Armchair Activist

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On this page, you’ll find opportunities to participate in local and state government from your living room, home office, kitchen, car, or wherever you write letters or emails, or make phone calls. When you make your voice heard, it is democracy in action!

Information on this page changes often. We aren’t recreating the wheel, so there are many links to other places where you can find information and decide your own way to take action. We do not advocate all ideas presented in the links but the point is to help you educate yourself.

On this page, we have several sections. Use the links below to go to specific topics on this page.

What other people are saying

Here are some popular bloggers and websites you might want to follow to get an idea of what other people are doing and saying. It is by no means a comprehensive list of everything out there but maybe it can get you started on an action-oriented path. Let’s promote democracy, tell our elected officials what we want, and get more Democrats elected!

Note that the SML Democrats club is not subscribing to or promoting any of the following people or ideas. These are suggestions that might help you decide what you need to know or do to have your voice heard and make connections with like-minded people.

  • Chop Wood, Carry Water – a daily actions newsletter from activist Jessica Craven with specific help to take action for democracy and progressive ideas. You can also follow her on Twitter and TikTok. Here’s a link to her Activism 101 Document that might get you inspired to take action on a variety of fronts.
  • Letters from an American – from Heather Cox Richardson, a professor of history at Boston College, to chronicle today’s political landscape. She references the past (Constitution, laws, economics and social customs) to explore what it means to be an American today. You can also follow her on Facebook.
  • Today’s Edition Newsletter – daily thoughts, from Robert B. Hubbell, to provide hope and perspective to like-minded citizens who are devoted to preserving American democracy.
  • Sierra Club Activism – in the face of a warming climate, unprecedented levels of pollution, and powerful special interests undermining basic protections, the club is now focusing on bringing people together for solutions. You’ll find many ideas here on taking action, not only for the climate but also to protect democracy. The Virginia Chapter of the Serra Club is addressing the state’s change from “climate action to climate denial” under Gov. Youngkin and you’ll find many ways to take action.
  • If you’re looking for quiet reflection and community, you might want to follow John Pavlovitz, American pastor and author, known for his progressive social and political writings.
  • A few other organizations that you might want to follow, depending on your interests: ACLU, Progressive Caucus Action Fund, Vote Forward, Daily Kos, Black Lives Matter, People Demanding Action, The States Project, United Today, Stronger Tomorrow, and Red Wine & Blue. Many of these organizations have letter writing opportunities as well as many other ways you can get involved.

Choose your own topic and take action!

Your opinions matter, and your thoughts probably represent more people than you think. We need to have Democratic voices speak out loudly in our area in order to have a healthy two-party democracy.

You can contact your county Board of Supervisors, School Board members or other elected officials to express your views and concerns. A note of thanks is also welcome when they support policies and legislation that helps our community. Find your local elected officials on our Current Elected Officials page.

Consider sending a letter to a local paper on issues that are important to you. The Public Relations Committee can help you draft a letter or give you further contact information at local papers.

List of current topics for action

Choose what you want to learn about by using these links that will take you further down the page.

ATTEND A LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

Unless you have been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard something about school boards across the country being inundated with angry (and sometimes violent) audience members who want to discuss masks, curriculum and political issues at these meetings. The same thing is happening in the counties around Smith Mountain Lake. See below for more about Franklin County in particular.

You can help by attending one or more school board meetings in your county. This will give a more balanced perspective so that board members (and audience members, too) realize that there are other views in our community. If you don’t want to speak, just attend a meeting to learn about the school system, which is often one of the biggest employers in rural counties, and where many of your dollars are spent.

