Virginia's 49th House District-- parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties, suburbs just south of DC-- is deep blue. Republicans don't even mount credible campaigns there; the real ballgame is the Democratic primary. Several neighborhoods in the district are historically Black, with roots in the woman’s suffrage and abolition movements, although Delegate candidate Karishma Mehta told me that "gentrification and years of housing commodification by local officials has led to long-time residents being displaced. The most notable threat to our district is Jeff Bezos and Amazon HQ2. The tech giant has already broken ground on their HQ2, which is being built in the heart of our district. Residents are already seeing skyrocketing rent prices, more police presence and surveillance, and lack of resources budgeted for community programs, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our budgets are moral receipts, and our community has been underserved by the Commonwealth for decades while its current representative in the Virginia House of Delegates upholds the status quo.
Our district is a multiracial, multicultural, multilingual and multigenerational coalition of working families ready to transform Virginia. Over 100 languages are spoken in the district and it is disproportionately young. And it's in primaries in districts this blue where Democrats can elect cutting edge, tip-of-the-spear leaders... like Mehta.
The current delegate, Alfonso Lopez, is a garden variety Democrat, a former DNC member and lobbyist. He is the current Democratic House Majority Whip, a position that gives him the ability to pass sweeping legislation. Instead he has generally taken an incrementalist approach, leaving his constituents on the hook not just waiting for stronger COVID-19 relief, but healthcare for all, environmental justice and the right to safe housing for all, planks Mehta is running on. "In an unprecedented time in our nation’s history," she told me today, "Delegate Lopez, who has been in office for nearly a decade, has failed to act boldly or introduce courageous legislation in a district wrought with income inequality. We can no longer sit idly by as he continues to push gradualism to guarantee our human rights while simultaneously taking money from corrupt corporations and systems like ICE, Comcast, Microsoft, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Anthem, Pfizer, and the cops."
One thing you hear a lot of from northern Virginia residents is that despite Lopez’s spurious claims to be a progressive, he cannot properly represent his constituents while taking money from institutions that criminalize poverty, demonize immigrants, and exploit workers. Mehta anticipates that Lopez will raise plenty of money for the primary challenge; he is intimately connected to well-off donors and corporate money. But, she told me that "We also know that Delegate Lopez has not built a grassroots coalition. The people we have on our side are what makes our campaign such an urgent call-to-action. Delegate Lopez doesn’t show up for us in the district, profits off of the pain of Latinx immigrants in ICE facilities, and has been absent on the frontlines of our fight against Amazon, Dominion Energy, and Altria. His constituents have demanded more in the past and received lukewarm responses. Instead of coalescing with Delegate Lee Carter and other progressive members of the House of Delegates, he has not committed to forming a Progressive Caucus to champion our cause. He relied on law enforcement when Black and Brown immigrant youth protested his campaign rallies to pressure him to divest from ICE detention centers. We cannot wait for our basic economic and human rights any longer. We believe it is time for Delegate Lopez to witness the power of a multiracial working-class coalition in District 49." If you'd like to help, please consider contributing to Karishma Mehta's campaign by clicking on the 2021 Act Blue state legislative thermometer above and donating what you can.
No One Left Behind
-by Karishma Mehta
As a teacher, my neighbors-- our friends, our families, our loved ones-- trust individuals like myself to set an example for our future leaders. We teach children how to be an active part of a diverse community: sharing, cleaning up after yourself, taking turns. We teach our students love and empathy and how to make our friends feel valued. We teach with compassion, warmth, and a belief that no one should be left behind.
We teach so that our students may create a better society-- a better Virginia-- together.
For far too long, however, Virginia has failed to address the needs of our communities. Our leaders have maintained a system that ensures handouts to the wealthy and corporations while the rest of us spend our days barely hanging on, especially during a pandemic.
Poverty is-- after all-- a policy decision.
As studies show-- and as any working-class family struggling to pay the bills this month can tell you-- our current economic system simply does not work for working people.
