Loudoun Lowdown

In recent weeks, Loudoun County—and its school system—has been all over the news, particularly among right-wing outlets such as Fox, who decry the county’s supposed descent into the teaching of critical race theory, which only suggests that aspects of systemic racism are inevitably in our culture, and that we should be aware of them. A June School Board meeting, in which a melee broke out and one person was arrested, was news nationwide. What’s going on?

Politically, the county, as the Commonwealth—and particularly Northern Virginia—has been trending blue. Before the 2008 election of Barack Obama, county voters had not supported a Democrat for president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

In recent years, the county’s rapid growth in its eastern portion, settled by educated professionals working in or near Washington, DC, has changed the county’s demographics, and the Democratic Party has become increasingly competitive. After giving Senator Barack Obama nearly 54% of its presidential vote in 2008, the county supported Republican Bob McDonnell for governor in 2009, with 61% of the vote. In 2012, county voters again supported Obama, who took 51.5% of their vote.

Democrats carried the county again in the 2016 presidential election, when Loudoun swung heavily toward Hillary Clinton, giving her 55%. In 2020, Joe Biden won over 60 percent of the vote.

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In 2004, author Thomas Frank asked, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” The book described how the political discourse of recent decades has dramatically shifted from social and economic equality to the use of “explosive” cultural issues, such as abortion, used to redirect anger toward “liberal elites.” Against this backdrop, Frank described the rise of political conservatism in the social and political landscape of Kansas, which he says espouses economic policies that do not benefit the majority of its people. He sees Kansas as a metaphor for the whole country; indeed, in Britain and Australia, the book was published as “What’s the Matter with America?”

Virginia’s Loudoun County may be said to be going through a similar evolution, from a quiet, pastoral oasis to a hotbed of controversy, largely stoked by conservatives and much of it deliberate.

Virginia’s Loudoun County may be said to be going through a similar evolution, from a quiet, pastoral oasis to a hotbed of controversy, largely stoked by conservatives and much of it deliberate. Republicans criticize Democratic urban centers while glorifying rural mores and values, whether or not the majority of the population agrees. The conservatives behind the loud criticism of the school board are testing a message for the 2022 midterms; if it flies here, perhaps it will work nationwide.

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For any who have visited New York City, it may be difficult to envision that some 225 years ago, the throbbing metropolis of 8+ million people was farmland. The Dyckman Dutch-style farmhouse, c. 1785, still stands in upper Manhattan, the remnant of a 400-acre spread.  

While Loudoun County is not at the precipice of emerging as a dense urban center, the demands of rapid population growth present similar challenges. Loudoun’s neighbor, Fairfax, has undergone a transformation from a sleepy rural/suburban adjunct of Washington, DC, in just a few decades to one experiencing phenomenal growth as residents and their needs multiply drastically.

Many rural/suburban areas try to hang onto the past as they become more urban, often by way of leadership that existed earlier. Fairfax is an example, as are the continued expressions of the Virginia media in their concern about the southwest part of the state. Bemoaned also are the loss of bucolic lands. While one can sympathize with such concerns, they nevertheless inhibit growth.

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History. In 1757, Fairfax County was divided; the western portion was named Loudoun, for John Campbell, the fourth earl of Loudoun, a Scottish nobleman who served as commander-in-chief for all British armed forces in North America and titular governor of Virginia from 1756 to 1759. During the War of 1812, Loudoun County served briefly as a temporary refuge for the president and important state papers. The Constitution and other state papers were brought to Rokeby, near Leesburg, for safekeeping when the British burned Washington. President Madison established headquarters at Belmont. During the Civil War, Colonel John Mosby and his Rangers were active in Loudoun County, which was also the home of the Laurel Brigade, a famous Confederate cavalry unit (and today a popular inn and restaurant).

For more than two centuries, agriculture was the dominant way of life in Loudoun County, which had a relatively constant population of about 20,000. Even today, a wide range of products are raised and sold from Loudoun farms, including milk, eggs, beef, poultry and, of course, wines from the county’s many wineries. This emphasis began to change in the early 1960s, when Dulles International Airport was built in the southeastern part of the county. The airport attracted new businesses, workers, and their families to the area in droves. Soon dubbed the Dulles Technology Corridor, in the 1990s and early 2000s, areas along the routes to the airport became dotted with information technology companies.

In the last three decades, the population of Loudoun County has nearly quadrupled.

At the same time, the metropolitan Washington, DC, area began a period of rapid growth. Major road improvements made commuting from Loudoun County into Washington much easier, attracting more and more people to the eastern part of the county. Today, Loudoun County is a growing, dynamic county of over 430,000 people living within some 520 square miles, and includes seven incorporated towns.

