I've been meaning to write up a more detailed report of what happened at Wednesday night's Fairfax County Planning Commission meeting, where the prospect of expanding the Islamic Saudi Academy was discussed, but haven't been able to get around to it yet. Until I am able to get into it in more detail, here is a brief report of my experience there, along with some terrible Blackberry photos of the event.
To make a long story short, the audience was packed with ISA supporters—to the point where the Board chairman stated that he had never seen so many people in the auditorium before, even for full Board of Supervisors meetings. This resulted in some unintentional comedy, as the people you see standing on the stairs and in the aisles in the photo above all had to be moved out of the room in order to ensure that there were no violations of County fire code.
Why were there so many people there? Well, obviously, the school coordinated with parents and staff to ensure that everyone attended the meeting. No word on whether they offered credit, gave students a day off the next day, or what, but it was immediately obvious that these people were strongly "encouraged" to attend.
This became something of a problem when opponents of the expansion would get up to speak to the Commission. In most cases, the audience reacted audibly (through boos, through commotion, etc.) to any negative comments, and the Commission generally did nothing to try and stop it.
What was interesting to see is how differently the public was treated depending on which side of the debate they came from.
An Arab grandmother gets up to congratulate the Commission on "proving that the government is open to diverse," and openly admits that most of the students will not be using the Commission's preferred busing scheme, only to have Commissioner Hall softly and jokingly demand that she get her grandsons on the bus.
On the other hand, whenever a resident who lives near the school would bring up a point about traffic safety, about accidents caused on the road, about potential flooding caused by the massive drainage system, or about the fact that the 111,000 square-foot building is out of character with their rural area, the Commission responded every single time by asking the county staff who were present to read off one or another line of information from the (highly questionable) ISA proposal that disputes the firsthand knowledge that they just heard.
Based on this obvious bias in interaction with the public, it's abundantly clear to me that the Commission has already predetermined that this project will be approved.
Which is sad, considering that the government of Fairfax County is theoretically supposed to represent the citizens of Fairfax County.
Anyway, the transcript has not yet been posted on the Planning Commission's website, so I'll wait until that's available to give you some of the more juicy details.
In the meantime, I highly recommend checking out Jeffery Imm's report on the meeting, which describes in detail how utterly intimidating it was for him to speak out against the project in the presence of such an obviously thuggish crowd.
(Thanks to Robert for the link!)
Update: Jeffrey Imm writes to correct me—He personally did not feel intimidated by the crowd. If you were watching the live stream, of course, you'd know that, as he handled himself extremely well!
My apologies for the mix-up, sir!