‘Our Very Democracy on the Line’: Women Leaders Across Virginia Share a Powerful Message

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By Amie Knowles

October 21, 2021

“When we say that this election is the most important election, that’s not hyperbole,” said state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi.

RICHMOND—Have you already voted? Or are you heading out on Election Day? Those questions were top of mind for the group of current and former lawmakers, leaders, and even songwriters who met recently to talk about the importance of getting out to vote in Virginia’s elections. 

Virginia state Sen. Jennifer McClellan hosted a virtual event—the Power of Women Statewide Rally produced by Network NOVA—last week, where she encouraged ladies across the commonwealth to make their voices heard.

“Part of why it’s so important that we get women involved is when we’re involved, our issues are addressed—and frankly every issue is a woman’s issue,” McClellan said. 

Seats up for grabs this year include governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and all 100 seats in the House of Delegates. 

Women’s Voices in Congress

McClellan, who represents the Greater Richmond region, reminisced about the 2016 election, when Donald Trump won the presidency. She said that for three days, she couldn’t get out of bed. But when McClellan emerged, she announced her candidacy for the state Senate.

“I went out and I saw all these amazing women and women just drove the blue wave in 2017, but we came up a little bit short of the majority. But we laid the groundwork,” McClellan said. “And the following year, not only did we win the majority of the congressional seats, but we elected three powerhouse women.”

One of those ladies was Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton, who previously served in the state Senate before winning a seat in the US House. At the time, Virginia ranked 42nd in terms of representation of women in elected leadership, according to Wexton. In 2013, the Center for American Women and Politics reported that only 17 women won the seats they vied for. In 2017, the commonwealth flipped 15 House of Delegates seats to Democratic leadership, and 11 of those seats went to women. Total, 28 of the 100 seats went to women.

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The following year, Virginia sent three women to Congress, which had never happened before. In 2019, the voters flipped the General Assembly in the Democrats’ favor. 

“So now Virginia is no longer 42nd. We are now 28th,” Wexton said during the virtual rally. “We are getting there, but we’ve got to do better.”

Rep. Elaine Luria was another one of the three women elected to Congress in 2018. She has since spent time working toward building a team at every level of government—federal, state, and local.

“We have to work together and we have to have folks in those positions who share our values and can work toward common goals with us,” Luria said. 

Rep. Abigail Spanberger, the third woman elected to Virginia’s congressional delegation during the 2018 midterms, also stressed the importance of voting in the upcoming election.

“If we are going to ensure that we are strengthening our democracy, holding the House of Delegates right now and marching a forward path toward progress, this is where it all begins—here in Virginia,” Spanberger said.

A Beacon of Hope

McClellan also welcomed state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, who represents Powhatan County, Chesterfield County, and Richmond City, to the virtual rally. In 2019, the Richmond-area former community college professor became the first Muslim woman elected to Virginia’s state Senate. 

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During the rally, Hashmi spoke about a recent event she attended with senators from other Southern states. While some of the topics the group discussed disheartened Hashmi—like legislation that attacked women’s rights and educational opportunities—she referred to Virginia as “a beacon of hope” in the region and throughout the country. 

“In the past few years, we have accomplished so much to be proud of,” Hashmi said.  “And we’ve done it because of the energy and the enthusiasm of our grassroots voters.”

The senator encouraged voters to remain vigilant, cautioning against the assumption that Virginia will reflexively elect one party over another. 

“We absolutely can’t take it for granted. We know that,” Hashmi said. “We know that we get results because we make results. We push hard. We make sure that people go out to vote. And we make sure that people are educated about issues that really, really impact their families.”

She encouraged voters to consider that every election is critical.

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“When we say that this election is the most important election, that’s not hyperbole. Every election in front of us is absolutely critical. We have to remember that. So we build on the work of the past. We focus on what’s right in front of us. And we are laying the foundation now for what’s going to come next year and the year after that,” Hashmi said. “And what’s right in front of us is the opportunity to make history. We have the opportunity to elect the first woman of color to a statewide office.”

A Message from Virginia’s Former First Lady

Dorothy McAuliffe, former First Lady of Virginia, also spoke at the rally while on the campaign trail with her husband, Terry, the Democratic nominee for governor. She noted the difference women’s voices make in elections. 

“Whatever we can do, we’ve got to put it all on the field in these next [few] days,” McAullife said, referencing the Nov. 2 election. “And if we know anything, we know in Virginia, women get it done every time. We know that women are going to keep Virginia blue as they have in the past several cycles. We just need to keep it going. We need to elect this ticket with my husband, Terry, with Hala Ayala, which is so exciting, with Mark [Herring]. And then we really, really, really need to keep that General Assembly so that Jennifer [McClellan] has a chamber to work with and we all do. And it’s just so important.”

She also praised some of the multiple Democratic successes over the past few years, including the option to vote early without an excuse and laws passed on gun reform, health care and women’s health.

RELATED: Virginia’s Democratic Majority Did What?

“There is so much. We say it every time, but it really is true. It truly is really our very democracy on the line in this election,” McAuliffe said.

Early voting ends on Oct. 30. Polls will reopen on Election Day, Nov. 2 at 6 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. Those already in line to vote by the deadline will be able to cast their ballot. Mail-in ballots must be postmarked on or before Nov. 2 and must arrive at the registrar’s office by noon on Nov. 5 to be counted. 

Amie Knowles reports for the Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].

  • Amie Knowles

    Amie is Dogwood's community editor. She has been in journalism for several years, winning multiple awards from the Virginia Press Association for news and features content. A lifelong Virginia resident, her work has appeared in the Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and NWNC Magazine.

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