As the Virginia General Assembly reaches its deadline for legislators to file bills for the 2024 session, Fairfax County’s representatives hope to pass bills on rent gouging, campaign finance reform and opioid prevention in schools.
The General Assembly convened in Richmond last Wednesday (Jan. 10) for a 60-day session ending March 9. With Democrats controlling the House of Delegates and the Senate, lawmakers could see at least some of their proposals become law. Here are some notable measures put forward:
Local anti-rent gouging authority: SB 366 would allow any locality to adopt provisions that prevent landlords from significantly raising rents and require them to notify tenants two months before an increase. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-33), would require notice and a public hearing prior to adopting any legislation.
- Expanding the use of speed cameras: The identical bills HB 20 and HB 905 would allow local governments to install speed cameras in “any location deemed necessary.” Introduced by Del. Mike Jones (D-77) and Irene Shin (D-8), the legislation would allow for penalties up to $100.
- Funding for electric vehicle charging stations: Introduced by Sen. David Marsden (D-37), SB 457 would create a Driving Decarbonization Program and Fund to help developers cover some costs associated with installing electric vehicle charging stations.
- Towing fee regulations: SB 450, also from Marsden, tells the State Corporation Commission to analyze current regulations of towing fees “and identify policy options for the commission to assume all or part of such regulation.” The proposal requires the SCC to report its findings to the General Assembly by Nov. 30, 2024.
Special grand juries: Sponsored by Del. Karen Keys-Gamarra (D-7), HB 167 requires a circuit court to impanel a special grand jury when a law enforcement or correctional officer kills an unarmed person. The bill also directs the court to appoint a special prosecutor who can be present during an investigation and interrogate witnesses if requested by the special grand jury. Last year, a special grand jury indicted the Fairfax County police officer who fatally shot Timothy Johnson in Tysons.
Prohibited personal use of campaign funds: HB 40 “prohibits any person from converting contributions to a candidate or his campaign committee to personal use.” The bill from Del. Marcus Simon (D-53) lets any individual subject to the ban request an advisory opinion from the State Board of Elections. It advanced out of a subcommittee on Wednesday (Jan. 17) with amendments.
- Tax to support schools: Sponsored by Sen. Jeremy McPike (D-29), SB 14 would authorize all counties and cities to impose an additional local sales and use tax of no more than 1% to fund the construction and renovations of schools.
- Naloxone policies and requirements: SB 387, sponsored by Sen. Stella Pekarsky (D-36), requires each local school board to develop plans and policies for every public elementary and secondary school relating to opioid overdose prevention and reversal.
Invasive plants: HB 47 would require all retail sellers to provide signage identifying invasive plant species. The bill, sponsored by Del. Holly Seibold (D-35), would require the signs to say, “Plant with caution: invasive plant species. May cause environmental harm. Ask about alternatives.”
The deadline for state legislators to file bills with the clerk is 3 p.m. today (Friday).
Updated at 10:15 a.m. on 1/19/2024 — With the county government closed due to snow, the start of early voting has been delayed to 9 a.m.-5 p.m. tomorrow (Saturday), the Fairfax County Office of Elections announced.
Earlier: Early voting for the 2024 presidential primary election is set to begin
tomorrow (Friday) Saturday (Jan. 20) in Fairfax County, with local party officials and campaign strategists projecting varied voter turnout.
While the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) anticipates a lower turnout among its members, at least one local Republican strategist expects a strong showing from Republican voters, particularly in support of former president and current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.
“Donald Trump remains far and away the favorite candidate of Virginia Republicans, including Northern Virginia Republicans, as far as I can tell,” said Nathan Brinkman, founder of the political consulting firm Brinkman Media, whose prior clients include the Fairfax County Republican Committee, as well as other local candidates.
this Friday, Jan. 19 next week, early voting will be available on weekdays at three key locations — the Fairfax, Mount Vernon, and North County government centers, according to the county’s election office.
Voters can cast their ballots at the Fairfax County Government Center from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., while the Mount Vernon and North County centers will welcome voters from 1-7 p.m. There is also a 24-hour ballot drop-off box available outside the Fairfax County Government Center.
An additional 13 early voting sites are set to open starting Saturday, Feb. 24, from 1-7 p.m. Early voting will be offered on two Saturdays, including Feb. 24 and March 2, at all sites.
