A RUNDOWN OF WESTERN PENNSYLVANIANS' INVOLVED IN CAPITOL RIOT VOL. 4 ISSUE 5
Feb. 17, 2021 - Feb. 24, 2021
REPORTING ON THE FUTURE E S S AY S F R O M S T U D E N T S O N T H E S TAT E O F T H E W O R L D T H E Y L I V E I N A N D S TA N D TO I N H E R I T
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Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics By: Larry J. Schweiger Free Shipping Paperback $29.95 or purchase an eBook for $19.00 (Read the first 25 pages for free)
There is only one earth and our world is undergoing dramatic changes brought on by the climate crisis and other human-induced ecological disruptions. The world's top scientists studying these threats and the forces behind them have been warning us for decades to end the use of fossil fuels or face catastrophic consequences. Their long-ignored warnings have become more dire. Larry Schweiger has long been on the front line of efforts to enact rational clean energy and climate policies and has witnessed efforts to undermine our democratic system that has been rigged leaving America hoodwinked and held hostage to dirty fuels. Climate Crisis and Corrupt Politics pulls back the curtain on the central role of big oil, coal, and gas interests in American politics through the flow of money to fabricated entities for independent SuperPAC expenditures for mass deception through distorted advertising. Larry wrote this urgent message aimed at parents, grandparents and young adults who care about their children forced to live on the ragged edge of an unprecedented climate crisis. This book is especially for leaders who understand that we must act now with a "Green New Deal" scale response. Together, we must confront and overcome the many toxic money influences, reverse a failing democracy and retake the reins of government to enact policies that secure our shared future and the future of life on earth.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 3
STAFF Publisher/Editor: Charlie Deitch Charlie@pittsburghcurrent.com Advisory Board Chairman: Robert Malkin Robert@pittsburghcurrent.com
contents Vol. IV Iss. 5 Feb. 17, 2020
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CORO N AV I R U S C ASES A R E AT AN ALL-TIM E H I G H S O R EMEM BE R . . . . .
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 5
THE SEDITIONISTS NEXT DOOR
A ROUNDUP OF WESTERN PENNSYLVANIANS WHO TOOK PART IN THE JANUARY 6 INSURRECTION AT THE U.S. CAPITOL BY JODY DIPERNA - PITTSBURGH CURRENT SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR
As most people across the state prepared to welcome or at least live with a new presidential administration, some Pennsylvanians, from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and all the spots in between, planned a road trip to the District of Columbia to take part in what turned into a deadly insurrection at the Capitol Building on January 6. Emboldened by the “Big Lie” that the election was fraudulent, they grabbed their MAGA hats, Trump flags and QAnon gear. Others, we now know from multiple court records and hearings attended by the Pittsburgh Current, also packed bear spray, baseball bats, tactical gear, and bugout bags. Most attended a rally where Donald Trump told the crowd to fight. In the rioting that ensued, five people died. More than 140 law enforcement officials were injured; officers were bashed with fire extinguishers, struck with flag poles, sprayed with mace, and stabbed at with fence stakes. Many sustained head injuries and concussions. Both the New York
Times and Washington Post have reported that two officers who were involved in the battle to protect the Capitol that day died by suicide in the days afterwards. When the rioters returned to their Western Pennsylvania homes, some said they had fun. Others continued to boast and post about their actions inside the Capitol on their social media feeds, as well as broadcasting fraudulent and unfounded conspiracy theories about the election. Then, the arrests started. What follows is a breakdown of the six individuals from Western Pennsylvania who have been arrested and charged for their alleged actions that day. Also included is a brief listing of the dozen Pennsylvanians from the Middle and Eastern parts of the state who have also been arrested. Details come from court records and court proceedings attended by the Current. Jorden Mink, Oakdale, Allegheny County — Arrested January 19. Charges: Unlawful En-
