Lancaster Stands Up
Lancaster Stands Up Leadership Team
Lancaster Stands Up: the handful of folks who called for the initial emergency community meeting November 2016 has since then developed into a multiracial and multigenerational 11-person coordinating team, which includes Eliza Booth, Rafael Diaz, Amber Farward, Evan Gentry, Michelle Hines, Daniel Levin, Claudia Paz, Jonathan Smucker, Susan Wenger, Ismail Yoder Salim, and Melanie Yoder Salim (previous members who served: Amanda Kemp, Nick Martin, Becca Rast, Nelly Torres).
- 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.
Lancaster Stands Up November 10, 2017 ·
Lancaster Stands Up founders
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Michelle Hines, a young white woman who works a day job at a local laboratory, and her partner, Daniel Levin, are out knocking on doors and telling their neighbors about the new grassroots group in town.
Founded in the wake of Trump’s victory and led by a 12-person leadership committee, Lancaster Stands Up aims to upend politics-as-usual in this central Pennsylvania city. It wants nothing less than to break the stranglehold of both the Democratic and Republican establishments here and replace them with a progressive multi-racial political force beholden to the people alone. And it is using the tools of long-haul grassroots activism—canvassing, vetting candidates, bird-dogging political foes, forming unlikely alliances, training leaders, convening meetings—to build its constituency.
A crew of young lifelong Lancastrians, some of whom have been organizing together since high school, launched the group on their own, independent of any national organization, November 2016. Lancaster is a middle- and working-class city of roughly 60,000, and it is diverse—more than 30 percent of the population is Hispanic, and roughly 16 percent of its residents are black, according to the 2010 census. The city, meanwhile, is situated squarely in an agrarian “red” county, where residents are almost entirely white and where there are tens of thousands more registered Republicans than Democrats. GOP politicians represent the area in the House of Representatives and make up most of its state legislative delegation, too.
Lancaster Stands Up, for its part, is unfazed by such facts. Indeed its members see small cities like Lancaster—situated at the nexus of urban and rural life—as crucial to revitalizing social-democratic values in the American heartland.
“After Trump’s election, I knew I had to do something,” says Eliza Booth, a 39-year-old black woman, lifelong Lancaster resident, and member of the group’s leadership committee. “I needed to get involved and plug in instead of staying at home and being depressed.”
A passionate Bernie Sanders supporter, Booth worked on his campaign during the Democratic primary and says she still believes he would have beat Trump in the general election. But Sanders didn’t make it that far and Trump, whom she describes as “a monster,” made it all the way to the White House. Like so many others, the outcome shocked and dismayed her.
A few days after the election, though, Booth saw a flyer announcing an emergency mass meeting in town. She decided to attend and found a huge turnout. At least 250 people were there. They had come to vent their anger and share their anxieties, to talk to their neighbors and plot a progressive comeback. It was the debut of Lancaster Stands Up, and Booth was smitten. Since then, she has spent 10, sometimes 20 hours a week volunteering for the group on top of her full-time job.
“It makes me feel so inspired every day,” she says. “It makes me feel less alone in the fight.”
Indeed, Lancaster Stands Up is proving that progressive values are alive and vibrant in Booth’s community. Since its first emergency meeting, when outrage motivated people to come together and commiserate, it has seen both rapid growth and significant victories.
In late January, for instance, the group’s immigration committee partnered with church and immigrant-rights organizations in the city to hold a rally against the Trump administration’s first attempted Muslim ban. At least 2,000 people showed up for what organizers describe as the largest local protest in at least half a century. Lancaster Stands Up is now recruiting people for a rapid-response team to document and protest Immigration and Custom Enforcement raids in town.
Lancaster Stands Up is reminding neighbors that democracy is a practice that must be pursued constantly and in community.
Lancaster Stands Up October 4, 2017.
- LancasterStandsUp canvassers just back from registering voters in Millersville.
The energy being built around electoral organizing was soon channeled in a new direction when Lancaster Stands Up organizer Michelle Hines noticed an item about the local prison in the paper. The county, it appeared, was preparing to outsource its prisoner re-entry program to the for-profit prison company Geo Group. For the last decade, a coalition of nonprofits had worked to find housing and jobs for inmates released from prison. But they would be shut out of the new profit-driven approach — depriving parolees of a wide array of support.
LSU reached out to Have A Heart for Persons in the Criminal Justice System, one of the key groups involved in prisoner re-entry. It was an unusual meeting of minds. “Their approach is they meet with the commissioners and judges and prison board, and organize people involved, and lobby them. Our approach is to kind of blow things up,” Hines said. “We decided to blend those approaches.”
In November, that “social base” was effectively rallied into a standing room-only crowd, which bombarded the Lancaster County prison board with objections. “The profit motive works wonders when it’s focused on mattresses, farm machinery, and investments,” Franz Herr, a volunteer with the coalition, is quoted as telling the board. “It oversteps its moral bounds when it becomes a tool for extracting profit from the servitude of human beings.” Facing an unexpected amount of public pushback, the board shelved the plan.
The group is laboring in the electoral arena too. Its political committee, lovingly dubbed “Hold Them Accountable,” has been particularly adept at hounding recently elected Republican Congressman Lloyd Smucker, who has quickly proved himself a line-toeing party loyalist.
Organizers have staged two raucous rallies outside of his district office, where hundreds gathered to demand that he stand up to Trump. They have denounced his policies on social media and penned op-eds calling on him to hold an in-person town-hall meeting for his constituents (which he has so far failed to do). They have flooded his office with thousands of postcards and phone calls.