- Burke Centre Library
- Centreville Regional Library
- Franconia Governmental Center
- Great Falls Library
- Herndon-Fortnightly Library
- Jim Scott Community Center
- Lorton Community Center
- Mason Governmental Center
- McLean Governmental Center
- Sully Governmental Center
- Thomas Jefferson Library
- Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library
- West Springfield Governmental Center
Who’s on the ballot
As of today (Jan. 18), Virginia has the following Republican and Democratic presidential candidates on the ballot:
- Chris Christie (R)
- Ryan Binkley (R)
- Vivek Ramaswamy (R)
- Donald J. Trump (R)
- Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)
- Nikki Haley (R)
- President Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D)
- Marianne Williamson (D)
- U.S. Rep. Dean Benson Phillips (D)
(Note: Republicans Chris Christie and Vivek Ramaswamy have suspended their respective campaigns, but neither candidate has officially withdrawn from the race in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.) Read More
And then there were five.
Del. Dan Helmer of Fairfax County announced Wednesday morning that he is joining the race for the Democratic nomination in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District next year.
Helmer, a U.S. Army veteran who was first elected in 2019, led the House Democratic Caucus’ campaign effort this fall, which resulted in Democrats picking up three seats and regaining control of the chamber.
The 10th District is currently represented by Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat, but Wexton announced earlier this year she will not seek reelection for health reasons.
Other Democrats who have announced campaigns for the seat are:
- Current state Sen. Jennifer Boysko of Fairfax County
- Former Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn
- Former Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni
- Current Del. David Reid of Loudoun County
Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall had been mentioned as a candidate, but she ruled out a run Tuesday, saying she wanted to focus on her third term as board chair.
The 10th District includes all of Loudoun County — making up more than half its voters — along with all of Fauquier and Rappahannock counties and the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. It also includes the western half of Prince William County and about 15,000 voters in the Clifton and Union Mill areas of southern Fairfax County.
After knocking off Republican Barbara Comstock in 2018, Wexton won reelection to the newly drawn 10th District last year with about 53% of the vote, defeating Republican Hung Cao.
Helmer was reelected Tuesday to House District 10, defeating Republican Jim Thomas with over 58% of the vote. His district covers southwestern Fairfax, including the town of Clifton and the Centreville area. Before redistricting after the 2020 Census, he also represented a small portion of Prince William.
Helmer is the son of an immigrant and the grandson of refugees and Holocaust survivors, according to a news release from his campaign. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and served tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and Korea. He currently owns a small business and continues to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“My grandparents came to America to escape the Nazis,” Helmer said. “It’s why I volunteered to serve our country and protect the democracy that took us in. While I was proud to serve, I lost friends in Iraq and Afghanistan because politicians lacked the courage to stand up to President Bush’s misguided wars. Our democracy failed us.”
He said democracy faces greater threats today: “MAGA extremists are seeking to undermine free and fair elections and strip away the right to an abortion, all while coddling a gun lobby that floods our streets with weapons of war.”
According to the release, in the General Assembly, Helmer supported gun safety bills, the repeal of Virginia’s “Right to Work” laws and women’s healthcare.
He lives in Fairfax with his wife, Karen, a public school educator, and their two sons.
The two-year period before the arrival of Gov. Glenn Youngkin was the first time in decades that Democrats controlled both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly. Come January, they’ll be back in charge.
That sets up a policymaking dynamic that hasn’t been seen in Virginia since the 1990s: A Republican governor working with a fully Democratic legislature.
Because Youngkin will still be able to veto anything the slim Democratic majorities send to his desk, it won’t be anything like the burst of legislative breakthroughs on big topics that Democrats pushed through in 2020 and 2021. With a 21-19 majority in the state Senate and a 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates, Democrats lack the supermajorities needed to override vetoes and enact new laws over Youngkin’s opposition.
After a redistricting-fueled retirement boom earlier this year, more than a third of the candidates elected to General Assembly seats last week will be new to the body, adding a new element of unpredictability to how votes might shake out.
It’s unclear what might top the state’s legislative agenda once the new legislature is seated, but here’s a look at what last Tuesday’s results could mean for a few big policy issues.
A new push for abortion rights
It wasn’t a sure bet Republicans would have had the votes to pass Youngkin’s 15-week abortion ban even if they won majorities. But new limits on abortion are now a nonstarter after Democrats won on promises to stop them.
Winning both chambers gives Democrats the chance to play offense on abortion rights, and they don’t need the governor to do it.
