Message to Supporters- I Love You All!

Dear friends,

It has been a month since the election, and having gotten my ducks back in a row, and having caught my breath I have found the time to send along some thoughts and thanks to all who supported the campaign.

Thank you all for all of the support, the votes, the input, and the energy I have received throughout this city council campaign. I am deeply encouraged that so many people would cast a vote for someone like me, given the reality of Charlottesville’s political landscape. My belief is that there is likely even more support for many of the platform items I have presented.

I am preparing to move forward both as an activist, and as a politician, after meeting with as many people as possible to figure out what exactly folks think is the most productive way to move a social justice agenda forward.

The campaign gained some victories, some personal, some political, and some just plain old structural.

The obvious victory is that at least 1477 people (8%) expressed some interest in a different way of doing things, either specifically because of, in spite of, or in ignorance of, the fact that I am a card carrying socialist. Finding a way to mobilize or engage those folks may turn out to be tricky, but I am committed to figuring out how to do that. Keep in mind, many of the supporters of the campaign were not able to vote so that 3.7% of the population who voted for me is actually a bit higher.

Speaking of not voting, one thing that became important to the campaign early on was engaging ex-offenders. We had materials available for restoration of voting rights, and consistently brought issues of concern to ex-offenders and their families forward. I have been involved in the Believers and Achievers group since meeting some of them after a forum, and remain committed to being involved in that very important peer support group. Since we were able to include a great deal of their issues in the campaign, many seated councilors, and some of the candidates were made to pay attention to certain things. I hope the city remains focused on making this a city of second chances, and I hope to work towards making the city one of a solid first chance to begin with! Being involved with ex-offenders has been a victory for me personally, but also one where I think the campaign made difference.

Another personal, and political victory was being able to make some connections in public housing. Joy Johnson in particular was a great help to the campaign, and really did a lot to help me get my head around our affordable housing situation, as well as point me towards an interesting philosophy whereby the city could determine what it wants rather than open the door for any kind of business growth or housing developments.

As an activist, one goal I had set for the campaign was to make those connections in public housing and I hope to continue to build friendships, and help to organize. Politically we made it so that resident input is taken as a serious issue. Residents, not just in public housing, are consistently shut-out of the decision making that directly affects them. Sitting councilors like to say it isn’t so, but now they are being watched, we have called them out on it and we need to continue to do so. My fear is that we are now going to have a city council with a majority that isn’t interested in adequate resident input, and that redevelopment of public housing may proceed with too much influence from the top down and from business interests. Since we have raised that issue, we can continue to hold the fire to the new councilors when they are seated in January.

Along similar lines, despite terrible press coverage, we have made gains in making council, and the candidates, admit that we indeed have an affordable housing crisis. This issue may be the most in need of attention moving forward, and pretty much everyone I talked to on the campaign trail mentioned this as being the most important issue faced by the regular people of Charlottesville. Look towards an increase in the housing fund in the coming discussion about the budget, and look for ways to support that idea!

Jobs, jobs, jobs- This is where I think we have made the biggest impact on the discussions about Charlottesville. I was tickled pink to see at more than one council meeting the councilors falling all over each other to one up each other on how certain things could include a local workforce. I do think having raised the issue of what kinds of jobs and to whose benefit has really paid off. Early on in the campaign all of the candidates were talking about bio-tech and office parks. I am very glad to say that the follies of that kind of focus have been pointed out to many, and at the least some of the candidates had to adjust their positions on jobs in Charlottesville. The orange dot project, while still full of flaws in my mind, may have been influenced a bit as well, where now you are hearing a much bigger attention to actual people and job seekers rather than to solely contractors and entrepreneurs. I look forward to further pushing my idea of a jobs center in downtown Charlottesville, and seem to have the support of at least two councilors so far.

Early on in the campaign I pushed hard on public transportation expansion. This is moving forward. There is solid support from seated and incoming councilors for expansion. Holiday service is in the works, next stop- full Sunday service. I hope we can continue to push hard on this even with good support on the council. The better a system we can have the better off we are going to be. I hope pursue the creation of a Transit Riders Union if there is interest out there.

Frustration with the machine of media and government was anticipated before entering the council race. I have learned so much about local government and can honestly state that everything one thinks is broken and corrupt with society and government in general is certainly happening in our city in ways far more worse than I originally anticipated. Particularly when it comes to the discussions and decisions related to water, roads, and growth in general. There is big money out there working for its own interests, and both the Democratic Party and the press refuse to see any alternative to profit and the market as ways to address our biggest problems.

Nearing the end of the campaign, the media began to ignore us. I am not sure why exactly that is. Perhaps the message became more articulate and less lofty. More likely though is that the more we talked about something other than the water supply, the less spicy and controversial the campaign seemed to be in the minds of the press.

I was extremely upset that press coverage was tiny for the press conference on the affordable housing crisis (something that took me months to get my head around!). As the Bob and Dede folks continued to get their meme out there the press honed in on that as the controversial thing to report on instead of anything else. The media’s inability to critique the Democratic Party candidates, and their inability to even cover anything related to the issues or the campaign led to a great deal of voter disengagement right near the end. This played directly into the hands of the Democratic Party machine on election day when all that many voters needed to cast their vote was a sample ballot. Watching that all play out on election day was an eye opener for many of us, and was something that perhaps could have been anticipated a bit better.

