And still they come.
I’ve written recently about the rise of citizen activism and its possible impact on public policy — if, that is, the activism is focused and sustained.
I’ve noted the work of Indivisible, a national movement aimed at resisting President Trump’s agenda with a how-to guidebook.
Of "Tuesdays With Toomey," a Philly-born protest spread statewide, bedeviling Sen. Pat Toomey and pushing him to hold live town-hall meetings.
And of Fair Districts PA, an aggressive grassroots effort to raise awareness of and fight to end Pennsylvania’s notorious gerrymandering.
(Oh, and the state Democratic Party’s pushing “Meehan Mondays” for anybody unhappy with U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan. But, come on, the day and name thing’s already taken.)
But now we have another player in what’s shaping up as a year of remarkable citizen engagement. It’s engagement fueled by results of the 2016 election. But it’s engagement more locked in and assertive than at any time during that campaign.
March on Harrisburg (marchonharrisburg.org), for example, a “collection of citizen volunteers concerned about the distorted communications between citizens and our government,” is much more than your standard sit-in crowd.
It trains for “citizen lobbying days” in the Capitol, offers background information on specific issues on which it’s seeking action — a gift ban for lawmakers, automatic voter registration, gerrymandering — and is planning a 100-mile “political pilgrimage” from Philly to Harrisburg from May 13 to 22.
Northeast Philly native and 2014 Temple grad Emily DiCicco is a March on Harrisburg organizer. She says, “It’s a tangible thing you can get involved with that makes a difference.”
Even if you doubt that assertion, you can’t deny that Harrisburg could use more pressure on reform.
As reported last week in the Caucus, an investigative publication of Lancaster-based LNP Media, more than 100 reform bills — on ethics, transparency, lawmakers’ pay, perks and more — were introduced in the Legislature during the last two years, and not one was enacted.
Because Harrisburg, distant, isolated, and insulated, does what it wants.
But do these citizen groups, collectively or individually, matter? Can they be effective? Do they serve a public good?
I ask Gov. Wolf.
“Yeah,” he says, “because more people who didn’t participate before are interested in participating now. It’s a great thing.”
Wolf, who faces reelection next year, recently delivered remarks at a Philly event attended by 300-plus Indivisible-affiliated folks at the Unitarian Society of Germantown. Aides described it as a campaign event.
Sarah Dohl, a Virginia-based member of Indivisible’s leadership team, says she knows of no other high-profile elected official's speaking to a gathering of group members.
Wolf tells me he also spoke individually with several attendees.
“People are engaged,” he says. “They see the need to be involved like they never were before … and they see there are more things we share than there are things that divide us.”
Speaking of which, this new, growing citizen insurgency isn’t just a Democratic thing or the flip side of the activism that elected Donald Trump.
Most of these groups stress they’re not affiliated with any political party or candidate. And Fair Districts PA is endorsed by the conservative Commonwealth Foundation.
Heck, even conservative State Sen. Scott Wagner, a Republican running to unseat Wolf, sees the benefit of citizen action.
“I think it’s time people started paying attention and getting more active, because for too many years too few did,” says Wagner.
The challenge in creating change (because it’s certainly not coming from within) is sustained, even increased, citizen activism.
Still, reform’s a tall order in Pennsylvania. The status quo is king, expectations are low. But as advocacy advances in ways we haven’t seen, maybe both the status quo and expectations are about to be shaken up.