My name is Ben Litchfield and I am seeking the Democratic nomination for Virginia Senate District 27, which is centered around Fredericksburg, Virginia, just 53 miles south of Washington, D.C. If elected, I would be the youngest State Senator at 35 and the only Millennial Democrat. Growing up as a poor kid in the trailer park, I never imagined that I would be in the position to run for State Senate. But, here I am, and I owe it to a strong social safety net. I’m running to rebuild that safety net here in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
One of my earliest childhood memories is riding the bus with my mom to the food pantry in our small community in Berkshire County, Massachusetts. She had just left my father for the first time and, as a 21-year old single mom, there were few jobs out there that would pay a living wage. She had been a bank teller before I was born but once her manager discovered her “problem” (i.e., her pregnancy) she was promptly encouraged to leave by the branch manager despite the fact that pregnancy discrimination had been illegal for almost 10 years.
I did not know any of that at the time. All I knew was that I was safely snuggled next to my mom on the bus in my thrifted clothes and we were going somewhere. We lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in a working class part of town. We made it work. The food pantry was one of the social programs that helped us make it work. Government cheese, those big jars of peanut butter, and ham in a can kept me fed for a good portion of my preschool life. Chipped beef and toast was a delicacy. I also had access to subsidized preschool and early intervention programs that ensured that I continued to make my developmental milestones.
My later childhood years were like many other working class families: my parents got back together, had another child (my sister Aubrey), and then got divorced. My sister and I spent our most formative years in a blue double-wide trailer. It was not much but we called it home and we had many fond — and not so fond — memories there.
But, frankly, times were tough. Basic school supplies like poster board and notebooks, and new clothes, were items that we had to budget and plan for to make sure we could afford them. And, along the way, my father suffered a work-related injury and became addicted to prescription painkillers. Over the years, as his addiction worsened, he became addicted to heroin. After my mom got sick, social security benefits that she earned by working two or three jobs at a time when I was younger kept a roof over our heads and food in our bellies.
There were many moments during those years where it would have been easy to give up but we never did. For me, my public school teachers played a major role in that. They encouraged me to challenge myself academically (I was smart but a little lazy), supported me when my home life was difficult, and helped me believe in myself by believing in me. I remember a high school science teacher letting me borrow an Astrolabe because I wanted to measure the apogee of a model rocket that I had received for my birthday. Another loaned me the Aeneid by Virgil because I was interested in Ancient Greece and Rome.
At the same time, my mom, hoping to provide a better life for us by getting her long-put-off degree, was working on her education at Berkshire Community College thanks to government grant programs like the Pell Grant. She was able to finally finish her education graduating with dual degrees in Sociology and Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst just two years before I graduated from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Federal education programs gave us the boots to pull ourselves up from our bootstraps. My mom went on to find work in my hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts and I went on to the Howard University School of Law where I graduated with honors near the top of my class.
Shortly after graduating from Howard, I went to work for the federal government helping to clean up the aftermath of the Great Recession by drafting rules and regulations impacting the nation’s federally insured credit unions. My experience as a bank regulator in the aftermath of one of the greatest financial crises since the Great Depression reaffirmed my belief that government can be a force for good in the world if government programs are tailored to the needs of the people — as opposed to the special interests — and honest people of conviction are in charge. Unfortunately, I also saw the real world consequences of what happens when government gets it wrong or is indifferent to the needs of those suffering.
Like many young voters, I became more politically active when Donald Trump was elected President. I had been a practicing lawyer for a few years working in banking and consumer protection. I never thought he was going to win. At the time, it seemed impossible. But, listening to my friends and relatives back in rural Massachusetts, I knew something was horribly wrong. In retrospect, I probably should have known it would end up like this. They were having difficulties finding work, housing prices were unaffordable, and crime was on the rise because of the heroin epidemic. They felt no one in Washington cared. So, many of them said to themselves “what the hell” and decided to vote for the guy who promised to blow it all up.
The Senate District that I am running to represent is a lot like my hometown. It has its rural areas, its suburban areas, and and a city center. Over 75% of our economy is dependent upon small or independent businesses. And, just like my hometown, a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet. In some parts of Stafford County, which makes up about half of the district, we have as many as 35% of our residents who make less than it costs to live here (a measure referred to as “ALICE” or Asset-Limited Income-Constrained Employed). We have our fair share of empty storefronts including at Aquia Towne Center. That’s why I am running because I believe that our government, despite how frustrating it seems at times, can be a force for good.
I am running for that next kid on the bus with his mom on the way to the food pantry; for the kid who is sitting in class with an empty stomach; and for the kid who, staring out at the wide world, dreams of a better life. I am running to restore the American Dream.
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