What’s so funny about wearing a MAGA hat to endorsement day?

…and other questions Eileen Kelly doesn’t know how to answer.

Photo from the NY Daily News.

What were you attempting to accomplish with that bonkers news conference on Feb. 19? If the goal was to further divide local Democrats while demonstrating the decorum of an 8th grader who won a hotly contested race for class president, then congratulations. You could also have simply yelled “suck it, losers,” while making a crotch chop and accomplished the same thing.

Are we supposed to take you seriously when you say there’s no need for reform? You claim to have no power to address the fact that a white committeeman from Greenfield assaulted a 13-year-old black boy on a playground in front of his sister, and continued to do so even when police arrived and told him to stop. And you see nothing wrong with an organizational structure that renders you, the party leader, powerless in such a situation?

Why is there no grievance process in the by-laws? You have a whole area of the suburbs where women and people of color are harassed and threatened out of the party by a serial bad actor. You know about this man because women have come to you with tweets and text messages and voicemails demonstrating his campaigns of intimidation. I know because I was one of them. There was no official way to lodge a complaint and receive protection. We were told nothing could be done because the by-laws don’t address his egregious behavior. Many of us paid for speaking up. Committee membership should not come at the expense of your professional or personal reputation, and it most certainly should not cost your sense of physical safety.   

If the by-laws are your gospel, why do you not enforce them? Oh wait, is the answer to this one that you can’t enforce them because they’re so shitty there’s no process to report a violation and no recourse to address one?

Why doesn’t the committee support candidates and elected officials? Why didn’t the Ross committee support all local candidates who won the Primary? Why did a local House candidate, endorsed and voted for in the Primary, tell me he couldn’t get you to return his phone calls in 2018? Why is a committee chair allowed to tell the whole county he has $50,000 for anyone willing to primary a candidate he doesn’t like, and then call that candidate a criminal on social media? Why is the committee actively working to oust an incumbent House member when we are so close to flipping that House? Speaking of Summer Lee…

Are you bothered by racism? When you first hired an executive director (without posting the job or accepting applications) he was a man with a demonstrably racist history on social media that advertised his commitment to oppression IRL. Did you truly not know about this? Are you unsure how to do a quick Google search? Or did you simply not care? It took quite a while for you to get rid of him.

Can you share with us your working definition of racism? In a society it is incumbent on white people to unlearn racism and seek out the responsibilities inherent in our privilege. So when a large portion of your committee members ran a black woman out of a state senate race, how could you allow it to go unaddressed? Even if you didn’t understand it, you heard her description of what she experienced.  

Why do you offer no educational programming for your members? There is a whole industry built upon educating businesses and organizations on issues of diversity and inclusion. You even have members within your committee who could carry out such programming if you only listened to them and were transparent about your needs.

Why are you not serving the best interests of Democrats in Allegheny County? We live in an increasingly diverse and ever-changing world where automation and rising inequality are bringing out our worst impulses. You stoke these fires, and you do it with a righteousness that would make Donald Trump proud. 

What is the purpose of the ACDC under your leadership? You have no way to raise money other than gouging candidates for a chance at endorsement, and then again for the privilege of being on a slate card that your municipal committees may or may not have enough active members to hand out at the polls. Your members are mostly inactive, with their involvement confined to attending back-slapping breakfasts and dinners with the same muckity-mucks. You have no volunteer apparatus to offer candidates who need door knockers and phone callers and donors and postcard writers. You can’t articulate a platform to unify the County. You refuse to engage with the countless new families moving to the greater Pittsburgh area for its thriving tech economy and growing energy industry. You don’t even know how to capitalize on the influx of volunteers who seek to make a difference in the Trump era; you treat us with scorn and suspicion. 

So what exactly is it that you’re doing? That one’s a serious question, because we need competent, incorruptible governance to keep our democracy alive and you have proven yourself not up to the task.