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try on Restricted Building or Grounds While Using or Carrying a Deadly or Dangerous Weapon; Unlawful Injury to Property on Capitol Grounds; Violent Entry, Disorderly Conduct, Physical Violence on Capitol Grounds; Destruction of government property valued at over $1,000; Theft of Government Property; Aiding and Abetting Background: The 27-year-old Oakdale resident and aspiring rapper was arrested at the storage unit he uses as a recording studio. On the day of the Capitol riot, Mink was
videotaped spitting at law enforcement officers. Officials allege he brandished a flagpole at officers. He was photographed breaking windows of the Capitol Building with a baseball bat. He then entered the building through that window and removed property from inside, as he and other looters ransacked the building and handed chairs, lamps, and desk drawers out through the breached windows. On Mink's now defunct Instagram account, there were many posts which included photos and vid-
eos of him posing with or firing guns -- most notably an election day photo with his "I Voted" sticker affixed to a large automatic weapon. The post was tagged: "'The ballot is stronger than the bullet.' — Abraham Lincoln. Well... my magazines will be fully loaded just in case it’s not! #ivoted #2ndamendment #proudtobeanamerican #redwave #trump2020 #fuckjoebiden." Three days after the rioting and insurrection, Mink attempted to purchase a new firearm, but was de-
nied purchase, according to court testimony. More information on Jorden Mink here and here. Where he is now: Detained in the Butler County Jail. Matthew Perna, Sharon, Mercer County — Arrested January 19. Charges: Knowingly Entering or Remaining in any Restricted Building or Grounds Without Lawful Authority; Disorderly Conduct on Capitol Grounds Background: According to the FBI charging
documents, on January 6, Matthew Perna, 36, posted a video to his social media in which he said "Steve and I, we walked right into the Capitol building." He was videotaped among the throngs of rioters inside the Capitol Building. When he was first interviewed by FBI agents, he said he was inside the Capitol building, but only for about five or ten minutes. A witness told the law enforcement that Perna constantly posted QAnon conspiracy theories and baseless pro-Trump “Big
Lie” claims about the election to his Facebook account. About a week after the riots, Perna posted a 12-minute video to his Instagram account in which he asked Donald Trump to give some indication that he would remain in office. He also made the risible claim that Antifa started the riots. Where he is now: Released from custody by a federal judge. Kenneth Grayson, Bridgeville, Allegheny County -- Arrested on January 26. Charges: Knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds; Disorderly conduct which impedes the conduct of government
Continued on Page 8
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NEWS From Page 7 business; Disruptive Conduct in the Capitol Buildings; Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in the Capitol Buildings; Obstructing or Impeding Any Official Proceeding. Background: Fifty-one year Kenneth Grayson has deactivated his Facebook account, but leading up to and through the deadly January 6 riots, Grayson was quite active on the social media site posting all about his support for Donald Trump, his willingness to engage in violence, and his reliance on internet conspiracy theories. In the days before the insurrection, he posted flyers promoting the event. The FBI obtained messages sent through FB messenger, including communications he had with several family members and friends, stating his plans to travel to Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Capitol for the proTrump rally. He live-streamed on Facebook several times that day and he was photographed inside the area of the Capitol building known as the Crypt. He sent photos of himself at the Capitol wearing a Q jacket for Q'Anon, the discredited, preposterous conspiracy theory that first found life on image boards like 4chan and 8chan [later 8kun] but
sprawled out to infect more populous areas of the internet. The FBI obtained other records from Facebook in which it appears that Grayson went to DC on multiple occasions prior to January 6, all in support of Donald Trump. It is very likely that one of those trips included the Proud Boys Million MAGA March on November 14 that was rife with violence. A few days after that event, Grayson allegedly sent several private messages to one of his contacts regarding violent actions he took while in the DC: “We were smashing bro.. went to the van I rented and geared up..had to leave at 7 p.m. though, it wasn’t really bad yet..I was beating commies with a flag pole I picked up and looked like it wasn’t going to be that bad Proud Boys were everywhere..cops weren’t doing a fukin thing watching old people get fucked with, it was sickening." He sent a second message on the same day: “I left one unconscious so I did my little part and got the fuck out before I got arrested." More reporting on Kenneth Grayson is forthcoming. Where he is now: Released from custody by a
