RVA Magazine sits down with Alexsis Rodgers, a community activist and mayoral candidate for the City of Richmond, to learn more about her policies.
On June 6, Alexsis Rodgers formally announced her candidacy for Richmond mayor. Rodgers, a VCU graduate, is currently the Virginia state director for Care in Action: the policy and advocacy home for two million women domestic workers. Rodgers is also the former president of the Virginia Young Democrats. Rodgers’ campaign is running on the slogan “Policies Not Apologies.”
Among the policies and reform she’s passionate about are voting rights, economic security, college affordability, and quality health care. Some of her accomplishments include playing a key role in achieving Medicaid expansion, and growing birth control access during her time at Planned Parenthood here in Richmond.
We sat down with Rodgers to learn more about her policies ahead of the election.
RVA Magazine: I’ve seen and read that you’ve been in leadership positions such as the president of Virginia Young Democrats, and now you’re the Virginia State Director for Care in Action. Why do you want to run for mayor? Why now?
Alexsis Rodgers: Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen more clearly than ever that the community wants urgent, progressive change. A lot of the demands that we’re hearing from the community are policy demands that they’ve been setting forward for years — whether that be police accountability, a civilian review board with authority to subpoena, or the Marcus Alert. What I’ve seen from our Mayor’s Office is a resistance to listen and be responsive to calls from the community, and this isn’t the first time we’ve seen this dismissal… When you look back at the Navy Hill fight, the Education Compact, and development projects all throughout the city, we’ve seen the Mayor center the interests of corporate elites and special interests more so than people. I think now more than ever, we need someone who’s in touch; who has worked with community activism leaders to fight for progressive change, but who also understands policy and its process. I think I’m that candidate.
RVA Mag: What do you think is the best solution for the city’s ongoing problems with education, especially for students who are economically disadvantaged and/or from marginalized backgrounds?
AR: Number one: right now, in the middle of this public health crisis, we’re seeing the importance of education and the importance of child care. For too many of Richmond’s families, access to affordable child care, early childhood education, and the right to go to a good quality school has not been a reality. I think we have to start by centering the right values, and the right people, in the process. We’re never going to get the results we want when it comes to educational equity if we don’t start centering the folks that are the most impacted. If we don’t start by engaging and listening to our teachers, faculty, and support staff. If we’re not truly listening to parents. We haven’t seen any true community engagement through this Mayor’s Administration. That’s something we’re going to need to address if we want to fully fund RPS, if we want to get police out of our school systems, and make sure that schools are a safe place for our kids to learn and grow.
RVA Mag: How do you feel about the issues that have come up in the past year or two regarding de facto segregation of school districts within the city?
AR: There’s a systemic issue when it comes to racial and educational inequity here in Richmond, and right now we’re having a very public conversation about monuments and what they mean to black and brown folks. But we’re not [paying] enough attention right now to the systemic issues of racial injustice and education inequity. I think it has to start by, again, making sure we’re centering the right folks in these conversations. We haven’t always done that. We can’t ignore do-gooders in our community that want to support because they have access to corporate funds for our schools. They’re great community partners who have been helping to support our teachers and staff, but we need to make sure that we’re always putting students first. We know that Navy Hill was not a project that was going to put working-class folks first, and we’ve got to stop putting those corporate elites first when it comes to our policymaking.
RVA Mag: The process of figuring out what to do with the Richmond Coliseum and its surrounding area, Navy Hill, has been a huge issue in the city over the past few years. How do you think you can most effectively move this discussion forward, and find a solution for the area that works for all Richmonders?
AR: I think the project was doomed from the start, because it seemed to me that the process was rigged. It started with corporate special interest, and the plan was created, but it was rolled out under the guidelines of “wanting community feedback and input” — when really, they knew what they wanted the plan to be. It was not real engagement and real incorporation of community feedback. As Mayor, my commitment is that I’m not going to start with those special interests in mind first. I want to put the people first, and make sure there is real input from Richmond residents — that their voices are actually heard as we’re developing the city. It’s really important that we’re able to build and grow Richmond — make sure we open up new revenues for the city, so we can fully fund our schools and address housing and healthcare issues. But if we don’t center the right values as we work to secure economic development, we’re never going to do right by Richmond residents.
RVA Mag: What are your views on what should be done on Monument Ave?
AR: I think it’s really clear that Richmonders want these monuments down. I told a story when I first launched my campaign about when I was at school at Hanover High School: at track practice while we were practicing, a truck pulled up with a huge confederate flag in the back and started circling the parking lot. My coach went out and told that driver to go home. He knew the message that truck was trying to send to our team, he knew it was wrong, and he went out and called for that person to go.
