Letter to Governor Northam Requesting Consideration of Pardon for Trudy Muñoz

Dear Governor Northam,

We are writing you today to ask you to look into the case of Trudy Munoz and, if you see fit, consider a pardon. As you may well be aware, Ms.Munoz was convicted of child abuse or neglect and willful or negligent cruelty or injury to a child in her care due to “shaken baby syndrome,” a largely discredited medical explanation for infant deaths that has lead to numerous wrongful convictions across the country.   

On April 20th, 2009, Ms. Munoz noticed one of the children at her home day care had gone limp and stopped breathing. Ms. Munoz immediately began performing first aid and then called 911, managing to revive the child and save his life. When the police arrived to investigate, she was cooperative and answered all of their questions for an hour and a half. The next day, a detective from the Fairfax police department and a social worker from the office of Child Protective Services arrived at Ms. Munoz’s home to investigate the incident. The social worker also acted as a translator for Ms. Munoz on that day. While no audio recording of this conversation was taken, the social worker’s translation was a large part of the prosecution’s evidence and was treated as a confession, despite Ms. Munoz never signing the document and questions as to whether or not the language may have been mistranslated.

When the child arrived at the hospital, doctors performed a CT scan which showed brain swelling and blood behind the eyes and beneath the skull, symptoms that doctors in 2009 largely believed to be caused by shaking a child. This was the second piece of evidence the prosecution used to convict Ms. Munoz. She insists she did not do that and has steadfastly maintained her innocence.  

In the ensuing years since her conviction, numerous studies have cast grave doubt on the causes of “shaken baby syndrome,” and several convictions based on this outdated science have been vacated. Similarly, the evidence in this case suggests that it is exceedingly likely Ms. Munoz is innocent and has spent nearly 10 years in prison for a crime that she did not commit. The Innocence Project at the University of Virginia has taken up Ms. Munoz’s case.

As you undoubtedly are aware, Virginia law makes it exceptionally difficult to challenge a final conviction, even on the basis of newly discovered scientific or medical evidence. Ms. Munoz is therefore unable to obtain a new trial through the judicial process  and, as a Peruvian citizen having been convicted of a felony, faces imminent deportation when she is released from prison.

In your role both as the Governor of Virginia and as a pediatrician, we are asking you to consider Ms. Munoz’s case for a pardon.  We trust that your judgement on the facts and science available now will lead you to a fair and just decision.

Regards,

Arlington Young Democrats

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Counting Everyone in Arlington Affects our Bottom Line

maggieBy Maggie Davis

The 2020 Census is probably not anybody’s idea of a sexy topic. But ensuring an accurate 2020 Census count is vital to both getting the number of congressional seats a state deserves and to the day to day effective functioning of government.

As we currently sit, the upcoming 2020 Census is going to be a disaster.

The 2020 Census brings with is a technological redesign that relies on “many new and modified IT systems.” These changes include encouraging respondents to use the Internet and telephone instead of a paper survey, relying more heavily on local data, and using field technology to minimize data and increase productivity.

While these technological advances should make the census more cost efficient and accurate in the long run, the proprietary designs of the technology have been costly with well documented difficulties in implementation. This is in addition to the leadership vacuum created when former Census Director John H. Thompson resigned in the summer of 2017. The Trump administration has not yet appointed anyone to fill the position.

Beyond the institutional challenges are the societal concerns that could depress responses to a census questionnaire: cybersecurity threats, the climate of fear among immigrant communities regardless of their documented status and the growing digital divide between urban and rural areas and between wealthy and poor communities.

Why does this all matter?

First the Constitution requires a census every 10 years and declares it the official number for state populations in determining congressional representation. If the census undercounts individuals, a state could get less representation than it is entitled to.

The census has historically undercounted low-income households and households where English is not the first language. While Arlington is a largely affluent jurisdiction, an estimated 9 percent of Arlingtonians live in poverty. Moreover, a language other than English is spoken in nearly 30 percent of Arlington households.

Second, the federal government often relies on census data in allocating funding to state and local governments. More than 130 federal programs rely on census data to distribute funding to the states, including Medical Assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP or food stamps), Highway Planning and Construction, Special Education grants and Head Start. In 2015, the Commonwealth of Virginia received more than $10.2 billion from census-guided federal grant programs, which was approximately 20 percentof the state budget that year.

With the rapid population growth in Arlington and Northern Virginia over the past decade, an inaccurate census could lead to lower revenue to the Commonwealth to implement crucial programs.

