Students walked out of classes at Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus this morning to support a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.
“There are Palestinian Jews dying every day,” one student speaker said. “We came here for peace. We are not spreading hate today. We are here to help stop a genocide.”
Chants of “No more hiding, no more fear, genocide is crystal clear” were heard from across King Street. Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) said news media would not be allowed on school grounds during the walkout.
Most of the students returned to the school after the protest, though some left the campus.
“The protest was great,” one senior in a group of four told ALXnow. “We’re not going back today. We’re ditching school.”
Rabbi David Spinrad from the Beth El Hebrew Congregation stood across from the school with an Israeli flag.
“I’m an American and a Jew, and as an American, I respect the first amendment and people’s freedom of expression,” Spinrad said, “but that freedom of expression doesn’t extend to hate speech, it doesn’t include anti-semitism, which is far more nuanced, particularly in this situation than the vast majority of them have ever been educated around.”
Spinrad said he wants ACPS to ensure the protection of Jewish students at the school during the protests and would be interested to hear about the specifics of a ceasefire.
“If every one of the 248 hostages were immediately returned, if Hamas surrendered unconditionally, then I think a ceasefire is absolutely something that’s appropriate,” Spinrad. “But as long as Israel is fighting a state-sponsored terrorist organization that abuts the state of Israel, their responsibility is first and foremost to their citizens, including those 248 hostages.”
ACHS Executive Principal Alexander Duncan III notified parents via email on Wednesday afternoon that school staff have planned for a “peaceful and safe environment for our students.”
Duncan’s message is below:
It is our understanding that tomorrow (Thurs., Nov. 9, 2023) is a national day of protest related to current events in the Middle East. We have learned that there will be at least one student walkout at Alexandria City High School (ACHS) – King Street Campus that is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. We want to assure you that plans are in place as we work to ensure a peaceful and safe environment for our students.
As students exercise their right to free speech during the school day tomorrow, ACHS administrators and staff, in addition to Central Office staff, will be prepared and positioned to ensure that this walkout is conducted in a safe and respectful manner, with as little disruption to normal operations as possible. As stated in our Student Code of Conduct, we ask students to be kind, respectful and cooperative to prevent problems and solve problems in a peaceful and collaborative way.
For any student who has concerns about these ongoing events and wants to talk to a counselor or another trusted adult, there are resources in place. At ACHS, students can always reach out to a counselor or another Student Support Team (SST) member, administrator, or any trusted adult in the school if they are in need of help. Our students can also reach out to CrisisText and Crisis Link at any time, 24/7, through the contacts below:
- Text: CONNECT to 85511
- Call CrisisLink: 703-527-4077
We have collaborated with our Safety and Security Team to ensure that we have adequate security supports in place. The safety and security of our students and staff are of utmost priority.
Students also staged a walk-out protest earlier this year over the cancellation of lunchtime activities.
James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story
Freedom Rider Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, who was imprisoned in Mississippi for her civil rights activism, is scheduled to speak at a meeting of the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project later this month.
The Office of Historic Alexandria said Mulholland will speak at the free event at 1 p.m. in The Lyceum (201 S Washington Street) on Saturday, Sept. 23.
Mulholland participated in several civil rights events and will be available for a Q&A at the event, along with a book signing.
According to the OHA’s newsletter:
Freedom Rider Joan Trumpauer Mulholland, who also played a role in integrating Glen Echo Park, will speak to the Alexandria Community Remembrance Project for the Fall Meeting. The event is free and begins with a social at 1 p.m., with program to follow at 1:30 p.m. During the struggle for civil rights, Northern Virginian Trumpauer-Mulholland participated in more than 50 sit-ins and demonstrations including the Freedom Rides, the Jackson Woolworth’s Sit-in, the March on Washington, the Meredith March, and the march from Selma to Montgomery. Mulholland will be joined by her son and documentarian Loki Mulholland for the presentation, followed by time for questions and a book signing. Her most recent book, “Get Back to the Counter,” as well as some children’s books about nonviolent protests will be available for purchase.
