The Women’s Summit for Political Engagement in Tysons kicked off with a performance from the all-female Afro-Brazilian percussion band Batalá Washington and a parade, which, like much of the summit, featured a mix of of activists, elected officials, and candidates. (Danya AbdelHameid/ For the Virginia Mercury)
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, one of scores of elected officials and candidates crowding a progressive summit over the weekend in Tysons, said she sees a political sea change on the horizon during lunchtime remarks Saturday at the third annual Women’s Summit for Political Engagement.
“Something is happening in Virginia,” McClellan said, referring to the numerous women who won state-level seats in 2017 and the influx of women of color in Congress. “We need to make sure it doesn’t just happen at the congressional level.”
Government, she added, “is only as good as we the people who choose to participate: who chooses to run for office, who votes, who chooses to show up at the committee meetings and demand action.”
The focus of much of the summit was the legislative races this fall, when every seat in the General Assembly is up for election.
“It’s human nature that our political philosophy is based on our life experiences. When the General Assembly doesn’t reflect the diversity of the Commonwealth we serve, by any measure, the polices that we produce are not perfect,” she said, seeking to rally activists by reminding them of President Donald Trump’s stunning 2016 win and the drawing from a bowl that gave Republicans control of the House of Delegates following the 2017 elections.
“When you get tired, and you will, when you get frustrated, and you will, when you think knocking on that door isn’t going to make a difference, I want you to dig a bit deeper and to remember how you felt the day after the election in 2016. And I want you to remember how you felt when a name was pulled out of a bowl,” she said.
However, McClellan, who is seen as potentially laying the groundwork for a statewide run in 2021 after this year’s executive branch scandals, wasn’t willing to go beyond 2019 in an interview.
McClellan said she is still “thinking very seriously” about running for governor.
“Right now, the priority really is 2019,” she said.
The summit, organized by liberal grassroots group Network NoVA, brought together more than 1,000 activists with progressive state and local-level candidates for a weekend of strategizing in the ramp-up to Nov. 5. More than a hundred elected officials and candidates were in attendance.
“We’re supporting every single state, and yes, local campaign,” said Vangie Williams, who lost her bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, last year but will try again in 2020, during her opening remarks. “Every single seat has to flip if it isn’t blue already. And once we flip it, we keep it.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner vowed Democrats would “finish the job and take back the House and Senate.”
With a sprawling agenda determined via an attendee survey and the tagline “Virginia is my district,” virtually no issue and no level of government were left unaddressed. A bevy of workshops and panels covered everything from immigration and climate change to public education and health care.
“Everything starts at the local level,” summit co-founder Stair Calhoun said. Calhoun and a handful of women have been organizing the annual summit since March 2016. This year, she says, it expanded not only in size, but also in scope.
There were a handful of college and high school-aged speakers and panelists on the agenda, and a lunchtime panel on “shaking the table,” featuring representatives from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, among others.
The discussion quickly turned to “breaking” the table when Loudoun County NAACP President Michelle Thomas called attention to the experiences of women of color in politics.
“When women run, when women vote, we win,” she said. “When women of color stand up, we’re silenced. When I speak up and stand up, I’m silenced.”
Thomas, along with LULAC Chief Executive Officer Sindy Benavides, encouraged more women to run for office, adding momentum to recent efforts that have sprung up to support women of color seeking public office in the commonwealth.
“Sen. McClellan, I hope you’ll be running for higher office,” Benavides said.
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