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RACHEL MARIE POWELL
federal judge. Rachel Marie Powell, Sandy Lake, Mercer County -- Arrested on February 4 at the FBI field office in New Castle. Charges: Obstruction; Depredation of Government Property; Restricted Building or Grounds with a Dangerous Weapon; Restricted Building or Grounds; Violent Entry or Disorderly Conduct Background: The 40-year-old mother of eight quickly became known as Pink Hat Lady or Bullhorn
Lady for her actions during the insurrection and riots at the Capitol on January 6. She was photographed and videotaped picking up a large, industrial-looking pipe and bashing it repeatedly into one of the windows of the Capitol Building. She volunteered that she had operative knowledge of the Capitol and used a bullhorn to shout instructions to her fellow rioters on how to strategically "take" the building. From June 30 until the night of February 4 when she turned herself into the FBI, her whereabouts were
Russell James Peterson (rear)
unknown. When Powell was released from the Butler County Jail, her only comment to a television news crew was that people could donate to her legal fund, an entreaty she repeated three times. More detailed information about Rachel Powell can be found here and here. Where she is now: Released from custody by a federal judge. Peter Schwartz, Union-
town, Fayette County -- Arrested on February 4. Charges: Forcibly Assaulting, Resisting, or Impeding Certain Officers or Employees; Knowingly Entering or Remaining in any Restricted Building or Grounds Without Lawful Authority; Violent Entry and Disorderly Conduct on Capitol Grounds Background: During the January 6 riots, Schwartz is alleged to have taken mace canisters from law enforcement officers and then turned them on the police. He was also seen wielding a wooden baton near the
tunnel arch. In text messages from Schwartz' phone obtained by the FBI, he texted to a friend, "I threw the first chair at the cops… then when everybody charged, I grabbed their duffel bags full of mace. I kept some and passed them out to the crowd… lol. They are more mace than we did!" He texted to another unknown friend, "I started that! I the (sic) first chair at the cops… stole their shit and used it on them!" He sent other texts which would indicate both that he
understood his actions to be dangerous and criminal and which also suggest his belief in conspiracy theories: "I should likely be in federal prison for the patriot acts we committed… but… nothing? We led the charges, and were pictured in NONE of the videos? Is sooooooo confusing to me… God protected us… but there's something even deeper, and more evil than we suspected!" The 47-year old Schwartz works as a traveling welder and was living and working in Uniontown at the time of his arrest. On January 29, the government filed their complaint against Schwartz, although they weren't able to find him and arrest him until Febru-
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NEWS From Page 7 ary 4. He's got a rap sheet dating back at least as far as 2006 when he was convicted of assaulting a government official; in 2007, he was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon and inflicting serious injury. More recently, he was convicted of third-degree terroristic threats and possessions of a firearm by a convicted felon, stemming from a 2019 incident in Owensboro, Kentucky in which a woman told police that her boyfriend (Schwartz) made "verbal threats to kill her and kill her son" while intoxicated. He was released from prison in April of 2020 due to COVID-19 and was on probation. Where he is now: Detained at the Butler County Jail. Russell James Peterson, Rochester, Beaver County -- Arrested on February 11. Charges: Knowingly Entering or Remaining in any Restricted Building or Grounds; Disorderly Conduct Which Impedes the Conduct of Government Business; Disruptive Conduct in the Capitol Buildings; Parading, Demonstrating, or Picketing in the Capitol Buildings Background: Thirty-four year old Russell
Peterson traveled to DC for ex-President Trump's January 6 rally with his wife, Elizabeth Peterson and his mother, Shelley Peterson. He live-streamed from inside the Capitol. His mom, Shelly, posted photos of the three of them on her Facebook account. She said that her son Russell had "sat in Pelosi's chair." Peterson's preliminary hearing will take place this Thursday, February 18 via videoconference.
