When state legislators convene at the Capitol for the General Assembly session next week, activists from across the state likely will be there to rally for an agenda they say is being ignored: the people's.
In its sixth year, the Virginia People's Assembly will convene Jan. 4 at Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church to discuss topics as wide-ranging as prison reform, immigration, urban gardening and LGBTQ issues. The assembly will vote on resolutions and an action plan calling for a display of solidarity at the General Assembly.
Labor organizer Donald Minor first became involved in the assembly as an attendee. He immediately saw its usefulness.
"It brought together a lot of local issues, and different kinds of groups in the community came together to see what they had in common and build coalitions," he says. "Even though we're all different, we're all very similar."
Style: What does People's Assembly mean?
Minor: Anybody can be a part of it if you believe in jobs, peace and justice. The General Assembly has its assembly, but the people need their own assembly. We thought what was going on at the Capitol wasn't addressing all the needs of the people of Virginia.
How does it work?
We have various workshops and panels. A person can attend the assembly and attend one of the workshops. If you attend the labor workshops you'll hear about jobs and workers' rights. You'd meet other people from various aspects of that movement. Our ultimate goal is that after the assembly is over, the connections you've made you can use throughout the year.
Is there any interaction with General Assembly members? Have any ever shown up?
Not to my knowledge. We always try to plan a rally or action that might be some kind of event at the General Assembly.
Has attendance grown?
The first one we had was 75, maybe 100. It kind of averaged out the next two years at 150. Last year, it kaboomed to 300. There were the women's issues, the Occupy Movement. There was a lot of talk and energy around activism. I don't know how we'll do this year.
Do you have any personal goals for what you want to see out of the conference?
I want to show people that by attending the VPA you're creating a network that can deal with various social issues throughout the whole year. I really would like to see us tighten that network up, so it's not a year-to-year kind of thing but is going constantly. It really is going on all year, we just haven't found a way to connect the dots and show people that it is going on.
Do you see this assembly ever getting to the point where it suggests its own legislation for the General Assembly to address?
We had a discussion on that, and also a discussion about actually getting to a point where we run candidates. Not just endorse candidates, but run them. Last year really brought that conversation to the forefront because of the attendance that we had. We have resolutions each year at the end of the conference, and I'm hoping for something to the effect that we'll be more political, that we'll suggest legislation or actually run a candidate.