What can we do?

First, we need to urge Congress to fully fund the 2020 Census. Last fall, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross requested the Census Bureau’s budget be increased by $187 million in FY 2018 to address some of the technological needs; however, that request did not include additional funding for the Integrated Partnership and Communications program that is crucial in addressing factors that may depress the census response rate.

Congress’ recent Continuing Resolution to fund the government did raise the Census’ budget for FY 2018, but only by $182 million – under what is needed just for the technological enhancements.

Second, although the census count is a federal responsibility, Arlington can take the small steps it can to increase the likelihood of an accurate count. For example, local and state governments can complete a Local Update of Census Addresses (LUCA) to help ensure that census workers have accurate addresses to survey in each jurisdiction.

In 2010, Arlington County government completed the LUCA and will be doing so again in 2018. In 2010, Arlington County also encouraged residents to participate in the census through the Complete Count Committee, a public campaign in which community leaders work to boost census participation. The County plans to once again launch the Complete Count Committee effort in 2019.

Given the unprecedented issues facing the 2020 Census, it is more important than ever for Arlington and the Commonwealth of Virginia to do whatever they can to ensure an accurate count. Not doing so will have long-term implications for both Virginia’s voice across the river and our own bottom line.

Maggie Davis is Deputy Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee and former President of the Arlington Young Democrats. She lives in the Radnor Heights- Ft. Myer neighborhood and works as an emergency management law and policy analyst. This article originally appeared on the ArlNow.com website.

Women’s March on Washington 2018

emily-pattonBy Emily Patton

The Women’s March in Washington and around the country on January 21, 2017, became the largest single-day protest in U.S. history. Those of us who marched that day can clearly recall the feelings of unity, drive and purpose. We came in buses, fresh off of planes, on foot, by car and by Metro. We waited in hours long traffic, some never even making it into the city, but we didn’t care.

Wherever we were, we made sure our message was heard. From the bleakness that was the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, this march became a ray of hope — a focused effort and rallying cry that my sisters and I could stand behind and announce that we would no longer accept the status quo. We would not be silenced.

Due to our proximity to the Nation’s Capital, the Virginia chapter of the women’s march quickly became a focal point for marchers from across the country. As the State Outreach Coordinator for the 2017 march, my goal was to mobilize Virginians — and all who came through our state — with grassroots level activism.

Volunteers from across the Commonwealth coordinated to distribute flyers, fundraise and welcome marchers into their homes. We helped visitors buy Metro cards and navigate our transit system. In doing so, we helped give rise to the record numbers attending the women’s march. At the pre-march rally at the National Carousel, hundreds of Virginians gathered to listen to several of our states elected officials speak. Our blue wave was only just beginning.

Heading into mid-2017, Virginia quickly became the national focus as one of only two states holding gubernatorial off-year elections. Virginia has been a competitively purple state for years; all eyes were on us. We did not disappoint. Virginians elected more women than ever and the most diverse class of state representatives in our history.

The collective actions by women, male allies and most especially by the African American, Latinx and Asian American communities, led Democrats to a resounding victory at the ballot box. Although we made historic gains in 2017, our work has just started.

On January 21, the anniversary of the 2017 Women’s March, people will gather for Power to the Polls in Las Vegas and around the country as part of a weekend of action to advance peaceful and positive progress in communities across the country. Our goal is to ensure that women and allies persist in critical civic engagement work. The past year featured historic numbers of women engaging in the political process. It is vital that women continue to take an active role in 2018 and future elections. A government that is of the people and by the people needs to look like the people it represents.

Locally, many of us will be participating in the Women’s March on Washington 2018 — March To The Polls on January 20. This year’s Women’s March on Washington is sponsored by March Forward Virginia. Comprised of the group of advocates who worked in Virginia for the 2017 Women’s March, we’ve banded together again to continue the movement. Our focus is to empower women to run for office, to learn and take action on the policies that affect our daily lives and to strengthen the progressive work already being done in our communities to register voters and encourage civic engagement.

I march this year for the women who experience domestic violence, for the women who can’t access basic reproductive healthcare such as abortion services, for all the girls who are shamed for what they wear and for all the women and girls who have been and will be sexually assaulted.

On January 20, 2018, I will march for the women who decide to run for office for the first time, for the girls who will strive to win their school’s science competition, for the women who will start their own businesses and for each and every person courageous enough to confront sexism.

If last year’s march was the rallying cry, this year brings the full weight of the movement forward to the polls!

