Back to School 2020

The following is the text from Matt’s September 1, 2020 Digital Town Hall

Outside, we’re noticing some changes over the last couple of weeks. The leaves are crisping up, and the first blush edges are showing on the trees and — one of the surest signs for those of us who grew up in wild spaces — the poison ivy is starting to turn red. The annual cicadas have been out buzzing for the past several weeks, too, which I always hear as a childhood memory, of the waning days of summer vacation and the looming start to the school year.

Fall is nearly upon us. And when you’re a kid, well, that meant school is nearly upon you.

Tomorrow, students are headed back to classrooms throughout Northwestern Pennsylvania, and there’s one thing that is safe to say: this year is different…weird, hard, complicated, a little scary, and with a really terrible dose of political spin.

I want to make one thing clear before I go any further: if you are a parent, and if you have been wrestling with the best decision for you and your family, considering all of the options at hand — in person with district-mandated safety protocols, hybrid modes, homeschool, or cyberschool — you have made the right decision. I’ll repeat that: you have made the right decision for your kids, and you have done it in an atmosphere of uncertainty, and you’ve done it within a terrible vacuum of top-level government support.

So what can you do as a parent other than the best you can? That’s what you’ve done. And it isn’t easy. I know that.

Every teacher and administrator in our Commonwealth has been working crazy long hours this summer trying to figure out how to pull this off, without benefit of much support from state and federal legislators. Local districts have been left high and dry, for the most part, forced to make decisions on their own, while still saddled with long-persistent revenue and infrastructure issues.

We also need to recognize that we’re only able to talk about the possibility of going back to school safely in any form because Pennsylvania has taken the outbreak seriously. But we also need to understand that, nationwide, we could be having a different conversation about safety, and opening schools, if we’d done a better job of resisting empty political rhetoric that has since early in the year relentlessly pit “the economy” and public health against one another. Now, our schools are trying to re-open in that toxic political environment.

None of us should ever forgive the politicians who did that, who took an issue of immediate public health concern and saw only a way to create political divide. And I mean that. We cannot forget. Such narrow political gamesmanship made us sicker as a country, it stole a reasonably normal summer from us, and it squandered an opportunity to begin school from a much better place of strength and safety.

But partisan political rhetoric that treats schools and teachers as punching bags, and that holds our kids hostage, is nothing new. We head “back to school” in a moment that is clearly different and complicated, but that also reveals the many ways that the empty politics of austerity hurts us continually.

One thing we’re seeing, understandably, is a significant upswing in interest in remote learning options, with a particular focus on cyber schools. This issue is complex…and as an individual parent, the problems of funding related to cyber charters is not your fault. It’s a situation manipulated by anti-public education legislators who have found in cyber charters a way to live their dream of siphoning public dollars away from local districts. That’s what we need to think about.

Here’s the deal: in 2016-17, Crawford Central and Penncrest each had to pay $1.6 million to cyber charters. I’m going to repeat that again: one. point. six. million. dollars. each.

Cyber Charters are funded by our local districts, using a tuition formula based on a district’s funding. If a local student enrolls, the district must pay the charter. For 2020, Crawford Central will pay about $12,500 for each district student who enrolls in an out-of-district cyber charter; Penncrest about $13,500. Normal per pupil spending is about 15k and 16.6k, respectively, for those districts.

Now, as you know, I’m running against someone in this race, Brad Roae, whose philosophies of public investment could not be more different than mine. So it is with cyber charter spending. Rep. Roae will tell you — and he has made this point as recently as today…just as he did in his constituent newsletter emailed a couple of weeks ago — that this formula is a good deal for school districts, because they get to keep the “extra” money. He rounds the numbers to 12k for the charter tuition and 16k for the per pupil funding, which is fine for our purposes. His conclusion, however, is not.

Roae makes it sound like the $4000 are a great little bonus for the school district. They get to keep that! Bonanza! It’s not a good deal, though, because the District has nearly unchanged expenses: the building still needs maintenance, and heat, and electricity, and the buses still need to run, and the wages must still be paid, and so forth. Thus the reality is that the cyber charter scheme is, in effect, a private ed voucher that siphons public money to a private organization that has much lower overhead than our local schools, and spends a ton of money on the snazzy television ads you’ve probably been seeing on TV this summer. 

I’ll be blunt: our tax dollars are paying for television ads that siphon local tax dollars away from local schools.

And it gets worse. Some schools, like Penncrest, have wisely responded to the demand for cyber options by developing their own online academies. Which they can provide at dramatically lower costs to the district than charter school tuition. But students can still choose the cyber charters — the out of district cyber charters — and the local districts still have to pay the tuition. A good example is Hempfield School District in Westmoreland County, which developed its own cyber academy but still has to budget nearly two million dollars a year for students who opt to head to the charters.

The point is simple: the cyber charter funding scheme is a specific example of how legislators can work to undermine and hamstring public schools. It’s also a perfect exemplar of the small-mindedness of anti-education politics, which are deeply harmful to our prosperity. In the case of financially-strained districts like Crawford Central and Penncrest, the high tuition cost makes the case clear directly. But think also about schools like Fairview, terrific and well-supported schools also located in legislative District 6. Cyber charters are, suddenly, presenting a threat to their long commitment to public education. 

Before Covid, Fairview hasn’t had to worry that much about cyber charters, because in normal circumstances Fairview students aren’t choosing cyber options, for various reasons. But now, with the understandable desire of parents to find remote schooling for their kids, Fairview faces a sudden concern of profound increase in their spending for cyber charter tuition…which would undercut a lot of the hard work and public investment that Fairview residents commit to in having one of the finest districts in the Commonwealth. 

That’s how the siphoning of public dollars works. Even a strongly supported district like Fairview is at risk when the anti-public-ed folks come calling. Suddenly, the school taxes Fairview residents pay for their local schools starts heading out of town.

That’s the point, for anti-education politicians. They see school spending as wasteful. Rep. Roae likes to point out, for example, that Pennsylvania spends more than the national average on public education, with an implication that we shouldn’t.

Well, he is right about the investment Pennsylvania makes in our kids: we rank #10 nationally in per pupil spending. 

But he’s wrong about the implication: US News ranks PA as the tenth best state for PreK-12 education, which is to say that our investment in public education leads to proportional value. 

You get what you pay for, and undermining public education funding is simply a way to undermine our kids. When we wither public services in the interest of austerity politics, and when we pretend that privatization and choked-out spending is the answer to everything, we simply weaken one of the greatest avenues we have for economic advancement: education. And the harder truth is that choking out public education funding is particularly devastating to the people who live in parts of the country with struggling economies. Like us.

Crawford County ranks 56th out of 67 Pennsylvania counties in per capita income. Meadville has a poverty rate that is twice the state average. With school funding based on local property taxes, Crawford County will quite obviously have a harder time paying for education than places with higher wages. And the residents of Crawford County will also find it hard to budget for those taxes.

