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All politics is local, former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill (1977-87) famously said.

In support of O’Neill’s adage, Lancaster voters recently proved his words still carry weight.

Michelle Hines tells The Central Voice that after President Trump’s November 2016 election “a group of young organizers and community leaders in Lancaster decided to hold an emergency community meeting.” They used the hashtag #LancasterStandsUp.

Three hundred people came to Southern Market “to share our emotions, concerns, and to plan for the road ahead,” Hines said. She attended that first meeting and soon found herself on the leadership team, organizing actions, meetings, and working groups. Hines is now campaign and communications coordinator for Lancaster Stands Up.

Jess King, who unsuccessfully ran in the 2018 mid-term election against incumbent US Rep. Lloyd Smucker as he sought his second term, also attended that first meeting.  

Although Hines says that the Lancaster-based grassroots movement “grew rapidly without any funding or staff,” the group realized that “to build real, independent, political power and to make our movement sustainable we would have to hire staff.”

Enter Jonathan Smucker, of the original leadership team.

He is executive director of Beyond the Choir. “They agreed to become our fiscal sponsor and we fundraised to hire four staff and open an office in Lancaster City,” Hines explains. LSU has 800 members and thousands of supporters and volunteers, she says. “We’ve built a large, diverse, progressive community in a county that many think of as traditionally conservative.”

“We have big plans for 2019, so stay tuned,” Hines forecasts. “Working people have been intentionally alienated from politics and systematically disenfranchised.”

“LSU understands why people feel like their votes and voices don’t matter. But we’ve also seen how powerful people can be when they decide to act together,” Hines says.

Hines says LSU is unique because the group combines “advocacy and electoral work.” Out of necessity organizations separate issue work from politics. LSU connects issues to political solutions, whether that be immigration, gentrification, or money in politics.

“We believe that both major party establishments have failed us and need to be held accountable,” Hines opines. Being able to say “if you don’t meet our demands, we will vote you out” has gotten the attention of a political establishment that typically only responds to money and electoral power. 

LSU presents itself as an independent organization “but that doesn’t mean we are neutral or don’t have a political analysis,” Hines explains. Ideas that the group posits are popular with Americans - getting money out of politics, fighting against systematic racism and oppression, establishing a living wage, immigration, healthcare-for-all - inform their work.

Hines says they’re “here for the long haul” even though when they got started “we didn’t even know we would get involved in the midterm elections.” She says LSU is planning for 2019 and 2020 and “continuing to raise raising money for families affected by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and addressing aggressive policing in Lancaster.”

Gay angle

Referring to the current national political environment as posing “an acute threat to the LGBT community,” Hines says the queer community is “involved in all levels of the organization’s leadership, especially queer youth.”

When Lancaster resident Eric Fisher alerted LSU that an anti-trans speaker was scheduled at Lancaster Bible College the group organized their first action explicitly addressing LGBT issues. “We learned there’s incredible enthusiasm for more action on LGBT issues,” Hines told CV.

“Intersectional” is today’s popular word for what has been going on for a long time. When folks gather from different backgrounds to solve common problems and problems unique to a sub-section of a larger group like LSU. For example, all low-paid members of LSU would benefit from higher wages. Those members without health care coverage would benefit from health-care-for-all. Some members of LSU are now paid a living wage, or higher, and may have health care coverage. Some LSU members are gay, low-paid, no health care insurance. Some gay members are well-paid and have health insurance. But all gay members are not protected in employment and other public services from being discriminated against. These combinations of “what ails you” represent the “intersections” and the power perceived as inherent in working together.

“I don’t want to gloss over the importance of the intersection of electoral work and LGBT issues,” Hines says. She notes that the Trump administration is hostile to the LGBT community; that the “Pennsylvania State Legislature has been attacking the civil rights of the LGBT community for years.”

There’s more – making LSU politics local.

In Lancaster, when it was proposed to include LGBT individuals in protections outlined in the county-level Human Relations Commission, “the County Commissioners decided instead to eliminate the commission altogether,” Hines says.

Hines says also that Lancaster region’s State Sen. Ryan P. Aument, (R, 36th District) and State Sen. Scott Martin, (R, 13th District) voted against reauthorizing CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) because it provided coverage to transgender children.

“Pennsylvania deserves better. We deserve a state legislature that will stand up for all of us. That’s why contesting current power structures that are failing our