If you would like to make a public comment, you are allowed a set number of minutes to speak, uninterrupted. You do not have to address a “hot” topic or divisive issue. Some ideas are:

  • Talk about how our school division will address the significant amount of “learning loss” that has occurred during a two-year global pandemic that drove many kids to virtual learning for a significant portion of time.
  • You’ve been watching School Board meetings and would love to see the focus shift to education and welfare of our kids instead of serving as a political podium for culturally divisive issues.
  • Talk about what can be done about the significant absenteeism and behavioral issues that we are currently experiencing as we move out of pandemic mode.
  • In Franklin County, there is great need for a true Career and Technical Education Center (CTE) to serve both the students and community, thereby making us a more attractive county for new employers.
  • Teacher pay, retention, and filling teacher and staffing vacancies are all relevant topics that need to be addressed, especially in Franklin County compared to other nearby counties (Roanoke, for example).

You will need to sign up ahead of time to speak, so be sure to look at your county’s School Board agenda on their websites to find out dates and times (they do meet in the summer!) and for information or forms for making your comments.

Bedford County School Board
Franklin County School Board
Pittsylvania County School Board

More about why local school boards need your voice

Local school board meeting audiences have become packed with “activist members” of the community. That’s their label for what they’re doing. In Franklin County:

  • Many of them are not parents of students in the public schools.
  • They did not support any mask requirements in schools at any time during the pandemic.
  • They do not support being inclusive with our LGBTQ+ kids.
  • They continue to accuse the schools of teaching CRT and of driving a Marxist agenda through our schools.
  • Book banning has been brought up, but has not garnered much support.
  • It appears that this has become a social event for this group as many of them bring knitting and read books during the meeting after they have made their 3-minute speeches.
  • They have become a distraction to the Board’s agenda of focusing on education and the welfare of students.

Also in Franklin County, and perhaps other counties as well, the same 50-60 people come to each meeting. This small group, while visible and vocal, does not represent the whole community of 56,000. Please consider adding your voice to show that there are other points of view.

Parent-activists, seeking control over education, are taking over school boards
By Hannah Natanson, Washington Post 

Write letters to Get Out the Vote

There are many organizations that have started letter writing campaigns to encourage people to get to the polls. Studies have shown that postcards or letters addressed to individuals actually do increase voting.

The SML Democrats and both the Bedford and Franklin County Democratic Committees have postcard writing sessions which you can attend. They are a fun, social opportunity as well if you join a group session.

There are also organizations that target populations in many states to encourage turnout for hotly contested elections. Depending on your interest, you could commit to writing 10, 20 or 100 notes to encourage people to vote for various reasons. Environmental, health care, women’s rights, children’s needs, legal issues, racism issues, etc., are all topics with organizations behind these causes that will enlist your help and offer letter-writing tips. Whatever your interest is, you can find a place that needs your help to get voters motivated enough to hit the polls. Some examples are listed above, under the “What other people are saying” headline.

Here are a few current letter-writing campaigns focusing on various critical states to encourage Democrats and/or combat voter suppression.

  • Postcards to Swing States – There are just a few days left to request addresses from Postcards to Swing States to write to voters in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, or New Hampshire. These cards will remind voters in key states that “Democrats Deliver.”
  • Vote Forward Letter Writing Campaign – New states have been added to the list as redistricting maps were approved in different states. “Because midterm elections are all about turnout, the millions of voters we’re writing to this year could make all the difference in close elections across the country,” said Scott Forman of Vote Forward.
Tell legislators to defend environmental progress

The House of Delegates GOP is trying to roll back environmental progress made in previous years. Here are current news stories about issues that may concern you and spur you to express your opinion.

A new poll from Christopher Newport University shows that voters support the state’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon cap-and-trade program (67% to 26%) and the Virginia Clean Economy Act (67% to 28%), a law requiring the state to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2050. (See summary of poll findings and commentary below.)

Defend our progress on environmental protection in Virginia
(actionnetwork.org)
The Virginia Senate is now considering a long list of bills that will roll back our progress on environmental justice, climate action, and clean air and water in the Commonwealth. We need the Senate to stand strong against attacks on our environment.

Legal victories against Mountain Valley Pipeline make completion unlikely
(appvoices.org)
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit stopped Mountaiun Valley Pipeline (MVP) from crossing a section of the Jefferson National Forest. The court ruled that the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service had failed to adequately consider the real sedimentation and erosion impacts from the construction of the pipeline and willfully ignored the Forest Service’s own internal requirements set out in a 2012 planning rule. This is the second time MVP has lost the ability to cross through Jefferson National Forest.