Instead of looking for ways to divest from public education, we should be instead aspiring to have well-supported districts like Fairview across the entire region. Part of that means we must change funding models based on local property taxes and move, as have other states, to equitable models that share education funding for all schools, regardless of zip code. It is possible, and we can choose to invest in education instead of view it as a burden.

We must also work hard toward rectifying disparities of equity and access in our schools. Part of that is related to tax bases. It’s no secret that Fairview has a much higher median household income than Meadville, for example, which makes it easier for residents in Fairview to afford the taxes for their excellent schools. But we also need to think about disparities of technology, something else closely related to school district funding and local wages.

Take broadband, for example, something that we have all seen quite clearly as a public need instead of a commodity. In well-connected areas, districts have better options for remote learning because they know students have access to true high speed internet — capable of hosting several kids in a house at the same time — and to laptops and tablets. That’s not the case in the rural parts of the region, where some students have to sit in parking lots outside volunteer fire departments, who have stepped up to offer WiFi hotspots.

We have to see real action on rural broadband as a utility, rapidly expanded not in a for-profit model, but as a public good. This can help level the technological playing field for our students, and it can be part of the answer to building a stronger economy in rural Pennsylvania. With real high speed access, more residents could work from home and telecommute to strong wage jobs. We could also welcome new neighbors who have the option to telecommute, but who would also like to live in our rural counties. And, I should add, stronger schools are also a major boon for business investment: companies like to set up shop in places where their employees want to live, so strong schools, public investment in broadband, and in general an eye toward developing a region instead of locking it down in an economically pinched past are good for us all.

In a similar vein, we need to also invest in education that encourages the widening of horizons instead of the narrowing of possible futures. We all know what my opponent said a couple years ago about state funding and students who study “poetry or other pre-Walmart majors.” That belies a concept of education that means students only matter when they provide “value” to industry. Instead, we need to support our schools in a way that values the students, that gives them the options to study broadly in STEM, and the Arts, and in technology, and in trades. Who really knows who they are when they’re 17? We need an education with enough support to help students figure out their next steps in life, so when they finally know that they find meaning in poetry, or chemistry, or auto repair, or social work, that they are both prepared and able to make those choices.

There’s a lot more to be said here, about how Pennsylvania teachers are among the best trained in the country and still are treated as lazy whiners by many legislators. That’s cruel, and wrong, and an insult to the committed educators who make our schools great. And we need to talk about better funding for our state universities, because one great embarrassment for Pennsylvania is that we rank near the bottom in higher ed student debt, as in, our college graduates are saddled with some of the highest debt loads in the country, which prevents our young neighbors from getting good starts in life, in buying homes, and starting families, and pursuing careers that matter to them, and to all of us. 

The overall point can be summed up in an old saying, perhaps cliché, but that strikes me as apt this evening: if you think education is expensive, try ignorance.

We can’t afford to continue to ignore the inequities of education that plague our districts. We can’t continue to ignore what we know about education and economic advancement. We can’t ignore the importance of trade- and career-development education. And we can’t allow ignorant legislation that will further exacerbate the wage and prosperity gaps we see in Northwestern Pennsylvania. Here in District 6, we all stand to lose when legislators work to undermine public education, when they suggest that money spent on education isn’t money well spent. 

Public schools reflect a nobly American ideal, that each and every person has the right to a high quality public education, which is very much part of the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Economic Unfairness and NWPA

The following is the text from my July 27, 2020 Digital Town Hall on Economic Unfairness:

There’s a phrase I use often in explaining the core of my campaign: “We live the stories we tell and the stories people tell about us.”

I’m a writer by training, and a teacher of writing and literature, so it comes as no surprise that I believe in the power of story. But tonight I want to emphasize how much the stories that circulate in and within our lives dictate how we see the world around us, and how those stories have tremendous impact on the legislation and economy that our elected officials value and champion.

What we don’t talk about enough, however, is how persistent stories lock us into a rough economic reality. 

I mean, we have pride in our region, and rightly so, as the birthplace of the zipper, and as a place with a tremendous capacity of tool and die shops, and a long heritage in farming, and one of the oldest Colleges in the United States. But we also understand that times have been tough here for a long time. We need to talk more about how our economic condition — that of struggle and of precocity -— has been built by certain expectations of story, and how those conditions continue to prevail very much because legislators and career-politicians are perfectly happy with the status quo that keeps us exactly where we are. Which is broke.

This is what we need to recognize:

  1. 13-and-a-half percent of the residents of Crawford County live below the poverty line…and that is also higher than the Commonwealth average;
  2. 24% of the residents of Meadville live below the poverty line…and that is twice the Commonwealth average
  3. Crawford County ranks 56th out of 67 PA counties in per capita income, and 43rd in poverty. Erie County fares better, but is still very much in the middle of the pack.

When you look at each of these benchmarks, you see that the real story of ur region is one of perpetual economic difficulty. We are not prospering, and many of our neighbors are struggling to pay their bills, afford visits to their doctors, put food on the table, and find jobs that pay fair, sustainable, livable wages.

And it’s not getting better. If you’re lucky enough to have healthcare from your employer, for example, you know your cost share keeps going up, even as your income does not. You know our schools are suffering from perpetual funding problems. You know our infrastructure — roads, sewers, bridges — is rough.

And while you might hear from career politicians that we can’t possibly raise wages, because that would hurt “the economy,” and that schools just aren’t budgeting the right way, and that public investment isn’t worthwhile, we also know that our municipalities are struggling with depressed tax bases, and our schools are not over-funded, and that it is very hard to raise a family on the kind of wages often on offer around here. For example, hourly-wage workers have to take overtime to make ends meet: some workers have to toil 60 or 70 hours a week to make the money of a fairly-paid full-time job. And you also have to consider yourself lucky to have that job, because so many of our neighbors are also out of work.

One of the worst dynamics of the economic story we live is that so many Pennsylvanians are being exploited for their labor, and then they’re asked to be grateful for that.

I grew up in Indiana County, born in 1975 as the coal mines that had been the industrial center of that town were shutting down. Still, the frequent refrain from so many politicians during my childhood — and even now — is to campaign on “bringing back coal” or some other variation of an imaginary faith in a long-gone “good old days” that, truth be told, also came with a large measure of black lung, and crushed limbs, and an ethos that considers the bodies of miners as tools to be spent and discarded, not as people who deserve the right to live prosperous, safe, and satisfying lives. We are told over and over again that if we give ourselves to industry, they will pay us a wage…almost enough to live on.