You can RSVP on Facebook or Eventbrite.

Emily Patton is the Press Chair for the Women’s March on Washington 2018. She is a recent graduate of the Virginia Progressive Leadership Project, sits on the Board of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia and is an active Democratic community organizer. This article originally appeared on the ArlNow.com website.

Find the Beginning

katie-crystalBy Katie Cristol

The following is an abridged version of remarks delivered at the Arlington County Board’s January 2nd Organizational Meeting. The full text, with specific proposals and further details on each of these themes, is available online.

“Tell the old story for our modern times. Find the beginning.” 

(The Odyssey, in a new 2017 translation by Emily Wilson)  

In 2018, what does it mean to translate Arlington’s history, our community’s values, and even our foundational texts – planning documents, rather than literary – for our modern times?

For example, “to tell the old story” of Arlington is to tell of the fight for inclusion: Defiance of Massive Resistance and integrating our schools; waves of immigrants and refugees shaping the County’s culture and economy. In our current national political moment, Arlingtonians have risen to affirm that history, and those values. Inclusion is why housing affordability – an issue given structure and a policy agenda in the 2015 Affordable Housing Master Plan – continues to be such a bedrock issue for us all. What this community looks like, and who calls it home, is in part a function of the cost of its housing.

Last year, I described my hope that our 2017 Zoning Ordinance amendments regarding accessory dwellings could be a springboard to a broader community discussion about the themes of “Missing Middle Housing.”

My goal — building on and with the ideas advanced by our new colleague, Erik Gutshall, and other community leaders — is to more substantively and specifically engage this “Missing Middle” conversation in 2018, producing a few examples of what it means in Arlington. The Lee Highway Planning effort and the development of Housing Conservation District tools ahead both represent opportunities to explore these forms, and to translate our values of inclusion into housing policy.

Childcare accessibility similarly speaks to the foundational values of Arlington County.

On January 25, we will launch an Action Plan, drafted by a multi-agency partnership, with parents, providers and neighbors. As the action plan proceeds, I anticipate that long-awaited steps will be before the Board soon, such as a potential re-examination of our local codes for alignment with the Commonwealth’s; potential zoning changes to decrease barriers to entry of childcare centers; and new partnerships to increase the supply of trained childcare workers.

2018 is a critical year for restoring and supporting Metro, achieving a sustainable source of funding for Metro, and engaging constructively with the many reform proposals for its governance and operations. The regionalism of the 1950s and 1960s is our map here: Arlington will be most effective in partnership with our fellow Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

Christian Dorsey’s leadership on the Metro board will be essential to representing Arlington’s interests in any reforms adopted this year, and to establishing a more effective system. In collaboration with colleagues from Northern Virginia’s Metro jurisdictions, and from jurisdictions like Prince William, Fredericksburg, and Stafford, I will be leading legislative efforts on behalf of NVTC and the Virginia Railway Express.

We must present a common vision from the region to the General Assembly as they deliberate on dedicated transit funding in the biennial budget.

Returning Metro to sound footing is a necessary but not sufficient step to turning around our commercial vacancy rate, which will continue be a priority for 2018. We are wrestling with anticipated budget gaps: Significant ones in FY19, growing greater in the out years. The only way we get out of painful choices that pit our priorities – a moderate tax rate, quality schools, transportation, parks – against one another is growth in the commercial sector. This year, we must continue aggressive pursuit of expanded and new commercial tenants.

None of these objectives will be without controversy. So to translate the Arlington Way for our modern times, it’s time to return to these big conversations, and talk more directly to one another as neighbors. To do that, we need more citizen leadership of the public dialogue. I look forward to launching, with our Commissions, a series of “Big Idea Roundtables,” that will provide constructive venues for residents to discuss the big questions about the County’s future with each other.

I’m also looking forward to the implementation of County Board and County Manager efforts to improve the customer service experience of those interacting with their local government in 2018.

Finally, in 2018, we will need to be steady in the face of federal instability: Still-unknown implications of the new tax reform law; continued deportation threats to our young people if and as DACA expires; threatened cuts to the funding streams our safety net depends upon. Through it all, however, Arlington will be made sturdier by our proud history and by our striving to constantly live and evolve our values.

Katie Cristol was elected to the County Board in November 2015 and elected by her colleagues as County Board Chairman for 2018. She has been a community advocate and public policy professional during her time living in Arlington. This article originally appeared on the ArlNow.com website.

