Two weeks after the August 11-12 anniversaries, Charlottesville is back to normal. The kids are in school. It’s move-in weekend at the University. Businesses on 29 are advertising sales. The Downtown Mall is bustling.
But at the City Council’s community feedback meeting on Monday, August 13, emotions ran high. Activists and community members railed at the weekend’s heavy police presence and attacked elected officials and city staff with intensely personal language.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker shifted the tone of the conversation. She told the audience that people needed to understand that the police, by in large, did what they had been asked to do by local government. She said the anger at their presence, their practices, and their approach to citizens was more righteously directed at what happens in the city’s black neighborhoods every day.
If things feel eerily normal, remember that it’s a new and fragile normal.
Both the City and the County are facing scrutiny on how they will work, separately and together, to address equity issues that impact our community. The illusion of Charlottesville as Pleasantville, a Top Ten Town in America, is gone. And yet, all of the things that make the community beloved are still here, right alongside its problems. With the eyes of the nation still on us, or at least keeping tabs on us in the rearview mirror, what do we do next?
Get to work. We can start by accepting that concentrated poverty based on race and the complex of issues that make it a nearly inescapable trap are unacceptable in a place with the resources — expertise, capital, activism, natural beauty, academic clout, and good intentions — that Charlottesville possesses. Then we plan and invest in solutions.
At Charlottesville Tomorrow, we are also trying to figure out how we can better serve the community. Trust in government is low, but the work of local government is more important than it has ever been in my lifetime. How do we get more people interested, engaged, and informed?
We are going to start by increasing the quality, breadth, and depth of the journalism we produce. By connecting our mission-driven beat reporting to long-form stories that help the community understand these complex and interconnected problems, we’ll make it easier for you to engage with issues at the right time to influence them.
That work will be led by our new News Editor, Elliott Robinson, who started his job on August 6. Elliott spent six years working for Berkshire Hathaway Media, including stints at The Daily Progress and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He is a seasoned daily news editor, the son of an Army sergeant from Hampton, and, to my knowledge, the first African-American to lead a news desk in Charlottesville. We are lucky to have him.
Charlottesville Tomorrow’s two reporters, Josh Mandell and Emily Hays, are young, ambitious local journalists who grew up here, attending Western Albemarle High School and Charlottesville High School, respectively. They bring local context and networks to their work, and, more importantly, they care deeply about this place.
As I’ve begun talking to people about our long-form solutions journalism and my editorial priorities, I’ve been asked if I think it will be hard for Charlottesville Tomorrow to stay objective and non-partisan. I don’t believe it will. Solutions to complex problems, particularly in local government, are practical. Disagreements are just as likely to emerge inside parties as they are between them. Mapping national identity politics onto local issues can be nearly impossible, even for the most rabid partisan.
The big questions are constant: How do we balance growth and sustainability? Affordability with investment, revenue, and job creation? Rural integrity and environmental stewardship with access to land? Then, how do we do all of that and create a better community for all of our residents through processes that are transparent, accountable and fair?
It’s not going to happen if people don’t understand what’s going on in their local government conversations. And it’s not going to happen if local governments fail to realize that the public doesn’t want to engage in the same circular conversations that have gotten us where we are today. I have a feeling, a good feeling, that the future of national politics is going to be reinvented at the local level in places just like Charlottesville.
Don’t you want to be involved? I do.