Jen Partica, resigned committee members from Moon Township

Open Letter to my fellow Democratic Committee Members: Jan. 28, 2019

“Open Letter to my fellow Democratic Committee Members in Pennsylvania’s 37th State Senatorial District” was posted to my campaign Facebook page on Jan. 28, 2019 along with this article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Fellow Committee Members,

I know many of us are hurting after yesterday’s nominating convention, even those who supported the winning candidate. While some of us want party leaders to redress our grievances, and others want to temper discord in the pursuit of party loyalty, we must collectively reckon with the worst of what we did yesterday; we scared a candidate out of running because of her race and gender.

Nothing can excuse what we did to Ms. Benson. No amount of good work on our resumes, allegiance to progressive campaigns, or prior votes for non-white politicians justifies the pain we’ve caused and the damage we’ve done.

If you think a “good question” to ask a candidate is how will she win as a black woman, and/or if you think Ms. Benson dropping out of the race was an acceptable result of people asking that question, then I respectfully thank you for your past service and ask you to resign your committee membership. Make room for someone else. There are people wishing to join our committee who understand that fighting racism and sexism isn’t a goal for future “safer” elections—it is the point of the present.

INTENTION NEVER TRUMPS CONFIDENCE
No matter how justified and well-intentioned we may consider ourselves to be, if our actions make a person feel unwelcomed and unsupported then that is not okay. And when confronted with this reality, it is not acceptable to erase Ms. Benson’s experience by attempting to justify our actions.

We cannot be a party that allows this. We must be a party that seeks to know and understand our own personal and institutional flaws. We must all work to eradicate racism and not because we need non-white people to vote for us, or because it makes people of color uncomfortable, or even because it makes many white people uncomfortable; we must do better because it is the only way to achieve our goals of equality and opportunity for all.

OUR RESPONSIBILITIES
There is not one among us who is solely responsible, but neither are any of us innocent. That’s why it’s our responsibility to hold ourselves accountable, and to hold each other accountable.

Are you aware of your own biases? Your own privileges? We all have them. When they are presented to you, as they were yesterday, do you sit with the discomfort and seek to understand it? Or do you immediately become defensive?

If you were a person who asked Ms. Benson how she thought she could win in her own district as a black woman
OR
if you are someone who thought of this question but never said it out loud
OR
if you are someone who hears it now and considers it valid
THEN
ask yourself why you believe this question is valid? What would you learn by asking it? The answer was clear in her candidacy. She would not have run if she didn’t think she could earn votes.

Even if we had the powers to divine that Ms. Benson’s race and gender would make it difficult for her to win, then I think the solution is clear; campaign harder, volunteer more, and dig deeper in conversations with our neighbors throughout the district. But as it is now, we’ll never know. We never gave ourselves that chance because we showed a highly qualified, proven leader that we aren’t ready to support her.

-Jen Partica

“Our lived experiences shape us, how we interact with the world, and how we live in the world. And our experiences are valid. Because we do not experience the world with only part of ourselves, we cannot leave our racial identity at the door. And so, if a person of color says that something is about race, it is—because regardless of the details, regardless of whether or not you can connect the dots from the outside, their racial identity is a part of them and it is interacting with the situation…We are all products of a racialized society, and it affects everything we bring to our interactions.” – Ijeoma Oluo, So You Want to Talk About Race

Remarks from Pittsburgh’s Memorial for Victims of Gun Violence

Remarks from the Inter-faith Memorial for Local Victims of Gun Violence 

Heinz Memorial Chapel  /  Pittsburgh, PA  /  12/14/18

Heinz Chapel Outside 12_14_18Welcome. One of tonight’s co-sponsors is a group I’m proud to volunteer for – Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. We started just 6 years in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary by a suburban Mom in Chicago. We now have groups in every state and our supporters number more than 5 million making us a counterweight to the powerful gun lobby. 

Locally we’re busy, functioning as 3 teams—North Hills, South Hills, and Central—educating, organizing, and empowering people to lobby their elected officials for sensible gun safety legislation. My name is Jen Partica and I am proud to co-lead the Central Team with the incomparable Diane Matway who sits here in the front.

