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‘People’s Assembly’ Brings Agenda to Capitol

Posted on Jan 20,2009
Filed Under Down In Richmond , Politics,


By Stephanie Power
Capital News Service

RICHMOND - Touting picket signs and bright yellow copies of their agenda, nearly 80 activists concerned with workers’ rights, immigration and minority interests marched to the state Capitol Wednesday evening to send a message to Virginia lawmakers: “Don’t balance the budget on the backs of Virginia’s workers.”

The march on the Capitol coincides with the reconvening General Assembly, which hopes to balance a $3.2 billion shortfall in the budget.

Calling themselves the Virginia People’s Assembly, the activist group is a mixture of immigrant and labor groups, students, faith ministers, health care and education advocates, NAACP members and human rights activists from across the state.

According to organizer Breanne Armbrust of Richmond Jobs with Justice, this is the first time so many “progressive groups have formed together, united on the table.”

“The one thing we all have in common, we all need an income in order to survive,” said Armbrust to the crowd that first gathered at Kanawha Plaza at Eighth and Canal Streets. “Individually, we can be ignored, but we cannot be ignored as a people who unite.”

Armbrust, a union steward since 2004, said the assembly plans to lobby against specific bills including Delegate Christopher B. Saxman’s, R-Staunton, House Joint Resolution 640, which would amend the right-to-work clause in the state constitution with “anti-union rhetoric.”

Saxman is concerned about what he calls a number of assaults on the current right- to-work statute in Virginia and thinks the best course of action is to “enshrine the constitution so that it will be protected for many years to come.”

“This bill is not an anti-union message,” Saxman said. “It’s the cornerstone for economic growth in Virginia without question.”

Delegate Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Highland Springs, spoke to the crowd in support of workers’ rights and restoration of rights to ex-offenders.

Lillie Branch-Kennedy, founder of Resource Information Help for the Disadvantaged, said the nation’s economic crisis offers the “perfect opportunity to talk about the astronomical cost of incarceration nation-wide.”

According to Branch-Kennedy, 9,000 of Virginia’s 31,000 inmates would be parole-eligible, had the state not abolished parole 13 years ago. She said the average cost of keeping one inmate in prison for one year is approximately $30,000, which amounts to an annual expenditure of about $1 billion.

Branch-Kennedy suggested that funds would be better spent on expanding programs that would prepare prisoners for a successful reentry to their communities, and follow-up programs to assist inmates after they are released.

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