Right now, what we’re seeing over the last several years, folks have asked for these monuments to be removed. They’ve asked for them to be put in museums, but for them to be put out of our public spaces. For too long, the Mayor has said, “Well we can’t,” or “I’m not sure,” or “We need to have a process.” We had a commission that made recommendations that didn’t go anywhere, and it’s only when this very visible unrest is happening in our city that he’s coming around to the right decision. It shouldn’t require us to put our literal bodies on the line, out here protesting for our rights in the middle of a pandemic, to be heard by our elected officials. We should be able to be valued and seen whether we’re protesting, speaking at a city council meeting, or writing a letter to a City Council member or our Mayor. All of those tactics should be heard and valued. We shouldn’t have to put our lives on the line as part of it. I sit out there marching with everybody else, asking for justice, asking for policy solutions… but also to say these racist symbols should be out of our public spaces, and it’s past time for that to happen.
RVA Mag: What would you like to see done with the street once they’re removed?
AR: When we’re talking about public spaces and putting up monuments to individuals, that should take real community input. That should also honor folks whose history has been forgotten or erased. You know, Richmond is a creative city. We have a lot of artists. We have a lot of historians and researchers. Given the authority and the resources, we can have some real community engagement around [questions like], “What should we name our streets that are formally named after confederate generals?” “What should we put in place of these historically confederate monuments?” I don’t think the city residents haven’t been given that agency. I would love to see us move in that direction — where we’re having thoughtful conversations about race, using this moment where folks are becoming politically aware to move the city forward, and what should be in these public spaces that honor the right values and right cause.
RVA Mag: Richmond’s eviction numbers saw somewhat of a decline after the city’s high rate of evictions became national news a couple of years ago, but the city has a long way to go before we’re completely past this issue. How do you foresee the city moving forward in a manner that is helpful to those struggling financially, both where evictions are concerned and in the changing face of public housing in Richmond?
AR: For too many people, especially during this public health crisis, they’ve been juggling whether they can put their health at risk and go to work, or put their job and livelihood at risk by staying home. There have been a lot of great activists out there calling for canceling rent, calling for freezing evictions, and [they’ve been] met with a lot of silence from our elected leadership. That’s not okay. It, again, shows how out-of-touch and out-of-alignment the current administration is from the real needs of the community. There were [homeless] folks at the beginning of the pandemic who were sheltering in place at Camp Cathy, and the city came and removed those folks’ homes. Now, I appreciate any effort to help make sure these folks are in a safe and supportive environment — especially during a public health crisis, where they can maintain social distancing and good hygiene — but the city came in and cleared out those folks’ properties. It was just garbage in the streets. I think that shows a lack of understanding of both dignity and their agency as human beings, and that’s not something I want to see our city do ever again.
When we talk about affordable housing and making sure that folks are able to make ends meet, there’s a lot of layers to that. There’s making sure people have access to a good job, there’s a lot of emphasis on having transit options that connect people to jobs and work, healthcare access to make sure that where you’re going to work, you’re safe, and childcare so you can go to work and not worry about your family. There are a lot of efforts, a lot of smart folks working on housing policies. But it always has to start with centering people’s dignity, and their humanity, the value that every person should be able to live safely, and giving respect to folks. Maybe they are renters, and there are candidates in the race that don’t think renters should have as much of a say when it comes to their government, and that’s not right. Regardless of where you live or who you are, I want to be your Mayor, and I want to represent you in our government.
RVA Mag: You’ve had a longtime involvement with Virginia League For Planned Parenthood, so are you at all concerned that abortion will become a wedge issue in your campaign?
AR: I have always been fighting for healthcare access. In this race, I’m going to be a vocal champion for abortion rights. For me, I know that people that are pregnant need access to the full range of reproductive healthcare services — and that means access to good maternal care, birth control. That means access to abortion. Not every person wants to be pregnant, and not every person is able to carry their pregnancy to term. It’s important to me that we continue to champion those rights for those in Richmond. I was really excited to help Planned Parenthood begin their efforts to expand and open up new health centers in Church Hill. That’s going to be huge for this community, which has been historically underserved when it comes to healthcare access. I think that Planned Parenthood and access to reproductive healthcare here in the city is really important, and is actually going to be a way that we unite the city around certain issues — and certainly around expanding access to healthcare.
RVA Mag: Finally, regarding gentrification in Richmond, what is your stance on this issue?
AR: When I moved to the city, I moved to an apartment right near Lamplighter on Addison. My next-door neighbor was an older black woman who had lived there for, you know, forever. In the last couple years, she passed away, and her son wanted to tend to the house. He was really struggling. He had grown up in that house, and he didn’t want to leave the house “speechless” and give it over to renters, because this is the community he grew up in. He also didn’t feel like he had the resources to properly take care of it. Long story short, that house was flipped and sold for half a million dollars, and younger, white folks moved into it. It was a picture right in my eyes, here in Randolph, that is a historically-black community. There are a lot of roots there for black folks, and over and over we’re seeing black residents getting pushed out because of gentrification here in the city. I think it’s important for us to look at how we can make sure that families — specifically black families — can build and maintain wealth in their families. We can proceed to support black ownership when it comes to homes, but also black businesses, and generally making sure that our community of color is made strong. As you probably know, Hull Street used to be basically the Black Wall Street, and making sure that we’re continuing to support communities of color is going to be really important for me.
Interview by Carley Welch; top photo via Alexsis Rodgers/Facebook