Drivers through Leesburg on Thursday evening saw dozens of protestors in bright orange shirts, holding signs and chanting on the corner of Plaza Street and Market Street despite the downpour of rain.
New Virginia Majority, a statewide advocacy group for marginalized communities including black and brown people, young people, and working-class women, organized the march to oppose evictions and secure more help from the government for people struggling to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The protesters, carrying signs and singing chants mostly in Spanish, began their march at the county government’s Shenandoah Building on Edwards Ferry Road and marched down Plaza Street to the intersection with Market Street, led by a banner reading “#CANCEL RENT IN VIRGINIA.” There, in the rain, they cheered along with drivers honking.
“El pueblo unido jamas será vencido!” they chanted, which translates to the “the people united will never be defeated.”
“We have been experiencing two pandemics: the coronavirus and the indifference-virus, which is a disease that has plagued us since this global crisis began,” said Ammry Gonzalez of Ashburn, speaking in Spanish and translated for this article. “Just because we are immigrants, we do not have rights or benefits. But they know about our difficulties, they know about our needs and have the resources at hand to answer and solve the problem, but they do not lift a finger to help us.”
Arlen Henriquez of Leesburg said she was among the people who saw her work hours cut because of the pandemic, and worried about paying rent or being kicked out of their homes despite official moratoriums on eviction.
“Many people in our apartment complexes have lost their jobs totally or partially, while others have had their work hours reduced,” Henriquez said, also speaking in Spanish. “For some, the return to work has been gradual and with few hours and others, on the other hand, do not even see the hope of returning to a job.”
They asked the state government to double the money put into its Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program. On June 29, Gov. Ralph Northam announced the state would put $50 million of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security or CARES Act funding into the program to provide rent and mortgage payments for people whose livelihoods have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re asking the state government and for Governor Northam to allocate a billion dollars of rental assistance, and also that all forms of rental assistance are more open and accessible to the Latino community,” said march leader Isamar Ortega, speaking through an interpreter, New Virginia Majority organizer Hannah Recht. “We also ask that our county government be more transparent with the county rental assistance program, because our community is not qualifying for this program, and we are not understanding why.”
In April, county supervisors created a local rental assistance fund, and in May put $480,0000 of CARES Act money into it. They also donated $50,000 to the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Northern Fauquier Counties’s relief efforts.
Ortega called on Loudouners to press their elected representatives to demand that state and county rental programs are made more accessible for everyone.
“We are experiencing an emergency situation never seen for generations, but they are using the same requirements as if we were in a normal situation,” Gonzalez said in Spanish. “And not all situations require the same methods, nor do all times require the same laws.”
Apply for rent assistance from Loudoun County’s COVID-19 Limited Rent Assistance Program at loudoun.gov/5348/COVID-19-Limited-Rent-Assistance. To get help through the Virginia Rent and Mortgage Relief Program, call Loudoun County’s Information and Referral program at 703-777-0420.