Glass, a Democrat, won that election on Tuesday with 75% of the vote, a day before the General Assembly reconvened.
When state house delegate Jay Jones stepped down from his seat representing Norfolk in the General Assembly last month, Jackie Glass was shocked. “To be quite honest, I was like, ‘What in the world?’ Glass told Dogwood. “I was upset knowing what was at stake in the General Assembly, and how many federal dollars were coming down, that we’re fighting for right now at the local level to make sure that the [American] Rescue Plan actually rescues, and that the Build Back Better [bill] actually builds everyday communities.”
After some thoughtful conversations with her husband, the Navy veteran and mom of “two little citizens” stepped up to run in a special election to fill Jones’s seat. Glass won that election on Tuesday with 75% of the vote, one day before the General Assembly reconvened. The House still has a Republican-led majority, but only by a slim margin—meaning every vote matters.
Though not originally from Norfolk, the Glass family has been involved in helping their “chosen hometown” since moving in eight years ago. She believes in building camaraderie block by block.
“I believe that even on this 2700 block of Vincent Avenue that I live on, that I know, and I can see and feel what my presence has done for my block, and what the others—specifically, women on my block—how their presence and their activities has changed our block,” she said. “We can do that.”
A Certified Doer’s M.O.B. Mentality Supports Moms
That’s why she started Mommas on the Block (MOB), a local women’s civic group that works with educators for the well-being of Norfolk and Virginia Beach students. Their first matter of business? Help Norfolk mothers navigate the individualized education program (IEP) process in their children’s schools.
“We had a lot of children that were on it, but [their mothers] were going to these meetings and feeling helpless,” Glass said. “We as a group decided that no mother would ever go up to any school by herself.”
They attended IEP and disciplinary meetings, and parent-teacher conferences on behalf of mothers in the area.
In 2018, Glass decided to step up and run for the city’s first fully elected school board after seeing problems in the school system. Though she lost by a couple dozen votes, that didn’t stop her from activating the community. She quit working for corporate consulting firms and became a “social entrepreneur,” consulting for herself. She also co-hosts the podcast “Your Neighbor’s Hood,” which centers around discussions of race.
Activate the Community to Fight for Themselves
During her city council campaign just last year, Glass recalled a woman she met who was trying to get the streetlights working on her block—of which every light was dark. With some quick direction and resources from the candidate, the woman started the process of getting them fixed. Within a month, the lights were back on. When she was telling people about the project, she bragged about what Glass had done.
Glass recalled knocking on the woman’s door again: “I said, “No, no, ma’am, you did it. You did that, so I need you to brag about what you did.”
Despite advocating for those around her “to join boards, commissions, and authorities throughout this city and on the state level,” Glass said, it’s hard to find the right opportunities when the work is inaccessible to “everyday folk.”
Glass wants more people to be a part of the policy process. While running for city council, she advocated for participatory budgeting, in which community members help decide aspects of the public budget. While she doesn’t foresee direct public participation in the state budget, it is another example of Glass pushing for her community to see the change and be the change they want.
A Voice for Marginalized Communities
Glass loves policy because “we know that when we enact policy, we can change the trajectory of people’s lives, especially those that have been disenfranchised or historically marginalized.”
Glass told Dogwood she sees “a conditioning into second-class citizens.” Why? “The racism, and it’s not solely it, but just understanding that there’s some deep sentiments and deep healing that had not happened in some communities here in Norfolk.”
By increasing constituent participation, Glass sees a path to progress. First, that means educating the public and supporting marginalized communities. She doesn’t shy away from Virginia’s past as “ground zero for racism in America.” Specifically, she wants to adopt a modified version of the SANCTUARY city model for state governance, which pushes actively promoting, celebrating, supporting, and understanding the history of ethnic minorities, people of color, and other marginalized communities.
“You can’t expect what you don’t inspect, and you can’t inspect something that doesn’t have a measurable standard,” Glass said. “I think it starts with having a measurable standard for what we expect.”
The Power of Turning Words Into Policy
Norfolk’s special election happened just one day before the start of Virginia’s General Assembly session. Even though Glass couldn’t submit legislation, she’s ready to hold herself and her peers accountable. Accountability for Glass means finding an equitable, actionable plan and communicating it clearly with constituents.
“I have standards,” Glass said. “I have to hold myself to those standards and make sure that when I’m in conversations with my peers, and when I’m making decisions that this community has asked me to make, or doing the things that I’ve been asked to do, I make sure that is communicated fully.”
With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 rampant, General Assembly members submitted bills across the spectrum of pandemic policy for this session, and Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency because of the drastic increase in state hospitalizations.
“I’m super scared and super nervous about things shutting down again for a number of reasons,” Glass admitted.
In March 2021, over 1.8 million women left America’s labor force when compared to February 2020. That’s from a National Women’s Law Center study, comparing unemployment rates during the pandemic. With 58% of women working, unemployment was at 5.7% for women 20 years and older. By comparison, the unemployment rate for white men ages 20 and over was 5.2% in March. It’s even worse for Black women and Latinas, at 8.7% and 7.3% unemployment rates respectively.
“I’m very much an advocate for women and family,” Glass said, “and I recognize what this pandemic has done not just to my family, but to other families, economically, mentally, physically.”