Riley June Williams (Top); Brian Gunderson (below)
Where he is now: Released from custody by Court Order. Pennsylvania Arrests outside Western Pennsylvania Riley June Williams, Middle District of Pennsylvania (MDPA); arrested on January 18; at home, released from custody by Court Order.
Andrew Wrigley, MDPA; arrested on January 15; at home, released from custody by Court Order.
Tammy Bronsburg, MDPA; arrested on February 4; at home, released from custody by Court Order. Mark Aungst, MDPA; arrested on February 4; at home, released from custody by Court Order.
Barton Wade Shively, MDPA; arrested on January 19; at home, released from custody by Court Order.
Tammy Brown, MDPA; arrested on January 11; at home, released from custody by Court Order.
Brian Gundersen, MDPA; arrested on January 27; at home, released from custody by Court Order.
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Zachary Alum, Eastern District of Pennsylvania (EDPA); arrested on January 30; currently in custody at an unknown facility. Dawn Bancroft, EDPA; arrested on January 29; at home, released from custody by Court Order. Diana Santos-Smith, EDPA; arrested on January 29; at home, released from custody by Court Order.
NEWS A+ SCHOOLS STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF RACE FOR FIVE OPEN SEATS ON PITTSBURGH SCHOOLS BY MARY NIEDERBERGER - PITTSBURGH CURRENT EDUCATION WRITER
iven the historic and persistent low academic achievement among minority students in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and the monumental task ahead of eventually reopening schools after a year or more closure because of the COVID-19 virus, the race for five open school board seats in the May primary should be a priority. That was the message Feb. 16 of the Vote School Board First coalition sponsored by the A+Schools advocacy group. “Something is wrong because our kids are not learning the way we are expecting them to learn,” said Esther Bush, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, one of 15 organizations making up the coalition. She cited statistics that showed among Black boys and girls in Pittsburgh high schools, none passed an Advanced Placement test and that
only 7 percent took the SAT exam and 11 percent the ACT exam. “C’mon. That means Black kids aren’t even thinking about going to college,” Bush said. James Forgarty, A+Schools executive director, pointed out the “big issues” facing the district -- figuring how to reopen schools, how to provide the additional support students will need when they return to the classroom and how to fill in the district’s $39 million deficit. “There’s a lot of questions and those questions will be answered by the board that is elected,” Fogarty said. Fogarty, Bush and other speakers at the press conference expressed concern that focus on the school board election would be lost among others in the May 18 primary. The speakers encouraged city residents to pay attention to board candidates via the voteschoolboardfirst.org website and to vote for candidates best suited to address the
district’s academic and financial issues. They also encouraged residents to consider running for the board. The seats that are up for grabs in the May 18 primary are: District 1, currently held by board president Sylvia Wilson District 3, currently held by Sala Udin District 5, currently held by Terry Kennedy District 7, currently held by Cynthia Falls District 9, currently held by Veronica Edwards. So far only Wilson has indicated she is running for re-election. The coalition held its
press conference today because it marks the first day that candidates can begin to circulate nominating petitions. In the coming weeks, the coalition will create a candidate guide and hold virtual forums with each candidate. The usual measures of door-knocking campaigns and in-person candidate nights will not be held because of COVID-19. Voters can find information on which district they live and what candidates are running in the districts as they announce on the coalition website. In addition post cards will be sent to voters letting them know where to find information, Fogarty said.
