I walked up the walkway to the front door, making sure I remembered the voter’s name. I rang the bell and then stepped back to wait.
“Hi, there. I’m looking for Ms. Brightwood,” I told the woman who came to the door.
“What do you want her for?” the resident said, eyeing me suspiciously.
“My name is Rachel Levy and I’m running for the Virginia House of Delegates here in the 55th District. I’m a mother of three, and a public school teacher.” She visibly relaxed and even managed a smile.
I have been active in local government matters, politics, and campaigns for a long time. Public service is my passion and my calling. As a public school teacher with a PhD in educational leadership and policy, I have a unique perspective that is sorely needed in the General Assembly. I have policy expertise, but I also know what it’s like on the ground, as a practitioner—I experience it every day. Furthermore, as a teacher, I keep in mind that every student of mine is someone’s child and worthy of dignity and respect. I care about my students and their learning unconditionally. This encapsulates my approach to public service: Every constituent deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, no matter who they are, what their background is, where they live, what the color of their skin is, who they love, what their gender identity is, how they worship (or don’t), what their abilities are, how much money they have, or how they vote. I wanted to help people, to employ my famous work ethic to make their lives better and to make our community a better place to live.
I ran on being a representative for ALL people in the district, regardless of their party affiliation. There were many issues on my policy platform, but the most important ones were strengthening our public schools, protecting our environment, rural land, and natural resources, ensuring greater access to affordable healthcare, universal access to high-speed internet—treating it like a public utility, and protecting our right to vote and democracy. My campaign did a ton of outreach—we knocked almost 9500 doors, not to mention phone calls, texts, and postcards.
My platform of basic rights and services seemed to really resonate with the people I talked to. I did get a few questions about CRT, gun rights, and President Biden, but otherwise I saw few signs that people were concerned with culture war issues. No one wanted to talk about whether transgender kids should be allowed to use the bathroom that aligned with their gender identity. Rather, they were concerned about accessing education, inadequate internet, and covid-era schooling. Keep in mind that in a largely rural district like mine, public schools and faith communities—in my district that means churches—are the two most popular and most shared institutions. People love their local schools. In rural areas they serve as community hubs.
I was proud to tell voters that I was a teacher. I am proud to be part of a profession of smart, resourceful, responsible, and caring people who do socially useful, meaningful, and intellectual work. Unfortunately, that same sense of ease people felt when I told them I was a teacher, the same sense that I am a responsible and reliable member of the community may be tied to the sense right now in this pandemic that teachers are expected to take care of everyone else and put the health and lives of others above our own and our own family members. It may tie into the practice of not allowing teachers and educators input into the policies, practices, and working conditions that determine the quality of our working lives and the quality of education we’re able to provide.
My message to voters was that our public school teachers are not expendable, replaceable or disposable. To value our public schools is to value our teachers. To value our public schools is to value democracy.
Just as the January 6th insurrectionists came for our democracy, there are people coming for our teachers and for our public schools. I don’t believe that teachers and education alone can solve poverty or build democracy. But our public schools are a building block of our democracy, and we need them and our teachers to be strong in order to weather the current fascist storm.
From the response I got on the doors campaigning, I’m confident that the public agrees.
Rachel is now fighting to stop the expansion of charter schools in Virginia. If you live in Virginia, you can help. Send two emails to lawmakers by clicking the links below.