LYNCHBURG — About 150 people gathered Saturday in Peaks View Park — decked out in American flag and MAGA apparel, waving Trump and Gadsden flags — for a kickoff event for the newly organized Virginians for America First group.
The Richmond-based nonprofit formed in the spring and is working to focus voters' efforts on regaining a conservative majority in the Virginia House of Delegates in the November election. Democrats currently hold 55 House seats to Republicans' 45.
Saturday's speakers at the "Make Virginia Red Again" rally included representatives from organizations including Concerned Women For America, No Left Turn in Education, and the Standing For Freedom Center at Liberty University, as well as Ward III Lynchburg City Councilman Jeff Helgeson and Campbell County Board of Supervisor Member Charlie Watts. Topics included politics, government and religion.
Joshua Pratt, political direct for Virginians for America First, said the educational organization’s passion is to bring information to people so they can become better informed as they are making their decisions at the ballot box this election season.
According to the Virginians for America First website, the organization's agenda includes religious freedom, pro-life policies, protecting the Second Amendment, securing borders and immigration, legal immigration reform, eliminating “sanctuary cities”, lower taxes, preserving the right to work and reducing bureaucracy.
“Some of some of the things that we're working to help people understand is where a candidate will line up on these agenda items and if this is a candidate who supports the Second Amendment, is this a candidate who supports pro-life, is this a candidate that supports free speech rights to work, illegal immigration, what's their position on immigration, things like that,” he said.
He said the event was a community function inviting people to hear different speakers about things that are important to them.
“We're inviting the community to come and get some education and get some understanding and hear about what's going on in our local community, and to hear about what's going on in the state,” he said.
Speaker Yael Levin, president of the Virginia Chapter of No Left Turn in Education, told the crowd no child should be told he or she is racist just because of their skin color.
“At the same time, no child should be told that he or she will never make it in our society simply because they were born with dark skin. Unfortunately, that is exactly what critical race theory does and then some,” she said.
Critical race theory, an academic framework that looks at how law and policies perpetuate systemic racism, has become a focal point for controversy, with conservatives decrying what they see as its influence creeping into schools.
Levin said the nonprofit organization of parents, teachers and families, seeks to preserve the civil rights of children to gain factual knowledge in K-12 education free from indoctrination.
Pastor Travis Witt, director of strategic outreach at the Standing For Freedom Center — Liberty University’s conservative think tank focusing on issues such as rights of the unborn, the right to bear arms, limited government and free markets — said the school is moving in a direction that will honor God.
“We're moving in a direction that will empower pastors,” he said.
Witt said he thinks God is looking at the men in the nation and wondering if they will stand up and become leaders again in their homes, families and churches.
Helgeson spoke in depth about the problems that governments can create and how they don’t always respond well in a crisis.
“And there’s never accountability. Free choices, free people making decisions are so much better,” he said. “So next time you see another crisis, recognize the pattern that [governments] have used for a long time, whether it's been poverty, to COVID, bus drivers or building more school programs, recognize their failures, the lack of accountability, and it never comes back to them. So with that, once you see these patterns, hopefully that's going to help you to make Virginia red again, because you've seen this before. But when they do this, you look back and say, ‘You're not going to fool me again, because I understand your pattern. You've done it a million times before; all you do is take more power.’”
Watts encouraged the crowd to get involved with government on the local level, for he said that’s where everything that matters begins.
“You have to get out there,” he said. “It starts locally and then moves its way up. There’s so much going on right now.”
He said the Campbell County School Board is scheduled to meet in two weeks to discuss transgender students using bathroom facilities.
“I encourage everyone to go to their local boards and you'll find out exactly what's going on,” he said.
Watts told the crowd when he joined the board, he was told "no" all of the time.
“It was, 'No, you can’t reduce personal property taxes,' but my second year we reduced personal property taxes for the first time in 40 years, and it’s because you talk to people and you work together and you manage your money properly,” he said. “Since then we’ve reduced property taxes for over three years now. So if someone tells you, ‘No it can’t change, no it can’t be done' — don’t stop, keep fighting.”