Civil rights leaders rally for change

By: Laura Geller - bio | email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - About a dozen civil rights groups rallied in downtown Richmond Saturday afternoon. They're hoping to influence state lawmakers at this year's General Assembly.

Black people, workers, the disenfranchised and immigrants. People like Jose Victor Argeta, who came to America from El Salvador in 1991, are the focus of this rally.

Argeta has worked in landscaping, demolition and painting but lately he says there's no work.

"I don't have a job," he said. "I contract maybe three day or two day. It's not work. One day for four weeks? This is nothing."

Phil Wilayto of the Virginia Defenders says the goal is to send a message to the General Assembly which convened this year's session on Wednesday. The dozen groups gathered want the GA to create jobs, equal housing opportunities and reform in prisons.

"Sometimes people just need to know there's someone out there rooting for them," he said. "Someone out there is batting for them."

Many state lawmakers have gone home for the four day weekend and aren't actually in town for the group's event. But leaders say they'll make sure their message is heard. They'll rely on media coverage and formal lobbying efforts.

Weighing in on the state's agenda, Governor McDonnell's recently released transportation plan.

"The time to invest and solve the problem is now," he said. "Not kick the can down the road to another day."

The people's assembly disagrees with some of the stipulations of the proposal, and will voice that opposition.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter," said RIHD Prisoner Advocacy representative Lillie Branch-Kennedy.

The group says it's efforts don't stop with Saturday's rally. Advocates will meet with lawmakers when they return to the capitol to discuss specific bills.

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