Council candidates take questions at neighborhood forum ⋅

Days from election, Charlottesville paper smears Black candidate as too “aggressive”

Virginia voters will go to the polls tomorrow in the biggest election since last November. The tight race between Ed Gillespie (R) and Ralph Northam (D) for next Virginia Governor feels eerily similar: a mildew-ridden bathroom garbage can is running on a virulently anti-immigrant campaign and has a chance at winning only because the Democratic candidate is a less-than-inspiring, capitulating centrist.

In Charlottesville though, the race looks a little different: for decades, the city’s Council has been dominated by the Democratic Party; now, after a summer of white nationalist violence (and elected officials’ utter failure to prevent it), four independent candidates are dominating the race — and vying with two Democrats for two Council seats up for grabs. The exciting part for young progressives? Many think one of the leftist independent candidates, Nikuyah Walker, could successfully challenge the Democratic ticket. The ugly part? From the looks of it, city elites think so too — and are willing to use any tactic, including racist smear attacks, to keep her from winning.

nikuyah 2Walker, who was born and raised in Charlottesville, is a counselor and grassroots organizer who has spent the past few decades organizing for racial and economic justice. Over the past few months, she has become an increasingly visible voice for local government accountability. She is the only candidate to have helped disrupt the first City Council meeting after the August terrorism that left one resident dead (watch the hearing— and to publicly challenge current Mayor Mike Signer’s “white liberal” approach that involves calling cops on residents testifying at hearings, but not Nazis. In contrast, fellow candidates have said “all you need is love” to solve white supremacy or “better support for law enforcement.”

It’s not surprising then that local powerholders, who in this blue college town are mostly white Democrats, may be scared of losing their seats. On Friday, the city paper, The Daily Progress, published a piece just days before the election whose sole point was to say that Walker is too “aggressive” to govern.

*cue vomit emoji*

Walker disrupts a City Council meeting on August 21, 2017 asking the Council, "Why did you think you could do a business as usual after what happened [with Klan violence] on the 12th?"

Walker disrupts a City Council meeting on August 21, 2017 asking the Council, “Why did you think you could do a business as usual after what happened [with Klan violence] on the 12th?”

The front-page story, written by Chris Suarez, initially suggests a review was done of all six candidates’ emails to the Council. Yet, the only candidate discussed is Walker, who is unsurprisingly the only black woman running as well as the only candidate with numbers strong enough to challenge the establishment ticket. Suarez describes her using racist dog-whistles (“unabashedly aggressive,” “incendiary,” and “often-confrontational”) and then details two examples of Walker cursing — God forbid a black woman cursing! — in emails to officials about misconduct. As local writer Jordy Yager points out, the only actual email that reflects on how Walker may govern is buried near the bottom (and it credits the city’s extension of living wage protections to all temporary and seasonal workers to her activism).

Suarez claims the reason behind the piece, rather than his paper’s endorsement of the two other candidates, is a City Hall official having called attention to the emails, “voicing concerns about her ability to work collaboratively with city officials.” Walker and her supporters say the source was none other than Mayor Signer, who has born the brunt of Walker’s watchdog activism for months.

It should be deeply concerning to us that an elected Democratic official, Signer or otherwise, initiated a substance-less hit piece against a progressive candidate — and that a city paper dragged out the age-old trope of an angry black woman in an attempt to ruin her candidacy. This trash tabloid writing is nothing but a clear appeal to racists in Charlottesville. And to be clear, these racists are not gun-carrying members of the Klan; these are our nice white liberal electeds, neighbors, and colleagues (the kind who think cursing out misconduct is worse than misconduct itself — and who cannot risk an angry woman of color taking the whole city to task).

Tuesday’s election is as much about the failure of the Democratic party, and its desperate attempts to a maintain white supremacy-lite, as it is about the “Trumpification” of the right. In response to the racist piece, Walker published several email threads this weekend addressing various concerns over City Council proceedings. “The Democratic establishment is afraid,” Walker said, “that someone that they didn’t select and can’t control will sit on the dais.”

Are you a Virginia voter? Find out your polling place at Feministing takes no position on the writer’s view and does not endorse political candidates.

Header image via Charlottesville Tomorrow

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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