The Alexandria Community Remembrance Project is an initiative that provides education on the history of civil rights and hate crimes, like the city’s two fatal lynchings.
Residents of an Arlandria affordable apartment complex say the new owner is drastically, and illegally, raising rent and not notifying tenants within 60 days.
Potomac West Apartments LLC bought the four-building, 60-unit apartment complex in June. Last month, residents with expiring leases were notified via letter of a rent increase.
“We just wanted to say thank you for being a wonderful resident of Potomac West Apartments,” begins an Aug. 1 letter to a resident. “We are planning on upgrading the property to include new washing and drying machines, renovated laundry rooms, landscaping upgrades and much more.”
The property manager then reminded residents in the letter that they must provide a 60-day notice if they are going to vacate.
Residents protested the action on Tuesday afternoon with a rally organized by Tenants and Workers United (TWU). The property is directly across the street from Housing Alexandria’s massive affordable apartment complex development at the corner of Mount Vernon Avenue and Glebe Road.
Jose Coca saw his rent increase by more than $500. The 85-year-old custodian at the Pentagon has lived on the property for more than 30 years and said that no improvements have been made to the property.
“When we go to the leasing office about a maintenance issue, they don’t pay attention to us,” Coca said.
Medical assistant Soraida Cruz has lived in her two-bedroom apartment for 18 years. She said her rent is being increased from $1,498 to $1,725 per month, and that Potomac West Apartments and property manager Chapman Management are not responsive.
“It hurts,” Cruz said. “It really does. I’m the only one working. If we had better conditions, paying less than what they are raising right now, I would continue living here, but it’s tough.”
Cruz also said that the buildings have rodent and maintenance issues that residents pay out of pocket to fix.
Larisa Zehr, an attorney from Legal Aid Justice Center, said that the new apartment building owners are breaking the law by not giving tenants at least 60 days notice of a rent increase.
“This makes common sense and it’s a basic protection for tenants,” Zehr said. “That did not happen here. As this area sees increased economic interest, we’re seeing this pattern developers are hiking rents and driving out long term stable families. This is purely profit-driven. We see rents increase without any improvement to living conditions.”
Zehr continued, “Potomac West Apartments is intended to be long-term affordable housing, which is subsidized by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program. That means the owner has to cap rent at 60% of area median income. In Northern Virginia, as low income people are pushed out and displaced by wealthier households, that number keeps going up. The cap is not low enough to protect working class families like the families in this neighborhood.”
TWU mailed two letters to the property manager and owners asking for a sit-down to discuss rent increases and tenant needs. They did not receive a response.
“I know it’s not easy to be here after you work two jobs, after you cook for your family,” TWU Executive Director Evelyn Urritria told the protestors. “You are here because you care about your housing situation. It’s unfair what’s happening, it’s unjust what’s happening.”
Potomac West Apartments LLC and Chapman Management did not return calls for comment.
Signs have popped up on Pickett Street, which is named for the general, calling for it to be renamed.
A history teacher at Francis C. Hammond Middle School posted images of the signs outside the school near the intersection of N. Pickett Street and Seminary Road.
Seen outside @FCHammond, signs from BH AS, and AS informing the community that Pickett was racist, and suggesting two possible better names, Heather Heyer and Humayun Khan. #changeracistnames @AlexandriaNow@justindotnet@SarahforALX@Alyia4ALX@j_chapman99@ShawnEyer pic.twitter.com/ymSB5Nc0iS
— Mr. L (@MrLHistoryClass) June 6, 2023
The calls for the street’s renaming come amid a broader review of Confederate-honoring streets around the city. Earlier this year, Alexandria’s City Council discussed plans to rename roughly three Confederate-horning street names each year.
The Alexandria Black History Museum (902 Wythe Street) is reopening this weekend with a new exhibit dedicated to Alexandria’s response to the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The new exhibit is called “The Legacy of George Floyd: the Black Lives Remembered Collection.” The formerly virtual exhibit is set to premiere at a reception on Sunday, Feb. 26, from 2-5 p.m.