At a post-election news conference last week, abortion rights advocates said they want the new Democratic majorities to begin the multi-year process of amending Virginia’s constitution to protect abortion access.
“Our victory on Tuesday allows us to work with these majorities to advance a constitutional amendment that will be on Virginia’s ballot in 2026 when we keep an abortion-rights majority in 2025,” said Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.
Under Virginia’s system, constitutional amendments have to pass the General Assembly two years in a row, with an election in between. That means the General Assembly would have to pass an abortion rights amendment in the 2025 and 2026 sessions, with voters having the final say in the fall of 2026.
Though the Democratic-controlled Senate already passed an abortion rights amendment earlier this year that failed in the Republican-led House of Delegates, Lockhart indicated the amendment’s specifics could change now that Democrats have the ability to give it initial passage.
A similar abortion rights constitutional amendment that passed in Ohio this week included clear language allowing abortion limits past the point of fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks. The initial amendment proposed in Virginia didn’t mention fetal viability as a valid reason to restrict abortion access, leading critics to argue it could override Virginia’s existing law banning abortion in the third trimester. During the campaign season, many Democratic candidates said they wanted to keep Virginia’s abortion laws unchanged. Read More
(Updated at 10:55 a.m. on 11/10/2023) About 40% of registered Fairfax County voters participated in this year’s general election, which decided state and local representatives who will shape policies on issues from abortion to land use in the coming years.
As of Friday (Nov. 10), 308,855 of the county’s 787,171 registered voters cast a ballot — a 39.2% turnout rate, according to unofficial results from the Virginia Department of Elections.
(Correction: The Virginia Department of Elections results previously indicated that 382,573 ballots had been cast in the election, a 48.6% turnout rate. This story has been revised to reflect the updated numbers.)
That falls short of the 44.3% turnout and 315,836 ballots cast in 2019, when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, school board and all General Assembly seats were last up for grabs.
However, it still exceeds the turnout seen in earlier election cycles dating back to the beginning of this century, which hovered around 32% with a low of 30.3% in 2015, per county returns.
Eric Spicer, Fairfax County’s director of elections and general registrar, declined to comment on this year’s turnout numbers or speculate on “why they may differ from past years.”
The general election on Tuesday (Nov. 7) continued a trend of increased early voting that began after Virginia expanded absentee voting to all registered voters in 2020. This year, the county received 36,859 mail ballots on election night alone — more than the total number of absentee votes (36,584) in the 2019 general election.
There were 64,371 ballots cast through early voting, which ran from Sept. 22 to Saturday, Nov. 4, though the vast majority of voters still went to in-person polls on Election Day. Mail-in ballots will be counted until noon on Monday, Nov. 13, as long as they were postmarked on or before Nov. 7.
All election results, including for the still-to-be-determined Vienna Town council race, will be certified as final on Tuesday, Nov. 14.
Democrats celebrate near-sweep
The status quo largely held in Fairfax County, at least in terms of political parties, as candidates endorsed by the Democrats won every state contest and almost every local contest on the ballot.
Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano were both reelected with no official challengers, though Descano’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, Ed Nuttall, endorsed a write-in campaign.
Descano’s victory was matched in Arlington by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who also first took office in 2020 on promises of criminal justice reform. Their Loudoun County counterpart, Buta Biberaj, however, is trailing by around 1,000 votes.
“Thank you to the people of Fairfax County for choosing me to serve another four years,” Descano said in a statement highlighting his reform efforts. “…I’ve still got a lot of fight in me — and we’ve got the momentum on our side. I’m eager to keep working for the people of Fairfax, and to realize a future where safety and justice do walk hand-in-hand.”
I've still got a lot of fight in me — and we've got the momentum on our side. I'm eager to keep working for the people of Fairfax, and to realize a future where safety and justice do walk hand-in-hand.
— Steve Descano (@SteveDescano) November 8, 2023
Chris Falcon, a deputy clerk for the Arlington Circuit Court, defeated retiring Fairfax County Circuit Court Clerk John Frey’s chief deputy clerk and chosen successor, Gerarda Culipher, with nearly 63% of the vote. Falcon has pledged to make circuit court cases accessible through Virginia’s statewide case information system.
