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This is a transcript of an interview with Sister District Co-Founder Lyzz Schwegler and Virginia Delegate Lashrecse Aird that originally appeared on Instagram Live. Remarks have been edited for clarity and brevity. To watch the full video, view it on Sister District Instagram.
Lyzz Schwegler: Hi, everyone. If you’re just joining, we are going to be speaking with Virginia Delegate Lashrecse Aird tonight, and we are going to be talking about all kinds of incredible topics, including education, healthcare, D. E. and I. [diversity, equity, and inclusion], and women’s rights, all sorts of things. And I just noticed that the delegate has logged on. Let me invite you right now, Delegate.
Hey, hello, Delegate Aird, it’s so nice to see you.
Lashrecse Aird: Likewise. It is so nice to see you as well. Thanks for having me on tonight.
Lyzz Schwegler: Of course. Yes, I hope that you’re surviving the storm over there. In DC [District of Columbia] it’s just pouring rain, right now.
Lashrecse Aird: I think our storm headed straight for you all. We’re back to a pretty dry climate and it’s not too bad, actually.
Lyzz Schwegler: Good, good. I’m glad to hear it. I’m glad to hear it. Well, this might be our most prompt Instagram Live yet. Thank you. If you’re half as efficient at legislating as you are joining Instagram Lives, then no wonder you won the Legislator of the Year [award].
Lashrecse Aird: Oh, thank you! I’ll think that. I’m looking at your background and I’m thinking where are Room Raiders, they should be looking to see how you have everything set up. I was trying to find the perfect location and I’m not competing with you at all.
Lyzz Schwegler: Well, this is not my first rodeo. I don’t want to say that I chose my, my stick-on wallpaper just for the internet, but maybe I did.
Lashrecse Aird: The internet is a little judgemental, so if you did, I would not be at all upset about that.
Lyzz Schwegler: I would not be the first. Yes. Oh my gosh. Well, it’s so wonderful to have you with us tonight. I think that we are going to cover all kinds of topics, so I hope that you’re ready.
I want to kick off by talking a little bit about economic stimulus. I know that you’ve been incredibly active as a legislator of the past last session, and you were able to get a ton of stimulus money for your district, $10 million in earmarks, which is awesome. I’m just looking at my notes here as well. So excuse me if I glance off-screen.
Lashrecse Aird: I’m happy to jump in. No, I think you’re absolutely right. In the district that I represent, which is such a nice diverse set, an older urban city, flanked by a rural locality with a great deal of farmland and just forestry. Then to the other side of that, you have more of a suburban environment; lots of subdivisions, pretty well-established neighborhoods.
So as a region, just making sure we’re continuing to thrive has been such a critical initiative; especially when you look at the more impoverished portion of my district, which is that urban, older manufacturing community. Part of trying to attract new industry to any community is making sure you have the infrastructure in place, and that is what a lot of that money went towards. Quite frankly, it was long overdue.
Lyzz Schwegler: Yeah, it’s been interesting speaking with all of our endorsed candidates. Many of y’all are representing districts that have a really diverse set of needs, especially along the urban-rural divide, which makes it really, really challenging as you say, especially that infrastructure.
Lashrecse Aird: Absolutely. Absolutely. As I think about how we are transitioning out of this pandemic, well, not quite transitioning yet, quite frankly, but the future of work is forever changed.
The types of jobs that people will be comfortable doing now, that we are living in a new world where the type of work that they will be comfortable doing, that has forever changed. So how we can leapfrog and think about those industries and the infrastructure that needs to be in place for those industries, it has to be part of our governing, it has to be part of our planning and part of our vision for these communities.
Lyzz Schwegler: Absolutely. You were mentioning, especially with the COVID recovery and so forth, one of the things that we’ve been talking a lot about with our volunteers, this is now our third cycle working in Virginia. So we’ve really seen it in 2017, it seemed like an absolute “Hail Mary.” There was no possible way we’re going to even come close to flipping the House and came within half a seat, let’s say.
Lashrecse Aird: The stress! Oh my goodness!
Lyzz Schwegler: It was so close and then, obviously flipping it finally in 2019; it’s amazing. But to see all the progressive legislation that’s come out of the last session and has just come into effect, including raising the minimum wage, and was one of the reasons that we’ve been telling folks it’s so critical that we hold on to the Democratic majority because that is going to have to be voted on again and again.
Lashrecse Aird: We’ve only just begun that process. The exciting element that we don’t talk as much about, but I think everyone is reminded of this today is really the incredible importance of state legislatures and what they do, not only for the state that they are in, but for their coast, in their region, and quite frankly around the country.
Oftentimes we take model legislation, as legislators, from other places and try to apply those things here where we are. The minimum wage increase, which has been talked about for a long time, but actually seeing states begin to move in that direction. Taking the majority has allowed us to prove this can be done. Democrats believe that this can be done and support candidates who want to get this done because we are seeing the results of what happens when we elect those Democrats.