Politicians who spun those stories won elections, and still do, because they pitch what so many want to hear: that we will be rewarded for our hard work. The mines stayed closed, of course. Or a couple re-opened as low-wage non-union mines, and miners took those bad jobs because they had no other options. More recently, I saw the Marcellus boom back at home and up here, and it brought some jobs for a bit, but mostly it brought wealth to wealthy people, with many of the drilling jobs given to workers brought in from out of state anyway. Then wellhead prices crashed from overproduction, so the work disappeared for even the lucky few that had it, and the promised economic benefit to our stores, our schools, our communities, well that also vanished.

This is the history of our region. Since pretty much forever, every promised boom has come with a bust, and the only people getting wealthy on the booms are, well, not us. Remember when Oil City and Titusville were some of the wealthiest places in America? Remember what happened when the oil boom ended?

You would think, then, that these persistent cycles of economic struggle would inspire politicians to seek new solutions to persistent problems. Instead, we see the Commonwealth voting to give an estimated $1.5 billion tax break to build an ethylene cracker plant in the Ohio Valley, which would lead to something like 600 estimated permanent jobs after construction. And just this month, the legislatures overwhelmingly passed a new $670 million tax break deal to lure even more petrochemical plants to Pennsylvania…for another estimated 800 permanent jobs

That’s $2 billion dollars for 1400 jobs. Or about $1.5 million dollars in tax relief for each job. That doesn’t seem like a good deal, for workers, or tax payers. Ed. note: correction from the video

Here’s another part most politicians don’t like to talk about: when you start adding up the economic costs of things like pollution clean-up and additional healthcare costs, fossil fuel development is not profitable. It is only profitable for the companies that run the plants because we pay for it, in the form of tax breaks, in tax dollars spent cleaning up pollution, and in the increased health care premiums and copays we cough up.

So why do we see this happening? Because it’s the story of the economy:

  1. That fossil energy extraction is the only thing that can change the fortunes of our region, even though we’ve seen time and again that it does not, for most people who live in a place where fossil resources are the backbone of an economy.
  2. That people like us who live in the industrial portions of the state exist only to grow the wealth of corporations.

What I have never, ever understood, and what I am literally running for office against, is politicians who claim to be representing their communities by voting for, supporting, and championing bad deals like this. But that, too, is the long story of our region: career politicians are fine with the status quo, even when it harms the people in the area, because they are not affected by the status quo. And it is a lot more work standing up against exploitation than it is collecting a paycheck that is four times the per capita income of Crawford County and enjoying your state-sponsored healthcare, and tax-funded retirement fund.

One more number: $4.5 million. That’s the estimated total cost of a representative’s tax-payer—funded salary, his staff’s salaries, all of their benefits, travel costs, and office leases for a person who has been in office since, say, 2008. That’s a lot of money. I would ask: what have Crawford and Erie County seen in return for that investment? And I don’t mean pork barrel jobs — because that’s just another unethical way to run an economy. I mean, what kind of actual support of a new economy have we seen?

56th in per capita income. 43rd in poverty. That’s what we have seen.

What I would like to see is a reinvestment in workers, as people, and not just as profit lines on a spreadsheet. I would like to see an economy focused on our lives instead of our profit potential. And I would like to see a recognition that the bad choices we are always given are not the only choices possible. 

This is where I see tremendous possibility in green industrial development.

Look, we are good at making stuff in Northwestern PA. We have the shops. And whether we’re making stuff for gas wells or windmills, we can make it. And I would much rather see us invest in industries that will be sustainable for our economy and our environment, than to see state tax breaks go to companies that are simply looking for markets to subsidize their business models. These gas production deals we’re seeing? They are nothing more than corporate welfare, using our tax dollars to secure their profits.

Let’s think differently about gas production, too. Because, there’s no way around it: these deals are done. Gas will have to flow to support the tax investment. But what if we levied a renewable energy R&D requirement on all gas production. Just spitball it at, say, 20% of revenues. Say we made it so that chunk of change had to be invested in green R&D…either by the gas company itself or as a tax paid into a statewide fund for R&D. This could be a way to actually use natural gas as a real bridge fuel, not just a bridge as in how we’ll make money until we can’t, which is what we’re seeing right now, but as a bridge that provides the energy we do, indeed, need to heat our homes but also uses the economic power of that energy to rapidly develop the new tech that can provide that energy in a sustainable way. The bonus part: our area industry can be retooled to support that new economic growth.

I’ll add, in brief, that we could choose, also, to invest in different sorts of economic growth: sustainable small-scale agriculture has a great head start here. We should invest in growth there, in getting more young and more diverse new farmers onto the land. 

The arts economy in the U.S. is an $800 billion dollar industry, bigger than construction, transportation, and mining. In PA alone, there are more than 100,000 jobs supported by the arts. Imagine a city like Meadville, for example, with beautiful old, TLC-ready low-cost housing stock that young artists could renovate and use to make new homes and a new economy? Imagine more arts development in Erie County, and how the lake can be an inspiration for beauty and meaningfulness?

Budgets tell you who a Commonwealth care about. What we choose to invest our money in is really just another story. 

I’m running for office because we need bolder, smarter vision to speak for the people of Northwestern PA. We don’t have to accept tired political inaction and call it a day. We deserve better than reps who literally run on a legacy of doing very little. 

Why can’t we think differently about what counts as an economy? Why can’t we fight to develop these new sectors and invest in those? We have foundations for this kind of development in our District, and we can do more if we commit to a different, more sustaining vision of who we can be.

Disrupting the rigged economy that makes us suffer, and that is used to make us blame each other for our designed suffering, is the umbrella of my campaign. In other Town Halls, I’ll talk in more detail about the three planks of my platform: healthcare, education, and environmental conservation. Working toward economic fairness is at the heart of all three of these: Healthcare reform gives us a way to keep more dollars in workers’ pockets and let them choose more easily where they want to work, or if they want to start their own businesses. Education, from pre-K through high school and college and ongoing worker education and training gives people the tools to shape their working lives, and earn enough money to support their families and live good lives. Environmental conservation saves money and keeps us healthier, because pollution is expensive, and so is sickeness. Plus, in Northwestern PA so many of us have a shared love for our woods and waters, whether as hunters, hikers, fishers, boaters, joggers, photographers, or people who just enjoy living in a quiet, clean part of the country. 

It’s time to stop forcing all of to make a choice between living well and having a job. That’s really no choice at all. It’s extortion.

We keep being fed the same story over and over, and in politics part of the story is that somehow a party is more important than the actions of people representing that party, or representing us. I don’t care about your party, and I hope you don’t care about mine. I’m running for office because I care about us, about this part of the country that my children will always call home, and because I have spent my life in western Pennsylvania seeing bad politics worsen our difficult economic condition. 

We can do better. We have to. And we will.

