Michelle Hines is a Lancaster Pennsylvania activist. She is a former molecular biologist and biochemist who left her career in science to dedicate her life to social movement work. She has organized in her home community of Lancaster, PA, advocating for economic and racial justice. As a leader of Lancaster Stands Up, she has played a key role in campaign strategy, communications, political training, direct action, and field strategy. Her organizing work has been featured in The Nation, The Intercept, and Observador.
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.
Lancaster Stands Up aggressive action
Lancaster Stands Up's most aggressive action, though, took place in early March 2018, 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 Lloyd 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.”
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.
Beyond the Choir Staff
- Julia Berkman-Hill, Field Director, Lancaster Stands Up
- Eliza Booth, Community Outreach and Administrative Coordinator, Lancaster Stands Up
- Pam Campos-Palma, Director of Veteran Strategic Initiatives
- Jessica S. George, Operations Assistant
- Michelle Hines, Campaigns and Communications, Lancaster Stands Up
- Alexander McCoy, Communications Strategist
- Perry O’Brien, Director of Veteran Campaigns
- Marisol Ocampo, Director of Partnerships
- Jonathan Smucker, Co-founder and Executive Director
- Jose Vasquez, Training Director, Veterans Organizing Institute
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.