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Princess Blanding aims to make history with candidacy for Virginia’s governor

Princess Blanding standing in front of the fenced-off empty pedestal which was once topped by a statue of Robert E. Lee. Blanding says this view of the monument - where you can see the phrase "Black and brown unity" in graffiti - is her favorite. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

If Princess Blanding succeeds in her bid to become governor of Virginia, she’ll make history in more ways than one. If elected, Blanding would not only be the first Black woman to lead Virginia’s, or any state’s, executive branch, she would also be the first openly LGBTQIA+ person to occupy the office.

According to Blanding, she hopes her candidacy and potential service as the next governor is an inspiration to both communities, which she says don’t see enough of themselves represented in the commonwealth’s government.

“I do hope that winning this election is very, very empowering to our community members across the commonwealth, specifically our working class, marginalized and Black and brown community members,” Blanding said. “And it’s very empowering to the LGBTQIA+ community to know that you have a governor and leader, a champion for the people who will make sure that our voices, our concerns, are uplifted.”

Blanding says her platform is rooted in her lived experiences, as a Black woman, as a working class person, as a LGBTQIA+ community member, an educator and a single mother. Her campaign includes proposals to provide reparations to Black Virginians, overhaul the commonwealth’s policing system, establish greater protections for queer Virginians and create more flexibility in Virginia’s school metrics, like the Standards of Learning evaluations.

Political experts like Rich Meagher, professor of political science at Randolph-Macon College,  say that if elected, her term as governor would fundamentally change the political landscape of not just Virginia, but the entire country.

“Her election would completely up-end politics in the state and quite possibly the country,” Meagher said. “For someone outside the two-party system, and particularly someone with such distinctly progressive views as Princess Blanding has, [it] would be very disruptive to the standard operation of business and the government.”

Representing the working class

Blanding is a sixth grade science teacher in Alexandria, but commutes to work all the way from Middlesex County. She’s been working class all her life, unlike her competitors. Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin and Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe are both millionaires.

Blanding says the 5-hour commute is necessary.

“If I were to take a teaching job where I live, my family would be in trouble,” Blanding said.

According to Meagher, her background as a working class Virginian is part of what appeals to voters.

“If we actually want to talk about who would be an ideal person to bring Virginians together, someone with her kind of background and demographic representation is almost like someone you'd really want as opposed to one of two rich white people from the DC suburbs,” Meagher said.

A single mother and teacher

Blanding grew up among 16 siblings in upstate New York, where she was raised by her aunt.

“There were too many people. I was like, I need to get out of here,” Blanding said. “I did what I had to do so I could graduate a year early, and then headed to Baltimore by myself, no family, to pursue my bachelor’s in biology.”

Her sophomore year in college, Blanding became pregnant with her first daughter, Zakara. Blanding says despite the challenges of single parenthood, she graduated nonetheless with the goal of entering the healthcare field.

“I am a single mother. And I’m not apologetic about it, because everything happens for a reason,” Blanding said.

For a while, she worked as a patient care technician at Riverside Tappahannock Hospital.

After a few years, she realized her impulse to care for others could be satisfied in other ways,  taking a job as a substitute teacher in Middlesex. There she says she found a passion for education.

“Not only did I love teaching, I was very effective. My average pass rate was well over 90%,” Blanding said. “I was doing very well. And quickly I was like, ‘I think I can do what my bosses are doing.’”

So, she did. Blanding got her master’s degree in K-12 administration and supervision plus an education specialist degree in leadership. She soon found herself working as an assistant principal in Essex County Public Schools, where she served until her brother, Marcus-David Peters, was killed.

Blanding entered politics through protests

The killing of her brother by a Richmond police officer in 2018 was the catalyst that began Blanding’s career as a public figure. At the time, Peters worked as a teacher at the same school where Blanding was a vice principal.

“Shortly after Marcus was murdered, it was just too much for me to go back in the building. I tried. It was just too much,” Blanding said.

Blanding says at that point, she had to take a step back from her administrative role to commit herself to the movement for Black liberation. In both 2018 and 2020, she took to the streets of Richmond to protest his murder and to demand changes to how Richmond police respond to mental health crises like the one her brother was experiencing when he was killed.

Her second daughter, 13-year-old Tionna, joined Blanding and hundreds of protesters in demanding justice for her uncle last year. Blanding says all her children are motivated by the work she’s doing to improve the commonwealth, both as a candidate and as an activist.

“She wanted to come out. And it was important to me to let her know firsthand what we’re fighting for and why we’re fighting,” Blanding said.

Following the summer of protests in 2020, Blanding was consulted by legislators crafting bills to address activist demands. She calls the legislation Democrats ended up passing ‘watered down’ and notes that the legislature refused to address several of the protesters’ demands including an end to qualified immunity.

Blanding was especially critical of the Marcus Alert legislation, named after her brother, which was originally intended to create a statewide system of mental health responders for people experiencing mental health crises. She attended a ceremonial bill signing of the final legislation, which fell short of expert and activist recommendations.

“Please take a moment to pat yourselves on the back for doing exactly what this racist, corrupt system, and broken may I also add, expected you all to do; make the Marcus alert bill a watered-down, ineffective bill that will continue to ensure that having a mental health crisis results in a death sentence,” Blanding said during the ceremony.

That experience, Blanding says, exposed her to the ineffectiveness of the two-party system and motivated her to seek elected office instead of relying on politicians to prioritize protesters’ demands.

“We can’t keep begging our oppressors to be our saviors. Because they’re not going to,” Blanding said. “Although we were coming together in unity on the streets to mobilize, we have to expand our fight from the streets and into the seats of these key elected positions.”

What is the Liberation Party?

As a member of the Liberation Party, she’d also be the first third-party candidate to win Virginia’s gubernatorial race since 1882 if elected.

Meagher says even the fact that her name will appear on the ballot alongside Youngkin and McAuliffe is unusual in Virginia. Third-party candidates rarely run in the commonwealth, and in recent years those candidates have all belonged to the Libertarian Party, which has a smaller but still significant national presence. Blanding’s party, meanwhile, managed to fight its way onto the ballot without any outside help.

“Blanding is really a kind of one woman show. And that's unusual in politics. Usually, in order to succeed, even to get on the ballot, you need the backing of a party organization. Our system is structured in a way, because of the influence of the two parties, to frustrate folks who work and operate outside of that party system,” Maegher said. “I think [it’s] a credit to her organizing skills. It's not that easy to get on the ballot in Virginia.”

This year, independent candidates for governor had to collect a total of 2,000 signatures, including at least 50 from each congressional district.

Phil Wilayto is one of Blanding’s supporters and a volunteer representing the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice, and Equality. His organization endorsed Blanding as soon as she announced her candidacy. He says that was partly informed by her decision to break away from the Democratic Party.

“While the Democrats are better on some important domestic issues than the Republicans, ultimately, they're funded by the same strata of society, the big corporations. And that means that when push comes to shove, they are going to line up with the corporations,” Wilayto said. “Our view is that Princess Blanding’s campaign represents a left break from the Democratic Party over the issues of racism and police abuse. And that's an important development that is long overdue.”

Chrischa Ives is one of Blanding’s supporters and friends who campaigns for the candidate in her free time. She says Blanding’s status as what she calls a “regular person” outside the influence of party politics is often the reason why the people she meets canvassing become interested in her platform.

“She didn’t even want to be in politics, but she was thrust into it because she knew something had to change. I think anyone can respect that, no matter what side you’re on,” Ives said.