Reviews | Political change does not happen outside people’s homes

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Jeffrey C. McKay, a Democrat, is chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Recent events in the region involving protests in front of private homes have led to double talk about whether such action is legal and whether it is an appropriate or effective tactic.

In the first instance, this issue arose when the Governor of Virginia asked Fairfax County to set up a “security perimeter” near the homes of Supreme Court justices residing in the county to “include the limitation of unauthorized access of vehicles and pedestrians” on a public road. . After extensive consultation with our county attorney and our police department, it was determined that this was most likely a Fourth Amendment violation. Also, although a federal law says protests are not legal if the intent is to influence a court decision, a federal law is only enforceable by federal authorities, and they presumably would if they saw fit, but, to our knowledge, have not.

Additionally, a Virginia law specifically prohibits “picketing” a “residence or dwelling place” in a manner that interferes with their right to “quiet” in their home. On the advice of the Fairfax Commonwealth Attorney and our County Attorney’s Office, and based on previous cases, we also believe that any application of this law would not hold up in court and is likely unconstitutional (even the Governor called it “weak”).

To be clear, nothing is more important to me than the safety of everyone in Fairfax County. The above court rulings do not in any way endanger anyone’s safety. Recent protests have been limited in number and duration, and Fairfax County Police Department officers are exceptionally skilled and knowledgeable in protecting the well-being of all involved and upholding the public’s right to freedom of expression.

The next question, however, is perhaps more difficult and looks at the expediency and effectiveness, as opposed to the legality, of gathering and protesting in the private homes of public officials. First, a disclaimer: no one walks into public office (or shouldn’t) with blinkers on when it comes to public scrutiny of your words and actions. Elected officials are regularly in the spotlight and recognize the responsibilities that come with it. Our goal is for our constituents to have predictable and consistent access to us to voice their opinions, advocate for a certain government action, or perhaps just to get something off their chest. In my opinion, the most appropriate place for this to happen, however, is the public institution where policies are presented, debated and ultimately accepted or rejected. This is where we listen and where we act.

If the public wishes to engage in a protest to have their voices amplified, our government buildings are where we will see it and understand and acknowledge those positions and concerns. Demonstrations and marches in public buildings and public squares have been effective in advancing our nation’s legislative and policy priorities for nearly 250 years.

In Fairfax County, my colleagues on the Board of Directors and I pride ourselves on being accessible on a regular basis. Outside of our office hours, we are regularly seen having a cup of coffee, shopping for groceries or on the sidelines of our children’s soccer games. We almost always have time to chat. Our private homes, however, are the only place where we can reconnect with our families and spend time to reflect and recharge. I understand the idea that protesters want to literally bring their anger and frustrations to our doorsteps, but I can also tell you from personal and professional experience that it will almost certainly have the opposite effect of what they seek. Although we as individuals choose to run for office and put ourselves in the public eye, our families often wish to preserve their privacy and relative anonymity. Children may be particularly susceptible to being unwittingly pushed into public debate or having their daily routines radically disrupted. The lives of neighbors of public officials can also be significantly disrupted, which is unfair to them.

Our politics are unfortunately more polarized and personal than perhaps ever before. There are legal lines that are regularly challenged, and we see that where we live. As the elected leader of my county, I have the responsibility to ensure that our citizens, residents and public servants enjoy all the rights constitutionally available to them.

The other line that we now see crossed is that between effective public defense and unhealthy access to privacy. I have been an elected official for over 14 years and have worked on political campaigns for most of my life. So I can assure you that the most effective way to enact the policies you want is to organize, advocate and vote. It’s the loudest and strongest voice we all have. Real change happens at the ballot box — not in front of people’s homes.

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