by Kellen Squire
One question I’m asked fairly frequently about my run for the Virginia State Legislature this fall in the district once held by Thomas Jefferson is whether or not I’ve ever run for public office before. And I always answer that question the same way.
Yes- kind of.
When I was seventeen years old and a senior in high school, I ran for our local school board. But I was too young to even vote for myself in the primary for that race- and I came in dead last, 296 votes out of five thousand some cast, if I recall correctly. And that was a good fifteen years ago; hence the “kind-of”.
Now, you might wonder; what would possess a seventeen-year old kid to spend six weeks in the middle of January and February knocking on doors, doing media interviews and debates with experienced politicians two or three times his age, during his senior year of high school?
It’s because our school district didn’t have school lunch available… for anyone.
Let me repeat that- there was no school lunch available, at any grade, at any school in the school district, in the twenty-first century, in the United States of America.
My first day, I got sent to school with a few dollars so I could buy lunch, and a check to set up an account for me. Of course, the office called my house immediately; I can still hear the incredulity in my mom’s voice over the phone- nobody had bothered to explain to her that there was no school lunch available when she had called about enrolling me.
The staff at the school were just as perplexed, because why would anyone just assume a school had lunch available for students? The nerve of some people!
Other than that day, though, I never had an issue with that until I was in high school. I noticed a classmate of mine, who came from a single-parent family, showed up to lunch period a few days in a row empty-handed. At first, she tried to pass it off as just wanting to do homework, or not being hungry… but turns out her mom went on disability, and they could barely afford rent. The only reason they even had heat was because the gas company legally couldn’t turn it off in the winter time.
Packed lunch? Hah. That was a luxury they couldn’t splurge on, not even close.
Bull****, I thought to myself. This is unacceptable.
So I skipped class the next day, drove myself down to the city office building, and harangued the city clerk until she walked me through all the paperwork I needed to file to run for office.
It also turns out that running on a platform of “lets get kids who need it lunch” was unexpectedly contentious. My parents got a half-dozen messages on their answering machine that were… unkind, to say the least. I even had a “you’re just like Hitler” reference- which is probably fair because I know when I think Adolf Hitler, I usually think “making sure poor kids aren’t hungry all day”. Don’t you guys?
But the kicker was a complaint we got that said, in no uncertain terms- and I’ll never forget this as long as I live- “School lunch is a waste of money. Kids will probably throw most of their food away, and I’m not having my tax dollars pay for that just so a couple freeloaders can get fat on my dime!”
I knew it was a long shot- I was too young to even vote for myself in the primary- but there was no way I was going to let my friend, and the kids like her all the way down to the elementary elementary school, go hungry another single day for the heinous sin of being born to poor parents.
I never imagined I’d be running for public office again, all these years later; an emergency department nurse in Charlottesville fighting to get working folks health insurance by expanding Medicaid in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Fighting for a smarter approach to the opioid crisis, not just checking boxes or lip service, but going all in to save an entire generation of Virginians. Fighting to end the gerrymandering and campaign finance shenanigans that lets politicians avoid any accountability to the folks they’re supposed to be representing. That lets them become career politicians who forget where they came from, and serve special interests before the folks in their district, every. single. time.
But here I am, doing what nurses do best- fighting like hell. Standing up for people who nobody else is standing up for. And if you donate $10, $20, or $27 dollars today, I can take that fight all the way to Richmond.
We’re going to take our people-powered campaign to November- we’ve had almost 1300 donations in the last five months, more than my opponent has had in almost a decade. Every single dollar we raise now goes to getting out the vote. Goes to putting us on doors; going out to where people live, talking to them. Listening to them.