Overall, the departure of the country’s worst president ever, and his replacement by the super-competent President Joe Biden, was a massively positive development for our country and for the world, really. Among the very few potential downsides of the orange menace leaving the White House, however, is that it’s *possible* Democrats will be lulled into a false sense of security, such as thinking they don’t have to be political anymore, that their work is done and they can go back to their pre-Trump “normal” lives, where they could safely ignore politics until the next presidential election. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth, as the threats to our democracy remain very serious, as Trumpism – and possibly Trump himself – isn’t gone by any stretch of the imagination, and as the need for Democratic vigilance and activism remains at a high “Defcon” alert level.
In terms of Virginia 2021, the concern is that Democrats will slack off in their activism, partly “go back to sleep” and/or revert to the way they were prior to January 2017, when Democratic voter turnout routinely “dropped off” sharply in Virginia’s odd-year elections, resulting in many elections that Democrats could have won but instead lost. That includes elections to the Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate, of course, but also local offices like school board, city council and county board, constitutional officers, etc, all of which are crucial building blocks for policy at the local and statewide level, not to mention where Democrats build their “farm team”/”bench” for higher office.
That’s why the upcoming school board elections in the little city of Falls Church are starting to flash warning signs. Currently, there are four seats (held by Shannon Litton and Dr. Greg Anderson, who were elected to four-year terms in 2017; long-time civil rights activist Edwin B. Henderson II, who recently was appointed to the Board to replace Shawna Russell, who resigned; and Dr. Sonia Ruiz-Bolaños, who was appointed to replace Lawrence Webb, who resigned after he moved out of the district) open. This weekend, four potential candidates for the four open seats held joint petition-signing events, and none of them appear to be progressives.
For starters, one of the four is Ilya Shapiro, a right-wing Cato Institute Vice President, who thinks Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was an unqualified, “identity politics” pick, thinks we don’t need to talk about slavery because we’re already all aware of it, thinks the decimation of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court was a “victory for democracy”, etc. Shapiro, along with two of the other three candidates (Caroline Lian and Jerrod Anderson), ran to temporarily fill the vacancy earlier this year in February, specifically on an “open schools now” platform (UPDATE: note – of course, we all would love to see schools open, and it looks like they all will be this fall – in fact, the vast majority if not all schools are open NOW if parents want to send their kids, although not all parents do – but that’s different from the “open schools now” folks, who have been pushing for this since well before it was safe to do so and seem to be mostly Republicans). Mr. Anderson worried about a “central overlord” determining when it was safe for all involved to return to school in person. The fourth candidate, Courtney (Leigh) Mooney is also involved with the “open schools now” advocacy movement, as “Steering Committee Lead” for FCCP4S, which has distributed colorful “Open Our Schools” yard signs around the City.
Of course, just as with most school boards, it has been a highly difficult and contentious year, and one can certainly understand why school board members might feel like they’ve had enough of the job. That includes intense criticism that can and does come the way of school board members, such as over handling of the COVID crisis, communication and decision-making, demands for schools to reopen full-time for all students regardless of the guidance from the Commonwealth and federal health agencies (and without regard for the health and safety of the teachers and staff), etc. Additionally, in Falls Church, there has been criticism over the board’s decision to rename the city’s Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School, with an (unscientific) online poll of parents not indicating widespread support for the name change.
Now, this is officially a non-partisan election, but that doesn’t mean that school board candidates are blank slates politically or ideologically. In this case, it appears like there’s a “slate” of four individuals who are connected at the very least through their months of “open schools now” advocacy, with no other choices currently on the ballot and no other candidates having announced. If you’re an “open schools now” person, that almost certainly makes you happy. But if you’re not in that camp, you presumably would prefer to have some other options to choose from.
Again, as of right now, those four “open schools now” folks appear to the only candidates. Is this because Democrats are kind of snoozing right now, taking a break after the past four highly intense years, including the Trump nightmare and the COVID nightmare and…? Now, maybe this is specific to Falls Church, but could it also be a broader, worrisome sign that Democrats are slacking off a bit? (note: Dems have candidates running in all 100 Virginia House of Delegates districts, which is a highly encouraging sign, and might indicate that the Falls Church School Board situation is an aberration).
Anyway, the bottom line is that falling asleep on this local, nonpartisan election (there are no party primary nominations and the local Democratic committee does not make endorsements) could be a serious mistake for Democrats. So…let’s hope more people, including strong progressives, step up to run before the June 8 deadline.