Flim Flam Politics and Legislative Poseurs

Here we are in July, and the machinery of Flim Flam Politics chugs right along. Coronavirus cases are spinning out of control in states that have refused to take the outbreak seriously enough, and teachers are literally updating their wills and increasing their life insurance because they are being told the same thing other workers were told earlier in the pandemic: your life is not worth as much as governmental desire to pretend that everything is fine and normal.

Things are not fine. They are not normal. And politicians have utterly failed America, forcing people to privatize and individualize their personal risk when government, instead, could have been an answer to the problem. The White House is threatening schools who exercise caution, so “plans” for opening classrooms next month are emerging. In some places, masks are optional in those plans, and desks will be placed only three feet apart, even though the CDC recommends at least six and growing scientific consensus identifies the Coronavirus as airborne.

Schools are close contact, long duration exposure locales. Kids, no matter how hard they try, will not be able to keep from accidentally wiping their noses, or their eyes, or giving a beloved teacher or friend a hug. Schools are the perfect place for the virus to spread, but Flim Flam Politicians want them open anyway because they know most parents can’t afford to keep their kids at home because they have to work. They want them open to they can pretend the economy is normal, when in fact people are suffering.

Because, as always, the economy is rigged against regular people. Our economic precarity is, as always, being used against us to force us to “make choices” when we have no choice. Bear in mind, teachers did an amazing job toggling on a dime to online delivery in March. They worked long hours. They did the best they could. And the reward, now, is an utter lack of support from legislators. The reward is that they get to worry about getting sick at work, and they get to worry about their students getting sick too. All so politicians can pretend the economy is back to normal. With schools closed, politicians would actually have to act to help people. They want them open so they don’t have to help.

In Harrisburg, Flim Flammery has been consistently clear with the majority Caucus of Cruelty, who are now driving the legislature over a cliff they pretend is a noble defense of liberty. You might not have heard, but the PA Senate steamrolled through a Constitutional Amendment that limits a Governor’s emergency declarations to a maximum of 30 days without legislative approval. This week the House majority took this on, steamrolling even more on Monday by cutting of all debate on — let me say this again — a Constitutional Amendment, and whittling the emergency declaration maximum to 21 days. At the same time, the PA Legislature is acting both to defend the horrific gerrymandering that unfairly splits the legislative districts of the Commonwealth for election and is developing a plan to gerrymander voting for state Supreme Court justices in the future. Seriously. They’re mad that the Supreme Court upholds laws they don’t like and can’t change legislatively, so they want to stack the court with partisans.

A few points on the Constitutional Amendment, and on how the Flim Flam Politicians are doing everything as a cold calculation for their own interests:

  1. The Caucus of Cruelty began signaling their desire to end the Governor’s emergency declaration as soon as it began. So with the language of their amendment, they could have, and almost assuredly would have, ended the emergency declaration on March 27. Which means we’d be dealing with what Florida is facing right now, runaway case loads and overwhelmed hospitals, and an “open” economy that is going to crash because of mass illness. The Caucus of Cruelty would have claimed they were doing this to “defend” the economy, when in fact they would be doing it solely to serve the ideological fancies of a rigged, unfair economy that always harms workers to benefit the wealthy. Right now, that harm is even more physical than usual, as it comes with the risk of a difficult illness, possibly lifelong health impacts if you recover, and no recovery at all for some. This situation, I should note, is inflicted by politicians who also don’t think you deserve the right to healthcare. But you aren’t a massive, deep-pocketed special interest industry, are you? Who donates large sums of money to keep their pet politicians in line, are you?
  2. Procedurally, their proposal yokes two completely different and totally unrelated issues into a single Amendment vote. They combined the curtailing of the emergency declaration with a completely unrelated (but very, very important) codification of racial and gender equity in the state Constitution. That’s strange, and normally not allowed in regular PA legislation. Because, well, it makes no sense to combine these in one Amendment proposal, and doing so forces legislators into an awkward political position…which is why the Caucus of Cruelty did it. If you vote against the amendment, they can claim you voted against equity, you monster! But if you vote for it, you’re voting for a ridiculous political stunt. Which is what they want. It’s a tactical move, set up as a political win-win. They either get the votes they want, or they get to use the votes they don’t want as misleading attack material for the coming election.
  3. The whole Amendment push is another absolute, total, ugly, partisan, wasteful, stupid, shameful, cynical, insulting political stunt. In our Commonwealth, Constitutional Amendments have to pass in two separate Legislative Sessions, then they have to be approved by voter referendum as an election ballot item. That means that if it passes now, it has to pass again in the 2021-2022 Legislative Session (when, y’know, I’m in the House and Brad Roae is enjoying retirement). Then move on as a referendum. So the amendment itself would have no effect on the current emergency declaration that has, bear with me here, saved a lot of lives and is consistent with state law. It’s about power and re-election. It’s about partisan division.

So why is the Caucus of Cruelty doing this? And now?

Because political stunts are about politics, not governance. The Caucus of Cruelty is committing an act of theater, showing they are “working” to “do” something, even when they are doing nothing to help people weather the continued public health and economic crisis of Coronavirus. Then, this November, they can say look what we did! When, in fact, they have spent the entire pandemic thus far doing nothing but whine about tyranny and toss up bill after bill that would put workers at risk and — let me say this again — would have put Pennsylvania in the position Texans and Floridians are currently suffering.

So, if the amendment passes this session (since it only needs a simple majority, the partisan divide of the legislature indicates it probably will), they can also campaign this fall by saying it’s crucial to re-elect members of their Caucus of Cruelty. Look out for those dang Democrats and moderate, reasonable Republicans, they’ll crow. Because our precious Amendment hangs in the balance! Tyranny! Freedom! You might know we have been useless and harmful, but you have to elect us again so we can pass this Amendment! Then we can continue to be useless and harmful!

Politics can hardly get more cynical than this.

We cannot forget, the Legislature could have made different choices. It could have tried to actually work with the Governor instead of use the whole health crisis as a political charade. It could have worked to figure out the one thing that would have actually helped: find ways to pay people and businesses to stay home, isolate, and actually crush the virus. It could have worked to pass universal, single-payer healthcare that would give everyone access to doctors and hospitals without risk of bankruptcy and, the kicker, be cheaper than our current Byzantine system.

These are not vague ideas that might have worked. Single-payer healthcare works well in almost every other prosperous nation (including Canada, by the way: don’t believe people who claim healthcare sucks there. Ask a Canadian). And giving people the cash cushion to stay home did work, elsewhere, to get through the first wave of the virus. In New Zealand. In Europe. In Canada. Places where government acted decisively and got their populations through the first wave, so they actually can be talking in those countries about safely opening schools, for example, without lying through their teeth and forcing openings even though it puts lives, literally, at risk.

The blunt question: which teachers are you okay with having die so schools can open? Which kids? Because that’s the gamble many politicians are asking teachers and students to accept. They just hide it behind obfuscating language and bad data interpretation.

