The newly redrawn 71st district southeast of Richmond is also newly competitive. It includes Williamsburg City and parts of James City County and New Kent County. The conservative Republican incumbent, Amanda Batten, is being challenged by progressive Democrat Jessica Anderson. It’s a slightly red-leaning district that went for Youngkin in 2021 (53.6%), Kaine in 2018 (52.6%), Northam in 2017 (50.0%) and Trump in 2016 (48.2%). She’s Blue America’s newest endorsed candidate. I was fascinated that she went from a Christian conservative to an outright full-blown progressive and I asked her to share that odessey in a guest post. Please read it through and if you like her and would like to help her win, please consider contributing her her campaign here.
Take Back A Southern State
Hey, I’m Jessica Anderson, a lifelong Virginian and the Democratic candidate for the upcoming Virginia House of Delegates election for District 71 and here’s how I ended up here.
Growing up, my grandma taught me three things about religion; God is real, pray when sh*t goes south and the church is full of hypocrites. So, at age 19 when I met and, at age 20, married into a Conservative Christian family, I was under the delusion my grandma had it all wrong. This new family and church couldn’t possibly be like the ones my grandma described, they made me feel like I needed them to be a better person, and it sucked me in right away. I went from never attending church, to a salvation getting, regular attending, Sunday school teaching, choir singing, Awana’s leading, ALL-in Baptist. The only thing I could never get on board with was the whole “pro-life” narrative of the church. At age 18 I had faced the hard decision of having an abortion myself, and I knew it wasn’t as black and white as my new family and church would want others to believe, and it MOST definitely wasn’t pro-life. Then watching not one, not two, but three teenage girls be humiliated and forced to apologize to the church for “their pregnancies,” while the young men (who clearly had a part in their impending motherhood) were no where to be found, and not being made to face the same shame, further proved that point. Nothing about that was pro-life or even pro-human, it was just toxic purity culture. It also was the beginning of me realizing my grandma was right all along. And yet, I found myself voting Republican during this time in my life, if I voted at all, because I was just “suppose to as a Christian.” But ALL of that was about to change.
In 2014, after years of living in a difficult marriage, I made the decision to divorce and try to create a healthier environment for my three daughters and myself. When I told my church what I was experiencing in my marriage, they initially understood and seemed supportive of my decision, but after a single visit from my in-laws, they suddenly had a “change of heart.” I was told I would need to commit to counseling, for the purpose of fixing my failing marriage or they couldn’t help me at all. So there I was, shunned by the church leaders and inevitably the church itself, all because I wanted to protect my mental health and my future. Needless to say, I walked away and never looked back. This was the first domino to fall in my move to the left.
Shortly after the separation, I discovered my girls and I no longer had health insurance, which my new job didn’t offer and I was struggling to make ends meet. I found myself asking for help for the first time. I applied for Medicaid and EBT (food stamps) through the state and saw the real need countless families, and single parents (like myself) must face every day in this country. Those resources were life-changing, and all of a sudden I was reminded of the comments I use to hear all the time, “only lazy people take handouts from the government,” but I wasn’t lazy; countless other families who use these basic safety nets aren’t lazy. I had allowed these ignorant kinds of statements to trick me into believing I was not enough or a burden on society, but I wasn’t, I was just giving my girls and I the life we needed, and deserved! And there went another domino, I found myself asking why wasn’t healthcare a right in the first place?
In the midst of huge changes within our family life and obstacles of navigating our future, my eldest daughter came out as bisexual. Explaining how she finally felt she could open up to me since I was no longer putting her in the seat of a church, where people she trusted told her she was nothing more than a sinner for her feelings towards other women. My eyes finally saw the hate that was preached from the pulpit, and how badly it harmed my amazing and loving kid. And just like that, domino three collapsed.
During this transition I also met and married my now incredible partner in life, who just happened to be a Masshole (born and bred Mass guy) liberal. He encouraged me to take a new job, that gave me more time with my daughters. So about 5 years ago, I took a front office position at one of the most diverse elementary schools in my area. In that moment, I saw a community of kids that spanned a variety of economic and racial lines, and how wide the gap was in their individual needs. It made me realize I had been locked into this bubble of my own making and I was missing out, and boom, domino four hit the floor.
The final catalyst was when Covid struck; down went the last domino. Seeing how little the very people I associated with, who claimed to “love they neighbor,” were refusing to do the simplest of tasks and protect one another. Then add seeing students who couldn’t afford wifi or had challenging family lives, making zooms and online school nearly impossible, the already existing needs gap grew even wider. And of course seeing the hate and lies being spewed by politicians on the right, making me question how people could be living in two different realities, within the same society? But Covid did give me tons of time to get educated, using social media platforms, like TikTok, to meet incredible black and indigenous content creators, learn more about politics and how our government has failed us, and what we can do to make real and impactful change!
Through this journey, I started creating political content on Tiktok as well, with the hopes to change other conservative minds and show them how we could be a better society and country. I’m happy to say I’ve brought a few along the way and now I’m looking to make real change in my little corner of the world.
After this November 7th 2023 election, I want to be a part of Virginia codifying reproductive rights in our Virginian Constitution, so we remain a sanctuary state of the south. I want to see public education properly funded and supported, where every educator, support staff and student feels represented and respected. And I want to see every American have access to healthcare, adequate and affordable housing, all while protecting our climate for the future generations to come. I hope you can continue on this journey with me and support me along the way.
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