CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey and Summer Lee on Election Night on May 17, 2022.
If someone had told me that within a span of one year, I’d be able to vote for the first Black mayor of Pittsburgh, the first Black congresswoman from Pennsylvania, and the first openly LGBTQ Black man for U.S. Senate, I would have said, “Get outta tahn!”
(Actually, I would have used more colorful language but suffice to say, I wouldn’t have believed you.)
Not in a state that fluctuates between red and purple with a couple of blue corners — Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and sometimes Erie.
Not with a county Democratic committee so frequently hostile to women electeds that it led to the 2017 launch of WTF Pittsburgh (Women for the Future of Pittsburgh), with a goal to get more women elected to office by fundraising and endorsing where the Democratic establishment did not.
Not in a city that, despite its “liberal” and “most livable” moniker, continues to lose its Black population. And not in a city that has been found to be the worst place to be a Black woman or femme.
CP Photo: Jared Wickerham
Supporters cheer for Summer Lee during her Election Night party on Tue., May 17, 2022.
Yet, in May 2021, a majority of the voters in the city of Pittsburgh cast their ballot for Ed Gainey, who subsequently became the first African-American mayor of our city. Then, 364 days later, Summer Lee declared victory in her Democratic primary congressional election. (AP officially called her win three days later.) Winning this fall would make her the first Black woman congressperson from Pennsylvania. Additionally, about 135,000 people (10% of the electorate) voted for Malcolm Kenyatta, a Black gay man from Philadelphia, for the U.S. Senate. One month away from Juneteenth, and this feels like a moment to pause, celebrate, and experience joy for anyone who believes that we all deserve a seat at the tables of power.
But a moment of joy is all the time we have to spare. Because alongside these victories and strides toward a more just and truly representative government is the anti-Black racism that makes Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh. And what makes Pennsylvania, a state recently ranked as one of the top places in the United States for white supremacist propaganda, Pennsylvania. Not to mention our ranking of 31 out of 50 states for political participation by women, as reported
by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
The best news, it seems, is that much of the voting public is ready, willing, and able to have our multicultural, multiracial reality represented in city, county, state, and federal capitols. The confusing news is that the Democratic establishment does not seem to get it.
This disconnect led to C.M. Lewis, editor of the newsletter for news nonprofit Strikewave, tweeting
that the results of the May primary caused “… a devastating night for the old guard Democratic establishment in PA.” To which I, and many others, say “#goals.”
No, this is not the dismantling of democracy. We want to actually give democracy and a truly representative government a try, which will require changing an out-of-touch establishment that is not listening to the voice of the people.
The bad news, or more of the same old, same old, is the continuum of varying degrees of hostility towards women who run for office in the Keystone state — from a lack of endorsements to outright lies, including very expensive ones that eroded Lee’s early double-digit leads in the polls.
Why on earth would a Democratic party undermine someone who represents their most consistent voting block, Black women? Are Black women only good for the labor of elections and not as a winner of elections?
Even more than that, wouldn’t the Dems want to send someone to Congress with such an amazing ground game and community support that she didn’t have to spend almost $100 per vote?
One would think. But that did not happen.
As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes stated, the PAC money campaign calling Lee “not a real Democrat” was “an almost comically disingenuous” attack. All too often, women who seek elected office are thwarted by largely white men who want to maintain power rather than truly represent the people.
But it seems after decades of horrible air and water quality, increased prices, stagnant wages, unfair labor practices, and an uncertain future, we want to see people like us — those who forged their own way through the forests of life with nary a stick to push back the thorny branches while watching people who had a gilded path manicured by someone else.