With Democrats set to control both the state Senate and House of Delegates, the Fairfax County Democratic Committee characterized the results as “a clear rejection of the radical Republican agenda” in favor of “abortion healthcare rights, public education, gun safety, voting rights, and more.” Read More
(Updated at 3:50 p.m.) Marcia St. John-Cunning no longer needs to run as a write-in candidate to become the Franconia District’s next school board representative.
The former Fairfax County Public Schools interpreter and family liaison re-qualified for the general election ballot yesterday (Wednesday) after a county judge let her submit two more pages of signatures supporting her petition for candidacy.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard Gardiner told Fairfax County General Registrar Eric Spicer to accept the 17 signatures “as if [they were] filed with the registrar in March 2023,” according to the order shared on Twitter shared by Bryan Grahm, chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee, which has endorsed Marcia St. John-Cunning.
The Fairfax County Office of Elections confirmed her reinstated candidacy with a notice on its website. A spokesperson said the general registrar had no comment beyond that notice.
“We are pleased by today’s order and elated to see her reinstated as a qualified candidate for School Board,” Graham said in a statement last night. “Marcia St. John-Cunning is an exemplary candidate who has worked in our local schools and knows the families of Franconia. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee will be using the next week to ensure Marcia wins this election.”
St. John-Cunning is competing against Republican-endorsed candidate Kevin Pinkney to succeed current Franconia District Representative Tamara Derenak-Kaufax, who is retiring after 12 years on the Fairfax County School Board.
Though she obtained the Democratic endorsement without contest, St. John-Cunning faced two legal challenges by Republicans who argued that petition errors should’ve stopped Fairfax County General Registrar Eric Spicer from certifying her candidacy. A September lawsuit by the Fairfax County Republican Committee that took issue with the lack of dates by some signatures was dismissed.
However, a complaint filed by the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee and two voters in that district found traction with Gardiner, who ruled on Oct. 25 that 11 of St. John-Cunning’s submitted signatures were invalid because her address was wrong on one page of her petition.
The invalidation of those signatures left St. John-Cunning short of the 125 needed to qualify.
St. John-Cunning called the ruling “unprecedented” in an announcement on Saturday (Oct. 28) that she would run as a write-in candidate. With early voting underway since Sept. 22, more than 3,000 Franconia District voters had already cast a ballot, her campaign said.
According to the FCDC, St. John-Cunning’s legal team argued in court yesterday that the signatures should’ve been challenged before the filing deadline on Aug. 18, noting that she had gotten more signatures but didn’t submit them because the registrar said they weren’t necessary to qualify. Her candidacy was originally certified back on March 7.
In a statement, St. John-Cunning called Gardiner’s reinstatement of her candidacy “justice for the 3,000 residents who already exercised their constitutional right to vote.” Read More
The official ballots for next week’s general election identify just one candidate for the job of top prosecutor in Fairfax County, but a group that identifies itself as victims’ rights supporters hopes to push another man into the office instead.
Defense attorney Ed Nuttall, who lost the Democratic primary in June to incumbent Steve Descano, officially endorsed a write-in campaign last week that seeks to make him the next Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney.
According to a press release, the former county prosecutor agreed to publicly back the write-in push on Oct. 24 after the Fairfax County Democratic Committee removed him from the party, allegedly for attending a Brain Foundation fundraiser on Oct. 18 that featured Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity and Sully District supervisor candidate Keith Elliott — both Republicans.
“If the work of the write-in group is successful, Ed Nuttall would accept the job as Commonwealth’s Attorney serving Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax,” the Oct. 28 press release said.
Nuttall said the FCDC had also urged him “to denounce the write-in campaign on my behalf started by a victims rights group,” but he “refused to do so.”
“I was told more than once by more than one person to ‘resign for the good of the party,'” Nuttall said in an Oct. 25 Facebook post. “I chose not to do so because I’ve always put people over party. Those who know me know that disability rights and public safety have always been my passion, personally and professionally. I won’t let politics dictate how I act or whom I choose to work with, no matter the political price.”
The FCDC declined to comment when contacted by FFXnow, but chair Bryan Graham told WJLA that Nuttall’s attendance at a fundraiser supporting Republican candidates violated his pledge to the committee.
A spokesperson for Descano’s campaign also declined to comment.
According to its website, the write-in campaign for Nuttall was organized by “Fairfax County and Fairfax City voters” who supported his candidacy in the July 20 primary, which he lost by just over 10,000 votes.