Their most aggressive action, though, took place in early March when three Lancaster Stands Up leaders and another supporter paid to attend a Lancaster Chamber of Commerce forum, which featured a question-and-answer session with Representative Smucker. As Smucker prepared to take questions from the crowd, the four infiltrators stood up one by one and interrupted the event.
Becca Rast was one of them. In front of a roomful of Republicans, she denounced Smucker’s support for Trump’s “racist immigration and economic policies.” Michelle Hines stood up immediately afterward—to shouts of “shut up” from old men in the crowd—and told Smucker that she had never seen her neighbors “so fearful for their lives and their families lives since you voted to repeal the ACA.”
“Our representatives have not ever been pressured in the way they are being now,” says Rast, a group founder who grew up in town. “Congressman Smucker was just so freaked out by it. He didn’t know how to respond.”
And while Lancaster Stands Up has mostly been playing defense, its leaders aim for something more.
“I feel like everything we have done up until this point is reactive,” says Nick Martin, the 28-year-old former regional field director for the Bernie Sanders campaign here. Together with Rast and a few other friends outraged by last year’s election, he called the first meeting of Lancaster Stands Up. “Now we are actually going on the offensive and building political power.”
The Nation writer Jimmy Tobias caught up with Martin—who, like Rast, he first met in 2010 when they were all were involved in a campaign against mountaintop-removal mining in West Virginia—during the organization’s April mass meeting. Wearing a camouflage cap and work boots, he is greeting people, a mostly older white set, as they file into a local bar in downtown Lancaster.
“Our goal,” he explains, “is to use visionary politics to build a long-term mass-scale organization.”
“We also want to scare the shit out of establishment politicians,” adds Rafael Diaz, another member of the leadership team who, alongside Martin, is welcoming the roughly 200 people that have arrived for the meeting. “We want to show them we are not just going to hold signs in the town square. We are going to be a threat when they run for office.”
Lancaster Stands Up hopes, someday soon, to endorse populist politicians in Democratic primaries and eventually run candidates of its own. On April 7, in an initial foray, the group co-hosted a forum in downtown Lancaster during which its leaders questioned five mayoral candidates in front of a crowd of around 200 people. It has yet to make any endorsements for the upcoming municipal election.
With 18 months to prepare, the group also wants to run Congressman Smucker out of office in 2018.
First, though, it must develop more leaders and recruit more supporters. And so, using voter data that Martin learned to analyze during the Sanders campaign, using scripts that the team developed over beers on a recent Friday evening, the group has decided to start sending canvassers out in both the city and the surrounding county to register voters and to tell people about the movement.
With this plan in mind, Lancaster Stands Up has decided to use part of its April mass meeting as a training camp of sorts. As the meeting enters its second hour, 60 or so people still sit in tight rows in the back of the bar.
Going door-to-door is one of “the skills of democracy that have atrophied over the last 40 years,” says Jonathan Smucker, another Lancaster Stands Up founder and a veteran of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Tall and thin and white with salt-and-pepper hair, he paces the room and asks the audience to name the social movements that have used canvassing as a key organizing tool. The civil-rights movement, says one person. The labor movement, chimes in another. The suffragists, says still another.
“We think Trump was able to win because Democrats haven’t fought visibly for working people,” he tells the crowd. “We need a party that knows it has a grassroots force at its back so it doesn’t cower to big money anymore.” Creating that force will require rehabilitating atrophied civic muscles and that, at its core, is what Lancaster Stands Up is all about.
Smucker instructs the meeting attendees to get up from their seats and form two rows facing each other. One row will play the role of progressive canvassers, the other row will pretend to be apathetic though somewhat sympathetic voters. The clamor of voices reverberates through the room as the trainees talk among themselves, as they learn how to approach strangers and pull them into the political process, as they take part in a small simple practice that could go an awful long way toward rebuilding our democracy.
“Cut!” says Smucker, who, as it happens, is the second-cousin-once-removed of the congressman his group hopes to depose. “Cut! Cut! Cut!”
After a quick debrief, the dress rehearsal is over and the attendees are dismissed. With their new skills, with their willingness to experiment and listen and learn, with their populist anti-establishment platform, the Lancaster Stands Up crew is ready to hit the streets and persuade people to take part in a new kind of politics.
Lancaster Stands Up June 28, 2018.
Congratulations to Lancaster Stands Up's member-endorsed PA State House and Senate Candidates!
- Dana Hamp Gulick for PA 97th
- Mary Auker-Endres for PA
- Michele Wherley For PA 41
- Bill Troutman for PA Senate 2018
We know that these candidates will fight for the people of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg. We look forward to working hard to get each of them elected in November!
Lancaster Stands Up March 12 2018.
- We have an exciting announcement. Lancaster Stands Up is partnering with Our Revolution and Keystone Progress to hold ‘Where’s Lloyd’ Town Halls and house meetings all across our newly drawn congressional district, PA-11. To win this uphill district, we have to get started now. And we have to go BIG.
Endorsing Jess King
After holding candidate forums before the Democratic primary, Lancaster Stands Up eventually endorsed Democratic candidate Jess King. King, a community leader with deep local Mennonite roots who founded a nonprofit small business incubator for women and people of color, is running on a progressive populist platform that includes Medicare for All and debt-free public college.
- Our organizing efforts helped Jess King to effectively route the establishment competitor in the primary. Now, King and her army of volunteers are set to run a historically tight race against Lloyd Smucker.
- LSU Our Story, accessed July 18, 2018
- Upgrade, Rafael Diaz, Elections and the Path to a People’s Power Articles July 18, 2018
- Nation, Is This Small City the Future of Democratic Engagement in America?By Jimmy Tobias MAY 2, 2017
- Upgrade, Rafael Diaz, Elections and the Path to a People’s Power Articles July 18, 2018