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Tom Perriello woos crowd in Governor's race

Over 100 people gathered yesterday evening to hear Tom Perriello, a democratic candidate for Virginia governor, speak at a town hall style meeting.

A sea of faces, of all ages -- male, female – and predominately white, gazed hopefully up towards a stage centered at the historically black Virginia Union University.

Two women sitting in the front row held their notebooks with pens poised expectantly in hand. Another front-row enthusiast coughed, shuffling his feet restlessly.

Leah Greenberg, co-author of the Indivisible Guide, a practical guide for resisting Trump’s agenda, stepped onstage to introduce Perriello. She praised the candidate warmly, citing her time spent working for him in Congress.

“I saw up close his personal commitment for engaging every single one of his constituents, even those, like the Tea Party, that didn’t really like his progressive voting record,” Greenberg said. “Tom once told me, ‘people don’t always agree with me and my district, and that’s okay – I show up, I listen, I take their concerns seriously and I explain why the policies I’ve backed will improve their lives.’”

Greenberg ended her speech powerfully, proclaiming that Perriello would make the finest governor that Virginia had ever seen.

Viola Baskerville, representative of VUU and former cabinet member for Tim Kaine, also spoke in introduction of Perriello. She lamented the presidential election as one with no parallel – between rounds of applause she mourned the victory of President Trump.

“We must elect someone who speaks for the common good,” she said. “The winner of this election will experience the voices of hate and bigotry that come from the other side. The whole world will be watching Virginia in this election.”

Finally, Perriello, sharply dressed and widely grinning, strode onstage to raucous clapping. The crowd stilled – this is what they’d been waiting for.

He braced both sides of the podium, and thanked the previous speakers.

“For those of you who don’t know, I’m Tom Perriello,” he joked.

Amid soft chuckles, Perriello began with the topic of the current federal government – there is much to be concerned about, with a little bit of good news, he said.

“The resistance to Donald Trump is working,” he declared.

The crowd erupted in cheers and applause. Perriello commented on the power of community groups and protests across Virginia, voices he said had broken through maybe not the White House, but at least through the halls of Congress.

“Four months ago, people could’ve simply curled up on the couch and cried, but instead people decided to say ‘no, this is not who we are as a Commonwealth – this is not something we’re going to stand by passively and watch,’” he said.

He emphasized that Virginia was the only southern state to defeat Donald Trump in November, and spoke of Virginian participation in the women’s march and its protest of the federal travel ban.

“We know Donald Trump’s values are not Virginia’s values,” he said. “We are a Commonwealth that values inclusivity, values compassion. We must remain vigilant and stand against efforts to divide us, and put forth a vision of inclusive economic growth and opportunity.”

Perriello then moved onto a more local issue: the opioid epidemic. He told the story of a mother of a sixth-grade boy, who has had fourteen classmates this year lose a parent to the epidemic. He paused and the crowd murmured in dismay. Women and men gasped, bowed their heads in sorrow – Perriello had touched their hearts.

A sign proclaiming “Perriello for governor” slipped from the wall behind Perriello and fell. He smiled in response to crowd’s laughter; “it happens,” he said.

Perriello also spoke of the minimum wage that keeps full-time workers at 14,000/year salaries.

“We’ve been told for years this myth of trickle-down economics,” Perriello said. “When you actually increase wages and invest in people, that is when you get economic growth, locally and for small businesses.”

The event moved onto the Q&A section, where audience members had the opportunity to pose questions to Perriello.

Some topics that were touched on included the Affordable Care Act, public healthcare, abortion rights and gun violence – in summary, Perriello supports the idea of universal healthcare and a women’s right to choose.

As for gun violence, Perriello maintained that the government should conduct mental health checks, and not just anybody should be allowed to have a gun – he consistently supported addressing the root causes of issues rather than the broader legal matters.

Perriello commended the achievements of citizen protests and their influence on the issues, after giving his perspective on the topics addressed during the session.

“What I just told you is an easy thing for a politician to say,” he said. “Movements change the world, and politicians take credit for them -- I want it to be more of a partnership.”

Perriello also openly admitted to once voting for restricting abortion rights in the name of compromise, and to voting against Obama’s federal rifle ban. He recalled such instances now as lack of knowledge. Another sign dropped from its place on the wall behind him.

“Conviction politics allow you to make mistakes, to not get it right every time,” he said. “It’s about making your case, and then learning from it.”