I grew up in a family that rarely discussed politics. The topics of concern for my parents were which bill they’d pay that month and how long they could hold off on the others.
They worried about having enough food to eat or, if an emergency arose, how to cover it. Though politics was a factor in how we remained in poverty, it never occurred to my parents that they had the power to affect change. Money, and lots of it, gives people a voice when it comes to the political process. Not having two nickels to rub together silences those who need change most.
It is safe to say the perspectives of those in poverty and the working class seldom have a seat at the table. We witness this in the debates over welfare reform bills or cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The perspective of someone who came from poverty is needed. So, in June 2017, I began a run for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania. This past March, due to an overwhelming amount of personal wealth being poured into the campaigns of some competitors, I realized that I would not be able to compete and left the race.
Pennsylvania has no limits when it comes to campaign contributions. None. Anyone can give any amount of money they want directly to a candidate. You think the Supreme Court decision on Citizens United was bad? It’s child’s play compared to Pennsylvania law. And do you want to know why issues impacting those in poverty, such as a fair increase in our minimum wage, are never dealt with?
Consider this: A study first reported in the book White Collar Government: The Hidden Role of Class Economics in Policy Making revealed that of 738 candidates elected to Congress over the course of a 10-year period, only 13 came from poverty or the working class. Still wondering why minimum wage is only $7.25 an hour?
So, when I ended my campaign, I didn’t just give up. I co-founded “Fight the Power” not only to call out hypocritical politicians who don’t care about our issues, but to help usher in a new generation of leadership that will give us a voice.
People may have thought they were going to quiet my voice by forcing me out. What they didn’t know is that trying to silence a young black woman who grew up in poverty made me stronger.
My parents may have thought they didn’t have the means to fight a system that was set up to silence them. But damned if they didn’t show me that I do.
Aryanna Berringer is an Iraq War veteran, mom of three, founder of American Nutritional Security and co-founder of Fight the Power.