Our leaders continue to make the conscious decision to subsidize the desires of the wealthy rather than providing life-saving aid to the rest of us. We see it all around us, in the lives of our friends and even right at home. It is a feeling that I know well. I am the child of immigrants who moved to the U.S. looking for a better life, yet quickly discovered what many Americans already know: wealth inequality, racism, and xenophobia make life hard for working families like mine. And my family is not alone. This has been years of perpetuated injustice and well-designed oppression of marginalized peoples.
It is time we built a Virginia that rejects this old way of doing things. We need people in the General Assembly who are willing to stand up to the wealthy, not people who enrich their campaign coffers with corporations’ money. We need leaders who ensure that our tax dollars work for us, not lobby for billionaire corporations while my students struggle.
That is why I am running.
I am running because-- as the child of immigrants and as a teacher of children - I know how the value of a home far outweighs the cost of a house. Our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our community must be at the forefront of every policy decision we make.
Unsafe and unstable housing creates multi-generational trauma that is embedded in our communities, causing far-reaching and immeasurable harm. We must stop looking at the shelter that keeps us alive during frostbitten winters as a commodity to be traded on the open market. The cost of home ownership has increased by nearly 10 percent during the middle of the global pandemic, making it more difficult for families to secure reliable housing. At one point, the median cost of a home in Arlington County increased by 21% compared to 2019. This is not sustainable and is preventing large numbers of hardworking people from obtaining the stability that comes from homeownership, disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color.
Our elected officials are not being truthful to our community here in the 49th District. Take Virginia’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. All over my community, there are “for rent” signs, yet instead of giving poor and working-class Virginians resources to afford houses and apartments that already exist, the solution by some politicians is to funnel millions of dollars in subsidies to corporate real estate developers. We exhaust this “Affordable Housing” Trust Fund for unnecessary development and more gentrification. We don’t have a housing shortage in Virginia; we have a group of greedy corporate politicians who don’t want to house our neighbors. We need to guarantee housing and decommodify our basic human rights. Nobody should be able to profit from another person’s need for housing just because they cannot afford a down payment or uncontrolled rent prices. We need leaders willing to say that and act on it, not people who are willing to trade homes and livelihoods for campaign contributions.
Our housing crisis extends into the trauma created by ICE raids. My opponent was a paid lobbyist who has profited off of an organization well known for its role in terrorizing families of color simply cannot pretend to represent the people of Virginia’s 49th. The choice of extending this trauma deserves to be met with accountability, which my opponent answered by calling the cops on young activists.
Immigration Centers of America has made millions in the past decade by exploiting a system that prioritizes the use of private detention centers. Their facility in Farmville alone traded the lives of people for tens of thousands of dollars in increased profit margins. Those who have aided in the flourishing of a facility that has people contemplating the choice of contracting COVID-19 versus the inhumane option of deportation must answer for their decisions to enrich themselves in exchange for the livelihood of others.
American public intellectual, social activist, and Harvard professor Dr. Cornel West said, “justice is what love looks like in public.” If we are to build a society based in compassion and love, we must center justice in our policy-making. Policy is the language that speaks to the heart of our community. Policy is what directly impacts the lives of our loved ones. It is the guiding hand that allows people like myself to mold a better future for the people of our community. Justice-centered policy and a movement of all our people drives the conversation towards fully funded, equitable education. It gives us the opportunity to place health clinics on the ground of public schools so that the life and well-being of each and every child is at the forefront of our community. It gives us the building blocks for a better future where we can prioritize the needs of our youth rather than subsidizing corporations who profit from militaristic raids that seperate families. We need a leader who knows it’s not about me; it’s about us.
We must and we will prioritize the rights of the working class with a clear voice who understands that our neighbors-- not corporate lobbyists-- are the ones building our community, teaching our children, feeding our hungry, and healing our sick. Our frontline heroes, our friends, our neighbors, and everyone in this country, deserves a dignified life and I’m prepared to fight for it.