“We waited for a couple of months for the current Commonwealth’s Attorney to implement action items brought to his attention during the primary campaign,” the campaign says. “However, that office continues to be disappointing and being politicized as a referendum.”
Changes sought by the group include oversight for the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, procedural training for prosecutors, and more communication with victims during plea deal negotiations. Spokesperson Scott Birdwell says the recommendations were compiled by 10 families of crime victims after a town hall in May.
The website says the campaign wasn’t authorized by any candidate or political group, but it has been backed by the Fairfax County Republican Committee, which held a rally on Oct. 3 with Herrity, Southern States Police Benevolent Association Fairfax County President Steve Monahan and GOP-endorsed at-large school board candidate Saundra Davis.
Nuttall didn’t “attend the rally as it was held during the day,” according to the Fairfax County Times. Read More
(Updated at 11:10 a.m. on 10/30/2023) The Democratic-endorsed candidate for the Fairfax County School Board’s Franconia District seat has been disqualified due to an error on her petition to get on the ballot.
The Fairfax County Office of Elections has posted a notice on its website informing voters that Marcia St. John-Cunning was disqualified yesterday (Wednesday) by a Fairfax County Circuit Court order. A judge ruled that her petition was invalid because of an error in her address on its front page.
St. John-Cunning, a former Fairfax County Public Schools interpreter and family liaison, is competing against Republican-endorsed Kevin Pinkney, a lawyer, to succeed Tamara Derenak-Kaufax, who announced in January that she wouldn’t seek reelection after 12 years on the school board.
(Correction: The spelling of Kevin Pinkney’s name has been fixed.)
Though the school board races are nonpartisan, candidates can get political party endorsements. The Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) allowed registered members to vote for its endorsements for the first time this year, though St. John-Cunning’s bid for support in the Franconia District was uncontested.
The complaint that led to St. John-Cunning’s disqualification was filed by the 8th Congressional District Republican Committee and two voters in that district, who argued that Fairfax County General Registrar and Director of Elections Eric Spicer should’ve invalidated her ballot petition over the address error, Patch reported.
Judge Richard Gardiner ruled that Spicer “violated his non-discretionary ministerial duty” by not invalidating the seventh page of St. John-Cunning’s petition, according to his order.
“The pages denoted as ‘4’ in the lower right corner does not have her address on the front page,” the order said. “Therefore, this petition page and the signatures on the front and back page are invalid as a matter of law.”
Eleven signatures were deemed invalid, putting St. John-Cunning below the 125 signatures needed to get on the ballot, according to Patch.
A previous lawsuit that took issue with six signatures on her petition was dismissed.
The Fairfax County Republican Committee and an attorney for the plaintiffs praised Gardiner’s ruling as “a clear victory for the rule of law.”
“The public’s confidence in the integrity of our elections depends on the law being applied consistently to all candidates, regardless of party or position,” the attorney, Trey Mayfield, said. “It is the duty of Election Registrar and County Electoral Board to ensure that elections are managed with uniform, law-based standards. They should do so without the courts having to order them to perform those obligations.”
The FCDC, however, blasted Gardiner and the Virginia Department of Elections for disqualifying its supported candidate, stating that the ruling disenfranchises the over 3,000 Franconia District voters who’ve cast a ballot since early voting for the Nov. 7 general election began on Sept. 22. Read More
(Updated at 9:30 p.m. on 10/26/2023) Several Republicans campaigning to represent parts of Fairfax County in the General Assembly have vowed to change up Virginia’s interstate tolling system if they’re elected on Nov. 7.
With the McLean Metro station in Tysons as a backdrop, the candidates unveiled a “Tolling Equity and Relief Plan” last Friday (Oct. 20) that they argued would reduce congestion and lower the cost of using the Express Lanes on I-66 and the Capital Beltway (I-495).
Crafted by former Congressman Frank Wolf, who represented Virginia’s 10th district from 1981 to 2015, the proposal calls for frequent Express Lanes drivers to get rebates from toll and state tax revenues, lower high-occupancy vehicle requirements, and standardization of toll rates on I-66 inside and outside the Beltway.
“We are hearing many complaints about the high cost of the tolls — especially on the new I-66 express lanes but also I-495 and other toll roads, which is adding to the cost of living of Northern Virginia families,” said Ken Reid, who organized the press conference. “Government must do its part to give the region’s motorists a break.”
