FREDERICKSBURG – Police brutality protests are expected to increase voter turnout among young people, but that alone won’t be enough to spark an upset in Virginia’s First Congressional District race, according to a political scientist studying the contest.
“I don’t think it changes a lot of minds either way,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. “I think it is another reason for people who have existing partisan loyalties to go in the direction they want to go in anyway.”
Republican U.S. Rob Wittman, who has been the district’s representative for 13 years, is heavily favored over Democrat Qasim Rashid.
An increase in voter turnout among young people would continue a trend started in the midterm elections in 2018, when the turnout among people ages 18-29 increased by two-thirds from 2014, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.
FXBG Freedom Initiative is one of the groups behind racial injustice protests in downtown Fredericksburg. The coalition started organizing protests on May 31 and continued doing so for 77 consecutive days, according to Wesley Burton, 19, one of the organizers.
“I just kept coming out every single day, and as it started shifting from just being out there and protesting [to] actually wanting to start to do things to make a difference the people that were really about doing that work just kind of came together,” Burton said.
Burton said young voters would have an impact on this year’s election.
“I mean, when you really think about it, our whole group is young people,” he said. “We’ve inspired more young people to care about [racial justice] and they’ve inspired us to keep going.”
Quinn Bonney, 18, said hestarted photographing protests in Fredericksburg, Richmond and King George and Stafford counties to show support for police brutality protesters.
“I knew that there needed to be accountability with the local police department as well,” Bonney said. “There’s a lot of wrong things going on. I thought that through my form of media, my expertise, I could maybe portray that to people that aren’t there. Show them what it’s like through the eyes of someone that’s actually there.”
Besides taking pictures of police brutality protests, Bonney said hehas also taken pictures of rallies in support of the police.
“There are welcoming people,” he said. “They’ll hear you out, and they’ll listen to what you have to say even if they don’t agree. That goes for both protests, that if someone from the other side comes in and talks, for the most part, they’ll hear you out.”
Similarly to Burton, Bonney said the protests could flip Virginia’s First Congressional District seat in the Nov. 3 election.
“They’re going to drive up voting rates a great deal in the Democratic and more liberal side of people,” Bonney said. “I think it’s if it’s going to happen it’s going to be this year.”
Amy Sudbeck, a leader of Back the First Responders, an organization in support of first responders, said she did not think police brutality protests in Fredericksburg would impact the election.
“I think they’re trying to make a statement,” Sudbeck said. “I think their messages are getting a little bit lost right now. But there’s a ton of demands being made by other protester groups, but not a whole lot of change has come from that so I would say no.”
Sudbeck started organizing rallies and marches in support of the police in June.
“We wanted our law enforcement to know that there were people that support them because all we constantly saw was the hatred towards them, so we wanted them to see that there are people that have a different view as well,” she said.
Although Wittman and Rashid attended a Black Lives Matter protest in Montross on June 10, Bonney and Burton said they support Rashid.
Burton met Rashid at one of the protests in downtown Fredericksburg, where Rashid spoke to the protesters about his campaign.
“He cares about people,” Burton said. “He doesn’t care about money. He cares about helping people, and that’s when I fell in love with him.”
Even though Burton plans on voting for Rashid, he said Wittman had done some good things. Burton recalled seeing a tweet from Wittman in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, he said.
Rashid supports the protests but recognized that protesting needs to happen along with voting to enact change, he said.
“Our message has been at these protests,” Rashid said. “We have attended dozens and dozens of them now. It’s good that people are exercising First Amendment rights, but this alone is not going to bring about the change we need. We need you to come vote, to register to vote on Nov. 3 or before if you can. So far we’ve seen a significantly higher voter turnout.”
Wittman has attended some of the events organized by Back the First Responders, which surprised Sudbeck, she said.
“I didn’t know he was coming,” she said. “I didn’t really communicate with him that day, I was busy just trying to keep everyone organized and safe and, you know, not responding to counter protests and things like that. But, you know, his presence was definitely appreciated.”
Sudbeck plans to vote for Wittman in the coming election, which she has done in past years.
“We align with a lot of our, you know, thoughts and opinions as far as a civilized society and law and order and things like that,” Sudbeck said.