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NEWS HOUSING ORGANIZER XANDER ORENSTEIN ANNOUNCES CAMPAIGN TO CHALLENGE MDJ TONY CEOFFE BY AARON FORBES - PITTSBURGH CURRENT CONTRIBUTOR
ander Orenstein, a nonbinary housing organizer, announced today that they are launching their campaign against longtime incumbent Tony Ceoffe for district magistrate in the Polish Hill / Lawrenceville area (Wards 6 & 9, Magisterial District 05-3-10). A neighborhood activist, Ceoffe was first elected to office in 2009 and was re-elected in 2015 without opposition. Orenstein is the first nonbinary individual to run for this position in Pittsburgh, if not the entire state—and their campaign staff is comprised entirely of Queer-identifying individuals too. It’s a huge step for LGBT+ representation in positions of power and local government. Orenstein moved to Pittsburgh in 2010 and has lived here ever since. They attended Carnegie Mellon for their undergraduate degree in Biological Sciences, and they attended Johns Hopkins on line for their master’s degree in Biodefense and Biotechnology from which they graduated in 2019. They’ve worked in several positions including biological testing startups, pharmaceutical (drug) development, and conducting genetics and age research. “A big part of my studies was in public health and how
ularly in housing and evictions. “I don't think we could have handled it worse,” they said. To help address some of their biggest concerns for the community, their campaign announces proposed reforms including ending evictions, ending cash bail, and the end to “rubber stamping” police warrants. Orenstein sat down for an in-depth interview with the Pittsburgh Current before launching their campaign on Feb. 15. The following is that interview which has been edited for both brevity and for clarity.
to deal with outbreaks of epidemics,” they said. “I just felt like I’ve been watching a horror movie. Everyone did everything wrong.” They said their years spent studying the biological sci-
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ences has helped them to understand the COVID-19 pandemic on a different scale, and they expressed frustration at how it’s been handled on both a national and statewide level—partic-
What made you want to run for this position? There was a CDC moratorium (on banning evictions during the pandemic). [The decision] of each individual case was up to the magistrate judge’s discretion: whether [the individual in the case] fit the criteria, whether or not the eviction could proceed, or if it would have to be postponed until the moratorium ended. And from a public health perspective, you can't have people evicted from their homes during a pandemic of this magnitude. Think about the options
NEWS an evicted ex-tenant has: they can try to find a public shelter, which is going to be overcrowded. Because public shelters are always overcrowded, they can try to move in with friends, but that's just going to increase the risk of contracting COVID for everyone involved. They could try to find another place to live, but if they don't have a job and were just evicted, they're going to have a difficult time finding a place. It's almost inhumane to evict anyone at this time. For a judge to prioritize the financial success of a corporate landlord—which, let's face it, in Pittsburgh a lot of landlords are part of large corporations—over the health of the community is extremely disturbing. My goal in justice is going to ensure compromise and understanding at the center of any decision I make. What does justice mean to you? I think it's important to think about justice not in terms of revenge. A lot of times you'll have this idea that if somebody did something wrong, they must be punished for it, they must suffer for it, … they must feel that they have done wrong. And they must hurt because of it. I don't agree with that outlook. I'm Jewish, and in Judaism there is a quote that says “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” ( )ףֹּ֑דְרִּת קֶדֶ֖צ קֶדֶ֥צwhich, trans-
lated into English, means Justice, justice, you shall pursue justice as an ideal that we're pushing toward. It's not an attainable thing though; there's always going to be a more perfect solution, there's always going to be a better way of resolving conflicts. Currently, our system is a very stark and binary one: you have one person or party in the right, one person or party in the wrong, the wrong party shall make amends towards the party in the right. Our justice system works as a ‘winner-takesall’ type deal, and generally that winner will be the people with power—the people with money. I think the art in justice is learning how to compromise, see things from both sides, and bring both sides together to work toward a solution that enriches both of them. I do want to clarify that when I rule in certain cases, I’ll always be doing so following the code of conduct outlined by the state of Pennsylvania in the Judicial Code Of Conduct. During this time, community is more important than ever. How do you feel your position can help the community grow? The way you grow as a community is by working together working your issues out. One person I really admire is Mik Pappas, a magistrate judge a couple of districts over [who is now running for Court of Common Pleas Judge].
