On the 4th of July weekend of 2004, in the middle of the night, without any public input, the legislature approved a sea change to the culture of Pennsylvania, which has made us the largest haven for slot machine gambling east of Las Vegas.
Tim has said that this was the biggest change in our landscape since the creation of the automobile. Indeed it was. But it also began the awakening of the citizenry.
It became crystal clear to Kathleen, as director of a faith-based public policy office, that the religious community and most non-profits had absolutely no power in Harrisburg. After dedicating most of her career to faith-based advocacy, that ah-ha moment could have been immobilizing.
Instead, Kathleen called the first meeting of the coalition that would become Democracy Rising PA. Four organizations, one private citizen and three newspaper editors attended.
The organizations were:
The private citizen was Tim Potts.
Tim brought a plan for Democracy Rising PA's operation and invited the Commonwealth Foundation into the coalition, making this collaboration unique in its ability to find common ground among groups with dramatically different ideologies.
For the next year, citizens across the state learned about Democracy Rising PA. Church groups, League of Women Voters' chapters, newspaper editorial boards, talk-radio audiences - all became informed about the need for a fresh look at how our government does business.
Then, on the same July 7 that terrorists bombed the London Underground in 2005, our government gave us the gift that keeps on giving. The pay raise.
It should be no surprise that that one legislative action, at the same time bold and abusive, caused our disparate coalition to grow.
New partners included:
- The Pennsylvania Club for Growth
- Rock the Capital
- PA Clean Sweep
- Young Conservatives of Pennsylvania
- and activists like Gene Stilp
The policy differences that divided these groups no longer mattered. When the legislature acts on important issues with little or no opportunity for citizen input, the broken system that allows that kind of abuse has to change.
Since July 2005, Democracy Rising PA and its coalition partners have persisted in keeping the outrage alive. Now it is pointing toward citizen action that can fix our broken system.
We are fully aware that the legislature's mischief is only symbolic of the power they distort regularly in failing to serve the ordinary citizens who elected them. It's about far more than the pay raise.
But that issue woke up our people, creating an opportunity that will not be repeated in our lifetime.