Lyzz Schwegler: Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that is another one of the points that we often explained to our volunteers and donors is that legislation is passed in one state will eventually get passed in another state for good and for bad. Which brings me to, I want to talk a little bit about reproductive healthcare, reproductive justice, and very unfortunately it’s quite timely today with the incredibly horrific anti-abortion ban that’s going into effect in Texas today. But the truth of the matter is that Virginia, now, will be one of the few states in the South that does continue to provide abortion care to folks within the state and may sadly become a commuter state if Roe v Wade is repealed.
Lashrecse Aird: Further gutted, right.
Lyzz Schwegler: Yeah. Yeah. But I’m wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you’ve actually expanded the right to healthcare and to abortion in the last couple of years.
Lashrecse Aird: Yeah. I think it’s important to remind folks that there was a time in Virginia where the rule of law was for access to reproductive care and particularly for abortion access, it was far more expensive.
There was a deliberate attempt to result in individuals having to go further in order to get that access. Really trying to deliberately prevent access by making you wait 24 hours before seeing someone to have an ultrasound. There were very deliberate measures in place in Virginia to really prevent you from having full access to the type of care that someone would need. To see us go from that place to now expanding access and decreasing the barriers put in place, to have access, it’s incredible, and we’re not even done yet.
Everything that we have done in the last two years, I often say it’s foundation laying. It is allowing us to begin on that path, but we are looking forward to 2022 already, and doing even more work to expand access. To eliminate the shame of wanting to have reproductive choices. That is our constitutional right at this time.
So I think the reminder that when Democrats are in control, when you support Democrats, this is just some of what you get. As you say, what’s going on in Texas is just so incredibly disgusting because as I stated earlier, they’re not just doing that for Texas, they’re doing that to lay a blueprint for other states to further erode reproductive access, and we just can’t allow for that to happen.
Lyzz Schwegler: Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. I know that you’ve worked also on some legislation around maternal health and access to care. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Lashrecse Aird: Absolutely. Oftentimes when we talk about reproductive health, we forget about or we don’t necessarily transition into the other side of things; making sure that women have the access to care as they are going through their journey of preparing to bring children into their lives or anyone for that matter.
In Virginia, we have extremely high rates of maternal and infant mortality, and oftentimes the level of trust in our healthcare system has not been there when you talk to Black and Brown women. They have turned to doulas for that additional level of care and concern; particularly Community Doulas. They go above and beyond medical treatment. They really are treating the individual, they really are making sure that that family is having all of their needs met during that period of time.
So in Virginia, trying to increase that access has been an approach that we have taken, allowing Community Doulas to be recognized as certified providers, allowing for us to develop a directory of where individuals can choose to get access from doulas, and then going the step further and making sure that doula services are reimbursable for those individuals that are receiving their healthcare through the state.
So for those Black and Brown women and for women in general, that they are receiving the level of care that they really are deserving of. We have gone from ground zero relative to that care, all the way to just making sure that that access is increased as far as it can be.
Lyzz Schwegler: Yeah. I think a lot of folks don’t fully understand the state of maternal health in this country really breaks down along racial and economic lines. It’s like a massive area of inequity. If you can’t get access to adequate prenatal care and adequate very early postpartum care too, then Black and Brown babies are starting out behind their White counterparts before they even get to the school system, before they even get to college-age and all of that.
Lashrecse Aird: And worse, you’re losing Black women as a result of childbirth when that absolutely did not have to be the case and could have been prevented.
Completely preventable, yeah.
Lashrecse Aird: I think also, I want to just make the point that Virginia is leading the way. A lot of states have been talking about trying to do this, figuring out what the right formula is, what the right balance is, and once again, in Virginia, we’re leading the way to show how this policy can work, especially for our most vulnerable.
Lyzz Schwegler: I love that also you’re bringing a focus on community-based providers and people that folks already trust, may already have a relationship with. Folks who live in the community and that’s one of the things I think we’ve seen with the vaccine hesitancy and the vaccine rollout, how important it is to have trusted messengers. I mean, of course, we all love Dr. Fauci, but very few of us actually know him personally.
Lashrecse Aird: That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. There’s a history here in our country that has perpetuated distrust, and so to think that that was going to go away overnight is a mistake. We have to be patient, we have to be understanding, and we have to be deliberate about talking to those communities of people where that trust is diminished.
Lyzz Schwegler: Absolutely. Yeah. So speaking of diversity, equity, and inclusion measures, I know that you’ve done a little bit of work around D. E. and I [diversity, equity, and inclusion] statements and so forth in legislation. Can you talk a little bit about that as well?
Lashrecse Aird: Yes. One of my proudest builds from the last session is actually a resolution. In that resolution, we declared racism a public health crisis. I just have to emphasize that in the former home of the Confederacy, in the Commonwealth of Virginia, that’s huge because I really feel like this is ground zero for a lot of the racism that exists in our country. Quite frankly, when you just think back through history.
In this resolution, we not only make the affirmative statement that we acknowledge and recognize that this is a health crisis, but it lays out very specific steps to how we can go about trying to turn this around and lay a new foundation within the systemic racism that exists in the services that we offer as a Commonwealth. Our understanding of how we are treating each other and the language that we are using, and it’s very much a first step.