The way Pappas approaches landlord-tenant issues is something I will, as a District Judge, be doing quite a lot, and he encourages the landlords and tenants to come to an agreement outside of court to work out whatever issues they have. Now he doesn't have to make a one-sided judgment or have an eviction go on someone's record as opposed to a mutually-agreed-upon “I’ll be out by such-and-such date and we'll just leave it at that.” By having people work together, not only are you relieving potential, massive financial burden and a potential pipeline into poverty, but you're strengthening the ties of the community. One of the major reasons that you said you’re running is to end evictions. How do you feel about Tom Wolf's ordinance last year temporarily halting evictions and then allowing them once again despite no end in sight to the pandemic? I think it's important to focus on why he thinks his hands are tied. As a society, we have the ability to say: “Alright, you know what, we could just put all rent and mortgage on pause.” It's not like the big banks are going to go out of business because they're not collecting mortgages. Sure, they're going to have to rearrange some things, and they're going to have to adjust to the times, but I think it's horrifying
when the main concern of a government is to take care of the banks as opposed to its people. If there was a moratorium on just rents and mortgages, you'd see to it that both the tenant and the landlord be well taken care of, because in the end landlords are providing spaces where their tenants are able to stay at home. Staying home during this pandemic is work—public health work. And the fact that people are still expected to go out and earn money so they can pay their landlords and landlords can pay their mortgages, and that people aren't being paid for the public health work of staying home is it's ridiculous, a onetime $1,000 check, a onetime $600 check, a one-time $1,400 check over the past year, you know, nowhere near enough. I think that the eviction moratorium needs to be extended indefinitely until we have a large portion of the population vaccinated. We can't have people killing themselves just to keep a roof over their heads. You’re in favor of ending cash bail. Why is that important? There is a massive population in jail. People who are awaiting trial and haven't been convicted of anything are still sitting in jail only because they're unable to pay their bail. It’s essentially just a check in the criminal justice system to see if you’re
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NEWS wealthy enough not to have to deal with it. If you can afford bail, you go right back to your life while you await trial. If you can't, you have two options, one of which is simply staying in jail. You're probably going to lose your job. Because you can't afford to make bail, you're probably working in a job where if you don't show up, you lose your job—and by extension, you’re probably going to lose your home. If you can't afford bail, you probably can't afford rent if you're not making money. And if you have children, they're going to be put in jeopardy. The second option is to go to a bail bondsman for help. They’ll bail you out, but they charge an additional 15 - 20%, so if you're being held on a $10,000 bail, you're $15,000 out. That's a massive debt you now owe. So you can see that it's a senseless system meant to keep the wealthy on top. A better solution to that is pretrial services, using risk assessments and phone calls, you'd be able to minimize the number of people who are going to be entered into the cycle of poverty. And it’s ultimately going to save the taxpayers money too, because it's expensive to keep people in jail. Not everyone (who is sent to jail) is guilty, so the current system is actually doing away with the presumption of innocence. It's a horribly oppressive system—we can
do better, and we should do better. Do you know of any places in the U.S. or around the world that’s ended cash bail and has a similar policy in place to the one you mentioned that’s already being implemented with success? I know that D.C. and New Jersey have been doing away with cash bail and they’ve had real success: their numbers of incarcerated people awaiting trial have been going down. I know Illinois has been trying to pass a law doing away with cash bail, but that's gotten a lot of resistance from law enforcement. And there are programs out there—there’s even one in Allegheny County called PSA, the Public Safety Assessment, which is starting to be used to minimize the number of people who are being held in jail on bail. It’s a risk assessment which goes through a number of factors to determine if somebody is, you know, likely to show up (for their court date) or not. It's not a perfect system— there’s no such thing as a perfect system—but it's a place to start. And I think by considering that we should be starting from our presumption of innocence and keeping the safety of the community in mind, we'd be able to make far better judgments than just throwing them in jail for nonviolent