“The Office of Historic Alexandria invites you to the reopening of the Alexandra Black History Museum and the new exhibition documenting the community’s response to the murder of George Floyd and the ongoing work of preserving the names of those Black lives lost and ensuring that they are remembered,” the museum said in a release.
A presentation on the upcoming exhibit highlighted photographs from vigils around Alexandria and collected statements from those involved in the protests and local officials.
According to the exhibit’s website:
The Alexandria Black History Museum is dedicated to not only collecting the story of Alexandria’s past, but also documenting its present for future generations. Following the tragic murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the Alexandria Black History Museum put out a call to the community to record their feelings, thoughts, artwork, photographs, and objects that would help us to document the legacy of the Alexandria community’s response to this tragedy and the wave of peaceful protests and vigils that followed. The objects and digital photographs that we received from the local community form the basis of the Museum’s new Black Lives Remembered Collection.
(Updated 3:55 p.m.) At 10 a.m. today, Alexandria City High School students filed out of their classrooms and took to the field behind the school in protest against the elimination of a popular lunchtime program at the school.
For a time, students could use their lunch block to meet with clubs or teachers in a program called Lunch and Learn. This was later given a more formal structure in a program called Titan Lunch, a re-do with more security, but that program was never instated.
Earlier this week, ACHS Principal Peter Balas told that — after meeting with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) senior leadership team — Titan Lunch would not be implemented for the current school year.
In an email to the community, Balas said logistics and safety concerns were at the core of why the program was canceled for the duration of the current school year.
“You may recall that, last fall, I promised to share an update after Winter Break and provide the next steps in the process,” Balas wrote. “In my previous message, I emphasized the need to address all of the safety and security concerns, in addition to the logistical and operational challenges, in our final plan, while also providing an opportunity for student choice during the lunch period. This is a significant challenge to overcome, given our large student population.”
Balas said the program “as we have known it” will not be reinstated for the 2022-2023 school year.
“Despite our best efforts, we are still working through the numerous factors and considerations to successfully reinstate the Titan Lunch period for this school year,” Balas wrote. “At this time,we will not be able to reinstate Titan Lunch for the 2022-23 school year as we have known it. Over the next semester, we will find ways to provide support to students focused on academics, well-being and student life.”
Students at ACHS told ALXnow that Lunch and Learn allowed students to participate in clubs and receive support from teachers, as well as allowing them time to visit counselors. The program allowed students to use the lunch break for these activities when things like sports or jobs might have left them unable to use those resources after school hours.
According to James Libresco, the 2025 class president at ACHS:
Lunch and Learn was such an important issue for students because it allowed students to participate in clubs, receive academic support from teachers, utilize the College & Career center, receive emotional support from counselors, and so much more. And the best part was that it allowed equal and equitable access for all students to participate in these school activities and enrichments, even those who had responsibilities after school like going to sports practice, working a job, or taking care of family members. This was something that had never been possible previously.
Titan Lunch took those aspects and added more safety-focused oversight, restricting some of the openness from Lunch and Learn like access to Chinquapin Field. Titan Lunch also required students to report directly to their location and check in via an internal system to let administrators keep track of students.
Libresco said strategic security plans for Titan Lunch included placing security officers and administrators in key locations to prevent students from roaming the halls or entering “no-go” areas.
— James Libresco (@james_libresco) January 24, 2023
— Yahney-Marie Sangaré (@yahneymarie) January 24, 2023
A committee of 25 students, called the Student Lunch Committee, had been working on the Titan Lunch program as a compromise. The Student Lunch Committee issued a statement expressing frustration at being seemingly stonewalled by the central office. Libresco said Balas was supportive of the students and engaged in conversations, but that the school had difficulty discussing the plan with the central office and Kay-Wyatt in particular, who has not met with the committee.
A Change.org petition calling specifically on Kay-Wyatt to reinstate Lunch and Learn has gotten 1,346 signatures at time of writing.