Raise Virginia’s Felony Larceny Threshold

BillRiceHeadshotBy Bill Rice

Although Virginia’s gubernatorial race was filled with contentious disagreement, there were a few subjects where the candidates saw eye-to-eye.

One such subject was Virginia’s felony larceny threshold. Both Governor-Elect Ralph Northam and Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie agreed: Virginia’s current threshold of $200 is far too low, counter to a productive society and effective criminal justice system, and morally repugnant.

Virginia Code § 18.2-95 defines the theft of anything valued $200 or more as grand larceny — a felony. Anything less constitutes petit larceny, a misdemeanor. This threshold hasn’t been altered since 1980 and remains tied for the nation’s lowest. Accounting for inflation, $200 in 1980 is tantamount to nearly $600 today.

Punishment for grand larceny in Virginia includes either 1) a minimum of a year in state prison or 2) up to twelve months in jail and/or a fine up to $2,500.

Those convicted of grand larceny also face, as ex-offenders, barriers to housing, healthcare, and employment. In Virginia, felons are prohibited from voting, jury duty, running for office, and firearm ownership.

Denying individuals such civic and economic participation not only has moral implications, but also negatively affects our economy and society. People who could be productive, contributing members of society are instead ostracized and pushed back into the costly criminal justice system.

This doesn’t just pertain to adults: with larceny being the top category for 2017 juvenile arrests in Virginia, it’s no surprise our Commonwealth leads the nation in the “school-to-prison pipeline,” with juveniles referred into the criminal justice system at three times the national average.

Furthermore, can we honestly say that $200 today is a large enough sum of money to warrant punishment from which it is very hard to rebuild a productive life?

We regularly adjust other monetary legal thresholds in accordance with inflation, such as lobbyist contribution reporting laws for political committees or auditing laws for organizations doing business with the federal government.

If large corporations and politicians regularly benefit from reasonable adjustments to legal monetary thresholds, why shouldn’t this apply to a confused youth caught shoplifting a pair of Beats headphones?

Opponents of raising the threshold, like the National Retail Federation (NRT), argue that such action would increase shoplifting and other theft. But there is an abundance of facts that say otherwise.

The most extensive data on this subject comes from a 2016 Pew Charitable Trusts study on 28 states that raised their felony larceny thresholds between 2001 and 2011.

Pew concluded that “changes in state felony thresholds have not interrupted the long nationwide decline in property crime and larceny rates that began in the early 1990s,” adding that “the amount of a state’s felony threshold…is not correlated with its property crime and larceny rates.”

Similarly, opponents of raising Virginia’s felony larceny threshold often argue that California’s Proposition 47, which, among other things, raised the state’s felony larceny threshold to $950, led to an increase in property crime.

However, Proposition 47 was a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill that did much more than simply raise the larceny threshold. Also, it has only been in effect for about two years, leading the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice to say “it is too early to conclusively determine whether or not Prop 47 has had an impact on crime.”

NRT also cites unscientific information from its annual survey on organized retail crime (ORC) to argue that retail crime is on the rise. But this survey draws from an extremely limited and unrepresentative sample size and puts retailers’ perceptions ahead of hard data.

For example, the survey claims “100 percent of retailers surveyed believe they have been a victim of ORC in the past 12 months” without actual data supporting this belief. In fact, most of the reliable data available on these subjects clearly contradicts such claims.

Despite the overwhelming data, people may still have concerns. Thankfully, the Virginia State Crime Commission presents a compromise — raise the felony larceny threshold but create two types of petit larceny.

Larceny up to $200 would still constitute petit larceny with the current penalties. Larceny between $200 and the new monetary threshold would constitute “Aggravated Petit Larceny,” a Class 1 misdemeanor with heavier penalties.

Whether Virginia raises its felony larceny threshold to $500, $1,000, or more, one thing is clear: the current threshold is too low and there is bipartisan support to raise it reasonably. Let’s make it happen.

Bill Rice is co-chair of the Arlington Young Democrats’ Justice and Immigration Caucus. He serves as a volunteer in the Arlington community and has worked on a number of political campaigns. He currently works as a government contractor. He has previously written about Virginia’s felony larceny threshold for the Richmond Public Interest Law Review. This article originally appeared on the ArlNow.com website.

Broadening Civic Participation

image1By Nicole Merlene

Outside of voting, most Arlingtonians do not participate in local civic life. Even fewer study key planning documents such as the Arlington Community Energy Plan or the Rosslyn Sector Plan.

