandering reform is a ray of hope. It might not be perfect, but it is a break from business as usual that cannot be easily undone. Continue reading “Escaping the toxic two-party trap”

How do we feel about police in schools? An antiracist exercise

by Jonathan Krall

Like many people, I’ve joined an antiracist study group[1]. We slowly read books like White Fragility or The New Jim Crow, spending months on each book. We study systemic racism and interrogate our complicity. We share the stories we tell ourselves to make ourselves feel like “good people” and ask ourselves, out loud, if these stories are lies. It is one thing to study antiracism; still another to practice it. Antiracist study requires self-questioning. Antiracist action also requires self-questioning, but with different questions. The results are more than worth the effort.

Below we present the exercise and suggest an action. If you aren’t feeling introspective, you can scroll down to the Requested Action below (thanks!). Continue reading “How do we feel about police in schools? An antiracist exercise”

How to be anti-binary

by Jonathan Krall

Throughout the working life of Grassroots Alexandria, we have immersed ourselves in the study and practice of anti-fascism and, more recently, anti-racism. Our ongoing studies suggest a new “anti” for us to consider, anti-binary. Like “intersectionality” anti-binary is a word that connects overlapping concepts in gender, white supremacy and personal politics. Put simply, good/bad and correct/incorrect binary thinking incentivizes self-delusion. While self-delusion can be comfortable, it is also dangerous. As an alternative we, and others, suggest that learning to live with ambiguity can be healthier, for ourselves and for those around us. Continue reading “How to be anti-binary”

Who Watches the Police?

by Zeina, Abdel-Rahman, and Jonathan

Communities, including Alexandria, are re-thinking policing. In Alexandria this is taking the form of police reform, which we address below, and first-step police defunding. Two police reform ideas are reportedly being implemented: a community review board and greater transparency. We say “supposedly” because transparency was promised in February 2018. Two years later, it has only been partially implemented. We have limited data on the race of people arrested and virtually no ethnicity data. To obtain robust oversight of policing, Alexandrians will need to keep up the pressure on City Council. Past experience suggests that public pressure is the only thing that works.

On June 20, two Grassroots Alexandria volunteers spoke to City Council about these efforts. Here are their statements.

From Abdel-Rahman, Grassroots Alexandria volunteer:

I am here today representing Grassroots Alexandria in support of an ordinance for Police Data transparency and a community review board.

Grassroots Alexandria has been an active part of a coalition of several activists, community leaders, and organizations demanding transparency and robust community oversight over the Alexandria Police department. We are demanding that City Council pass an ordinance requiring Alexandria Police to publicly share data on all police encounters with citizens, not just for vehicle stops or encounters that result in arrests. Stopping a citizen and questioning them or searching them is an example of a potentially harassing encounter that needs to be captured. The data needs to be broken down by race, gender, age and ethnicity of citizens subject to stops.

We are also demanding an independent community review board with real powers, investigatory tools, and oversight. The Human Rights Commission, which was brought up several times, lacks independent investigatory authority, it can’t compel the police to provide evidence, and they don’t have subpoena power over the police. Continue reading “Who Watches the Police?”