As the regular 2017 Virginia legislative session comes to a close I have to admit that this session has been one of the most interesting that I have experienced. I am honored to serve you in Richmond, and one of my favorite parts is when constituents from Alexandria are able to make it to advocate for their needs and the needs of our community. I believe the key difference between this year and years past is that we have seen an incredible uptick in enthusiasm and engagement on the state level since the 2016 election.
People have reached out to my office to offer their opinion and to advocate for policies that they feel that need to be changed in record numbers. I have had hundreds of additional letters and calls on issues related to preserving women’s rights, LGBT rights, and raising the minimum wage. People have organized around the decriminalization of marijuana and fought for the ability to allow doctors to prescribe related products when medically necessary. This kind of outpouring across the Capitol is one of the best ways to advance the issues we care about.
An increased level of engagement is great … talking to legislators, calling offices, and writing letters are all important. However, in Virginia we have an added way to be engaged. We have elections every year. In 2017 the Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, and all 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for election. While many are tired after the grueling year that 2016 presented in the political and civic sphere, the increased participation I have seen from community groups is heartening. In addition to making sure that candidates care about your issues, you can use your time and voice to advocate for candidates that will fight for you. You can even run for office! Increasing the diversity of our legislature is a key way to make sure that all kinds of voices are heard when the time comes for decisions to be made.
While this year brought a number of disappointments — a failure to resolve our gerrymandered legislative districts, blatant attacks on women, and legislation that endangers our environment, it also sets the stage for next year. We can have better voting rights legislation, enforce clean air and water standards, and make sure that our teachers get the raises they deserve. If you did not like what came out of Richmond this year, you have a chance to act and make a change for next year. Whether it is simply casting your ballot, running for office, or volunteering to help a candidate of your choice, you can make a change in how our government runs.
Charniele Herring represents Alexandria City’s 46th District in the Virginia General Assembly where she serves as House Minority Caucus Chair and on the Courts of Justice and Counties, Cities, and Towns Committees. Visit www.charnieleherring.com.