Following the November 2016 election, a small group of young people in Lancaster reached out to community organizers and faith leaders and called for an emergency community meeting—to talk together about the shock, sadness, and outrage we were feeling. Three hundred Lancastrians came to that first meeting and got busy making plans to take action to turn things around. Lancaster Stands Up was born.
Soon it was clear that thousands of Lancastrians were feeling an overwhelming desire to get involved and to take back our democracy. Volunteer-driven working groups began forming around pressing issues like immigration, healthcare, and political accountability. Lancaster Stands Up quickly began developing into a vehicle for everyday people to have a political voice. In short, we are building independent grassroots progressive political power.
Over the past several months, hundreds—sometimes thousands—of Lancastrians have turned out for town hall meetings, public demonstrations, and other activities to hold our elected officials accountable. Two thousand of us stood together at Penn Square to oppose Trump’s Muslim Ban. We rallied hundreds to stand up for healthcare for all, and we occupied Rep. Lloyd Smucker’s downtown office. Mobilizing unprecedented numbers for this area, Lancaster Stands Up has garnered local, national, and international attention and media coverage. We have consistently emphasized Lancaster values, and consistently centered the stories of those who are most vulnerable to the current Administration’s rhetoric and policies—whether that’s the impact of immigration policy on our undocumented neighbors, or health care policy on individuals who rely on Medicaid for their basic survival.
Our top priority is uniting to resist and ultimately defeat the unique threat of the current Administration. But we are also clear that we have to ask ourselves how this happened; how we arrived in this political moment. Looking back at the past four decades, we see a steep decline in civic involvement—everyday people being part of organizations that can have a voice in our political system, a counterweight to the power of money. We also see a Democratic Party leadership that has failed to stand up to Wall Street and to fight visibly for working people. This, we believe, allowed economic elites to gain a tighter grip on our political system, and led to millions of everyday working Americans feeling abandoned by the political class and uninspired to turn out to vote.
We believe that this moment presents us with a unique opportunity to change our trajectory. The story of Lancaster Stands Up is a story about everyday people turning this around by figuring out how to get involved—even if it’s just two hours a week—and building the grassroots force we need to revitalize our democracy.
Lancaster Stands Up has provided a much-needed grassroots vehicle to hold elected representatives accountable and also to begin electoralizing the resistance in our region. In April, prior to the 2017 PA primary, we carried out a ten-day door-to-door voter registration canvass. Presently Lancaster Stands Up is developing a long-term canvass operation, focusing especially on low-turnout working-class neighborhoods that have for too long been ignored by the political establishment.
The handful of folks who called for the initial emergency community meeting last November has since then developed into a multiracial and multigenerational 12-person coordinating team, which includes Eliza Booth, Rafael Diaz, Amber Farward, Evan Gentry, Michelle Hines, Daniel Levin, Claudia Paz, Jonathan Smucker, Nelly Torres, Susan Wenger, Ismail Yoder Salim, and Melanie Yoder Salim (previous members who served: Amanda Kemp, Nick Martin, Becca Rast). Since May, our Leadership Team has been preparing our next steps—how to move from protest to political power. We have been polling our base and talking with volunteers to figure out how to move this important work forward. We have been developing a clearer and more sustainable structure to allow LSU members to contribute their time, energy, passions, and gifts for the work ahead.
We believe the time is ripe for everyday Americans—of every race and creed, immigrant and native-born, sisters and brothers—to stand up together as one united people. We see incredible opportunities for our community to intervene as a force for real change. To do this we need to be intentional, strategic, creative, and bold. But most important, this effort needs the involvement of everyday working people. Lancaster Stands Up needs you. Thank you for all you do!