Hold the line. Our future depends on it.
virginiamercury.com
As a climate advocate in Virginia, the election of Gov. Glenn Youngkin was a disappointment of immeasurable proportions. For many Virginians, it was tragic that someone with some extreme policy positions is now at the helm of our state after years of great progress.

Mountain Valley Pipeline investor NextEra Energy reevaluating project
By Matt Harvey, WV News
NextEra Energy Resources is taking an $800 million impairment charge as it reevaluates its investment in Equitrains Midstream Corp.’s Mountain Valley Pipleline. The news comes as another setback for developers of the $6.2 billion pipeline…from Wertzel County, West Virginia, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

Are our legislators doing what voters want?

If you suspect that you’re not alone in caring for the environment or how the state surplus should be spent, here’s what a new poll finds that Virginians want. Use this information in your activism, whatever form it takes.

State of the Commonwealth 2022 
Christopher Newport University, cnu.edu
Summary of Key Findings:

  • A majority of Virginia voters prefer spending the state budget surplus on underfunded government services, such as education, public safety and social services (59%), rather than providing tax cuts or tax rebates (38%).
  • Voters overwhelmingly support cutting the 2.5% grocery tax, either by a total repeal (47%) or by giving low-income Virginians a tax credit (25%).
  • Voters support teaching how racism continues to impact American society (63% to 33%) and oppose a ban on the teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in public schools (57% to 35%). (Note that CRT is NOT taught in any K-12 Virginia public school despite Gov. Youngkin’s comments on this subject.)
  • Virginia voters support vaccine mandates for first responders (58%), teachers (57%) and medical providers (61%), while opposing mandates for elementary students (55%) and middle school students (51%).
  • Voters strongly support stationing a police officer in every school (70%).
  • On abortion, a plurality oppose a 24-hour waiting period (49% to 44%), while a majority oppose requiring an ultrasound (57% to 36%) and a ban on abortions at 6 weeks (58% to 33%).
  • Voters support the state’s membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative carbon cap-and-trade program (67% to 26%) and the Virginia Clean Economy Act (67% to 28%), a law requiring the state to generate 100% of its electricity from renewable energy by 2050.
ERA stalls again, faces setbacks

The fact that women are not mentioned in the Constitution or in any Constitutional amendment to date has been an issue that rears its head often enough when women make steps toward equality and rights under the law. When Democrats turned Virginia blue, they ratified the ERA after decades when the amendment languished without enough states supporting it. After passage, another effort was begun to push it into law. If women’s rights are on your mind, here are some recent articles with information to help you take action.

Virginia attorney general moves to withdraw from ERA lawsuit (Associated Press)
Republican Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares moved Friday to withdraw the state from a lawsuit that seeks to force the federal government to recognize Virginia’s 2020 vote to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and add the text to the Constitution. In a court filing, Miyares asked that the commonwealth be dismissed as a party to the lawsuit, which was initiated by his Democratic predecessor and is currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The West Virginia Senate recently approved a resolution to rescind the state ERA Amendment. Other states have also jumped on board, threatening to rescind their ERA ratification, along with other actions that diminish women’s rights in particular.

Virginia ratifies ERA
Washington Post, 2020
This article, from 2020 when Virginia ratified the amendment, provides background and has links to other articles that may be of interest.

Turn the Governor’s Teacher Tip Line into a “positive”

Governor Youngkin has established a tip line to report teachers who use “divisive teaching practices” (even though he doesn’t define what that entails) and his administration refuses to answer who is to monitor the tip line or how a report will be addressed.

We can combat parent fears that lead to book banning and opposing critical race theory (CRT), which is not taught in Virginia elementary or secondary schools. Tell the Governor about the positive impact that our schools and teachers have, and that he has overstepped. Express your opinion of the tip line. Many teachers find this demeaning and insulting to be reported to the government for undefined “divisiveness” with no stated recourse. 

