It’s a fine spring Sunday in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and most people in this decidedly pious city in the heart of Amish country are at home or at church celebrating the Sabbath. Even the famous Central Market—with its traditionally dressed vendors, its German delicacies, its Muenster cheeses and cured meats —is closed.
When you’re trying to create a populist political movement from scratch, however, you don’t get a lot of down time. And so Michelle Hines and her partner, Daniel Levin, are out knocking on doors and telling their neighbors about the new grassroots group in town.
Hines, a young white woman who works a day job at a local laboratory, ascends the stoop of a gray stone row house and a middle-aged lady in a dressing gown and slippers answers the door.
Hines introduces herself and then asks the crucial question: “What do you think of the political establishment?”
“It sucks!” says the woman at the door, who gives her name as Judy and describes herself as a Republican who didn’t vote in the last election. “It ain’t good, I’ll put it that way.” The woman is open and garrulous, and Hines invites her to the next monthly meeting of the group she represents. It’s called Lancaster Stands Up.
The organization, Hines explains, is a way for people who are sick of the status quo “to come together, to get plugged in.” It’s a polite and strategic description, but there’s plenty more to say.
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, last November. Through huge rallies and intimate conversations and more, they are reminding neighbors like Judy that democracy is a practice that must be pursued constantly and in community. There are no off days. There are no off years. When civil society is at stake, it’s campaign time all the time.
After describing her concerns about gentrification and the cost of a movie ticket, after lamenting the fact that “the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer,” Judy, standing on her stoop under the springtime sun, shares her contact information and tells Hines that she’ll try to make the next meeting. She promises to tell her politically active daughter about Lancaster Stands Up, too.