What can one say about politics in 2017? It was an apex year not only for Virginia, but also for the entire US. This is not just an observation, however, but an indictment on just how tempestuous politics has become. Not only for us as individuals, but for us as groups of individuals trying to navigate the turbulence of a political system that is keeping people on perpetual edge; and rightfully so, we are in completely uncharted territory.
It is also safe to say that politics and the many accouterments which accompany it have become the deciding factor in how we interact within our own group and those groups we come into contact with. In this publication, we refer to this as “political lifestyle”, another gift from the lexicon in 2017. Yet this phenomenon of isolating ourselves within our own group based on political belief and ideology has come to resemble the kinds of sectarian and tribalism of the more ancient geographies scattered across our planet. This will not likely change anytime soon thanks to the presidency of Donald Trump and how he has removed the safeguards for civility within our public discourse.
Nonetheless, since we all live this political lifestyle, it is important that we close out 2017 with a best of list for politics and commentary (which for the most part has been a commentary on politics). What you will find below are articles from our main political writers and photographers on which stories impacted them the most over 2017. This list will also give our readers an inside glimpse into the personalities of each and what is important to them as they assess the world and make certain reporting decisions.
Landon Shroder: Editorial Director
For me, 2017 represented the absolute pinnacle of politics both in Virginia and throughout the US. Pinnacle you say! How dare you, a “pinnacle” represents the highest form of something. Yes, and the US has reached the pinnacle of what its politics has always been, but never fully acknowledged: cruel, base, racist, injurious, adverse, hostile, sexist, and entirely self-interested. The only difference between now and then is that we no longer have to pretend that our politics are anything but the obvious. This is true for Virginia as it is for the entire US.
Regardless, as Editorial Director for RVA Mag, it is my responsibility to set the tone and pace for what gets covered within our pages. While this includes tapping into the wider conversation on things like politics, it also includes elevating voices that are under-reported and also helping to articulate the political profile in ways that readers might not have considered. In this day and age, it is important that we challenge our perceptions and understand where we can come together to find concord.
If we want to understand why our politics are the way they are, what better place to start than by trying to understand how humans have evolved to this interminable point? Dr. Amy Rector from VCU’s anthropology department took RVA Mag field reporter, Christopher McDaniel on a journey through the epochs to understand how things like group dynamics and culture inform our political and social identities in this complex day and age.
Chelsea Higgs Wise’s piece, Things All White People Need To Hear, perfectly encapsulates the conversation people need to have over race and how race connects to perception in our current political age. Black women play such a critical role in safeguarding progressive politics, yet are ceremoniously under-represented in every stage of the conversation – which is why Higgs’ commentary was such a high speed / low drag tour-de-force. And in an age where the consequences of not understanding how race informs our day to day interactions and personal politics, this conversation has become more critical than ever.
Our reporting teams covered the elections and primaries in full power-mode and our reporters came to know the candidates well. The sweep this past November, which ushered in a new wave of progressives was a pivotal moment in the Commonwealth’s history. While this was partly a referendum on President Trump, it was also a referendum on the fear-mongering and race-baiting of Republican Ed Gillespie, who failed to articulate any real social or economic agenda for Virginians. As a result, voters made their voices heard with record turnout. Being on the frontlines of the election was a thrilling experience and recovering a modicum of what was lost when Trump won last November was very important to me as Editorial Director. As someone who is immersed in the day-to-day grind of Commonwealth politics, I have no illusions about the short-comings of Governor-Elect Ralph Northam. Nonetheless, the stewardship of Virginia’s social and economic future is far more certain with him at the helm, and that should make us all breathe a little bit easier.
David Streever: Editor-in-Chief (Print)
The highlight of my year writing for RVA Magazine was Richmond Won Today: A Look At The Failed Neo-Confederate Rally. I joined the team shortly after the tragedy in Charlottesville, which I only saw through the eyes of my wife, a clergy protester, and my magazine colleagues. The reporting in other outlets didn’t match their experiences, and I felt a responsibility to cover the Neo-Confederate rally here and get the story right. Working with a team to provide information on a developing story that could end in tragedy was a sobering and powerful experience. I’m proud of the team that worked the rally with me, including Nidhi Sharma, Landon Shroder, and Allison McEwen, and am grateful that we were on the ground to document a day that ended in a sort of victory: No one was injured, thoughtful debates were held, and neighbors and attendees were spared violence or trauma.
That same team joined me for a very different rally the next month when we covered candidate Ralph Northam’s rally in Richmond, headlined by President Barack Obama. It’s not every day that you get to see a former president, and the excitement of the thousands of attendees was powerful in a year that’s been so politically fraught.
