BY: Mary Michael
A few weeks ago I joined other members of POWER, a progressive nonpartisan inter-faith activist group comprised of concerned citizens from Philadelphia and the western suburbs, to engage in conversations with Rep. Ryan Costello in his District office in West Chester. The meeting was about our concerns for just health care for all. We were particularly concerned about the House budget which proposed paying for trillions in tax cuts to the super wealthy by cutting Medicaid and Medicare by nearly $1.5 trillion and repealing the ACA.
Our strategy was not “confrontation.” We shared stories about how cuts to Medicaid, the ACA and Medicare would impact our families, our concern for the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania seniors, children, people with disabilities, people struggling with addiction and poor people whose coverage would be jeopardized by this budget.
We live in a climate of hyper-partisanship when the new norm seems to be a shouting match. I am a “liberal” minister and have been in contexts in which “communication” wasn’t the operative emotional landscape, rather who could make the loudest “declaration.” It was as if “conviction” was measured by decibels.
Representative Costello met with us openly and honestly for close to one hour. He listened intently and frankly acknowledged the dysfunctional hyper-partisanship in Washington. He seemed to express a real sadness about the Washington meltdown.
Will I ever completely comply with what I perceive as Rep. Costello’s slow and guarded approach to a more compassionate and just approach for political change? There is much about which to disagree regarding strategies and tactics. Yet we left feeling as if we were heard and appreciated.
Treating each other with respect can’t be a political elective; it is an affirmation of human dignity. Thoughtful people with strong convictions will never completely agree but we can agree to disagree agreeably. It is a hopeful sign that civility in politics can be manifested in an era of rabid contentiousness. Having the courage of our convictions should open our minds not close our minds.
When the House voted to pass this dangerous budget, Representative Costello was one of only 18 Republicans who voted against it. Last week, the Senate passed their budget which also sacrifices Medicaid and Medicare to tax breaks for the super wealthy – this means that Representative Costello will be voting on a reconciled Budget soon. I hope that his openness to hearing the real concerns and stories of his constituents who depend on the ACA, Medicaid and Medicare will allow him to maintain his position and defend our right to health care programs that serve our families and save lives.
Rev. Frank Pennington Wayne
I’ve spent a lot of time just listening to the community – sitting quietly at school board meetings, listening to friends and acquaintances watching exchanges on social media, pouring through documents on Avon Grove School Board’s website and reading academic studies on education.
After all this time, I’ve come to a single, simple conclusion. The community is divided because we’ve stopped asking questions and started making conversation-ending statements.
We say things like “My taxes are so high, I won’t be able to live here anymore,“ or “This is what the district needs, so you’re just going to have to figure it out and pay for it or we’re going to have to leave.” But none of these invite conversation.
They are all aimed at ending conversations between ourselves. We need to start asking more questions and listening to as many answers as we can find. “My taxes are high and I am worried about them getting even higher,” and “What can be done to mitigate things like PSERS, inflation and decreased tax base?” These are the conversations we need to be having among ourselves and with the board and district.
Our statements should be questions that seek solutions because none of us want taxes that put our continued residence in the district in jeopardy. And yet the district has serious needs. If we never seek to listen to each other and especially to those whose opinions differ from our own, we risk turning education into a zero-sum game. We can’t afford to have any community members lose that game.