By: Sarah Steighner
NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. – Within the nation’s ever changing political landscape, the horizon in particular Pennsylvania areas is still a deep Democratic blue.
Even students at Penn State New Kensington (PSNK) have been active in Democratic events in Pennsylvania. Biology major and 21-year-old PSNK student, Broderick Gerano recently travelled to Youngstown, Ohio to see presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a rally. He also recently attended Sanders’ rally in Pittsburgh. Gerano described the atmosphere as “humorously serious.” “We all were emotional, but we weren’t just upset for the fun of being upset; Bernie Sanders clearly laid out why we were upset, giving our emotions credibility,” Gerano said.
Gerano listed the environment and issues of equality as some of his biggest draws to the Democratic Party. “Democrats believe everybody deserves a fair chance at leading a successful, happy life, not just a select few,” said Gerano. He further explained that he is excited to become a part of the Young Democrats, and other similar political groups, next year when he transfers to University Park to finish his degree.
In fact, University Park not only has a College Democrats group, but groups such as Students for Sanders, and Students for Hillary have popped up within the hype of the current presidential election. Senior and 21-year-old Ryan Valencia is majoring in International Politics and History at University Park where he is also the Chair of Governmental Affairs and College Democrats, as well as the President of Students for Hillary.
Valencia said that he has certainly noticed a rise in the Democratic presence and activism lately at University Park. Valencia explained that the College Democrats is a recognized student organization that has been on campus for at least 50 years. Valencia continued to discuss the wide array of activities that the College Democrats participate in. “We register votes, knock on doors and do phone banking to get Democrats elected at the local, state, and federal level as well as plan programs that push forth progressive values,” said Valencia. Aside from also occasionally partnering with the College Republicans group to engage students in the political process, Valencia said that their members have diverse backgrounds, yet many are Political Science majors.
While it seems as though there is a strong Democratic presence on college campuses lately, the Democratic Party is alive and well in many other local communities. Hillary Clinton’s campaign opened their first official Pennsylvania office on March 24 at 216 North Highland Avenue in East Liberty. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders’ campaign opened his first office in Pittsburgh on March 23 at 1317 East Carson Street in the South Side. With the Pennsylvania Primary approaching, however, it is not only official campaign offices that are making themselves known. Various grassroots organizations have also come into fruition, including Burghers for Bernie.
Burghers for Bernie is a grassroots, volunteer led group with a core organizing committee of about 20 members including organizer Beth Ussery of Pittsburgh. Ussery explained that Burghers for Bernie started out in July 2015 after a small group of Sanders supporters held a livestream event which called grassroots organizers in to action. Burghers for Bernie has held debate watch parties, collected over 2,000 signatures to get Sanders on the Pennsylvania ballet, and also helped to organize a march for Bernie in Pittsburgh. According to Ussery, their casual volunteer group numbers into the hundreds, while their march attracted thousands of people. Ussery described the diversity of the group, as well as their unity. “We’ve created this amazing coalition of people from all walks of life; students, minorities, middle class workers, academics, and people of faith. The list goes on,” said Ussery. Meanwhile, she also addressed that their Democratic movement goes beyond merely supporting Sanders. “We also have to support the political innovators in our local and state governments, which is what we plan to do,” said Ussery. She continued, “Even after this election cycle our group intends to continue its work to support grassroots Progressivism in and around Pittsburgh.”
Other Democratic groups that are more focused on engaging Democrats as a whole, versus existing just to support presidential candidates, also exists. One such group includes the Armstrong County Democratic Committee. Complete with a full executive staff, the committee meets every third Monday at 6 p.m. in the County Commissioner’s office at the Armstrong County courthouse.
Committee person for Kittanning Township, Rick Drumm, explained that one of the Armstrong County Democrats main goals is to raise awareness that they exist, especially in a county that is largely Republican. Drumm explained that they hold events such as their summer picnic, fall banquet, and annual breakfast in hopes to encourage local Democrats to come together as well as meet and listen to local Democratic politicians.
Drumm explained that their committee is trying to do more things to help support local Democrats and overall Democratic causes. “I believe that the Democratic Party stands for people having the ability to choose to be who they want to be, without fear of discrimination or retribution,” Drumm said. “They [the Democrats] want to help the people do things, and the Republicans want to take that away.”
Vice Chairperson of the Armstrong County Democratic Committee, Marsha DuFour, explained that while their might be a slight rise in interest and support for the Democratic Party in Armstrong County that they are still recovering after a lot of Democrats involvement dissipated. “It’s like a few years ago it came out that the “L” word [liberal] was bad,” said Dufour. She explained that overall she believes the Democratic Party is pro-women and fights for women’s issues. However, she explained that it is hard to get volunteers for their Democratic Committee in Armstrong County, especially because they don’t have the college demographic around.
During the Armstrong County Democratic Committee’s annual breakfast in March, Kittanning Mayor Kirk Atwood spoke about his journey to hopefully become a delegate for Sanders at the Democratic National Convention this July. He later explained that he used to be a Republican for many years, before switching to be an Independent, and then eventually becoming a Democrat which he has officially been for the past year. “As a liberal Republican, I was completely discouraged to see that even some of my former friends had begun to move further to the right and I soon realized that the ideological umbrella of that party had shrunk to a point that there was no room for me under it any longer,” said Atwood.
As Atwood has been busy collecting signature and fulfilling the requirements to become a delegate, he has also been actively supporting Sanders and even attended the Sanders rally in Pittsburgh March 31. “It is interesting to note that both of our [Democratic] candidates seem to square off over who can be more helpful, while the Republicans have been focused, in my opinion, on who should be left out of the American Dream,” said Atwood.
Pennsylvania is set to hold their general primary election on April 26. Voters must have been registered to vote by March 28, and are required to be registered as a Democrat if they wish to vote for a Democratic candidate.