“This is no longer just about Titan Lunch,” the committee said in a statement posted on social media. “this is about students, teachers, staff and administration being flagrantly ignored by Central Office with the vague reasoning of ‘safety.’ This is about Central Office leaving nothing up to the principals and administrators who know our school so well.”
In the email to the community, Balas said the discussion around lunchtime activities is likely to continue:
In our continued conversations with students and staff about the reinstatement of this period, we have heard many perspectives and advocacy to accommodate this period in the schedule for the remainder of this year. I want you to know that your voice has not gone unheard. In our role as leaders, it is always challenging to balance safety for all within the building with student and staff choice. This is one of those times when a tough call must be made to ensure that we can be fully prepared to provide the safest environment for our school community while also keeping student life top of mind.
I understand that you may still have questions about this decision and may be disappointed with this outcome at this time. Please be assured that we will continue to identify ways to incorporate student and staff voice in our next steps as we continue our planning, if all measures are in place.
At a rally outside Southern Towers (4901 Seminary Road), residents and community activists shared stories of rent increases and poor living conditions, shouting slogans against property owner CIM Group.
CIM Group purchased the buildings in 2020. Relations between tenants and owners were already fraught after the pandemic left many residents in Southern Towers — one of the last bastions of market-rate affordable housing in Alexandria — without work. Since then, community activists have raced to try and support residents facing eviction after pandemic-related protections expired.
A dozen residents of Southern Towers were in attendance, along with several community organizers from the organization African Communities Together (ACT). Bert Bayou, chapter director for ACT’s DC office, said ACT has been working to support local residents who feel they’re being pushed out by continual rent increases at the property.
“We are here supporting the tenants,” said Bayou. “For a few months we’ve been trying to engage with CIM about conditions in the building and rent increases.”
Bayou said CIM Group has told residents that rent went up 3-4%. Bayou said ACT surveyed residents and found some 9% increases, though CIM group cited figures on real estate website CoStar that show lower average rent renewals.
“CIM says they want to keep the building as workforce housing, but everything they do is making it unaffordable,” Bayou said. “All we see is CIM trying to get rid of African immigrants.”
Added into the mix is that utilities are no longer included with rent, meaning residents face additional costs on top of increasing rent.
Sosseh Prom, state policy manager for African Communities Together, rent shouldn’t increase any more than 2% annually.
“If you, a multi-billion dollar company, are having these issues: how do you think blue-collar workers feel?” Prom said.
Sami Bourma, a resident at Southern Towers, said beyond just issues with having utilities separated from rent, there are no clear answers on where the figures on the bills are coming from given that there aren’t individual meters in the units.
“We see a $200 electric bill for a one-bedroom unit or $600 for a three-bedroom, but it doesn’t make any sense,” Bourma said. “CIM says ‘oh, that’s what the market is.'”
CIM Group was not available for interviews, but said in a document sent to ALXnow that because Southern Towers aren’t affiliated with any social service support network, the property owners are keeping rent increases in line with the financial obligations of building ownership:
The vast majority, 91.5 percent, of Southern Towers residents are current in meeting their rent obligations. Our empathy for residents must be balanced by our fiduciary responsibility. We empathize with those residents that face personal struggles. However, Southern Towers is a standard workforce housing community and is not affiliated with any social service support networks. As property owners we must meet our financial obligations and fiduciary responsibilities in order to keep the lights on and the doors open, providing homes for thousands of residents at Southern Towers.
The real estate company said rents are 20% below average rental rates in Alexandria and rent increases have been below the average rate as well, noting that the average rates cited on real estate website CoStar showed a 2.7% increase for residents renewing their leases and a 5.1% increase for new leases.
Currently, rents at Southern Towers are approximately 20 percent below the average rental rates for all apartment properties in the Alexandria area according to CoStar. This equates to, on average, approximately $600 a month.
Overall, rents in the Alexandria market increased 12.8 percent in the past year. Rental rates for new leases at Southern Towers increased 5.1 percent over the same period, while existing residents executing renewals saw increases of 2.7 percent during this time, according to CoStar.
