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Princess Blanding protested the gubernatorial debate after she was left off the stage

Person speaks into microphone
Princess Blanding, now a candidate for governor, speaks before Richmond City Council in 2019. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Princess Blanding was excluded from the gubernatorial debate on Tuesday despite qualifying for the ballot as the Liberation Party candidate. But as a community activist who began her political career as a protester for social justice, Blanding didn’t wait for a place on the stage to make her voice heard. Instead, she attended and protested the debate which was airing live on NBC stations throughout the state.

“We’re not going to play by their rules because their rules are very oppressive and they’re meant to keep third-party candidates in their place and silenced and out of sight,” Blanding said. “And so we will not play by their rules. They want to deprive me of air time, I will take it. I will take it. And we will continue to enlighten, empower and mobilize community members across the commonwealth to rise up and expand our fight from the streets and into elected positions.”

According to Blanding, she came to the debate to draw attention to her exclusion, which she calls a racist, sexist act of voter suppression.

“It was important to me to make sure that Virginians knew that I am a candidate on the ballot. And that we are fighting to ensure that liberation is a human right for all Virginians, not a privilege. And to make it very clear that the censorship of my candidacy is racist, is very sexist and is very oppressive. And that I will not sit silently about this,” Blanding said.

Instead of allowing her to speak, the network chose to go to a commercial break.

Blanding says she was moved to speak after the other two candidates were asked how they would improve public safety and decrease crime in the commonwealth.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe responded by saying as governor he invested in the police and implied this would be his strategy in the future.

“As governor your job is to keep your community safe. As governor I invested in our state police, our law enforcement, our sheriffs,” McAuliffe said.

That, Blanding said, was the tipping point. Her career as a public figure began with the killing of her brother, Marcus-David Peters, by a Richmond police officer. She says investing more money in law enforcement won’t make Virginians like her brother any safer. If anything, she argues those investments harm vulnerable communities.

“Terry made a comment about giving police officers more money to address crime rates. That is not the answer. If we continue to give police officers more money and more training but there is no accountability then we are going to get the same results,” Blanding said. “I made my brother Marcus-David Peters a promise at his graveside in 2018, and I said we will get justice and reformation and I will keep to that promise.”

The debate on Tuesday was organized by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Representatives of the chamber told VPM earlier this week that Blanding was excluded from the debate because it was designed to “speak to a business audience.”

Blanding points out that the questions debated on Tuesday weren’t limited to economic concerns, but even if they were, she has a platform businesses deserve to hear. More importantly, she says, political debates shouldn’t be geared specifically towards businesses, as opposed to the workers who make up the majority of Virginia’s population.

“I was told this debate is for the business class. What about the working class? What about the Black folks that continuously get these Democrats on the ballot,” Blanding said. “Basically they’re saying to working-class families, this isn’t about you.”

According to Blanding, she wasn’t the only protester who came to demonstrate at the debate. An anti-pipeline protester was escorted out of the building before the debate started, Blanding says.

“They escorted her out before she even said anything,” Blanding said. “The lady is speaking about protecting our water, protecting our children and our future. Those topics are important.”

When Blanding spoke up from the audience, her words were greeted with a burst of applause. As she was speaking, another member of the audience physically blocked and pushed her, which Blanding said almost everyone in the audience allowed to happen.

“Well before security came, someone else in attendance got up in my face and started pushing me with his body until someone else in the audience came in and intervened,” Blanding said. “You can hear me telling him to stop. But he kept pushing me. That is white privilege right there. Because if it had been me pushing him or another Black person pushing him, we would have been on the ground, brutalized, if not murdered.”

Blanding says she said her peace and left the auditorium of her own accord, surrounded by her supporters.