Let me go ahead and link to something I wrote back in April, which still holds true. And, though it is perhaps slightly gauche, let me quote myself too:

It’s part of a long game that is absolutely, 100% not in your favor and cares not one whit about safety and, instead, is part of a steady, coordinated attack on the well-being of regular folks to benefit (drumroll) super-duper rich people. Not you. And any politician pushing it is, well, not in your corner. Whether through ignorance or cruelty, they abet a system that counts your body and your mind as expendable parts of a machine designed to net massive profits for…let me say this again…not. you. 

From “Yeah, They’re Against You.” April 22, 2020.

Again and again, in Harrisburg and Washington, we’re seeing that pattern hold. Flim Flam Politics put the interests of profits (not ours) before the responsibility of government. Instead of helping us through the public health crisis, they sow doubt about masks, and about the seriousness of the virus itself, then turn to blame individuals for the raging outbreaks that were the inevitable uptick in infections and hospitalizations.

Why do they do it? Do I need to ask?

Because they think we’re all stupid enough to believe their charlatan sideshow antics. They disdain voters to such a degree that they cannot understand how tossing people into the maelstrom of infectious risk might be bad governance. They are calculating how to pretend they’re taking action, just so they’ll have campaign trail material. And they’re willing to put workers, teachers, children into harm’s way to do it.

Worst of all, they believe their own partisan toxicity. And they’re trying to get you to believe in it too. We don’t have to. We can’t. We have far too much to lose. We have lost too much and too many already.

The End of the Easy Part

In light of right-wing trolls piling-on one of my recent posts, it seems appropriate to share this, a version of which I presented in a Live video the day before the Primary: I’d been planning to come on here this morning and talk about hope. About how our beautiful act of civic participation each Election Day demonstrates the steady, unbroken faith we hold in America. That each voice matters, that we all get a say in how we govern ourselves, that the people are the power that drives our nation,

I think we all know that’s what we want. Or that we all at least say we want. But we also have to acknowledge that many voices are not afforded the same space. Many votes are, in fact, discounted, gerrymandered away, suppressed through polling station closures and ID schemes and disenfranchisement that arrives with a false label of “reform” or “security.” Or, y’know, when someone decides to start railing with unsubstantiated lies about mail-in ballot fraud because he’s afraid the nation has awakened to recognize despotic ugliness in plain sight.

Bullies. I’m talking about political bullies that fear and threaten our democratic ideals.

But the value of elections as a mutual voice is still true. I believe that, and I believe in that. I still believe in us.

But, well, things have exploded in the last several weeks. We headed into this year’s delayed Primary at a moment of converging urgencies. Even as we struggle with the next steps in an ongoing pandemic, we struggle also with ongoing racial violence, and the literal burning of our cities. We see rage, and we see opportunistic rioters co-opting that rage to instigate violence and widen our divides, and we see state violence deployed indiscriminately against peaceful protestors and journalists. We see politicians denying that racism exists, and a president threatening the citizens of the country he ostensibly leads, and all sorts of people saying, yeah but … then offering some b.s. reason that victims are responsible for their own abuse. All of this is a way to silence righteous protest and discount the demand for changes that have long been promised and never delivered.

The day before the Primary, I participated in a community organized march for Black Lives Matter in Meadville. First of all, I want to commend the remarkable swiftness and skill of the young woman who put the event together. She rallied a sizeable crowd, and she helped the march maintain focus on its aim of peaceful protest throughout. Afterward, there was even a wonderful moment where a few remaining folks had a warm, serious discussion with the Meadville police chief and his assistant chief, who themselves offered respect and understanding. They all stood together in a moment of silence.

This is the story we need to be telling, and it’s a story we need to be able to tell without cynicism. This is civic action steeped in hope and good faith. Yet this is the story the bullies keep trying to hide. Mutual understanding and respect wreck the bullies’ goals, so they try to drown it out. They try to make us think peace isn’t possible.

We vote to resist the ugly world the bullies desire.

The bullies drive by peaceful marches, coal rolling in two diesel pickups, the black exhaust and roaring engines intending to drown out the collective voice of hope and justice. That happened during the Meadville march.

The bullies show up at the Diamond and shout willful ignorance during the march’s two minutes of silence, which were intended to honor the gasping end of George Floyd’s life. They are later quoted in the newspaper about having people on speed-dial for when the protest turns into a riot, because that’s all they see when people stand up for justice. All they see is violence when the hurt speak about their pain. Of course, there was no riot. The march came to resist violence, not offer it.

The bullies show up online these days, a lot, and they troll discussions about public health. Mock people for wearing masks. Call the virus “just a flu.”

The bullies vote again and again in state legislature for meaningless, doomed-to-fail resolutions they pretend are about liberty but, instead, are about undermining the Governor acting to keep the Commonwealth safe. They ignore the opportunity to legislate for ways that actually would have helped people stay safe, stay home, stay fed. Because bullies only know harm.

The bullies hurl insults and hurtful memes.

The bullies threaten violence.

The bullies send your friendly neighborhood PA House Rep candidate hateful, ignorant emails.

But we must tell the story of our marches, where people come together, when police officers can engage with protesters peacefully and respectfully, where there are only actually two bullies at the Diamond, and only one spoke. We have to recognize this: there were two hundred people lying on the grass in the memory of George Floyd. There were many more cars who honked their horns in solidarity than there were yahoos smoking the air. The bullies, as always, are vastly outnumbered.

But the yahoos are loud. They are always so loud. They wait for the moments of silence, then break it with their shouts or their revs, or with the online threats of violence that preceded the march. Or by always changing the subject to their own, narrow, often imbecilic interests: yeah but what about… Or by ignoring the reality in front of their noses and, instead, leaning into their own distorted fever dreams of government conspiracy.

This is how the bullies win. Or how they stay in positions of power. By convincing us through their loudness and bluster that they’re bigger than us, that they outnumber us, that it’s useless to try. That they’ll beat us up. That we’re the stupid ones. It is every junior high locker room, everywhere.

When we vote, we’re taking one of the many steps we can to demonstrate that it just isn’t true. That’s the power of the ballot box. That we do have the chance to speak in force.

But. Another but.

Around here, the bullying shouts affect the ballot box. You can’t imagine how often people tell me, a Democrat can’t win in Crawford County.

And partly because of that belief, Democrats don’t show up. Or, in general elections, the many reasonable Republicans we call neighbors find it hard to pull the lever for a D, because the shouters have convinced them through bullying lies that party matters over people, or that two issues irrelevant to state legislation should control all of their voting. Maybe those reasonable Republicans leave the line blank. Or maybe they hold their nose and vote for someone they know is a weak, ineffective, damaging-through-uselessness politician because the shouts make it hard to hear across the partisan divide. Or because they fear the bullies will turn on them, too.