The Democrats are indeed a machine that knows how to win, they play a numbers game, it is cynical and corrupt- I am so glad I am not one of them! Disenfranchisement of African-Americans indeed occurred and this played into both their numbers game, and in their political message which ignores whole sections of our city under the assumption that their votes are either taken for granted, or simply not needed.

The re-precincting shut out the entire community around the Jefferson School, as well as the community near Venable. These neighborhoods are mainly African-American, and low wealth communities. To move their voting place across town to a white, rich, neighborhood definitely reduced voter participation. I am not sure that this was done deliberately, but the decision was made without any consideration to those neighborhoods. I personally spoke to residents on those areas who expressed that would not vote on election day, and they were not surprised that their voices were not considered valuable enough to be included in the process. The neighborhood around Venable was also impacted, people used to voting at Venable for decades, who lived only two blocks away were re-precincted to Carver, which had been moved to Westwood road. This disenfranchisement should be of no surprise, even in a the supposedly “progressive” (whatever that means) town of Charlottesville the same old reinforcement of rich, white dominance occurs, and will likely continue to occur.

We did, however, make an attempt to give rides to the polls from Westhaven and the neighborhood surrounding it. Many thanks to all who helped in that effort!

The entire process was a learning experience, though much of what I learned was more a reinforcement of previously held beliefs. I do see a viability in independent political action. We influenced the discussion, and gained some influence with sitting councilors. People are hungry for justice, I had a lot to say and this was appreciated by a great many people. When people could hear the message and associate it with me, they voted for me. Had I been able to talk individually to 3000 more people I may have been able to win. I recognize that getting people to vote differently is tough, but not as tough as doing real organizing on issues. My hope was to motivate some to get involved in activism, and maybe a few have, but for the most part this still remains something that needs to be done. I am thrilled to acknowledge that my suspicions about the deep understanding that regular people have about alternatives to their economic and social situations were confirmed. People can make good decisions, they understand policy when it affects them, they see alternatives, and they have a healthy distrust of all systems of power.

So, moving forward I ask that all of you write me and schedule a time to meet. The main task is to figure out what those 1477 people were interested in most, how to reach them, and how to motivate them into action. Admittedly, I have been unable to jump right into post-campaign organizing, but I hope that using the “former candidate” moniker I may be able to squeeze some press attention out. The things is, what do I want to say?

Currently I have some things I am involved in, and have some thoughts on moving forward.

I would like to craft an agenda to present to council in January. Picking some of the more detailed and attainable parts of my platform and further laying them out with an eye towards finding some support from councilors. As an activist, I might then go on to move these things forward in various ways beyond the council. Here’s what I am thinking might work, and has some support on council-
-jobs center and influencing the orange dot project
-expansion of Transit- particularly Sunday service
-addressing the affordable housing crisis, expanding the housing fund
-alternatives to military service at CHS
…and probably more, I look forward to hearing from all of you on how this might work.

Another idea to look towards is the formation of a “People’s Council” that would include various social, economic, and environmental justice groups to craft an agenda, lobby council to make it happen, and engage in activism. perhaps with a goal of drafting candidates and filling commission seats at some point. I am working on sowing the seeds for this, and invite everyone to join in!

I am seeking to continue working on solidifying community support for the Living Wage campaign at UVA. Look for spam in your inbox on an interest meeting to consider a formal group or coalition to support Living Wage as they head into an aggressive late winter and early spring.

Of course, I really need to re-engage my ongoing committments to the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice, the Socialist Party of Central Virginia, the IWW, and the Cville Workers Action Network and Virginia United Against Oppression. Feel free to drop me a line to learn more about these groups!

In Unity and Love,
Brandon Collins
(434) 249-3312

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One Response to Message to Supporters- I Love You All!

  1. Liz Towle says:

    Your message inspires so many thoughts and provokes so many emotions in me, Brandon. It’s so difficult to hang on to one or two ideas here! It’s fantastic that you got the number of votes you did, as well as knowing there were more ‘out there’ that simply didn’t come through. People know who you are now, and that’s what matters. Your ideas resonate with more people than you can probably imagine!

    I embrace your ideas so fully, particularly regarding the care for people who need it so desperately — decent housing conditions, to start the real ‘caring process’, is tops to me. Rents have increased right in time for the Social Security COLA increase for some people. Unbelievable, but it is happening! Meanwhile the maintenance of some complexes (whose tenancy is 100% Social Security beneficiaries) is horrendous, and the rent is raised each year.

    It’s sickening how our state continues to plunder the under-served – our tax dollars are supposed to pay for services to these folks and, through many wicked means, the government sucks it all back up. The sick, the retired, the vet, the unnamed hasn’t the slightest chance in the land of ‘the status quo’! We KNOW there’s plenty of money out there! WHERE is it?

    Some days I wake up, and I feel defeated before my first cup of coffee. “What is it I CAN DO?”, I ask myself, knowing that’s a dangerous question first thing…It’s better to wait to ask anything of myself! I’m tired of offering cold comforts – there are answers!

    I’m with you, like many, many others, Brandon! Possibly only in spirit most of the time, but I am here!

    Liz

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