Although county plans impact large numbers of residents, a relatively small number of civic group members, commission members and political party members shape the discussion around these topics.

While our county has been blessed with a remarkable group of civic volunteers and thought leaders, there is a danger of becoming too insular.

Proactive participants who often dedicate countless hours to Arlington civic life can come to overlap among many groups and have an outsized impact on the community’s consideration of a problem, plan, or opportunity.

While it is important to create and make use of a knowledgeable base of experts and advocates, we must acknowledge that this proactive group does not necessarily represent the viewpoints of a majority of county residents. This can lead to decisions that do not take views into consideration that are necessary to achieve a result that provides maximum benefits to the county as a whole.

It is incumbent upon the County Manager’s office and the County Board to put systems in place that seek input from additional sources so that we do not rely too heavily on those that have the ability to be and are proactive in their engagement.

If, for example, there is decision affecting field space up for consideration, the times of relevant public meetings should be posted at the field, similarly to how the county posts information when road work will be done.

Associations (such as the Arlington Soccer Association) that represent sports teams that play on those fields should be notified. Notes could be sent home with students.

A goal of a representative democracy should be broad-based consensus that enhances public trust in the decision making process and makes for easier and more successful implementation of public policy decisions.

Such consensus may be easier with broader participation that does not require the many hours of continuous volunteer time that is at times seemingly required for one’s voice to be heard. A proactive approach can avoid what often happens in today’s national politics – where the conversation is dominated by activists on polar ends of the spectrum.

I will use many of my peers as an example. One-third of Arlingtonians are between the ages of 20-33, and 56 percent of housing units in Arlington are rentals. Most do not know if they will live in the D.C. Metro region for the next five years, let alone in Arlington County. Most don’t own big ticket property items such as cars or homes.

Anecdotally, I would say they are not making close to median income and are paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent. They have a full time job and are working long hours to improve their economic situation.

There are few hours left in the day to engage in the civic process even if one was so inclined. Most people in the 21st century want and need to receive information in direct manners that are quick, digestible, and easily interactive.

Arlington County has a population of around 230,000 and has over 3,700 full-time county employees. Although 16 people are assigned to community engagement and marketing, most work in video/media production (11) or administrative support (3).

This leaves only two employees engaging directly with local communities. While most departments will present their work to the community upon request, we need a more comprehensive plan of engagement.

In a major step forward, the County Manager has developed a Draft Action Plan for Enhancing Public Engagement, along with a public survey that has now closed. Hopefully, the final approved Plan will include a proactive effort to engage people in newer demographic groups.

Another improvement relates County Board notices of action. Key items are posted as “public legal notices” that are hardly designed for a lay person. These notices should be presented in a digestible manner.

Creating broad consensus for county actions and priorities can also be facilitated if various top level working groups are brought together annually to develop joint priorities wherever possible – and not just operate separately – to create broader County unity.

While there is much work to be done, I commend the county for working toward an action plan for enhancing public engagement with broader participation and consensus.

Nicole Merlene is a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington County Civic Federation, the Arlington Young Democrats and the North Rosslyn Civic Association, where she serves as liaison to the Rosslyn BID. She is Associate Director of Public Policy for Invest in the USA. This article originally appeared on the ArlNow.com website.

Investing for a More Resilient Arlington

maggieBy Maggie Davis

With back-to-back record setting hurricanes Harvey and Irma, there is no mistaking it: climate change is real, and it’s here. Our fellow Americans and others living in or visiting the Caribbean and along the Gulf coast now face the massive task of recovering and rebuilding.

In rebuilding, community and governmental leaders should make every effort to “build back better”  to replace the destroyed damaged infrastructure with new materials better equipped to withstand the storms our changing climate is making more intense and more damaging.

The ability for a community to come back better from a disaster — weather related or otherwise — is directly tied to the investments a community makes well before a disaster. In the urgency of rebuilding from an immediate disaster, it is incredibly difficult for a community to identify and implement new design or technology when rebuilding.

Instead, community resilience requires us to be proactive, adaptable and diverse in our investments so we can withstand the next weather-related disaster as well as other adverse events.

Proactive. Arlington leaders have proactively addressed environmental concerns in planning. From its 2013 Clean Energy Plan to lower greenhouse gas emissions to improving road intersections to make transit easier for bicyclists and pedestrians, Arlington is making a concerted effort to curb climate change.

But an even larger part of community resilience is proactively addressing the needs of our residents’ ability to thrive. This includes addressing systemic issues that are more difficult for residents to sustain through a disaster.

