RICHMOND — Wednesday signaled the first day of the Virginia General Assembly’s 2020 legislative session — Del. Sally Hudson’s first day on the job — and, possibly, the first year that legislation that would allow local authority over Confederate monuments could pass.
The day also held other firsts, such as Eileen Filler-Corn being sworn in as the first woman and first Jewish Speaker of the House, along with the first time Democrats have held a majority control of the General Assembly in over two decades.
By early afternoon, a crowd of residents from around Virginia gathered in the capital for a rally; some of them carpooled from Charlottesville or hitched a bus ride organized by Take ‘Em Down CVille, and Monumental Justice’s Charlottesville chapter.
In the House of Delegates, Hudson, D-Charlottesville, and Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, are carrying a bill that would amend Virginia’s war memorials law to give localities control over monuments in their public spaces. In the other chamber, Sens. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, and Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, are carrying a version, as well.
The Charlottesville City Council’s 2017 vote to remove the statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson has been tied up in ongoing court cases, and the city of Norfolk recently filed a federal lawsuit against Virginia’s attorney general in an effort to relocate a Confederate monument from its downtown to a cemetery.
Wednesday’s rally outside the Virginia State Capitol featured speakers from various organizations, including Charlottesville residents Jalane Schmidt, Lisa Woolfork and former Charlottesville city councilor Wes Bellamy. Former Charlottesville City Councilor Kristen Szakos served as the emcee.
Along with Locke, Hudson and Jones, elected officials who spoke included Dels. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, and Lamont Bagby, and Sen. Jennifer MacClellan, D-Richmond. Due to proceedings in both chambers, many legislators were unable to pry themselves away for the rally.
Minutes before the permit time for the rally was set to expire, Hudson, arrived to give her remarks.
“I don’t have to tell you why this matters, why we have to fix this problem. So, all I’m going to try to offer you in the time that I have is how we can do it,” Hudson said to the crowd . “The answer is very simple: You have to share your personal stories — there are 140 of us inside of those chambers right now, and the reason why I am the one who had to leave to come out here to be with you is because I cannot forget those stories.”
Hudson recalled the summer 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, which resulted in the death of Heather Heyer and the injury of many others in a car attack and the deaths of two Virginia State Police pilots whose helicopter crashed after they patrolled the city.
“It’s my constituents who hold their breath when they walk downtown everyday because our parks are still haunted. It’s my city councilors who don’t get to sleep through the night because their lives are under threat. It’s my constituents who are still disabled and still traumatized from the violence that was suffered, from the violence that we will all suffer. It’s my constituents who walked past the armed guard on the way into synagogue every Sabbath.”
Hudson said that constituents should come to the General Assembly and speak to their legislators face to face.
“For the precious eight weeks that we have here in Richmond, please, as many of you as you can, please come and share those stories. I promise when we take this out of the abstract and we bring it face to face to my 139 colleagues inside there, they will not forget.”
As Bellamy took to the podium, he referenced others from Charlottesville and beyond who have been doing work to advocate for statue removal.
“A lot of people think that I’m responsible, for better or worse, for this statue discussion, but that’s just not true,” Bellamy said. “The fact of the matter is that we’ve all been fighting for this in one way or another for a very long time. We all have an obligation and a duty to do something. For you to stand idle means that you are standing on the side of the oppressor.”
He reflected on the past few years of advocacy that have led to pushing for state legislation and the suffering and “great cost” people like him endured for organizing or speaking out.
“When I fast forward to two years later and I look at all of you on the steps of the capital, you know what, Kristen?” he said turning to the rally’s moderator and former colleague, “Although we may have played a role in starting the race, we may not be on council to finish it, but we are damn sure going to make sure that the General Assembly does everything that it can to get us over the finish line.”