By GINNY BIXBY
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine gave the keynote address and fielded questions from students on Sept. 19 at “A Call To Civic Action: Making A Difference,” a program hosted by the James Farmer Multicultural Center and the UMW Center for Community Engagement. The event was held in the Chandler Ballroom in the University Center to a standing room only crowd.
Kaine answered questions from students ranging from expanding early voting to combating white supremacy. If you missed the event, here are some highlights:
The importance of civic action
In his keynote address, Kaine emphasized the power that young people have in a democracy and why students need to care about their futures.
Kaine mentioned that in the 2016 presidential election, only 46 percent of eligible voters under age 30 voted, while 71 percent of those over age 65 voted.
“If an election is about the future, who has more future than a young person? Young people cared dramatically less about their future than 65 year olds cared,” Kaine said.
Kaine also shared that he is opening a Fredericksburg office, a decision influenced in part by the proximity to UMW’s campus. He said he hopes UMW students will take advantage of internships his office will offer.
Voting and gerrymandering
Kaine discussed the importance of making it easier for students to vote, especially since not all students have access to a car to get to the polls or availability during the times that the polls are open.
“The Virginia rules on early [voting] are among the most restrictive in the country,” said Kaine. “We should have more robust early voting to take account of the needs of working people and students.”
He also said that voters should not have to meet certain requirements to cast an absentee ballot.
“We should allow absentee voting with no excuses,” said Kaine.
Kaine also said he supports establishing a national election holiday.
“Election Day might be a better holiday than Columbus Day,” he said, met with applause from the audience. “A day to celebrate participating in democracy would be a wonderful thing since so many people can’t participate in democracy; they can’t vote at all.”
To prevent gerrymandering, Kaine said that Virginia should switch to nonpartisan redistricting, as some other states already have. This would mean that officeholders could not draw districts.
“That usually results in fairer, more compact and contiguous, and more competitive districts,” said Kaine.
Racism and white supremacy
A student brought up the Patriot Front propaganda stickers that were left on campus on Sept. 15 and asked Kaine what he plans to do combat white supremacy. Kaine called the stickers “gross”.
Kaine acknowledged that it is hard to combat hate speech while protecting free speech under the First Amendment, and said that white supremacy is the result of fear coupled with a lack of education.
“We have to lift up hopes and similarities and commonalities to counter fear,” Kaine said.
Kaine also said there is a need for increased education about the history of slavery and racism in the state of Virginia.
“Our state [has] been the battleground for white supremacy, for slavery,” said Kaine. “We created… the legal architecture of slavery for the entire United States.”
Kaine addressed the photos of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in blackface that surfaced in February, which he said he was “very troubled” by.
“I know the governor very, very well and he is a very, very close personal friend,” said Kaine. “When it happened… I told him, ‘I think you’ve lost the confidence of the people and you should step down.’”
Kaine said that when elected officials behave like that, it can discourage constituents from trusting them and engaging in politics.
“That means we have to work hard to set a high standard, but we also have to recognize that all of us are human and all of us have done and will do things that aren’t our best,” said Kaine.
When asked about President Donald Trump’s verbal attacks on the media, Kaine pointed out that Kamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post reporter who was killed by the Saudi Arabian government, was a Virginia resident. He admonished the president for not condemning these actions and was met with applause from the audience.
“We have to protect journalists,” said Kaine. “I think we ought to have a special visa class in the United States enabling journalists who are at risk… to get specialty visas to come here like we do for other people who are potentially victimized by human rights abuses.”
Civic engagement panel
Following Kaine’s talk, a panel spoke on the importance of civic engagement. Panelists included Brian Cannon, executive director for OneVirginia 2021; Joshua Cole, Democratic candidate for Delegate in the 28th District; Jacqueline Beaulieu, organizer for NextGen Virginia; and Julia Romero, deputy pod director for Take the Majority. The panel answered questions from students. Over half of the audience members in the room that were present for Kaine’s remarks left prior to the panel.