Bringing Politics Back to the People: Recap of Our People's Forum & Candidate Fair
On Saturday, September 16 Lancaster Stands Up hosted a People's Forum with the candidates running in the 2018 primary for Pennsylvania's 16th Congressional District. Participants included John George, Jess King, Gary Wegman, and campaign manager Mike Wilson standing in for candidate Christina Hartman. Following the forum was a Meet-the-Candidates Fair with Lancaster municipal and county candidates who will be on the November 7, 2017 ballot. These candidates are introduced at the end of the video.
Politics often feels like a spectator sport. We dedicate so much attention to important but distant crises—the daily affronts of the Trump Administration, the investigation into Russian interference in the election, the latest rhetorical escalation with North Korea—that it's easy to forget that We the People have the power to shape the nation we live in. Lancaster Stands Up was founded, after all, out of the belief that everyday people need to step up to play a more active role in improving our communities. If not us, then who?
That's why on Saturday, September 16 Lancaster Stands Up hosted a "People's Forum." We know how hard it is to stay plugged in on local issues and how frustrating it can be to have to make a decision in the voting booth when you don't have all the information about a candidate. So we decided to do something to bring local politics down to earth.
The event featured most of the candidates who are running for the PA-16 Congressional seat—that primary will take place in May 2018—as well as local candidates who are running for municipal and school board offices in the upcoming November 7, 2017 elections. The congressional candidates in attendance, including John George, Gary Wegman, Jess King, and a campaign surrogate of Christina Hartman, answered questions from members of the Lancaster community on topics from racial justice to healthcare to climate change.
"I was brought to the US when I was a child by my mom," began Claudia Llewellyn, one of the community members who asked a question of the candidates. "Even though I am undocumented, I have been protected from deportation and allowed to work here through a program called DACA. DACA has been in the news recently as Donald Trump is taking away those protections from myself and other undocumented people who were brought into this country when they were kids. If elected, would you support the DREAM Act which gives a path to citizenship for DACA recipients if they meet certain conditions?"
Shortly after the candidates responded to Claudia, Bevan Fields took the microphone.
"I'm a student at Millersville, and education costs are so high that two of my friends are struggling just to get by. One of them is the most hard-working person I know. She works about four jobs, plus she's a tutor and plans to go to NYU to learn to be a neurosurgeon. But right now she’s barely scraping by- so much so that she doesn't even have a bed because she can’t afford one," he said. "Right now, our education system does more to benefit the 1% than the hard working students it’s meant to serve. What will you to do to fix our education system so it works for all of us? Do you support the fight for free higher education?"
These kinds of questions were what inspired the event: questions by everyday people about the issues that shape their lives and the lives of their loved ones; questions that let them find their voice and gave them a platform to make it heard; questions that the women and men hoping to be our elected representatives would have to answer if they want to earn our votes.
The second-half of the event was a meet-the-candidates fair which featured many of the candidates running for local offices in 2017 in Lancaster City, and also some candidates from the county, as well as the congressional candidates. Each candidate was provided a table where they could present information about their campaigns. The attendees could approach the candidates individually to ask questions and express their personal concerns. Given the usual lack of available information about local candidates, this was an unique opportunity for voters to directly interact with the candidates seeking to represent them. A major cause of voter disenfranchisement is the apparent disconnect between voters and their elected officials. Because of this, one of the main goals of Lancaster Stands Up is to break down these barriers and empower ordinary people to be involved in the political process. The candidate fair provided a space for this.
Lancaster Stands Up members are fired up for the 2018 and 2020 national elections, but we recognize the importance of local municipal elections as well. We hope that this event was helpful in introducing Lancaster Stands Up members and members of the broader community not only to the congressional candidates running in 2018, but to the candidates seeking to represent them at the local level. We believe in the power of an organized community to affect change, and that local races are a key place to exercise that power. We are excited to continue working in our community to find creative ways to make elections more transparent and accessible to everyday people.