A former Loudoun County supervisor, Reid is vying for the State Senate District 37 seat against Saddam Azlan Salim, who won the Democratic primary in June over longtime Sen. Chap Peterson. The district includes Tysons, Vienna, Oakton, Merrifield and the cities of Fairfax and Falls Church.
Other candidates who endorsed the proposed legislation include:
- Mark Springman, competing for Senate District 34 against incumbent Scott Surovell
- Matt Lang, competing for Senate District 38 against Sen. Jennifer Boysko in a district reshaped by redistricting
- Kristin Lee Hoffman, competing for House District 6 against Del. Rip Sullivan
- Maxwell Fisher, competing for House District 8 against incumbent Irene Shin
- Nhan Huynh, competing for House District 9 against incumbent Karrie Delaney
- James Thomas, competing for House District 10 against incumbent Dan Helmer
- Ed McGovern, competing for House District 18 against Del. Kathy Tran
According to a press release from Reid’s campaign, the Tolling Equity and Relief plan would offer rebates to commuters who use the I-66 and/or I-495 Express Lanes more than 30 times a month, similar to a SunPass toll relief program that took effect in Florida this year.
The plan would also reinstate HOV-2 “at certain hours” on both interstates. Drivers were able to use the I-66 Express Lanes for free if they had at least two passengers until last December, when the Virginia Department of Transportation raised the requirement to HOV-3.
Per the press release, the plan would allocate toll revenue to widening I-66 to three lanes in each direction from the Dulles Access Road in Pimmit Hills to the Nash Street tunnel in Rosslyn.
“No funds would go to bike trails or other modes of transit until that project is done,” Reid’s campaign said.
Virginia currently uses I-66 and I-395/95 toll revenue for a Commuter Choice grant program that supports road and public transit improvement projects in those corridors. Recently funded projects include a north entrance for the McLean Metro station and Fairfax City’s first Capital Bikeshare stations. Read More
Students at schools across Fairfax County have or are planning to walk out this week in a show of solidarity with Palestinians suffering in the latest war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip.
Dubbed a “Humanitarian Walkout Week,” the demonstrations began last Friday (Oct. 20) at Annandale High School and continued on Monday (Oct. 23) at Justice High School in Lake Barcroft. Organizers at Oakton High School reported that at least 200 students participated in their walkout yesterday (Tuesday).
Additional walkouts are expected at Edison and Mount Vernon high schools today, Woodson and Falls Church high schools tomorrow (Thursday), and McLean and Lake Braddock high schools on Friday (Oct. 27).
The walkouts are being organized by each school’s Muslim Student Association, though not all participants are members of those clubs.
In a press release, the students said they want an end to the bombing that Israel has unleashed on Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, which killed an estimated 1,400 people and took over 200 people hostage, including the relatives of a Fairfax County native.
They also called for an end to Israel’s 16-year blockade of Gaza and an end to its occupation of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank.
“We’ve been fighting with this for decades, and we’re scared into silence every time, but this time, we’re not going to be silent,” a student at the Justice High School rally said. “We will continue to speak up against the genocide and the ethnic cleansing that’s currently happening in Palestine. We will not stop until Palestine is free.”
Another student encouraged other attendees to “come together to come together to advocate for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Palestine.”
“It is about recognizing that every life is precious and that peace is not a dream, but an achievable reality,” she said.
Supported by funding and supplies from the U.S., the Israeli military has unleashed hundreds of airstrikes on Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack. More than 5,000 people have been killed, the Gaza Ministry of Health has said, and over 1.4 million people have fled their homes, according to news reports.
The U.S. government has expressed continued support for Israel, its longtime ally, and resisted calls for it to back a ceasefire, including from the United Nations, some Congressional representatives and staffers, and Jewish activists.
U.S. officials have been involved in Israel’s hostage negotiations with Hamas, and in a visit to Tel Aviv last week, President Joe Biden urged Israel to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, which was cut off from food, water, electricity, medical supplies and other necessities. A handful of trucks with aid were permitted this past weekend for the first time since Israel’s siege began, though the U.N. agency working with Palestinian refugees says the situation remains dire, particularly with fuel running out.
A poll released last week found that a majority of U.S. voters agree the government should call for a ceasefire and help deescalate the violence in Gaza.
“The red stripes of the American flag are painted in the blood of the countries we’ve stepped on to get to this point and we refuse to inherit a world where hate and injustice is fueled by greed,” Holly Raheb, a sophomore at McLean High School, said.