By JOHN HARVEY
A non-partisan organization sponsored a rally for change Saturday, Feb. 24 in front of local congressman offices in Mechanicsville.
Together Hanover, a Hanover County based group dedicated to progressive policies and candidates organized a rally to raise awareness against Congressman Rob Wittman’s perceived unavailability to local constituents
Approximately 40 protesters packed the front lawn of the Wittman’s local office on Mechanicsville Turnpike. The protesters held signs and banners and shouted support for social change in a peaceful protest in a highly visible area of the county.
Colleen Barry, chairperson of the Healthcare committee for Together Hanover, organized the rally, along with James Wilkerson and Elizabeth Polster, said the event served its purpose.
“The purpose was to shed light on the Congressman’s inaccessibility to his constituents,” Barry said. “We want to hold Congressman Wittman accountable to all his constituents. He is our elected official and its his job to meet with us.”
Access to Wittman has been sparse, according to Barry. She noted that his calendar is not public and organization’s like Together Hanover don’t have opportunities to meet with him at community events, unless they pay to attend events. She also noted that he does not hold town halls within his district.
“We would like for him to see that there is a growing group of active, civically engaged voters, who will hold him to a high standard in November,” she said. “We also want the community to see that we are out there, holding our congressman accountable. Hanover, in particularly, has a reputation for being the land of the Tea Party. It’s important for the community to know that’s not representative of the entire area.”
Last Saturday’s rally was also inspired by the recent events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Barry noted that Wittman has an “A rating” from the National Rifle Association and is a big supporter of the organization.
“After the tragic shooting in Parkland, we decided we needed to be seen and heard in the community,” Barry said. “In an attempt to show Congressman Wittman that people of his district expect more from their representative.”
Among the people in attendance at the rally was John Suddarth, who is expected to run in the Democratic primary to challenge Wittman in November. In addition, there were representatives from a variety of democratic and progressive groups from across District 1, including Indivisible Williamsburg, Peninsula Voices for Change, Peninsula Indivisible and Williamsburg-JCC Indivisible.
This wasn’t the first time Together Hanover had held an event in front of Wittman’s offices locally. Last spring, the group organized a rally of protest following his vote on the American Health Care Act.
For Barry, one of the biggest issues facing the country now is responsible gun legislation.
“We want responsible laws to be passed,” Barry said. “To do this, we need to have dialogue with him, so that we can come to an agreement on what some of those laws might be.”
Another issue is HR 620, a bill that recently passed which would make it more difficult for people with disabilities to file claims against businesses that don’t comply with the American Disabilities Act.
“His Mechanicsville office is not ADA compliant,” Barry said. “They were notified over a year ago about this, and have made no accommodations, nor have they responded to numerous calls about the issue.”
One final point of contention, Barry said, is Wittman’s vote in support of a tax bill which gives huge cuts to corporations and millionaires and leaves the middle class out.
“He has been disingenuous, at best, in presenting this bill to his constituents,” she said. “An example being promoting the bonuses companies have given out. These will not recur and the ‘tax breaks’ given this year, will be phased out and lead to tax increases within five to seven years.”
Barry said last weekend’s rally was successful but did have moments of contention. During the end of the event, two men carrying a confederate flag approached the group to confront the rally. She said one of the men was open carrying a handgun and challenged one of the members. The Sheriff’s Office was nearby and prevented the situation from escalating.
All in all, Barry was pleased with the event and hopes to have more soon.
“We had 98 percent positive public interaction, but it’s always that small element that makes it difficult, if not outright dangerous,” Barry said. “We were so encouraged by the support from the traffic driving by. Our district may be considered ‘safety red’, but the tide is turning, and more people are engaging with their elected officials. We saw what happened in the 2017 Virginia state elections and we hope to use our energy to bring about positive change.””