It was a dark and stormy night on Thursday, January 11, but that didn’t stop nearly 100 committed NAACP members and other community leaders from attending a one-on-one Community Forum with Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA). Held at a local community center near the Kings Park Library (where Fairfax NAACP holds its monthly membership meetings), the event served as one of the earliest voter engagement opportunities for the Kaine re-election campaign while also highlighting many of the core issues concerning civil rights advocates in the Trump era.
On full display were discussions of immigrant rights; the resurgence of the KKK and other white supremacist groups; criminal justice reform, both at the state and the federal level; LGBT issues; voter protections in a post Voting Rights Act world; and the deteriorating state of the environment.
Fairfax County NAACP President Kofi Annan welcomed Kaine to the enthusiastic gathering and got right down to business, posing a series of hard-hitting questions about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals); Charlottesville and the harmful power of Confederate Symbols; and the so called “School-to-Prison Pipeline” that puts so many children of color at risk.
Kaine was adept and forthright in addressing Annan’s concerns, as well as those of the crowd, and the gathering had the feel of a heart-to-heart talk with a good friend. Kaine, having just come from his Senate Office in downtown Washington, D.C., was plainspoken when it came to the President and his agenda. “He’s just mean spirited and he likes to get into fights,” Kaine said. “That’s just who he is.” But Kaine was inclined to look past the bluster and see what kind of political deals could be struck on behalf of the American people.
He was hopeful that a DACA deal, which had just been unveiled that afternoon, could be brought to the floor of the Senate by the following Friday (1/19)—something that failed to happen, in part due to the President’s comments about African countries and Haiti earlier in the day. Kaine was less inclined to take Trump’s public posturing as the measure of the man. Kaine pointed to two bills the President signed that he thought would have had little or no chance: a resolution condemning white supremacy (in the wake of the Charlottesville debacle) and a resolution acknowledging 400 years of African people in the Americas.
Kaine showed a depth of knowledge and ability to speak plainly about issues that concern the African American community. He cited his early professional beginnings as a civil rights lawyer and later his stint as Mayor of the City of Richmond, with its significant African American population.