Resiliency in the face of an adverse community event — whether it is a hurricane, a terrorist attack like the one we experienced on 9/11, or an economic crisis — often depends on the overall stability in a person’s life as well as access to resources a person has before that event.

If it is difficult for community members to make ends meet during the best of times, it highly likely that a disaster would set them back even farther. This is why we need to proactively address long-term underlying issues such as low and stagnant wages and housing affordability.

Adaptable. In building a more resilient Arlington, we must be willing to adapt to changing times. This includes both general policy and the underlying reality that to invest in the future the county needs to have revenue to invest.

Arlington has struggled with a large commercial vacancy rate for at least the last five years, and in an era where many jobs can be completed with a laptop and a wifi connection many companies are increasing productivity while decreasing the physical space need to operate.

Moving forward, the county should critically examine the current vacancies and continue to pursue flexibility in how certain vacant or nearly-vacant are used. By being more flexible, we may be able to lower the commercial vacancy rate and increase tax revenues to further invest in the community.

Diverse. Arlington needs a diversity of skills, abilities, and resources to grow and thrive in these tumultuous times. In recent years the county has done a good job at diversifying our underlying economy, with the Nestle Corporation moving its headquarters to Rosslyn and the county’s intention to entice Amazon to open its second headquarters here, Arlington is moving toward an economy somewhat less reliant on federal agencies, workers and contractors even while remaining competitive in the federal space given Arlington’s location next to the nation’s capital.

This economic diversity makes the County less susceptible to threats of federal budget cuts and government shutdowns. It also provides a workforce with a greater diversity of skills by drawing in tech entrepreneurs, engineers, marketers, artists and more alongside the many bureaucrats, lawyers, and policy makers who have called Arlington home for years.

In sum, emergencies can come in many forms and without advance warning. Arlington is known and respected for its planning. We are more resilient than many communities for that reason. But waiting for emergencies to create sufficient resiliency is a mistake. That is why it is important to be proactive and adaptable while diversifying our skills, abilities and resources.

Maggie Davis is President of the Arlington Young Democrats. She lives in the Radnor Heights- Ft. Myer neighborhood and works as an emergency management law and policy analyst. This article originally appeared on the ArlNow.com website.

The Time is Now – Give Students a Voice

Graham-WeinschenkBy Graham Weinschenk

At the end of the 2016-2017 school year, I stood in front of the Arlington School Board along with fellow members of the Student Advisory Board leadership team and declared that we had just experienced “The Year of the Student” in the Arlington Public Schools.

Multiple times throughout the school year, large numbers of students had expressed themselves in front of the School Board and attempted to influence policy; something unseen before this year.

Most notably, on February 16 over 100 students, parents and staff from Yorktown High School walked into the Arlington Education Center and took their places facing the School Board. Nearly 40 of those students spoke out, providing over an hour and a half of testimony. They spoke out because after dozens of incidents of racism, homophobia, xenophobia and hate, the response from the Yorktown High School administration appeared to be non-existent. There was either no punishment or little punishment for those who made inappropriate and callous remarks. Targeted students had no tangible support from their school administration.

So, the students took their concerns to the School Board. Thirty-nine speakers later, the members of the School Board gave their responses. The Superintendent of the Arlington Public Schools, Dr. Patrick Murphy (whose contract was recently renewed a year early), said, “I am stepping up. This is not acceptable.” Yet, what has come to fruition from the outrage expressed by parents, teachers and, most importantly, students?

Speaking as the former Vice Chair of the APS Student Advisory Board, my conclusion is that seven months later we have yet to see a single proposed policy change. The School Board and the Superintendent heard, but they did not listen.

Today, we continue to hear a lot of talk, but there remains no tangible commitment by the Arlington Public Schools to make changes on this issue. The frustration that still exists among students, especially on this topic, leads me to call for a student representative to the Arlington School Board.

Student representatives are nothing new, and it would be fairly easy to introduce one to the Board. The Virginia Code (§22.1-86.1) has allowed for the appointment of student representatives to local school boards since 1999. The Alexandria School Board has had two appointed student representatives since 2013 while the Fairfax School Board has had a student representative since 1986.

Under state law, student representatives are eligible to sit with school boards during public and closed meetings, introduce resolutions for consideration, and be able to say how they would have voted. However, there are still some restrictions. Student representatives are not allowed to vote on matters before the board, and they are not allowed access to confidential information, including information related to a specific student, teacher, or employee.