My family moved to Western PA two and a half years ago and settled in Moon Township, and on Monday night our town experienced gun violence. A man visiting another in his home at night, stabbed the homeowner and the homeowner shot his visitor. The home owner later at the hospital from the stabbing, but the visitor survived his gun shot wounds. 

After those facts, things get murky. Rumors are running rampant around town about the circumstances surrounding the incident. People speculate as to whether or not anything shady or illicit proceeded the violence, and I have to say I find the inquiry rather exhausting & distasteful, because the undercurrent there is questioning whether or not the victims “deserved” what happened to them. 

And I don’t believe violence is EVER deserved.Me at Heinz Chapel 12_14_18

We do this a lot in our country. When our communities look different our gun violence looks different, so we explain away this public health epidemic by finding reasons to justify it in the neighborhoods where we don’t live, in the victims we don’t identify with. And it is this very sick ability to bargain and barter with our morals, to assume the standing to judge others, to determine who “deserves” violence, that allows a man to feel justified in entering a place of worship and massacring a large number of people he’s never even met based solely on their religious identity.

And in the wake of such violence, our response awed the world. But there were some in our city that asked why we do not mourn for all victims the same. And I don’t know all the answers to that question, yet I still understand it. 

Our group has heard this question before, and our annual memorial here is one small way to answer for it. Because tonight we will read the names of ALL victims of gun homicide this year in Allegheny County. We read them all because NONE of them deserved it. No matter their age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, criminal record, or neighborhood, not one of them deserved to be shot and killed. 

So I ask you tonight to open your hearts to the victims you know well—and to the victims you know not at all—and to recognize that while we are not solely responsible for the violence in our communities, neither are we totally innocent. 

To recognize that not one of us is immune to gun violence.

So when you’re ready to take on the responsibility of addressing this issue, to help others bare this weight with the strength that only love can give you, CeaseFirePA, and Moms Demand Action, and groups like us are ready to welcome you to this fight. 

 

Celebration w/ Bloomberg

The following are remarks I delivered on Oct. 21, 2018 as the Co-Lead of Pittsburgh’s central team for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America as part of a celebration for the signing into law of Pennsylvania’s Act 79 of 2018 to disarm domestic abusers. We were joined at our celebration by Michael Bloomberg, former NYC mayor & founder of Everytown for Gun Safety, Everytown’s President John Feinblatt, Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto, survivor Gina Pelusi, and two student leaders from the Univ. of Pitt’s Student Demand Action team.

“Welcome everyone! I’m Jenny Ruth Partica, the Co-Lead of our central Moms Demand Action team here in Pittsburgh and I want to thank you for coming today. I have never been more excited to get a party started!

I have been a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for 2.5 years. As a mother, my first priority is the safety of my children. And as a gun owner, I know we can support common-sense gun safety measures while also respecting our Second Amendment rights. 

I’m glad we are gathered here today to reflect and celebrate on the work we’ve been doing. Because every time there’s a shooting, it impacts a whole circle of people in its proximity, whether there’s a death or not. And our city has been rocked by some especially tragic shootings this year. We all see the headlines on the news — and we also know there are far too many shooting tragedies that never make the headlines.  Like so many of you here in the audience, myself included, you came to Moms Demand Action because you were angry, righteously so, and you were scared. You said “I want to do something. I feel powerless and I want to make a change right NOW.”

And then we looked at you, and we said “I understand. And what I need you to do right now with that conviction is I need you to call your local state senator and demand action.

Advocating for gun safety legislation is not always glamorous and it can be tedious. The victories can take time. It’s the first time you call your representative’s office and don’t have to give your name because they recognize your voice. Or it’s that time you pull into the driveway after picking your kids up from school and you see a notification on your phone that causes you to jump and cheer as you get out of the car your neighbor shouts over “What is it?”  and you respond “My bill’s going back to the Senate for reconciliation!!”

Just last week, we saw our demands for action come full circle with a MAJOR victory for gun safety in Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf signed legislation to disarm domestic abusers. We have worked at this for years, and you have trusted us along the way. You’ve trusted that each little step was productive. That every call for action was necessary. I’ve seen so many of you get involved in advocacy for the first time because of this bill, and I know that can be intimidating and I am so proud of every phone call, tweet, share on Facebook and every conversation you’ve had about this bill. 