This is what they want…the shouters. They want to bully and intimidate the reasonable and just. They do it with violence. Lies. Anti-science. Conspiracy theories. Racism veiled thinly, or not veiled at all. With online jeers and rudeness.

So we voted on June 2 in a primary that is by design partisan. If you were one of the more than 5,000 people who voted for me in a primary, well, thank you! But, not to take you for granted, this was the easy part…convincing fellow Democrats to vote for the only Democrat on the ballot.

So. We are now at the end of the easy part. The Primary is done, and we face five months of campaigning for the November election. The shouts will get louder. The bullies will try even harder to convince everyone that you can’t elect a Democrat in Crawford County.

I’m gonna need your help. I need you in my corner, on the ballots but also out there in the world. I need you to talk to your reasonable Republican friends, and independent friends, and third party friends. We need to help our neighbors hear that “us” includes them too. And to keep spreading the enthusiasm with your Democratic friends. Those coal-rolling yahoos are gonna be out there, though, drowning us out, making it seem like we’re the few, and that we should be ignored. They’ll gun those engines, and interrupt our reasonable discussions with shoutdowns and aggression. I mean this figuratively and, unfortunately, literally. My posts are going to be trolled again, probably harder. The bullies will try to shout us down.

Let’s rise to that challenge. Let’s take the Primary as our first act of restoring the grace and hope that Pennsylvania and America deserves. Let’s refuse to be quiet about what we need, what we all need, about who we are and what that can mean for our region. The bullies have been winning too much lately. It’s our turn. It’s our time. When we raise our voices, when we march together, when we demand that our politics reflect equity and social responsibility and the greater good and deep neighborliness, then we can have the Commonwealth we deserve. Join me in this quest. Step one is over. Now, we must meet the harder work to come.

Yeah, We Need to Talk About Racism

Minneapolis is on fire right now, as I write. Protests are spreading to other cities. Our President has tweeted threats of violence as his response. Already, on cue, American racism has started to devalue the legitimacy of the peaceful protests that first followed the killing of a black man during his arrest for passing a counterfeit twenty dollar bill and, instead, focus outrage on protests.

In this moment we must, as a nation, recognize who gets teargassed for protesting and who, just a week before, got to brandish AR-15s in state capitols across the country, including PA. Who gets tear-gassed and what kind of protest we call violent is how racism works. How we get angrier at riots than at racist murders is how racism works. We have to recognize, as MLK put it, that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

Last weekend here at home, some dude went full on racist in Meadville, threatening to burn down a new restaurant, shouting epithets, demonstrating unambiguous hatred and clear unfettered bigotry. Wednesday, someone asked a direct question of our incumbent state rep, if he would stand with the victim and denounce hatred. The response began with a suggestion that the victim would have been better off had they been carrying a concealed weapon, then dismissed the notion that racism is a problem in Crawford County. Just two people, he said, doing something everyone else in the area would not.

While it is certainly true that most Crawford Countians would not threaten to torch a business while shouting racial epithets, the just two people line misses the point, completely, and the response is directly related to the frustration and anger that has ignited in Minneapolis. Here’s the thing: America has a problem with racism. Pennsylvania has a problem with racism. Crawford County, as is true of all locales in our nation, has a problem with racism.

For too many people, however, the only racism that counts is the kind that burns crosses, shouts the N-word, threatens to murder, acts out in palpable, clear, obvious, antisocial ways. Since most people don’t do those things, there’s no racism problem.

I want to be clear about this: racism is not just about the craven boldness of violent individuals who don robes and blare their vile trumpets. Racism is pernicious and deeply-seated. Racism, often, manifests as an inability to see the racism that surrounds us, everywhere. It manifests as a refusal to see it. And that refusal allows both subtle and overt racism to continue. Whether we mean to or not, we allow space for violent racism when we try, over and over, to pretend that racism is not an issue.

Heck, many don’t even want to see racism in the blaring trumpets, in the Confederate Battle Flags flying along Route 6, the Grand Army of the Republic Highway, a road literally named in honor of Union veterans who fought the racism that flag has always represented. Many don’t want to believe the reality of what a black woman told me earlier this year, about the time she was waiting to cross the street in the Diamond, and a truck waved her to pass, and she stepped into the crosswalk, and the truck drove up and gave her a nudge with its bumper, a leering laughing face inside, race baiting and threatening her with vehicular violence. Many don’t want to see the deep, racist threat percolating when we fail to push back against racist jokes, or when we ridicule those who do push back for being “too sensitive” or “politically correct” or a “snowflake.” When they are told to “lighten up.”

Racist jokes are a form of hate speech, perhaps not as obviously vile as direct threats of violence, but in fact they are the soil within which racism flourishes. They are a step away from “nudging” someone with your vehicle, which is a step away from threatening to burn down someone’s business. And I shouldn’t need to say this: carrying a concealed weapon will not break that chain of racial violence.

Let’s put this to rest before anyone decides to try to use it as a gotcha: riots are not good. But recognizing that long frustration is a root cause of rioting is not to defend the riot itself. Instead, I’m saying that we have to listen to the words we use when we talk about race, when we blithely claim racism is not a problem in a town where non-white residents consistently report experiencing small and not-small acts of hostility and racism. We have to listen when people share these experiences, and we have to respond in ways that take seriously the reality of race in America.

It is too easy to say, let’s just be nice to each other, which is what so many people say, because it’s the solution we wish would work. If only it were that easy. It’s not. Easy answers, or empty non-answers, simply let racism hide in plain sight. Until we can’t ignore it, because someone commits a felony in threatening racially-charged terroristic violence.

We have to hear this, too: many politicians don’t want to acknowledge the inequities of poverty, of healthcare access, of infant mortality, of predatory criminal prosecution, all of which plague non-white communities. Or recognize that the disproportionate death rate of black and brown Americans from Covid-19 relates directly to racial division in the allocation of resources. Or acknowledge that in Meadville PA physicians of color and professors of color and students of color and lifelong residents of color experience racism, regularly.

Look, make it economic if you want to: businesses threatened, even run out of town, because of racism. New neighbors who won’t move here because they fear racism. Professionals who move here, are made to feel unsafe and unwelcome, and leave. If you need to think about every problem as a matter of dollars (and, too often, it seems like politicians only want to think that way, reducing human experience to numbers in a spreadsheet), then think about the economy that’s not here because of racism. The people who leave. Or never come. The perceptions of businesses who don’t want to set up shop in a place too easy to dismiss already. Fine. Think about the dollars lost.

The issue of racism is not economic, though. It’s moral. It’s about dignity, justice, equality, the things that our patriotism is supposed to champion. It’s about civic pride and neighborliness and godliness and human decency.

