On Saturday, the KKK came to our community.
But as I’ve come to expect from the wonderful milieu of people that make up the 58th District, and the greater Charlottesville area as a whole, the response against their hatred was overwhelming.
In my district, people from as far away as McGaheysville and Elkton came to the counter-events yesterday; thousands of people showed up to the counter events (beautiful gospel music at the Jefferson School, a picnic and kids’ events at the IX Park, Boyd Tinsley’s band highlighting a free concert on the Pavilion, et cetera), and over a thousand directly across from the forty or so KKK members who demonstrated for a handful of minutes before scurrying away to a planned cross burning they had in Culpeper county.
Despicable. And roundly lambasted by our area’s elected officials… except for a couple of notable exceptions. Chiefly, for me, is my opponent- Delegate Rob Bell, two-time candidate for state Attorney General, leader of the entire Republican House re-election effort in the Commonwealth of Virginia this fall, and the top-billed member of the Donald J. Trump leadership team in Virginia.
Though the district I’m running to represent doesn’t hit any of the downtown area of Charlottesville (having been maliciously gerrymandered to ensure that was the case), the city is a locus of our region. A vast majority of the folks from my district either work, shop, play, visit the doctor there, so forth and so on. Rob and I both work in Charlottesville; heck, Rob’s fancy party tag says it all: (R-Charlottesville). But regardless of all of that, what happens with Cville affects all of us.
So it’s an incredible understatement to say it was disheartening to not hear him speak up vociferously against it.
Now, I know what the counter-argument to this is going to be already- the KKK wanted attention. The more we give them, the stronger they get. And I happen to agree with that; you can even see it from the videos from the event. As the KKK people got chanted at and stood up to, they were almost gleeful, eating off the righteous anger from the crowd. Like any trolls, they relish causing strife and discord above all else. But it doesn’t take much to send out a press release, slap up a statement on your Facebook page (even a recycled one from May, like Tom Garrett did) to join other politicians in roundly telling these jerkoffs that their brand of despicable nonsense isn’t what our community is about.
And yet… nothing.
Does that mean I think Rob’s a racist, or a KKK-enabler? Not in the slightest. What he is, though, is a career politician; he’s been doing this for almost two decades now. There’s a reason the Trump campaign loudly shouted his name alongside the phrase “Trump values are Virginia values” last fall; which is the same reason he was put in charge of saving the House of Delegates for the Republicans this fall. Because he’s been there and done that, as the consummate insider, one of the reasons he was so early and vocal about his support for Ed Gillespie this year.
So he knows exactly the impact that small gestures from politicians can make. Heck, the chairman of the Virginia GOP recently went after me personally on Twitter, and made that point exactly in declaring my opponent the “hardest working man in politics”. Because Rob’s notorious for his “small gesture” politics.
Why is he considered great on schools by a lot of folks- even though he refuses to fund them appropriately, keeps pushing for no-accountability charter schools, and argues Arizona-style education requirements are what we need in Virginia (teachers don’t really need a college degree, anyway)? Because every time Johnny makes the honor roll, his parents get a letter from Rob, congratulating them.
Why has he avoided accountability for his role in the “transvaginal ultrasound” law, pushing for a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, or the “Day of Tears” law for shaming women he proudly supported this year? Because when you get in the local news for volunteering in a community event, you get a clipping of it in the mail- “I was reading the newspaper and saw this, thought you might want it!”
That’s why people’s eyes bulge and their mouths go agape every time I mention not only that he was atop Trump’s leadership team here in Virginia, but he’s become close enough to the Trump family (due to the Trump Winery’s location in my district) he was invited to spend election eve with Ivanka in Northern Virginia. Because they’ve associated those “small gestures” with his persona as a politician- and not what he’s done or voted for in the General Assembly.
That’s exactly why his absence of leadership now is so disappointing. Because it’s coming from someone who’s an expert on knowing how much little touches from a politician can mean to people- and how to make sure he never misses an opportunity to get one in.
But that cuts both ways. Because that means when he chooses to avoid making any of the “small gestures” that have come to define him as a politician…
His silence is deafening.
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse from Barboursville, Virginia, running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 58th District this fall. Donate, volunteer, or get the word out about our people-powered campaign today.