After the many mass shootings that dominated news coverage this year, I was able to write about it with a local context, working with expert sources, a rewarding experience; a British Special Forces operative from the SAS who did security work in Iraq, an FBI counter-terrorism expert, and our own police chief, Alfred Durham, helped to make sense of these tragedies and outline the risks. The quality of these sources made “Could Las Vegas Happen Here” one of my top stories.
Lastly, if you read nothing else by me this year, I’d love to share my funniest story, about a semi-satirical protest held at the Lee Monument. “Crowd Assembles to Yell at Lee Statue While Drinking Out of Brown Bags” documents the protest staged by friendly activists who gathered to mock Neo-Confederate ideologies while sipping fair trade cold brew coffee hidden in brown paper bags. Nothing could be more uniquely Richmond or more appropriate to undermine those who would seek to undermine our city from the outside.
Madelyne Ashworth: Staff Writer
This was a weird day to say the least, but sometimes the best days are. One side of the National Mall held a Trump rally, while the other hosted a Juggalo gathering, in which they were protesting the FBI’s labeling of the Insane Clown Posse’s fan base as a “gang.” Returning to my home of the previous four years and watching such a contrast of characters and messages congregate on the mall really embodied the nature of Washington, plus it was a lot of fun.
Putting words to the events of the multiple white nationalist rallies and movements from this past summer, which largely developed in the city of Charlottesville, has been my greatest challenge from my time at RVA Mag. Retaining a balance between two incredibly different voices and viewpoints while upholding the acknowledgment of hate is something every publication struggled with this summer, but thanks to an adept team of writers, editors, and photographers, I believe RVA Mag excelled in the coverage of these events. I’m proud to have been a part of it.
Part of the responsibility of being a reporter is finding those who have been unable to tell their own story and telling it for them, something I believe we try hard to accomplish at RVA Mag. Coverage of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline is part of that effort, as many of the landowners, business owners, and environmentalists have not been able to make their voices heard in the larger community of Virginia. My love for this story, and all the articles focusing on the pipeline, is mainly because of the kind, interesting people we met along the pipeline path. It’s an issue Virginians should be more aware of, as it can ultimately affect everyone in the state.
Allison MacEwen: Staff Photographer
David Streever’s interview with Henry Haggard, a 12-year-old ACLU volunteer, and justice vigilante, brought hope to my heart. We are so quick these days to dwell on the negative, to feel hopeless in bringing about change, content to discuss our feelings of despair ad nauseam over beers with friends or family at the dinner table. Admittedly, I am 100 percent guilty of that myself. Haggard, however, took a different approach. After being bullied online over his political views he decided to fight back by establishing Constitution Day, a forum for people of all ages to discuss the Constitution and the political issues we face today. His will and optimism are admirable, and I think I learned a little something that day about the strength of action and optimism.
Art speaks to everyone differently, for some, it’s solely about the aesthetic, for others it is a message received that cannot be expressed through words. Sometimes it’s easy to get sucked into our own small political bubble, forgetting that this world is so much larger than what we live day to day. Asiya Al-Sharabi sent me a powerful reminder of this through her art – a love letter of sorrow to her native Yemen, which is experiencing the worst kind of civil conflict. Landon Shroder’s article Slow Death Inside, Slow Death Outside: The Art of Asiya Al-Sharabi captured the essence of Asiya’s struggle and the message she wanted to share through her artwork. The country she loves is in a humanitarian crisis and the poverty, hunger, violence, discrimination of women and the freedoms that we take for granted plague this Middle Eastern country with no end in sight. It’s a voice that speaks volumes and allows us in Richmond and Virginia to connect to a wider world.
Brandon Jarvis: Editorialist
Written by Matthew Sporn, this article really makes some interesting points in the gun control debate. RVA Mag posted this article less than two weeks after the Las Vegas attack, which brought gun control to the forefront of the gubernatorial campaign in Virginia. Sporn really took a deeper viewpoint in his proposed approach to curbing gun violence – essentially saying that regulating gun laws will have no real effect. Instead, he focused on other issues like poverty. This is different than the two polarizing positions of Democrats vs. Republicans. This quote from the article really stuck with me – “Perhaps it’s counterintuitive to say this, but for Virginia (and the country) gun control responses to mass casualty attacks are not true solutions. Gun regulation won’t solve a problem dependent on social and economic factors. Gun control only treats the symptoms, not the cause.”
I wouldn’t say that this was a very enjoyable article for me to write, but this conversation has dominated the political sphere nationally and in Virginia. However, I felt it was necessary to write. I needed to put in words the feelings I was having at the time. I was just baffled at the swift response in the private sector of accused men vs. the slow and virtual lack of a response by lawmakers towards their accused.