Sunday: Back on December 1st, I posted a blog about some of the bills hitting the Virginia legislative floor this month. Well, this month is here and tomorrow is Lobby Day, a Virginia tradition when the public can meet with politicians or public servants to advocate and explain support for relevant legislation. The last six weeks have been a bit of a roller coaster in the McGillicutty house as Rich’s interest/intensity has escalated concurrently with my level of annoyance over hearing about the threats to our 2nd Amendment and the Lobby Day plan of action. As a refresher, among many questionable bills (hi…why is Voter ID being aborted?) are the not-so-subtle ‘hey, we think the 2nd amendment is outdated and should just basically disappear’ bills.
Brief history in the state of Virginia. We’re a starter state. Oftentimes items that are enacted or redacted here flow out to the rest of the country. First in freedom and all that. So when the 2nd Amendment updates popped up, heads across the country whipped around to face us. Did I care? Not really. I don’t carry a gun, I don’t own any guns, I’m not even sure I like guns.
What I do like is freedom.
So, here I sit, bunkered down in a hotel room blocks from the assembly so Rich can take his turn speaking with several state senators in the morning. I’m looking forward to checking off a bucket list item of “Spending the night in a hotel room with both my son and mother-in-law.” How’d we (um, I) get here? Well, it’s been a long six weeks.
These bills started as a whisper in my house. Or maybe I just wasn’t listening. Soon it was affirmatively more than a whisper as Rich became more enmeshed in both his AR15 chat board (a group over 15 years old – full of members who had never actually met each other) and the Virginia Citizens Defense League (who tapped Rich as a speaker). The chatter grew louder as our state discovered Sanctuary Counties – which spread like wildfire as nearly all of our counties determined that they would take a pass on enforcing the incoming laws. Our state’s fight for Sanctuary Counties caught the attention of fans of freedom across the country – and many booked their tickets for a January 20th visit. The chatter grew louder – too loud for my taste – such that there have been several in-home arguments stemmed from differing parties, political name calling and the surprise arrival of a bullet proof vest (thanks wj) for my 14 year old to wear at what was becoming a large Lobby Day rally in the capital. Um, what!?!?! I’d been planning on attending to see Rich speak (while our opinions differ, I will always support him. Mostly always (like, where’s my vest…? I guess I know who would get the float in the chilled waters of the Titanic)). My role of attendance changed from ‘watch Rich speak and go lounge somewhere’ to ‘watch Rich speak and be available to yank Zak out if things got wonky. Which I was assured wouldn’t happen. But if they did. But they wouldn’t.
I had several responses to this intensification. I asked Rich to stop talking to his gun buddies once we climbed into bed. We both enjoy reading/internetting pre-sleep, but the addition of governmental insults really didn’t work for me. In return, he asked me to understand his passion – explaining his position and need to fight for what he strongly believed in. I know (and knew) I didn’t really have a dog in the fight. It wasn’t a topic I was very familiar with or thought much about – but that whole freedom word kept popping up. My stance started shifting to an ‘oh wait…’ space – where I felt a bit silly for not reading up more on the issues before voting in November. I’m not alone here. I bet the majority of Americans vote based on ‘but I always vote this way.’ Would I have voted differently had I done my research? I don’t really know. But I do feel a bit of ‘oh hey, I voted for you because I trusted you. That you wouldn’t blatantly disregard a document in place since the birth of our country.’
Monday: I’m sitting on the grass at the rally writing this. I still don’t know if I would or will change my party votes. But I am much more educated than 24 hours ago. Last night, I was dragged to a dinner with Rich’s AR15 chat board – that group of thousands that he’s been a member forever, basically, the source of much of the bed not-niceties and a group of which he’s met zero people in person for a decade. Dragged. Supportive wife.
When we arrived, I was braced for a night of thinking ‘wow, what a bunch of assholes’ while I nodded and smiled. What we walked into was a room packed with a quiet bunch – hundreds of men, three women and more diversity than I’ve ever seen in one place. No one seemed to know how to start communicating away from their keyboards. At first, I was super relived as I could sense Rich’s apprehension and figured we’d likely only stay 30 minutes. But then (holy wife points), I remembered this was Rich’s March Madness, if March Madness only happened once in a lifetime – so instead of suggesting a quick turn around the room, I grabbed his suddenly shy hand and started dragging him around as I made introductions.
There were no hill billies. There were no white supremacists. There were no rednecks (well, maybe, but the good kind). There were just hundreds of very educated-about-the-issues people finally getting to know each other. There were no odd chants, odd rituals or any oddities at all. Honestly, the oddest thing that happened is that I got a free sah-weet pair of boots because my feet were judged the smallest in the room when someone started tossing out swag to anyone who wanted it. Before the swag fest, we spent an hour listening to several speakers and then an extremely detailed plan of safe action for Monday’s events. The message was clear – this was not to be a confrontational event. This was not to make anyone look bad. This was not to be a pissing war. This was to be the safest place in America for three or four hours. I cannot really explain the feeling of relief – as a wife, as a mother, as a citizen.
Our morning was spent standing in 22 degree temperatures until we could begin making rounds in the legislative building. The mood was light and excited – as if everyone was remembering what it feels like to fight for something they believed in and that, in this country, we could do that. Another diverse crowd – both sides of the fence represented, both sides with a common goal. Oh, so that’s what that feels like. Once inside, we were shuffled in a group through four offices – four senators, four reactions. The first (Favola) ghosted us – slipping by in sunglasses and a hat as we approached for our scheduled appointment. The second (Marsden) met each of our points with his own – clearly not listening, but rather rattling off his own practiced points. The third (Barker) caught us off guard – listening intently, asking questions, thanking us for bringing him important information. The fourth (Wyatt) was a cheat stop. We already knew his thoughts were in line with our own – we mainly wanted a dunk shot before leaving.
We left with the knowledge that, while nothing will likely change, we tried. The votes will likely go the way they were always going to go. But we tried. We didn’t sit at home complaining, shaking our fist at the sky, or hiding behind a keyboard hoping someone, someone, would do something. We were someone. Rich was someone. His mom was someone. I was someone. And, best of all, our 14-year-old son was someone.
After a quick outfit change, we joined tens of thousands of very peaceful, very respectful rally-ers in Capitol Square. The crowds were thick, but polite. Yes, there were guns of all kinds in every direction – and not a one was raised. We listened through several speakers, sang the national anthem, said the Pledge of Allegiance and offered a few chants. The State Police, Capitol Police, Richmond Police and any other kind of officer were thanked over and over for coming. Folks cleaned up after – leaving the area cleaner than it started. At this time (oh, I came home…it’s nearly 9pm), the media seems to be getting it correct instead of focusing on some twist like “Protest results in elderly gentleman tripping over a power cord.” He was fine. We adopted him to join our group. Or “Arrests at the Protest!” There was one, a woman asked thrice to remove her mask, released nearly immediately.
I’d say we made Virginia proud, but that seems like a very small statement. And a bit exclusive of all the folks that came from out of state. I’d say we sent a message, yes. Something has been sparked here in the queen of the south. And for once, I’m looking forward to what happens next.
I am someone. We can all be someone. And it doesn’t have to separate us.