Listen to what people have to say about our neck of the woods, and you’d get the message that ours is a legacy of smallness and exclusion. But that’s neither the full picture, nor even the right one. Our legacy is care and compassion, and I’m running for the PA House because we deserve a politics that values humanity more than dollars.
- We shelter the needy. The building where I work each day — Odd Fellows Hall — is the site of the first Odd Fellows orphanage in the nation (the current structure is an early 20th Century replacement for a late 19th Century wooden one). Each day, I sit in an office and teach classes in a building that stands as a legacy of the care Meadville has exhibited to children who needed care, education, and a home.
- We fight for racial justice. John Brown, the famous abolitionist who was infamously hanged for “treason,” because he had the temerity to fight hard for the liberation of slaves, had a homestead in Guys Mills. And the Underground Railroad ran through our hills and basements and barns, brave men and women of our county helping black Americans escape the bondage of slavery, defying racist laws.
- We stand up to exploitative extractive industry. Ida Tarbell, a graduate of Allegheny College in 1880, struck a blow against the robber-baron monopolies of the day, exposing the dirty secrets of labor abuse and financial tomfoolery in her bombshell The History of Standard Oil Company.
- And we do all these things — and more — every day, in small and big ways, so many of us standing up for what’s right, and just, and green, and smart.
The point is, Northwestern Pennsylvania isn’t what a caricature might imply. It’s not a land with legacies of bigotry, exploitation, backward thinking, xenophobic, exclusionary people. That’s what the news sometimes feels like, though. And that’s what the shouting voices that troll local social media might suggest. But it’s simply not who we are. Never were.
That’s one of the reasons I’m running in 2020, to unseat a politics that caters to the mean, and rude, and dismissive, that gives evidential support to the very thing people from outside Western PA might think we are, that votes in ways that side with Standard Oil instead of Tarbell.
I’m running because I’m tired of being made to feel like we live in a place represented by such ugliness. I’m running because I’m tired of getting blamed for the ill will of a certain swath of the country. I’m running because I’m tired of sitting on the sideline and letting the mind-numbed internet trolls shout out a version of us that really is not us.
I’m proud of my Western Pennsylvania background, of being born and raised on a farm, outside a small town, in a part of the country with many claims to pride and heritage, to kindness and care. I’m proud of being rural and thoughtful, of recognizing the integrity of the fields and the integrity of the library, of being part of a positive legacy that, with your help, we can help nurture and reinvigorate. This is our Northwestern Pennsylvania. And the legacy I want to help pass on to all of our children is one worthy of the noble past we sometimes find hard to remember.