Effective October 1, 2022, Southern Towers will hold rent increases to $200 per month for residents in good standing who execute a lease renewal through the end of 2022. There were instances where residents agreed to renewal terms before the commitment to a $200 cap was implemented. There is no obligation to renew, residents may select from the many residential options in the area.
More than a dozen anti-abortion activists were individually led out of Alexandria’s City Council Chambers on Tuesday night (June 28), as Council unanimously approved a resolution to protect access to abortions in the city.
Members of the California-based group Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust sat in Council Chambers holding signs depicting graphic photos and drawings of aborted fetuses. The group spent the last several days demonstrating outside the U.S. Supreme Court leading up to last week’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, banning abortion in more than a dozen states.
Mayor Justin Wilson told the audience repeatedly to quiet down or he’d clear the chamber, and asked police to remove more than a dozen protestors, including A.J. Hurley, national director of the group.
“Bodily autonomy is a basic human right,” Wilson said. “I’m not really fond of resolutions that, you know, take stands on issues that we don’t have a lot of impact on, and this is not one of those. I think the reason this resolution is before us is because it has specific actions that are very much in our purview.”
Hurley is from Los Angeles, California. He said that the mission of the organization is to seek a federal ban on abortion, and doesn’t believe he will see that happen in his lifetime. Hurley was eventually escorted from Council Chambers by police after an outburst. Members of the group also shouted on megaphones and banged on plastic buckets outside City Hall.
“If this city council is going to produce edicts and statements and resolutions moving towards ordinances, they should know the faces of the children that they affect,” Hurley said.
The resolution states that “it is not possible to ban abortion, but only to ban safe and legal abortions,” and asks that the City Manager consider budgetary proposals for the FY 2024 budget to “ensure accessibility of reproductive health services, safe abortion services, accessible maternal and child health services for low-income Alexandria residents.”
The resolution also calls on the City Attorney to join ongoing or future lawsuits “to protect the availability of abortion services in Alexandria,” as well as land use protections for providers.
When told by a protestor that she doesn’t understand the issue because she hasn’t had an abortion, Vice Mayor Amy Jackson asked, “How do you know I haven’t?”
“When we’re talking about personal freedom and women’s health care, it should be the women’s choice, not men,” Jackson said.
“Fortunately right now we are in Virginia, and in Virginia abortion remains legal,” McPike said. “There’s nothing we can do from this dais or as City Council to override state law. If that changes, we will not be able to limit that. What we can do is work within the powers that we have as a city body, to ask our city manager in our city attorney to take on active roles in helping us protect this right to reproductive choice here in our city, whether that’s through revising our planning and zoning rules, whether that’s by joining lawsuits, whether that’s by putting language in our legislative packets. “
Council Member Alyia Gaskins, who noted in the meeting that she is pregnant, said that the Supreme Court ruling is an attack on the rights of women and families.
“We must be relentless in protecting the health and wellbeing of our people and the citizens we serve,” Gaskins said.
Council Member Sarah Bagley directly addressed the anti-abortion activists holding signs.
“I look at these photos, I see you pointing at them,” Bagley said. “What I don’t see is the woman whose life was saved because the ectopic pregnancy would have killed her. What I don’t see with these photos is a woman who desperately wanted a child but was told that (with) these fetal abnormalities would never have survived.”
Many residents also sat in Council Chambers holding signs thanking Alexandria for its pro-abortion efforts, including Sandy Marks, chair of the Alexandria Democratic Committee.
“Our council is entirely unshaken,” Marks said. “There have been a few interruptions, business is moving smoothly. They’re attempting to make noise outside, but our good governance is not going to be disrupted by a small number of out of town visitors that are here to try to obstruct a meeting that is going very smoothly.”
Delegate Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D-45) also sat in the audience.
“I’m here because I believe everyone should be able to access safe abortions,” Bennett-Parker said. “I’m here today to support City Council and this resolution to protect abortion access in Alexandria and Virginia. I’m here because people should be able to make decisions about their own body, their own future and their own lives.”
Chanting and holding signs, a local environmental group protested Chase Bank and Wells Fargo with ‘die-ins’ at their Old Town branches.