Last school year was a hallmark year for student involvement in the Arlington Public Schools. Like never before, students were able to translate their anger and disappointment on numerous issues into direct action – at times flooding the board room to make their voices heard on multiple occasions and for numerous issues.

The frustration that many students feel goes beyond not feeling included; it stems from a feeling that not only is the student voice not wanted, but that it is also not an important factor for consideration in the decision-making process. The relationship between the Arlington School Board and the Student Advisory Board is similar to the relationship between a teacher and a student and as long as that attitude of keeping students at arms-length exists, the voices of students will never truly be heard.

Now more than ever, students need a sign from APS that they matter, and a student representative on the School Board would show that the student voice is important. Student apathy toward the Arlington Public Schools is dead. It is time to include us in the decision-making process.

Graham Weinschenk is a former Yorktown High School student who graduated in 2017. He served as the Vice Chair of the Arlington Public Schools Student Advisory Board for the 2016-2017 school year. Outside of APS, he serves as the Secretary of the Virginia Young Democrats and will be attending the College of William & Mary in the fall. This article originally appeared on the ArlNow.com website.

Democrats Need to be More Than Anti-Trump

kohsBy Krista O’Connell

Some Democrats are stuck in a paradox: they yearn for President Donald Trump to be impeached yet want him to complete his first term to drive Democratic turnout in upcoming elections. This dangerous mindset puts party over country.

If the President has colluded with Russia, obstructed justice, or accepted money from foreign governments, he should be impeached immediately. And if Democrats can effectively communicate their values and policies to voters, then they have something to fall back on to drive turnout separate from anti-Trump fervor.

The Democratic Party must be a progressive party with a vision for the future and cannot be a reactionary party defined by opposition. As the vanguard of the Democratic Party, the Democratic National Committee must invest in more than the anti-Trump fervor highlighted in most of its press releases and its Twitter feed.

There is much about President Trump’s administration worth opposing — from a travel ban that reneges on America’s founding principles to his decision to leave the Paris Accord that puts special interests over the general welfare. But blanket opposition must be paired with promotion of a positive agenda. Opposition should be backed up with strong alternative policies.

The same problems and policies that plague the Trump Administration were apparent in his campaign, but voters still elected him. Trump speaks for himself. Will Democrats find their voice?

While anti-Trump fervor will bring some short-term gains, Democratic organizations must champion their own policies so they can lead effectively and promote a progressive agenda once President Trump is out of office or when Democrats gain control of Congress.

Furthermore, Democrats shouldn’t overlook two important factions – members of progressive, grassroots organizations that are leading much of the resistance; and voters who are becoming fatigued by the endless coverage of President Trump and are losing faith in democracy and politics as a result. Democratic organizations can reach each of these factions by supporting the resistance while offering a strong, positive agenda.

The national Democratic Party has an impressive platform, but it must be communicated effectively. Democratic policies have the potential to reach and energize voters — especially young people – through the planks of ending LGBT employment discrimination; making the minimum wage a living wage; expanding access to healthcare; creating a path to citizenship for undocumented Americans; and making debt-free college a reality.

While local party chapters (like the Arlington Young Democrats) have done a good job of advocating for these issues, national Democrats must do a better job of framing the national narrative.

Democrats focused primarily on obstruction should look to Republicans’ health care resistance without a positive alternative as a cautionary tale. For seven years, Republicans campaigned against President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, repeatedly voting to repeal knowing they could not override a veto.

Yet, even after winning the White House, Republicans have struggled to come up with an alternative to ACA. The House and Senate proposals are both deeply unpopular and will leave Republican members of Congress at risk even if they manage to pass a bill.

While Democrats absolutely must continue to oppose the Republican bills, they must also propose how they would amend the ACA to address some of the shortcomings that do exist. That way, when Democrats regain control of Congress, they will be ready to act and have a mandate for doing so.

The Democratic Party has its challenges — the recent election exposed a rift in the party between moderates and progressives and also between the old guard and young activists. Opposing President Trump is a good way to find common ground among liberals (and even with some Republicans), but being strategic about politics shouldn’t come at the expense of policy and values.

Instead of ignoring this divide and putting off internal debate, the party should engage in some serious soul-searching. There is no shortage of analysis on what went wrong in the 2016 election, now it’s time to decide in which direction to steer the ship.