I am a woman of faith and I believed we would get here. When we feared the bill would waiver we all kept the faith. When the local gun lobby spread lies about it. We still believed.  

I had faith that you, and lawmakers like (NAME ELECTEDs IN ATTENDANCE) and our partners like Rob Conroy from CeaseFirePA, and Nicole Molinaro Karcazun from the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, and law enforcement, like Sheriff Bill Mullen, and all the other groups who joined us from across the state, I had faith that we all believed in this bill. And if we stood up, and showed up, shouted about it long enough, everyone else would follow. Because how couldn’t they? How can you say no to a bill that disarms domestic abusers?

 

When I tell people I’m a volunteer lead in a gun violence prevention program, they say “wow, that’s really brave.” But I don’t feel brave doing this work because it seems so obvious. The goals all of us share, the common sense steps we want to take to reduce gun violence, they seem so obvious to me that I can’t help but have faith that my fellow Americans will agree. But what’s obvious can take time, and we’ve all learned that with this bill. So let’s take some time to congratulate each other, to thank each other, and to recharge so we can keep going. Because we did it!”

 

 

Essay in Yellow Arrow Journal

Pleased to announce I have a new essay published in the latest issue of Yellow Arrow Journal. You can visit Yellow Arrow Press’s website to order a beautiful hard copy of the journal, purchase the Kindle version, or learn more about this fabulous mag and other projects from the publisher.

The essay, “Susquehanna,” deals with a period of time when I lived on the Susquehanna River. It begins with the memory of a neighbor apologizing for hating me, something her rehab program was encouraging her to do, yet I had never spoken to her until that moment. It comes in at just under 1,000 words and is accompanied by some outstanding works from fellow prose and poetry writers. Grab your own copy today!

“Bullets Into Bells” event in PGH

I had the honor of participating in The Bridge Series’ event at City of Asylum in Alphabet City for the book “Bullets Into Bells,” an anthology of poetry and essays addressing gun violence in America. The book was edited by Connecticut poet Brian Clements, husband to a teacher who survived the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. We were joined by my friend & survivor Gina Lodato Pelusi, a leader for Pittsburgh’s Moms Demand Action teams who captivates a crowd with her story of love, loss and hope. I joined Brian & Gina on a post-reading panel as both the co-lead for the local Moms Demand Action and as an contributor to the online conversation happening on “Bullets Into Bells” website. A collection was taken at the door, and $260 was donated to Moms Demand Action.

I am continually humbled to be involved in this work. I feel inspired by everyone who shows up and asks how they too can get active, because we can end gun violence.

Photo Credit: City of Asylum

Welcome to the Movement to End Gun Violence

“If Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were alive today, they’d be my age,” is what I say because using terms like “gun violence prevention” and “activist” just elicit drawn out ohhhhhs and wows from people stumbling through some awkward variation of “thank you for working on that really important issue.” But wow isn’t in reference to importance; it’s in recognition of danger. Then there’s a turn, a distinct switch to gossipy whispers as they ask why I became an activist for gun violence prevention. What happened to me? I see a series of images in mind, each a reason why, each either too private to tell or not mine to tell. So I pick a story that makes me seem like the vapid white suburban lady who knows nothing of gun violence aside from what she sees on the news. I pick a story that belongs to us all.  

A year before Columbine, there was Jonesboro. Two boys attacked their middle school, one pulling the fire alarm, the other a sniper on the perimeter picking off kids as they filed outside. I was in 10th grade. The next time the fire alarm was pulled at my school, I walked outside with two friends. One led us to the center of the crowd. “Better get in the middle in case one of us turned psycho overnight and is across the street with a deer rifle,” my friend said. We laughed. I added, “It’s funny ‘cause it’s true,” and we laughed even harder.