On Monday afternoon (April 4), more than a dozen protestors from the group TH!RD ACT-VA walked into both banks and chanted “What do we want? Climate change! What do we need? System change!” and delivered letters to local branch managers to forward to Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and Wells Fargo CEO Charles W. Scharf. The letters demand that the banks “divest from fossil fuels this year.”
JP Morgan Chase & Co. is the top arranger of bonds for fossil fuel companies in the world, followed by Citibank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America. Last year, each of those banks joined the United Nations’ Net Zero Banking Alliance, pledging to have their investment portfolios represent only companies with no emissions by 2050.
But the banks have a long way to go, said TH!RD ACT-VA organizer Deborah Kushner.
“Chase’s business plan is planetary death and destruction,” Kushner said. “It’s up to us to wake Chase. If Chase Bank does not stop all fossil fuel funding by the end of this year, we pledged to close all their accounts with Chase.”
TH!RD ACT-VA is made up of senior citizens from across the state, and has conducted similar protests in Richmond and Charlottesville. Their main online presence is on Facebook, and they ask that supporters sign an online pledge against banking with the lenders.
Organizer Bill Muth, of Richmond, brought his young grandchildren to the event, and said they participated in the die-in because the issue of climate change concerns future generations.
“I cannot stand by and watch an institution fund industries that are destroying the air supply of my grandchild,” Muth said, and then played dead with them and other protestors on the red brick sidewalk.
There was no proclamation at the March 8 City Council meeting honoring abortion providers, but that one had even been planned in the first place was enough to fill several rows of City Hall with anti-abortion advocates rallying against the canceled proclamation
While the casual viewer of the March 8 agenda might be baffled at the presence of anti-abortion advocates at the meeting, the docket had originally included a proclamation of March 10 as “Abortion Provider Appreciation Day.” Local religious groups were stirred by clergy like Arlington’s Bishop Michael Burbidge, despite the proclamation being pulled from the agenda at the request of Mayor Justin Wilson.
“Somebody saw that it was on the agenda and put the word out,” said Larry Cirignano, who said he heard about the event from the Queen of Apostles Catholic Church. “To think that we should honor people for killing babies…”
Cirignano said local advocates said the closure of some clinics offering abortions in Virginia has been encouraging, particularly the Planned Parenthood in Falls Church, and Cirignano said his hope is the West End facility can be similarly blocked through bureaucratic means.
“The one at Landmark is going to have to move, so wherever they move to, that could be blocked,” said Cirignano. “The City of Fairfax decided they needed one more parking spot they didn’t have.”
Elsewhere, onerous health inspections have been used as a cudgel to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics. The likelihood the that the all-Democrat City Council in Alexandria would go along with that seems slim, but Cirignano argued anti-abortion sentiment could transcend party lines. A Gallup poll indicated that around 8% of Democrats think abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, while 50% think abortion should be legal in all circumstances.
Our goal is not only to make it illegal… Our goal is to make it unthinkable.”
Wilson said while he and his colleagues on the City Council still support the message, he pulled it with their consent after deciding it was too controversial a topic for the typically inoffensive “proclamations” section of a public hearing. Other proclamations at that meeting, for example, expressed support for Meals on Wheels and recognizing Brain Injury Awareness Month.
“This was one of the [abortion] providers in the city had approached us because this is a national observance,” Wilson said. “One of my colleagues had requested we put it on the docket and I had agreed to do so. Upon reflection, these proclamations are usually non-controversial, but this one is more controversial. After talking with my colleagues and reflecting a bit, it makes sense to remove it from a docket.”
Wilson expressed some regret for including it, but not for the intent behind it.
“Upon reflecting I shouldn’t have put it as a proclamation,” Wilson said. “It’s the kind of thing we could handle as a resolution or presented at an event. That was the judgment and everyone unanimously agreed. The sentiment is to show our support for these healthcare workers who perform a legal and necessary service to our community in our community. We have two providers in our city who do that work under adverse conditions, and we wanted to show support for the work they do.”