In addition to that, we passed for all types of criminal justice legislation, a racial impact statement will be conducted. Essentially, this also allows us to be very deliberate about the type of policy that we’re moving forward [with]. I often think that if we had a racial impact statement previously, decades ago, before passing some of these things like the abolishment on parole, or our continual use before this past session on the death penalty, but definitely those types of far-reaching legislation that we now know have had adverse impacts on Black and Brown people.
Now, moving forward, we are being deliberate about assessing will this type of policy have a greater impact on one group of people over another. This is also another first step. It’s very exciting to be able to pass legislation that allows us to be accountable for the way we are governing, and take into consideration the different types of people that we’re serving and how we can prevent adverse impacts to those communities.
Lyzz Schwegler: Absolutely. One of the reasons that I think that the term “systemic racism” has really grabbed hold is because it is about how this permeates the entire system. It’s not just, let’s slap a D. E. and I. [diversity, equity, and inclusion] statement on our website and call it a day. This is something that infuses all of our institutions and all of our legislation, and as you say, even something as simple or as seemingly innocuous as an infrastructure bill, or something that doesn’t on its face have anything to do with addressing racial disparities. Probably if you sit back and take a minute to look at it and think about it, there’s actually going to be a lot to address there.
Lashrecse Aird: These aren’t easy conversations, you know? Trying to create an environment where there is a level of comfort around race-based issues is extremely difficult, but I think coming to the table and trying to establish a level of understanding where we’re operating and seeing things through the same lens is the direction we must go in. Especially from a governing perspective, because if we don’t start there, we’ll continue to talk past each other and have this gridlock that’s often created; especially on our most ideological different issues. I think this is a really good start.
Lyzz Schwegler: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love that. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit because, of course, Democrats do have the majority I’m in Virginia right now, but it’s a very tiny majority. I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about working “across the aisle,” working with some of your colleagues with the GOP? Maybe the federal government can take a little listen and get some inspiration if you have any advice. [both laugh]
Lashrecse Aird: Yes…
I think that we lost you for just a second there, Delegate. As usual, talking about the GOP may have may just broken our connection there. I’ll give you just a second. Hopefully, we will be back live here in just a minute. Let’s see. I think we lost the Delegate.
We are having some big storms here in northern Virginia and DC, so it’s possible that she lost some power or wifi. I’m just going to see if she gets back here in just a second. That was pretty amusing, of course, as soon as we bring up our working across the aisle, that’s right when our WIFI decided to make a decision for us. We are going to give a second here.
It’s raining in Petersburg. It’s definitely pouring up here in DC as well. So I’m wondering if that’s very possible that that’s what is going on with Delegate Aird. We’ll just give her a moment, one more moment here to come back, especially because I was very excited to ask her about our speed round questions, favorite song, and favorite fictional character to endorse her campaign and that sort of thing. So, let’s give the delegate just one more moment and see if she’s able to join again.
Again, for those of you who are just joining, we are hoping to get live again with Delegate Lashrecse Aird and we are talking about all kinds of legislation happening in Virginia right now, her legislative priorities for next year. Of course, what you can do to help the election going on right now in Virginia.
The general election is happening on November 3rd, early voting starts very, very soon; in just a couple of weeks in Virginia. Now is crunch time. Traditionally, we think of Labor Day through election day as a sort of like the “election season,” big crunch time for all of our grassroots work.
For those of you who are wondering how to get involved, you can go to sisterdistrict.com/volunteer and sign up! We’ve got phonebanks happening. We’ve got fundraisers; all kinds of virtual work. We’ve got postcarding and there are tons to do. This is a very, very critical year in Virginia.
For those of you just joining, we were just speaking with Virginia Delegate Lashercse Aird, and we managed to just drop her for a moment by mistake. I think we’re having some storms, the remnants of Hurricane Ida appeared in DC and Virginia, so I’m wondering if that could possibly be what has happened to the Delegate. We’re just going to give her a couple more minutes, but otherwise, we did get to spend about 15 minutes speaking with Delegate Aird.
We thank you, Jordan! I just see that you’ve signed up with Sister District. Thank you so much!
We did get about 15 or 20 minutes to speak with the Delegate, so we will post that video and a transcript on our blog, as well, if we’re not able to get her back online.
This year is a huge year for Virginia! The Democrats do currently control the House of Delegates, but they have a very slim margin, and polling coming back recently has shown it’s a very, very tight race. The House of Delegates is absolutely in play. The governorship is absolutely in play. If you’ve been wondering what you can do, the time is absolutely now to sign up to phone bank, to donate, to write postcards, and to get involved!
Again, the election is on November 3rd. We’re just getting down to the wire here. Early voting starts on September 17th. It’s going to be crunch time from there on out. I don’t think that we are going to get the Delegate back. I’m going to go ahead and sign off, but again, please check our blog and check back soon to see the initial video with the Delegate. The transcript will be available on our blogs. We did get about 15 minutes with her, and so you’ll be able to see that on there.