In an important book called Playing in the Dark, Toni Morrison writes about the erasure of race in so many pieces of literature, the effect being that whiteness seems unraced, and all other racial positions are nothing but race. That’s the problem. One of the ways racism works is to define whiteness always as “normal” or as the default. Everyone else has a race. Therefore, racism is viewed only as a problem of the non-white, and we tend to only really see the racism when it is impossible to ignore. But racism functions in the many mechanisms that work to maintain the “normality” of whiteness as default. School funding. Drug laws. Poverty. Healthcare. Stereotypes. Political rhetoric.

It’s hard to see systemic racism when you’re brought up not to see it. It’s difficult to realize that being nice, and being polite, is not enough. It’s painful to start seeing racism, and the part we all play in it, and harder still to resist slipping back into the shared, comfortable blindness that makes it so easy to want to believe things like, racism is not a problem in Crawford County.

Most of us legitimately care. Most of us are legitimately nice. Most of us are not racists. But the sad, hard, difficult truth is that being a racist is different than living in a culture of racism. Racism is not just about individuals who do hateful things. Racism is the inescapable structures of our culture that allow racial inequity to persist.

Race, as you know, is not actually a thing, biologically or scientifically. It’s an invention of culture, used always to sort out who gets to have power. It’s about who, in fact, gets to determine whether or not racism is a problem.

Put another way: even if we were to miraculously stop every overt racist act, racism would still exist in the system. In who gets to wear their hair as it grows and who has to cut it off to be “respectable.” In who gets called “illegal.” In who gets to be the butt of the joke and who gets to tell the joke. In who is seen as threatening just for existing. In whose frustration is considered violent and whose is not. On and on.

Racism’s greatest power is its invisibility. We have to acknowledge that power. We have to see how racism functions, everywhere, including Crawford County. We have to understand that being a racist is different than racism itself, and that it is our duty to dedicate ourselves to active justice not quiet acquiescence. We all have to call out racism, in all its forms. We all have to recognize that saying, maybe concealed carry would help is just another way to willfully refuse to recognize that all legislators, all people, have a responsibility to do everything they can to bend the arc of history toward equality and peace.

Signs and The Times

Pretty snazzy, eh? If you have a good spot for one, please fill out this quick form.

Wouldn’t this look great in your front yard?

And, if you haven’t seen it yet, check out my OpEd from today’s Erie Times-News. We can recover into a better future if we can build a legislature that cares.

And, just under three weeks until the primary. There’s still time to request a mail-in ballot…the deadline is May 26. Let’s get some massive turnout going!

Running On Hope

I do Monday Morning sketch talks every week (tune in!), and today the theme was kindness, empathy, and hope as foundations for legislative action. And, wow, it was hard. Because, if you’re at all like me, you might be feeling a bit less hopeful than usual. Particularly about politics.

For today’s video, check the Facebook page.

That makes sense, because everything political seems like a flaming dumpster headed directly into a sun about to go supernova, with a whole bunch of fact-challenged politicians saying, this will get the economy going! And then bunches of other people pouring kerosene on their own dumpsters, lighting them up, and convoying straight toward the supernova, some of them brandishing assault rifles and shouting about liberty and freedom and the right to allow their own earnest disbelief in science to drive public health policy.

That’s all connected, of course, because public speech has consequences. So when elected officials spout off in the cadence of insurrection, they offer motivation and inspiration for Astro-turfed armed occupations of state houses. When they question public health measures, they encourage bored and restless folks to stop caring about social distancing and abet a sudden and inexplicable pivot of the national conversation from the ongoing pandemic to the reopening of the economy, despite continuing spikes in viral infections.

Call this the politics of anti-hope. The politics of cynicism. A dynamic that relies on the persistence of outrage and the perpetual acceptance of conditions of existence that disempower workers. The political risk of the enormously successful and enormously hopeful global shutdown was the demonstration of the power of common cause, the recognition of the importance and value of individual workers, and the realization that jobs are not worth dying for, particularly in economies that actually have the capital to effectively pay wages for people to not work and stay safe. The political risk of the moment was that people would see that the “normal” we are supposed to want to return to, well, sucked. The cynics fear our awakening, and our shared power.

Did you see this article in early April, which offered a prescient commentary on the gaslighting that would admonish us to return to “normal”? How about the follow-up on May 1, which calls for us to embrace the power we have in shaping what that future normal can be? Not what it was, but what we could imagine. In essence, the first article diagnoses the cynicism of the economic imperative. The second calls for us to hope, which is an active verb that we actively breathe into existence.

So, my candidacy, and my morning, when hope felt vague and hard to pinpoint. I struggled, because the world of politics is hard right now. The world of just being is hard right now. I want to accept that feeling for myself, not to see it as a snuffing of hope but, instead, as a way to recognize that hope itself cannot happen without struggle. Hope is not about naive good-natured happiness. Instead, hope means recognizing and acknowledging the despair of a politics that actively seeks to squash hope in order to maintain the status quo, particularly the status quo of political and economic power. Which (see my prior post) is not us.

Hope is imagining the possibility of a legislative future based on kindness and empathy, instead of one mired in the repetition of old insults. You know them: tree hugger, dumbocrat, welfare cheat, socialist, pointy-headed-intellectual, and an unfortunate litany of much more vicious epithets. Hope is recognizing that the quest for equitable healthcare, and education, and environmental protection faces obstacles because the cynics know hope threatens the uneven balance of power that currently dominates.

Look, one of the hard things hope demands is the recognition of its absence. Hope requires us to look around at the guttedness of NWPA and see our struggle as the end game of the cynics. They like it that way, truly, because austerity and desperation make it easier to animate voters through fear and ugliness. Cynics want us to resign ourselves to our lot, ignore their role in the maintenance of our struggle, and vote perpetually for their precise cynicism. That’s how they keep their power.

To find hope, we need to see that. We need to see how resisting cynical narratives opens space for us. We need to see how staying home throughout April was not the destruction of an economy but, instead, the ultimate act of hope. We banded together, for each other, which is exactly why the cynics want to break our community spirit.

Every time hope emerges, the cynics strike. They wedge, and they break, and they pull us aside and whisper how this hope thing will wreck the economy, will wreck you personally, is un-American, violates your liberty, will erase the 2nd Amendment. If we have hope, they hiss, this system will come crashing down. Get in the dumpster, they say, light the kerosene, ride for the supernova.

This morning, I struggled because the cynics are pressing hard, and because it seems like we always let them win in the end. They spit, and they bite, and they insult, and they intimidate, and they gaslight, and they wear us out. They reason with us through forked tongues, saying our ideas are nice, but impractical, and unaffordable, and sure they’d love it if everyone could stay safe, but those dying people are not worth saving if it means reworking a rigged economy to give everyone a fair shake.

This morning, I struggled to talk about hope because, honestly, I can see the edge of hopelessness creeping forward. But, as Emily Dickinson writes:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Hope blooms when we seek it. Something like that. Hope allows us to see despair, and press on, because we will live the future we write, as will our children, and theirs, and so forth.

