Roanoke, the city, is a healthy thriving place surrounded by Trumpistan. In 2016, the city went for Hillary over Trump 56.1% to 38.5%. The 4 counties that surround the city are filled with people with a very different vision than the one folks in Roanoke City share:
Roanoke County- Trump- 61.5%
Franklin County- Trump- 69.2%
Bedford County- Trump- 72.5%
Botetourt County- Trump- 71.7%
Southwest Virginia is represented by 3 far right congressmen, Ben Cline, Bob Good and Morgan Griffith. Having Sam Rasoul-- one of the most prominent progressives in the Commonwealth-- representing Roanoke in the House of Delegates looks like some kind of anomaly. But he won his first race for the seat in a 2014 special election with over 70% of the vote and the Republicans didn't even put up candidates to oppose him in 2015, 2017 or 2019. Now he's one of 7 candidates for lieutenant governor. But Rasoul isn't giving up on his region-- not by a long shot. I asked him to share his thoughts on that with us. If you like what he has to say, please consider contributing to his campaign here.
Democratic Victories Will Be Short-Lived Unless We Do The Work Necessary To Build Trust
-by Del. Sam Rasoul
candidate for Lt. Governor of Virginia
Joe Biden won in Virginia this past November, and won the 2020 presidential election. Democrats hold Virginia’s House of Delegates, the State Senate, and all statewide elected offices. It would be easy to look at our current political landscape and assume Virginia is now a solidly blue state, or that there’s no need to connect with rural communities that tend to vote Republican. That would be a colossal error.
If the Tea Party wave of 2009 and the election of Donald Trump in 2016 have taught us anything, I would hope it’s that we should take nothing for granted. Analysts are sounding the alarm that the margins of Democratic victories are thin, and the support of America’s growing multiracial working class is up for grabs. Turns out demography is not destiny after all.
The problem is that we haven’t earned the trust of the people. Most Americans don’t identify as either Democrat or Republican. The largest group of registered voters in the US do not associate themselves with either party. If politicians are too busy scoring points for the red team or the blue team to notice what is actually happening in our communities, who can blame the voters? People are tired of gridlock and excuses. They want and deserve fundamental change
that will get big money out of our elections, and (as we saw in our most recent election) put an end to gerrymandering. The majority of Virginians are tired of establishment politics, and they know the difference beween those that talk the talk and those that walk the walk.
My four terms in General Assembly have taught me that at the end of the day politics is about relationships, and we can’t build relationships without trust. The policy wonk in me would like to think that it’s the details of the policies that matter most to voters, but my experience tells me that it’s not what issues we stand for, but rather how we stand for issues as expressions of our values that builds trust.
Growing up an ethnic and religious minority in Roanoke, most people I interacted with didn’t look like me, and didn’t share my family’s faith. My family ran a convenience store, and people from all walks of life would frequent our business. From a young age I learned how to connect with people from different backgrounds. I understood that to form meaningful relationships with our neighbors, we had to earn their trust by listening to them and living our values every single day.
We can start building trust with Virginia voters by admitting where and how we’ve fallen short. We need to show up for communities that have been ignored for far too long, listen, and empathize with their frustrations. Empathizing doesn’t mean agreeing with everything anyone says. Rather, radical empathy means we acknowledge the frustrations people are experiencing. Empathy is hard work, but we need to recognize that some communities have been used and left behind. Empathy builds trust, and trust is the bond that can build powerful coalitions.
Second, we must be able to articulate what we are fighting for, not simply what we are against. It’s not enough to just be anti-Trump or anti-pipeline. We have to fight for racial, social, environmental, and economic justice. That’s why I was the chief patron of a Green New Deal for Virginia. “No” is no longer good enough.
We have to fight everywhere, for all Virginians. There’s been talk of reviving a 50-state strategy nationally. We need a 95-county-38-city strategy for Virginia. There’s no quick and easy way to accomplish that, but we are virtually guaranteed to lose every community that we don’t show up in. Many candidates and campaigns put the outline of Virginia on their logos, but how many are actually running to represent the entire Commonwealth? We cannot leave any communities behind.
Last but not least, we should focus on our common struggles and frustrations, rather than on identities that divide us. For example, many rural school districts are up against the same funding challenges that small urban educators are grappling with. When we build bridges between our urban-rural divide, we begin to see that their struggle looks a lot like our struggle, and the only way we make progress is by forming alliances that will bring meaningful, long-lasting changes to improve the standard of living for everyone in the Commonwealth.