The day after Columbine, things changed. The mood, most of all, changed in our school. Our spring-time tradition of Color Week, filled with pranks and intra-class water gun warfare, was suddenly not so innocent. We lost freedoms we didn’t even know we enjoyed. We were locked up, but in no less danger. 

Have I mentioned I went to high school in Amish country, where a man would massacre a school full of girls a few short years later? Or that I was on the college campus where I worked, listening to the eerie tests of a new emergency

broadcast system blaring from campus-wide speakers, when news of Virginia Tech broke? Or that I was 8 months pregnant with my first child when Sandy Hook happened? Or that my son came home from daycare the Monday after the Pulse nightclub shooting, told me how safe his school was, and I couldn’t agree with him? 

It wasn’t any one of those that made me finally join the movement. It was all of them, and more. 

Can I tell you about the unfathomable shame I felt the first time I attended a memorial for gun violence victims in a black neighborhood? The first speaker looked at my friends and I and said, “Oh good, white people care. Maybe now something will happen.” It was a punch in the gut, and I deserved it. 

Communities of color have long endured an epidemic fueled by illegal guns, obtained through shitty laws and loopholes kept in place because there’s profit in their death. I feel the awesome weight of responsibilities white people have shirked for so long, in so many ways, on this subject and others. But we also applied this violent indifference to our own communities, endangering  ourselves too. In our wake, no one is immune. 

I am not solely responsible for this, but neither am I innocent. I have long felt an internal rage for being so foolish for so long. I feel this rage for others too, for the people desperate to get involved after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. I welcome them, joyously, at meetings and rallies and online forums, because we need them. But I’m still pissed. Do they think Parkland’s teens are the first ones to feel this way? I hear that the outspokenness of high schoolers has woken people up, headlines read “now there’s no more excuses.” I wonder what were the excuses when I was afraid of being shot in my high school? These aren’t the first students to live with this fear. If I give voice to this resentment, will it turn people’s anger inward when it should stay focused on the gun lobby?

If Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were alive today they would be 36.

When my son enters kindergarten in the fall he’ll practice ALICE drills, hide in the closet of his classroom and be scolded silent because everyone’s pretending an active shooter is on campus. He’s sure to come home and talk about it. He’s sure to notice that once again his mother can’t assure him he’s safe. He’ll be the second generation of his family to live with this fear. The second generation to go to school with the understanding that evil can walk in, armed with military-style weaponry, and massacre him along with his friends. The second generation to know that the leaders of his country can’t be bothered to value his life. 

Is this the time to tell you I’m a gun owner? That’s really why I joined the movement. As a white, suburban mom I know the gun lobby pretends they speak for me, and most people assume they do. But the gun lobby speaks for gun manufacturers, so I bear the responsibility to make it known otherwise. 

When I tell people I work on gun violence prevention because I’m a gun owner, they are always surprised. I want to look at them and say, “I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. My family hunted to fill our freezer each winter. Of course I own guns.” So many Americans do own guns. Pretending this is a “gun owner vs. anti-gun” argument is to prolong it, to play into the hands of those who profit from our fear and our deaths. We are part of the problem when we are unable to imagine anything other than this typical “us vs. them” debate that turns Americans into extremists. So sometimes I short-hand it and say, “I’m a gun owner, not a monster.” 

My activism is comfortably occupying all my conflicting identities while educating and organizing people to lobby their elected officials for effective and sustainable legislation. I wield the privileges my race, income, and zip code afford me. I recognize I’m armed with this power by an oppressive and unjust system, so I must use it for the good of those in more danger than I am.     

There is evil in this world. While we’re squabbling among ourselves, unable to imagine a society with more than a dichotomy of parameters, that evil has access to high-powered firearms. When I want to know about evil, I turn to my church. When I want to keep evil from obtaining lethal weapons, I turn to my government. I hound my government. I badger my government. I nag, pester, and bother. It’s not glamorous or sexy. It’s often tedious. It never feels like enough, but it works. Slowly than it needs to, but it does work.