Let’s do this instead: keep the tip line alive all year with positive reports

Rather than feeding into the assumption that learning about diversity and historical facts is harmful to our children and future adult citizens, fill the tip line with positive experiences of schools, teachers and education. You don’t have to have been a student in the lake area counties or even in Virginia! Simply tell about the positive impact teachers, schools and education have had on you, your life and/or your family.

Some suggestions for positive reports:
• Who was your favorite teacher and what did they teach?
• What teacher had the most positive impact on your life?
• What does/did your child like about their teachers?
• Tell about a positive impact on your life from your school or your child’s school.
• What are some of your fondest memories about school?
• Express your personal opinion of this action.

The governor’s site for comments is: helpeducation@governor.virginia.gov.

News reports on this topic

Youngkin faces criticism from Dems over schools ‘tipline’
By Sarah Rankin, Associated Press
…He urged parents to write about “any instances where they feel that their fundamental rights are being violated, where their children are not being respected, where there are inherently divisive practices in their schools.”

#ThankATeacher: Parents, educators flood Youngkin’s email hotline with positive school experiences
By Scott Gelman, WTOP
Virginia educators and parents encourage the community to send positive experiences with teachers to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s new email hotline aimed at collecting information about school happenings that parents perceive as divisive. Using the hashtag #ThankATeacher, social media users were encouraged to send an email to the new address with information about favorite teachers, how children feel about their current teachers and fond school memories.

Concerns raised over new divisive learning tip line to report critical race theory in schools
By Jon Dowding, WAVY-TV
…The tip line, created by the governor’s office, serves as a way for parents, students and teachers to report educators and schools who use “divisive teaching practices,” specifically involving critical race theory. President Dr. James Fedderman of the Virginia Education Association (VEA) says neither he nor the 40,000+ teachers in the VEA received guidance from the state detailing what exactly constitutes “divisive learning.”

Other education issues making headlines

There’s a national parents’ rights movement with regard to educational policies and curriculum that has caught our nation by surprise. This is largely what put Gov. Youngkin into office. If topics such as banning books, rewriting and whitewashing history, or not following the law concerns you, take a look at current headlines on multiple education topics and write to your local School Board or the Virginia Department of Education to make your views known.

And, remember: some actions in the state legislature, such as school funding, are GOOD news and it’s important to acknowledge that as well, especially when contacting elected officials. Let’s celebrate our accomplishments when we can!

House Republicans vote to stop teaching major historical events from Virginia public schools
The Democratic Party of Virginia is providing support to Democratic candidates running for local school board. Contact the organization for more information or to make a donation.

Read the Books That Schools Want to Ban (The Atlantic)

Bill mandating parental notice before sexually explicit lessons advances: ‘This is not a book ban’
By Jackie Defusco, WRIC-TV

House pushes for $2 billion to fund school construction needs (cardinalnews.org)

Senate Democrats release budget to provide $2.7 billion for education

Youngkin’s ‘lab school design challenge’ revives an old push (vpm.org)

ICYMI: House GOP Votes Against the Teaching of Nearly a Dozen Historical Events & Figures (bluevirginia.us)
House Republicans voted to kill nearly a dozen floor amendments [that] would have ensured educators can teach students important and valuable lessons from United States history without the fear of political backlash. The bill’s patron defended the legislation saying it would “prevent teachers from taking sides” on issues like the Lost Cause of the Confederacy and the Three-Fifths Compromise.

Republicans look to increase police presence in Virginia’s schools
By Megan Pauly, WCVE-FM

Fox News host forces Glenn Youngkin to admit critical race theory is not ‘being taught’ in Virginia schools 
rawstory.com

Youngkin names a new diversity officer for the state, orders a new focus for the office’s work, including review of History curriculum in schools
By Mel Leonor, Richmond Times-Dispatch

Youngkin taps critical race theory opponents to lead public education in Virginia
By Kate Masters, Virginia Mercury

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