 

Data Centers. One notable fact: the city of Ashburn in Loudoun County is known as the data center capital of the world, the first to surpass 1 gigawatt of overall data center capacity. London is a distant second. Why Ashburn? Favorable cost of land and cost of electricity, 20 percent below the national average. Every major player in the industry is represented in Loudoun, including Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft. Northern Virginia is also host to four of the top ten cloud campuses in the US. No other market in the world has more than one. AOL made its home here, followed by Verizon, Facebook, and many others. Loudoun County alone hosts more than 60 data centers, which service about 3,000 tech companies. Today, up to 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic flows through these centers daily.

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Demographics. Loudoun’s population has grown exponentially in the past 50 years (to the nearest thousand):

1970:     37,000

1980:     57,000

1990:     86,000

2000:   170,000

2010:   290,000

2020:   376,000

2021:   430,000

The population increase was especially sharp between 1990 and 2020, during which the county’s population more than quadrupled. Another trend in just the past 20 years indicates growth in diversity, with a marked decline in the percentage of White population (from 86 to 61 percent) and increase in Asian population (from 6 to 20 percent).

The county’s per capita income is the highest in the United States for jurisdictions with populations of at least 65,000, as it has been since 2008: today, about $142,000 per year.

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So, what’s up with Loudoun?

Along with growth from infrastructure and technology, conservative influences have markedly increased, as seen in the politics of recent months. Those favoring the politics of the former president are certainly making themselves known across the country, but the change has seemed especially sharp here.

An individual heading a group called Dailymalarkey.com, Ian Prior, is co-founder and executive director of Fightforschools.com and a former senior official in the Trump Justice Department. He has been at the forefront of the chaos and protests directed at the Loudoun County School Board, and adept at getting protests covered on television and social media.

An individual heading a group called Dailymalarkey.com, Ian Prior, is co-founder and executive director of Fightforschools.com and a former senior official in the Trump Justice Department. He has been at the forefront of the chaos and protests directed at the Loudoun County School Board, and adept at getting protests covered on television and social media.

At the aforementioned June school board meeting, parents attempted to voice their opinions on new policies that include allowing transgender students to choose which restrooms they use, in addition to requiring employees to use the students’ preferred names and pronouns. A total of 259 parents signed up to express their opinions, but chaos quickly erupted when the mother of one transgender student told the board that “hate” was “dripping from the followers of Jesus in this room.” The comments sparked a chorus of boos and prompted the board to call a five-minute recess. “When the group reconvened,” reported Mediaite, “the board chair announced that the nine members had voted to end the public comment period if there was another outburst from the audience. But when former state Sen. Dick Black (R) took the stand to speak against the proposal — and said left-wing residents had been compiling a list of conservative neighbors to publicly shame over the issue — the audience cheered, prompting the board to vote to end the meeting. Attendees heckled the board members and began singing the Star-Spangled Banner as they left the room.” Police arrested an attendee who said he refused to leave until everyone had a chance to speak, and a second man, who they said “displayed aggressive behavior” toward another attendee.

The board chair accused parents of engaging in “dog whistle politics.”

And while Critical Race Theory is not being taught, according to the schools superintendent, what is being implemented, per state law, is equity training, meaning that all students are taught with respect and concern, regardless of their race, disability, or sexual orientation. According to the school system’s director of equity, educational equity refers not only to race, but also to “gender, ZIP code, ability, socioeconomic status, or languages spoken at home.”

Actually, CRT, far from being the bogeyman that the right has made it out to be, is simply an academic framework that “holds that racism is part of a broader pattern in America: It is woven into laws, and it shows up in who gets a job interview, the sort of home loans people are offered, how they are treated by police, and other facets of daily life large and small,” according to the Poynter Institute. But to hear a rabid parent tell it, it is teaching white children to hate themselves.

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What are we left with? Loudoun County is like many across America, growing more urban, growing in population, growing in diversity, and growing in wealth. . . . Politically, it is a testing ground for conservatives who have no interest in policy but, rather, use wedge issues to push their social agenda. They revel in discord. But at the same time, it is a place becoming more blue with every election, with more and more people attracted to democratic ideals.

So. What are we left with? Loudoun County is like many across America, growing more urban, growing in population, growing in diversity, and growing in wealth. It is dealing with the loss of farmland in favor of suburban homes, yet retains miles of beautiful drives and wineries. Politically, it is a testing ground for conservatives who have no interest in policy but, rather, use wedge issues to push their social agenda. They revel in discord. But at the same time, it is a place becoming more blue with every election, with more and more people attracted to democratic ideals.

 

 

 

 



Categories: AROUND THE NOVAHOOD, democrats, Issues, Local, National, political discourse, politics, State

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