Rally turns into a party once the presidential race gets called.
RICHMOND-On a bright, unseasonably warm Saturday, festive music could be heard from blocks away in downtown Richmond. Following the music, the cause quickly became clear: a large group of activists and supporters from New Virginia Majority, Planned Parenthood, the SEIU Virginia 512 chapter and others were celebrating their right to vote and Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election win.
The rally was initially organized by the New Virginia Majority as a way to push for state governments to count all submitted votes – something that many conservatives did not want to happen in swing states. But right before the rally was set to begin one of those swing states, Pennsylvania, went to Biden. That pushed him over the edge and netted him the 270 electoral college votes needed to win.
Instead of canceling the rally, it instead became a victory celebration and a call to further action. Around 75 people gathered to listen to local activist leaders share their feelings about the win, and what they felt needed to be done next.
Overcoming Voter Suppression
The biggest issue that was addressed was voter suppression, including restoration of rights. Historically, Virginia has one of the most difficult rights restoration processes.
The first guest speaker was Carol Bradley-Cousins, who is with the New Virginia Majority. She was denied the first time she tried to restore her rights.
“I remember the first question was, ‘Have you been off probation and parole for three years?’” Bradley-Cousins said. “I checked yes and was denied. I was denied because I hadn’t paid all these fines. I just kept writing to the governor’s office because I felt like no one should ever not be able to vote.”
Bradley-Cousins said she never stopped writing until she finally had her rights restored.
“It was like I had hit the lottery, I felt overjoyed,” Bradley-Cousins said. “I was 50 years old before I could vote, and that’s really sad. I hope no one ever has to go through that in life.”
But it wasn’t just talking about the issues that remain to be fixed about voter suppression. Speakers also celebrated overcoming voter suppression with record turnout, especially among minority groups.
David Broder, president for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Virginia 512 chapter, opened and closed the speaking portion of the event. While opening, he praised the voter turnout that helped bring Biden to victory.
“We turned out in record numbers and we chose a future where all of us can thrive, every one of us,” Broder said. “We turned out in record numbers to pick new leaders who will govern for all of us and we will continue to raise our voices.”
Thomasine Wilson, the home care chair for the SEIU Virginia 512, talked about how as an essential worker she found it important to come out and vote for those that support the rights of her and other home care workers.
“We are here to pay tribute to what we can achieve with our solidarity, honor those we have lost and make it very clear that politicians do not decide who get as president to represent us,” Wilson said. “That power lies within us, the people. And we are not going to be stopped.”
Wilson emphasized that they still need to hold politicians accountable, even after the election. Among her demands were a raised minimum wage, healthcare for all, immediate action to climate change and voting rights for all.
Protecting & Supporting Minority Rights
Aurora Higgs, a transgender Black activist, said that the fight is far from over for Black and transgender people.
“This election season felt like there was a lot on the line for me and my community,” Higgs said. “This year felt like the beginning of a change.”
Higgs said that while Biden may have won the election, the fight did not end there. She thanked those who voted for Biden, saying that the rally was about them, not who they voted for. But she said that they had to keep pushing beyond just the vote.
“No matter what happens, we will have to fight for trans rights, we will have to fight to make sure that Black people are not brutalized and murdered by those sworn to protect us, the police,” Higgs said. “We have to fight to make sure we are living in a just and liberated society, not just one that is technically blue. The fight does not stop here.”
Higgs said that she understands that people are tired and want to rest now that the election is over, but it is important to keep up the fight, and keep it up sustainably. But after the last four years, she said she felt like they could make it through anything.
Miriam Lopez Estrada expressed joy in being able to vote a second time as an immigrant, but pleaded with others to continue to vote and to support the immigrant community.
“It is very important for everyone to vote,” Lopez Estrada said. “Our votes are the ones to decide who stays and who’s going. And I want to encourage to every single Latinos to stay in this nation even though it’s not our nation, but it has given us a hand to stand up together.”
Finally, Kayla Lipscomb spoke. As the Black Organizing Program Organizer for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, she reminded the crowd that while the election was won, the fight for reproductive rights and bodily autonomy continues.
“Our lives are not single-issue,” Lipscomb said. “Make no mistake, we are fighting the greatest threat to our rights, reproductive freedom and healthcare access in a generation.”
“A Most Joyful Parade”
After the speaking portion of the event ended, participants went to their cars for a victory parade. At least 50 cars lined up, adorned with signs and blaring their horns, as they drove in a loop around the Virginia capitol building. The point of the parade was not just to celebrate the win, but to acknowledge how they got there.
“We are going to have the most joyful parade to celebrate what we have won together, to honor those we have lost, and to make it very clear that no politician, no fascist dictator, can stop democracy,” Broder said. “They cannot take away our power. Our power is with the people. Because we know this to be true: when we vote, we win.”
Julia Raimondi is a freelance writer for Dogwood. She can be reached at [email protected].