Let this be our call to action. All of us. Disarm our rhetoric, our keyboards, our agreements to disagree. Disarm our violent resentment towards communities that look different from our own. Demand our government, our elected officials, our leaders protect us from evil. Show up, again and again. Evil will always be among us, but our government can keep it from waging war so efficiently, so effortlessly, for so long. Believe it. Commit to it. Now. 

 

No one’s coming to save us.

No one’s coming to save us. Not a heroic politician. Not a celebrity activist. Not a nation-wide march. Not the outrage caused by a string of increasingly gruesome mass shootings of historic proportions. Not even the fact that we’re averaging a school shooting every 60 hours this year will be enough to spur our leaders to make change. We are all there is.

But we are enough. We, each and every one of us, must make the decision that we’re going to change this. And then we have to commit ourselves to the tedious work of lobbying our elected officials. Not just flailing our arms in despair and yelling “do something,” but the unglamorous work of showing up, calling up, and consistently confronting our officials on the votes they cast for specific legislation to make our communities safer.

It’s not quick, easy, or sexy, but it’s successful. In the past 5 years, NRA-backed bills have been defeated in 30 states. It takes a coalition of different groups and approaches to do this work, so go find one and let’s share the load.

Bullets Into Bells

Beacon Press’s beautiful collection of poetry & responses from authors & activists addressing gun violence, Bullets Into Bells, came out this December 2017. They have chosen to publish my essay, This is What Happens Where You Live, on the website supporting the book. Check it out and then buy this amazing book! I received my pre-ordered copy on the book’s release date and devoured it. It helped that I was prepping for my Moms Demand Action chapter’s memorial to gun violence victims on the 5th anniversary of Sandy Hook, but I bet I would have read it just as quickly. So often I simply forget to read poetry, and then when I stumble upon it I act like it’s the carbs of literature!

I’ve understood for a while now that the world of guns would be the next subject I’d write about. Makes sense since I’ve spent that last few years writing about race, a natural lead in to America’s gun obsession. To have this first piece scooped up so quickly is really unexpected and lucky. It so happens that the web editor lives in my city and posted the call for submission on a local Facebook group to which I belong. I had the first few paragraphs of this piece sketched out when I saw the call. Aiming at a target publication with word count limitations really forced me to hone the argument. I’m grateful for all the right things that happened at the right time.

 

When the piece was sent to me for a few revisions, they were mostly style concerns (I just can’t break that AP habit). But the editor had one other note; could I please end on an uplifting note? Just a few sentences? I had originally ended the piece without the last paragraph, so Bill O’Reilly had the last word. It was a real downer, but seemed appropriate to me. I can forget to stay positive in the face of this gigantic problem. It was a good reminder to keep going, in every way.

b to b

finding a home for WHITE AND WORKING ON IT

Today Waxwing published my essay “White and Working On It.” The essay comes from my manuscript of the same name, a project that seems more and more timely with each passing news cycle. So to have this first published part of the whole in a magazine dedicated to “promoting the tremendous cultural diversity of contemporary American literature, alongside international voices in translation” is a perfect fit.

I tend to shy away from using the word “woke” because I’m not sure if it’s my word to use, and also because I believe I’ll work for the rest of my life on waking up. But I know that I was once asleep, filled with good intentions and love and a desire to “help people,” but fast asleep. Faulting people who have to yet learned what I’ve learned is unproductive and will never wake other up. So every time I see that “white women elected Trump,” I see no purpose in #notallwhitewomen. I know I’m part of the 40% who didn’t, but so what?

If we as a country truly wish to  confront our systemic racism, then we in the majority race need to reckon with our own identity. White people need to talk to each other about being white. And I’m trying to reach the biggest audience I can.

So what do you do with a large project that has defined purpose but no defined delivery method? Which to say, what do you do with a literary work that could be any number of things–a book, a serial web column, a workbook, etc…? Especially when said project challenges the identity of the largest book buying demographic? Which is also to say that agents and editors send me the most complimentary rejections.

So “White and Working On It” the manuscript is looking for a home, and I don’t know what kind of home it needs. But it is wonderful to know that at least this first seed of it, the essay that starts the whole project, has found at a place where it fits and can thrive.