What did you do on this beautiful Sunday afternoon?
We took the afternoon and marched on the Capitol. Seems our new Governor thinks that Virginia doesn’t need to ensure the future viability of our workforce and has slashed public school budgets – with an emphasis on programs targeted at the poor and disadvantaged. A few of the parents, Kirsten Grey most notably, took it upon themselves to create a little Facebook page to bring people together and inform them of this hobbling of our public schools. What started from there quickly spread, got notice outside Richmond in other affected communities and even a little media interest.
With the rumblings of a protest a hearing for HB30 was identified and, between the FB page and a few school phone trees, the word went out. Sunday the place to be was in front of the Capitol to show our displeasure with the mortgaging of our children and their futures. It started small at a little after 12 with the first couple of dozen people but soon swelled to nearly 500 – hard to tell since so many of the protesters were small children and they take up much less space. Signs appeared and chants went up. Cars drove by honking in support and more then a few legislators drove by giving us the thumbs up.
Beyond the media cameras there was definite feeling of being watched. We were. A small contingent of Capitol Police were watching us from behind their dark glasses. The did not look pleased. Each attempt to move closer to the Capitol, to gain access to our elected representatives was greeted with their presence and demands that we disperse. Really? A disorganized group of Soccer Moms and Dads, having arrived in a fleet of minivans loaded with mostly elementary school children were somehow a threat to the security of the Capitol. Dozens of West-End tweens walking together and chanting ‘Save Our Schools’ were causing men in paramilitary garb and automatic weapons to fear for the stability of the Commonwealth? Please, this was not a crowd of tattooed anarchist (although a few arrived about half-way through the protest), these people and their kids were wearing Brook Brothers and the latest Paul Frank from Nordstroms. Not exactly the beginnings of a riot.
Eventually, a few of us were allowed to go upstairs to wait outside the hearing room where the legislators discussing the fate of our children were sequestered. The hallway was crowded, the kids allowed up were quickly cranky and thirsty in the claustrophobic environment. A half dozen heavily armed police patrolled us, ensuring our representatives safety from this mob of parents and kids. The legislative assistants, waiting for the written results of the hearing were disdainful of us – referring to us as ‘amateurs’, failing to recognize the reason for their work – the people. A few were happy to see us. Glad that people were standing up for something we disagreed with and whispered they wished this happened more often.
In the end, I couldn’t wait to look our legislators in their eyes and ask ‘why’. Finn was falling asleep and Elias had been waiting outside, cooped up in a stroller for far too long. As we left the crowd was still large. Police had been escorting legislators through the unruly crowd of soccer moms and children – protecting them from their constituents. I wondered if they listened.