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A tale of two rallies near the end of Virginia Beach’s bitter light rail fight

City Treasurer John Atkinson and opponents of extending light rail to Town Center brought signs and flowers to a rally held by their opposition. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

City Treasurer John Atkinson and opponents of extending light rail to Town Center brought signs and flowers to a rally held by their opposition a few days before the vote. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

VIRGINIA BEACH — This is a story about two different rallies held in two different places by two different groups of people.

The rallies were about light rail, about whether or not it should be extended to Town Center. One of the rallies was held there on Saturday, Nov. 5. 

That was the rally held by supporters of extending The Tide, including folks from Virginia Beach Connex, part of Light Rail Now, Inc., and CBDX, a group for young professionals that is affiliated with the Central Business District Association. 

On Tuesday, Nov. 8, it did not work out for those supporters, but this story isn’t about that. It’s just about the rallies. So back to Nov. 5 at Town Center.

People spoke about how light rail would build the community, how extending The Tide was a reinvestment in Virginia Beach.

Also, the opposition crashed the party. 

Protestors from No Light Rail Virginia Beach showed up with signs and, a bit humorously, flowers to hand out. Flowers, of course, are nature’s pamphlet.

City Treasurer John Atkinson, who started No Light Rail Virginia Beach, was there. He wore a sandwich board that urged people to vote no on Tuesday. A majority of voters did, as it turned out. But back to that Saturday.

City Councilmember Ben Davenport, a supporter of light rail, in his remarks pointed out those from the other side. While he spoke, some of the Town Center buildings reflected in his sunglasses.

“The No Light Rail supporters out there — hi guys,” Davenport said. 

He asked light rail supporters whether they meant to go forward or backwards.

The crowd of supporters handled the question in unison.

“Forward.”

“That’s backwards right there,” Davenport said, again pointing out the other folks.

During the event, Jimmy Frost, spokesperson for No Light Rail Virginia Beach, invited Joash Schulman, secretary of Light Rail Now, Inc., and president of CBDX, to a rally the following day in Pungo. 

That one was for the “no” side. 

And on Sunday, Nov. 6, people opposed to light rail extension drove to the other rally, which was at Back Bay Farms, not far from the lone stoplight in Pungo, driving slowly down a long path to reach a farm where horses played in a pasture. 

Along the path, Frost and Atkinson handed out a sample ballot of anti-light rail candidates.

Frost said the idea to crash the pro-rail party at Town Center a day earlier was some basic Sun Tzu theory. 

“Appear where you are least expected,” he said, smiling. He also said this:

“On Wednesday, we’re still residents of the same town. We’re going to have to figure out a way to move forward.”

And he said he hoped Schulman would come. A while later, he did. 

He drove down the long path, and he paused near Frost.

“Joash, my brother,” Frost said. “You made it.”

Schulman even accepted an offered sample ballot from the other side.

“I’ll look at it,” he said.

He parked. There was no sandwich board. He just mingled. He accepted an invitation to meet some people who were billed as “definitely against light rail.”

Atkinson introduced the slate of candidates. He introduced Schulman, too.

“He’s from the other side,” Atkinson joked, “the dark side of light rail.”

A nearby DJ, sound effects at the ready, saw his chance, and an amplified rimshot rang out over a Pungo pasture.

Schulman took the microphone.

“Yes,” he said. “I’m from the dark side.”

He told them he wasn’t there for any group, that he was there as himself.

“As important as Nov. 8 is, Nov. 9 is more important,” Schulman said.

When he finished, Frost hugged him. 

The DJ played “Living in America,” a James Brown song that mentions highways.

It mentions railroad tracks, too.

Soon after, Schulman said his goodbyes, heading out from the rally.

He said he came for a reason.

“Because I was invited.”

City Councilmember Ben Davenport addresses light rail extension supporters during a rally at Town Center on Saturday, Nov. 5. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

City Councilmember Ben Davenport addresses light rail extension supporters during a rally at Town Center on Saturday, Nov. 5. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Joash Schulman, secretary of Light Rail Now, Inc., accepted an invitation to attend a rally for No Light Rail Virginia Beach. He made brief remarks and hugged light rail opponent Jimmy Frost, who opposes extending The Tide. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

Joash Schulman, secretary of Light Rail Now, Inc., accepted an invitation to attend a rally for No Light Rail Virginia Beach. He made brief remarks and hugged light rail opponent Jimmy Frost, who opposes extending The Tide. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]


© 2016 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

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