At the end of the day, anti-Trump sentiment might get some voters to show up to Democratic meetings and vote in 2017 or 2018, but it’s not going to get them to stay. Democratic leaders and national Democratic organizations need to give people reasons to vote Democratic besides voting against President Trump.

To do so, the Party must reach voters – whether newly engaged in the resistance or instead becoming disillusioned by the democratic process — with a positive message of social, economic and environmental justice.

Krista O’Connell is a member of the Arlington Young Democrats executive board who is passionate about education policy. Follow her on Twitter @krioconnell. This article originally appeared on the ArlNow.com website.

Building an Equitable Workforce

nshsBy Nathan Saxman

In March, the Alexandria-Arlington Regional Workforce Council released its 2017 assessment of the regional labor market. The report was prepared by Dr. Mark C. White of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis and serves as an overview of the two counties’ workforce assets and liabilities.

Of the conclusions drawn, many will be familiar to Arlington residents — most notably that our economy is almost entirely services-based and highly dependent upon federal government activity.

Residents will also likely know that the local population has an extremely high level of educational attainment, with over 65 percent having earned at least a bachelor’s degree. It may even be common knowledge that the region’s workforce is disproportionately young and that the prohibitive cost of local housing tends to push this younger, more mobile workforce out of the region as it ages.

The region’s strengths are frequently advertised and rightly so. Demonstrating that Arlington and Alexandria have educated, young and motivated workforces will be key to attracting investment. While uncertainty about federal government spending in the region will continue to shake up local industries, the skilled workers we tout will adapt and prosper, or simply move on.

However, while these indicators might satisfy those worried for the health of Arlington’s workforce, they don’t paint the whole picture. The wage distribution by occupation is polarized, with 45 percent earning more than 120 percent of the average wage and 37.6 percent earning less than 80 percent of the average wage.

More than 50 percent of the types of occupations in Arlington and Alexandria required a high school diploma or less and most of these jobs paid less than $40,000 annually; well below the average wage and cost of living. Mid-skill occupations requiring an associate’s degree or post-secondary certification, such as computer support specialists or auto mechanics, comprised less than 10 percent of all jobs, further narrowing the path for workers in low-skill occupations to move up the ladder.

Divisions between high and low-skilled workers in Middle America was a theme throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and likely affected the election’s outcome. These divisions exist even in our backyard.

Earlier this year, I spoke with David Remick, Executive Director of the Alexandria-Arlington Regional Workforce Council, about workforce development in Arlington. The Arlington Employment Center, which implements many of Arlington’s workforce development programs, has sought to connect job seekers with employers since its creation in 1989. Today, it is housed in the Arlington Department of Human Services and administers training and placement funded through various revenue streams, most notably the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.

In our conversation, Remick voiced his own concerns about the low number of middle skill opportunities, as compared to low and high-skilled jobs, and the risks faced by low-skilled workers unable to advance to higher wage occupations.

AEC has focused on providing in-demand credentials to trainees that will empower them to find employment in fields with projected growth, such as healthcare services, computer systems support and occupations requiring a commercial driver’s license.

These credentials and training programs are also ones that would be difficult for low-skilled workers to obtain without guidance and AEC has stepped up to fill that role. AEC also actively seeks out partnerships with local employers and routinely assesses where higher paying job opportunities will become available.

As with all public initiatives, budgetary limitations constrain the quantity and types of certifications that AEC can offer. Under WIOA, AEC may offer $3,500 in value for the “up-skilling” of qualified customers that seek out training. The type of training is guided by both market demands and the personal preferences and competencies of customers.

Last year, of those served by AEC, 18 percent earned credentials relating to hospitality or culinary arts, 33 percent in healthcare, 19 percent in construction or CDLs, and 18 percent in I.T. support fields. While the quantity of mid-skilled job opportunities is demonstrably small in Arlington (especially compared to other jurisdictions in Virginia), these are the fields that are most likely to experience growth.

There is always more to be done to improve workforce qualifications, but AEC and the Regional Workforce Council provide existing frameworks that address local deficiencies proactively.

These initiatives should be supported, both financially and through visible promotion. With resources limited, AEC and the Regional Workforce Council access their vast network of community-based organizations, local businesses, and residents to help promote their services to the public, ensuring that workforce development services are made accessible to those in need.

Nathan Saxman is a graduate of James Madison University and an Arlington resident. He has been politically active in Virginia since 2008 and presently serves as Programming Director with the Arlington Young Democrats. Professionally, Nathan is a paralegal in the field of international trade law. This article originally appeared on the ArlNow.com website.