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 member 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. 

 

“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

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.

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