I didn’t quite have the words this morning, which is a very different thing than not having the tune. We can hum that one together, though, perpetually, cascading to a choir on June 2nd and then, for keeps, on November 3rd. Because it is our words that sing hope into being.

It’s Not Primary Day!

Certainly, it’s wise that PA moved our primary from today to June 2nd (so please vote then!), but I’m still a tad bummed we can’t be out there casting ballots and making our voice heard about our desire for a better PA and a better District 6. A reminder that the deadline for registration is now May 18, and the deadline to apply for a Mail-in Ballot is May 26th. Here’s the link for PA Voter Services.

Walk Card Photo (1)

Campaigning from a Distance

Well, here we are in some truly new territory for all of us. I hope you’re all able to hunker down, work from home, avoid contact with others, all in this community effort to protect everyone from the coronavirus spread. What we do has such a tremendous impact on vulnerable members of our communities, so I’m grateful for how seriously everyone is taking this situation.

Campaigning is a bit tricky now, of course, most of all because I’m not doing anything face-to-face for the foreseeable future. The bright side is that my primary is uncontested, but we’re still working hard to get the word out and build momentum for November. I will say this: the public health crisis we face reveals even more keenly how we need stronger public access to healthcare, as well as stronger safety nets for individuals and small businesses in the face of disruption. A lot of people are very anxious right now, with good reason, wondering if they’ll be able to afford treatment, or be able to afford lost wages from the necessary closures we’re experiencing. Governor Wolf has so far responded admirably, but I believe we need stronger legislative action to prevent so many people from living in perpetual financial precariousness, whether we’re facing an immediate crisis or not. That precarity makes events like the coronavirus so economically devastating. And we need to make sure everyone has the ability to be vaccinated, have access to doctors, and in general stay healthy. 2020 votes are going to matter a lot in that context, both at the state and federal level.

Since I imagine that separation from face-to-face campaigning could easily continue to the April 28th primary, a couple of thoughts here about the campaign itself. Please share with anyone you think would find the information useful:

1) I’m holding the first of several planned digital meet-ups this Thursday, March 19th, at 6pm. We’ll do it as an Ask Me Anything via Facebook live. The link to the event is here. Please tune in for a virtual chat, and please consider dropping some questions in the comments of the event, to get things rolling. And I would be deeply grateful if you’d share the event via Facebook, and invite neighbors in the 6th to check it out. I’m hoping this is a convenient and useful way to continue having important conversations about the future of NWPA.

2) We all have the wonderful opportunity to use mail-in ballots this year. Particularly in light of the uncertainty of the coronavirus situation, and the importance of the Presidential primary, I encourage everyone to look into mail-in ballots from the state. The deadline to apply for one is April 21st. It’s important to note, however, that if you request a mail-in ballot you must use it for voting. That means it needs to be received — by mail or in-person delivery — at the county board of elections by 8 p.m. the night of the 28th. You won’t be able to vote at the polls if you request a mail-in ballot. Detailed information is available here.

3) Fundraising. Yeah. That. We’ve been doing pretty well, but sign purchases (the first batch should arrive soon!) have depleted a big chunk of change. Those suckers are expensive. Please consider donating on our secure ActBlue page here. We have some awesome holographic stickers to give out to any new recurring donors (those who set up auto-contributions of $5 a month of more). Pretty darn soon we’ll have some swanky t-shirts that we’ll give out with one-time contributions of $20. T-shirts are at the printers and should arrive in a week or two. I’ll send a notice when they’re ready, but if you’re already into it…let me know!

Sneak peek:


4) About signs. We have a smallish batch coming first (see above: $$$ And also: I’m not keen on putting too much plastic out in the environment for a campaign…trying to strike a balance between necessary publicity and green ethics), so if you have a front yard that has good traffic flow passing by, would you consider having one? Email me and let me know!

Hang in there, wash your hands, stay home as much as you can. Let’s be together in our separate spaces, and show this virus we know how to quarantine!

The Election is On…Now

Some of the first bits of dust have settled, and the two primary ballots are set for April 28th. The incumbent Brad Roae is the only Republican; I’m the only Democrat. Effectively, that means the general election starts now. Brad v. Matt. Incumbent v. challenger. Entrenched austerity v. a desire for positive change. And I do mean desire, as many people have been straight-up stoked about this race already. They’re excited. They’re ready. But, to be honest, also at times slightly down. Because as often as I’ve heard lines like, thank goodness someone’s running against that [complete this sentence yourself], I’ve also heard things like, Nice to meet another Democrat. Thought I was alone around here.


Oof. Yet keep in mind, this expression of alone-ness has happened over and over again, which is a way of saying, there are lot more Democrats around here than you might think, even while many of them worry they’re part of a tiny, endangered, powerless group. I’m here to say, nope. We’re not. We are mighty, and we are many, and we also share District 6 wth a ton of dissatisfied Independents and smart, disaffected Republicans who are tired of the nothing they’ve been getting in Harrisburg.

Here’s the thing, though. We live the stories we tell, and we live the stories told about us. Over and over, people tell us that a Democrat can’t win here. And people tell us that the right-wingers dominate the voting scene. And people (not from here) tell us we’re not worth the fight, that our beautiful countryside is awash with nothing but partisan red. And the trolls on the internet harp about socialists and communists and all sorts of empty vitriol intended to encourage us all to stay home, shut up, and accept the worst.

Another story: decent, polite people don’t talk politics. Couple that with the story that Democrats or otherwise progressive people are few and far between, well then we get a political chatterbox full of ugly, right-wing shouting, and a sense that a Democrat doesn’t have a chance, that none us have a chance. We’re getting trolled constantly, on-line and off, by big voice bullies who just want to shout about how much they want to go back to some false yesterday. Little wonder we don’t talk much, partly because we’re afraid we have no one to talk to. Who wants to walk into a political buzz saw?

Well, it’s time for us to talk. To each other. To our neighbors. To our friends and coworkers and children and even the dude who we think might just not agree with us. Because — I’ll say it again — there are more of us out there than it seems. We’ve been isolated. That’s the trick of it. We’ve been living the story that we don’t even exist. And the kind of politics we get is a direct result of that story. Another truth is this: the trolls don’t want us talking, because they want us to be afraid, because they want us to think we’re alone.

Well, we have between now and November 3rd to get the word out. We have until the fall election to rally together and demand something better for us all. We have until then to gather together and tell a new story, about a Northwestern PA that can take care of us all, that can care about us all, that refuses to accept the ugly empty we always get.

I’m in. How about you?


And, okay, I have to keep asking, because we’re gonna need to publicize to get this conversation out…can you spare a couple of bucks? Please donate to the campaign here.