The Virginia Way

The Virginia Way – obsolete?

President Donald Trump addressed the 400th Anniversary Joint Commemorative Session of the Virginia General Assemble at Jamestown Settlement on July 30th, 2019.  Trump was the first sitting president to address the Virginia General Assembly in its 400-year history.

By the devotion of generations of patriots, it has flourished throughout the ages. And now that proud tradition continues with all of you.”

President Trump addressing the Virginia General Assembly

Not all members of the General Assembly were in attendance, as most Virginian Democrats, including the entire black caucus, boycotted the event.

One Democrat attending was Delegate Ibraheem Samirah. While the President was speaking, Samirah walked toward the president shouting and carrying a poster. President Trump stopped speaking until Samirah was led out by guards.

I think everybody has a way of protesting. I think that’s the beauty of democracy; you have a different way of expressing the same voice. We all did not appreciate that President Trump came and bombarded our 400th (anniversary) celebration.

Delegate Samirah, quoted by the Virginia Pilot

The Atlantic published an essay written by Samirah on August 2nd, in which he stated:

…my behavior was inconsistent with the Virginia Way. That’s the term often used to describe the long-standing, unwritten rule book by which Virginia politics is guided. It dictates that compromise, civility, and elite camaraderie are prioritized over bold policy, uncompromising ethics, and strong voices. The Virginia Way says that despite differences, in opinion, everyone is assumed to be a good-faith statesman…I say it’s time to think critically about whom such decorum has traditionally served: the white, wealthy, and comfortable. When the levers of power are stripped from those who are marginalized, disruption is often our only shot at breaking through.

Samirah took office earlier this year after winning a special election. At his first town hall meeting, there were protesters outside who considered statements made by Samirah to be antisemitic. The first questioner asked Samirah if he would want Sharia Law in Virginia. Samirah felt insulted, saying his Muslim faith was being attacked.

It is dangerous. It is hurtful. It is demeaning. It is obnoxious.

Delegate Samirah concerning question asked at his town-hall meeting.

The First Amendment guarantees Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech… or the right of the people peaceably to assemble. I am concerned over the current standards concerning what should be considered constitutionally protected speech and assembly.

In Aurora, Colorado, protesters at an ICE facility took down the American flag. They hoisted a Mexican flag, and what appears to be the American flag upside down and defaced. When asked why the protesters were not stopped, Aurora Police Department Chief Nick Metz said, “the protesters did not engage in behavior that warranted immediate intervention”.

And in Baltimore:

It’s a very delicate balancing act, because while we tried to make sure that they were protected from the cars…we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.

Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake after protesters turned to looting and violence.

If the unwritten Virginia Way holds the expectation of civility and public respect, I hope our General Assembly will embrace that tradition and insist members behave accordingly.

  • Do you consider any of these actions to be an acceptable form of protest?
  • Do you consider any of these actions protected by the First Amendment?

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