By Kellen Squire
One of the biggest “upsets” of the Virginia June primaries was over in “America’s First District”- the First 1st Congressional District. Running from the Washington, D.C. suburbs almost all the way to Hampton Roads, the 1st Congressional District is a sprawling, gerrymandered beast, ducking in and out of communities and even down individual streets, roads, and alleys. This, of course, harkens back to its “modification” in 2010 to protect incumbent Representative Rob Wittman. ‘Ole Rob didn’t want to actually have to work for re-election, you see, and since Barack Obama had won the 1st CD back in 2008? Well! That was something that simply could not stand!
So Rob worked closely with Ed Gillespie and Operation Red Map, the systemic effort to gerrymander every single district in the Commonwealth of Virginia, until he found a district whose borders he approved of- and then kicked his feet up and relaxed. Accountability to the voters? Hah! Who needs tht?
It’s an intimidating prospect for Democrats; not impossible, but certainly not for the faint of heart. So imagine how impressive it is that there wasn’t just one, but THREE stellar candidates on the ballot on primary day. Marine, family man, and progressive lion Edwin Santana; John Suddarth, a small business-owner who was willing to stand up and be the change he wanted to see; and a dark horse candidate, national security advisor, strategic planner, and mom of six (all girls!), Vangie Williams.
Between John Suddarth’s impressive fundraising haul and Edwin Santana’s sterling progressive accolades and endorsements, the conventional wisdom was the race in the 1st CD was really between the two of them. I mean, nothing against Vangie, folks would say, but, c’monnnn. And so the conventional wisdom gave her the foreboding status of an “also ran,”, writing her campaign off in favor of “sexier” story lines.
Which is too bad for them, because while the media went off to write their narratives and declare the race over, Vangie buckled down and got busy doing the hard work it took to win.
And nobody should be surprised by that! Vangie’s life has been defined by her hard work and sacrifice, and refusing to back down in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
When she was 15 years old, Vangie got hit by a car and had her pelvis shattered- but to help make ends meet and pay her hospital bill, she got a job working at Chuck E. Cheese’s as soon as she could walk again. This began a trend for Vangie; doing whatever she needed to do to improve her family’s life, even holding down as many as three jobs at a time. From cashier to bouncer and working her way through college, it didn’t matter! She refused to give up, refusing to settle when it came to providing for her family.
So when she decided to run for Congress, Vangie was content to ignore the haters. Instead, she just got to work. She went out to parts of her districts no other politicians would dare to tread. People called her crazy, worried about her safety; an African-American woman, going out alone to knock doors and strike up conversations in rural Caroline and King George counties? Was she nuts?! Understand, too, that the 1st CD has seen a resurgence in KKK and neo-Nazi activity in the last two years, with recruiting fliers being posted just two weekends ago, and a number of the folks that invaded Charlottesville last August hailed from Westmoreland. And, of course, that lutefisk-loving Minnesotan, Corey Stewart, resides in Prince William County.
But Vangie wasn’t nuts. It’s just when push comes to shove, and you’re given the chance to lead, follow, or get out of the way, Vangie has always- always– stepped up to lead.
And that meant going everywhere. That meant fighting unapologetically for every single person in the 1st Congressional District. It meant knowing the working folks in Essex, James City, and King George saw that someone gave a damn about ’em, and that she wouldn’t be intimidated in standing up for them by a few bad apples. It meant being up at 4:30 am greeting commuters in the SLUG line in Stafford, canvassing in the rain in Colonial Beach, and striking up conversations in grocery stores and gas stations.
But she didn’t do it herself. Her campaign staff and volunteers simply hit it out of the park- including three super supporters, who dubbed themselves the ‘Vangelinas,’ who, between them, knocked on just short of 10,000 doors in the last six weeks of the campaign. And no, that’s not a typo or exaggeration!
All that’s impressive, don’t get me wrong, but the kicker for me in all of this was a story I heard from a stunned campaign organizer from another campaign. Vangie’s efforts to build personal coalitions with small communities in the 1st CD was so successful, that when a local scion unexpectedly passed away, and the funeral had to be held on Primary Day, they planned the funeral procession to make sure it visited everyone’s polling places on the way to the cemetery.
That’s not a joke or an exaggeration. They were so inspired by Vangie, and her promise to be an unapologetic fighter for them, that they (literally!) moved Heaven and earth to make sure they could stand behind her.
We’ve often heard, especially since the election of Donald Trump, that black women are going to save the country. They made the difference in Alabama. They made the difference in Virginia last year, helping now-Governor Northam run up the score and propelling us to our near tie* in the Virginia House of Delegates. And in recognizing that, we’ve got two choices.
We can thank them for their hard work in saving the country, work that other groups aren’t willing to put in… or, we can stand behind them when they stand up to lead.
Vangie Williams is the real deal– and she can win in America’s First District.
But not without your help.
She needs you out there with her, knocking on doors. Making phone calls. Writing postcards! She needs your money, because this race will be won by the grassroots, pushed forward 5, 10, and 20 dollars at a time. Is it a surprise that Vangie is the second-best candidate in the Commonwealth when it comes to small donations? But most importantly, for those of you who are VA-01 residents?
She needs your vote.