Earlier this month, the Arlington Dems held a meeting to discuss the future of the School Board Caucus endorsement process. At the end of the meeting, voting members cast ballots to determine whether to continue the Caucus. I voted No.
I actually spoke near the beginning of the meeting to advocate in favor of continuing the Caucus, but only with significant reforms attached. I had done some careful study of how other local jurisdictions elect their School Board members, and the data I’d examined had convinced me that Caucus-with-reform was the best approach.
At the meeting I listened carefully and I grew increasingly uncomfortable because of what I was hearing. If I had been called to speak closer to the end of the meeting, I’m not sure if I would have stood up and said what I did.
Here’s what I heard: many people (mostly white) speaking in favor of the Caucus because they believe it protects all of us against a lot of potential harms that could be inflicted by those on the far right. The idea is that the Caucus process ensures we will have committed progressive advocates serving on the School Board.
Is it possible that Arlington voters would choose committed progressive advocates even without a Caucus? We don’t know, because we haven’t tried it in a long time.
Here’s what else I heard at the meeting: other people, including many people of color, sharing how the Caucus is divisive and doing harm to our community at a time when we really need to be pulling together.
When I assigned myself my “Caucus research project” last fall, I thought I could puzzle out the answer to the Caucus question with data.
Listening to the speakers at that meeting, I finally realized that the answer to this particular question wasn’t in any data I was analyzing.
The speakers at that meeting made me see that at its very heart, this question is about white people needing to cede and share power with people of color, and that doing so is not a zero-sum game.
They reminded me that hearing and valuing the voices and lived experiences of people of color means that when many of them are telling me that I am perpetuating a system that does them harm, I need to prioritize that over any “what if” scenarios that make me afraid to dismantle the system.
I honestly don’t know if abandoning the Caucus will lead to the potential harms that I and others are worried about. I concede that it very well could. But what I do see now is that holding on to the Caucus comes at too great a cost.
I think politically savvy people, like so many in the Arlington Democrats, are used to analyzing scenarios and tactics and strategizing about which ones will lead to victory. All of which is important, but in this case I’m not sure we’re clear on what “victory” really means.
The speakers on February 2 called me back to what the real victory could be: being brave enough to act out of conviction rather than fear of the unknowns, and making ourselves vulnerable in the best possible way by letting go of some of our power. Those speakers reminded me to trust that in the long term, the dividends of doing so will be greater and more meaningful to our community than any near-term political wins or protections we’d score by preserving the status quo.
To the speakers who shared their concerns about the Caucus, including Wilma Jones, Zakiya Worthey, Jamie Abrams and others: I really needed to hear what you said, so I thank you.
To those who feel like my change of heart is “too little, too late”—I can only agree that yes, it took me a while to land in this spot. But that hasn’t been for lack of interest or careful study: I care deeply about our community, its public education system and its governance.
To those who are concerned that my change of heart signals that I will vacillate on important issues that come before the School Board, I would say that I value leaders who are willing to listen carefully and change their minds based on what they learn, and I hope you do, too.
Mary Kadera is a school board member in Arlington, VA. Opinions expressed here are entirely her own and do not represent the position of any other individual or organization.