I hope everyone is looking forward to the fall after some time to relax over the summer. Although we have some meetings between our regular County Board meetings in July and September, August is a quieter month for the Board, and so it is a time to slow down, to reflect a bit on where we’ve been this year, and to look ahead.
The unexpected and horrific events in Charlottesville continue to reverberate for me, as they do for many. The Board received many emails expressing distress at what happened and concern about the ways Arlington remembers the Confederacy. I believe it is time for us to have some thoughtful conversations about many associated issues: How do we remember and reflect on our racial history? Whom and what do we honor? Are there existing honors we should remove, and if so, how? Who deserves recognition but does not have it today? How should we make clear what is acceptable and what is not, while respecting the rights granted to all Americans by the First Amendment? I am talking with my colleagues about how we may facilitate these conversations. My goals for these discussions are both to help the Board decide what, if any, place names or memorials should be changed and also to help Arlingtonians process what the recent events in Charlottesville, and across the country, mean to us as a community. The Board released a statement in the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville, but that is just a start.
The longer I live, the more I appreciate the saying, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” I saw how tragedy can have the power to bring people together when John Vihstadt and I represented Arlington at the Virginia Association of Counties conference in Charlottesville a week after the horrific demonstrations and death of Heather Heyer. We heard from the gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates of both parties, all of whom abhorred the bigotry and hate that we had seen the week before. Then county board members from around the Commonwealth discussed how we can help each other. Once again I was struck by how elected local officials serving throughout Virginia are committed to supporting each other in our work. We discussed how to support each other with issues that affect us differently, such as how to get broadband service into our more rural counties and how to get dedicated Metro funding for urban counties like Arlington. Before returning home, John and I visited the street where Heather was killed. Pictures do not convey the emotional power of the site. An unremarkable city block has been made a shrine as people come to leave small and large personal tributes. Tears well up quickly. People stop and stand silently, often visibly shaken by the import of what happened there. Heather’s mother’s words, “You have magnified her,” feel powerful and true.
Our experiences in the past month here in Virginia, and now watching the response of emergency professionals and regular people to the catastrophe in Texas, have helped renew my belief in the essential goodness of people and the need for good government to serve us. As I write, a swift water rescue team from Arlington is on its way to Texas. Millions of people across the country are joining them by supporting aid organizations like the Red Cross — I encourage you to help if you are able.
With September, we begin what always feels like a new year to me. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our community, and I know there are people of good will everywhere to help. I am confident we will be able to tackle both the known issues on which we have been working for some time and whatever challenges the future brings.