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drug offenses, for allegedly non-violent drug offenses. There are better systems and models out there that we can look to take from and improve upon. You’ve also mentioned abolishing the “rubber stamping” of police warrants. It is not the place of the judiciary to work hand-inhand with the police. We should not always be on the side of the prosecutor looking to lock people up. Justice should not be about revenge, it shouldn't be about locking people away. Instead, it should be about ensuring that anytime there’s a conflict of sufficient magnitude that there is fair mediation within the process. As a magistrate judge, I'm going to be holding the police to an extremely high standard of professional conduct. And that's going to apply to every part of what it is that they're going to be doing when it relates to the office of the magistrate district judge. So when a warrant comes across my desk for approval, I'm going to give it the gravity and respect it deserves by doing the research, ensuring that the rationale is just and in the interest of public safety. And rest assured that this will happen with every single warrant—I don't get fatigued by doing the same thing over and over and over again. So it's not going to be the case where anytime there's a warrant, it’s auto-
matically going to be served. I'm going to hold police to a very high standard—the same standard that they generally hold all citizens to in regard to upholding and respecting the law—I’m going to hold them to that same very high standard, because the privacy of individuals is important. How would your appointment to the position differ from Ceoffe’s? It's definitely going to be different. Mr. Ceoffe has been in the Lawrenceville political machine for decades and has a certain way of looking at how the community needs to grow. The forms that it can take with regard to development and projects that can be undertaken working with certain groups that also have their vision of the way development should take place. My focus is definitely going to be on the people by ensuring that their rights are upheld—that the right to a home is not overshadowed by a developer's desire to build housing that could generate more revenue. I'm not going to be a one-stop shop for police to investigate wherever they feel like just because they have a hunch. I'm going to be fair and hold them to a very high standard. I'm going to ensure that anyone who comes into the courtroom is going to get a fair shot and that the interests of the people in the community are going to be looked after.
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A COLLECTION OF ESSAYS ON THIS COUNTRY'S FUTURE FROM THE PEOPLE WHO WILL ACTUALLY BE LIVING IN IT BY BRIAN BROOME - SPECIAL TO THE PITT
s a country, we grapple with many issues in 2021. After the Trump presidency, many of us don’t know how to feel about America. Has a veil been lifted or has this always been America? When pundits get together on our various news shows, they discuss these issues.? They argue back and forth. They theorize. But in the midst of all this, there are voices that are being, in my opinion, ignored or perhaps shunted to the side. In 2020, more young people voted in our elections than ever before which resulted in a new president. But many of them feel unheard. Many in the generation we call Gen Z voted for the very first time in the 2020 election. They have opinions about the world, the country they will inherit. But, again, many feel unheard. They feel as though they are unheard until they are asked to vote again to re-establish the same old bipartisan politics. I teach Introduction to Journalism at the University of Pittsburgh which now, because of Covid-19, meets over Zoom. On the first day of class, I looked at my monitor full of young faces and I asked them if they’ve had enough politics. I asked if they wanted to use this class to discuss politics. They answered with an emphatic “Yes”. As the “adults” in the room, we often assume that those aged 18 to 20 don’t care about politics. We assume their interests lie with the latest passing fad. But, I’m here to tell you that this isn’t true. The following are opinion pieces penned by my class regarding topics which they care about. These are just the students who took my class. They do not represent the many diverse young voices across our nation. This should be noted. But they come from different backgrounds nonetheless and I was curious about their thoughts. What they do have in common is youth and they will be, in part, the caretakers of the nation we pass on to them. These students would like for you to read them and for you to know that they are engaged. They are listening and they are watching.
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DENTS HEALTHCARE? MORE LIKE HEALTHCARELESSNESS
few months ago, paramedics rushed me to the emergency room because of a tiny bite of cake. I had been eating dinner with my roommate and her family, when a waiter brought dessert to the table. I did not intend to dabble in dessert, but chocolate cake is often too much of a temptation for me to pass up. In between the layers of chocolate cake, there appeared to be a thick layer of vanilla ice cream, slightly darkened by the late hour at which we were eating. As I took a bite, I immediately recognized a nutty flavor, a flavor I do not often have the privilege to enjoy because of my severe allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. Looking back, the ice cream was clearly not a pearly white, vanilla-y color shaded by the night sky, but in fact the tan color of peanut butter ice cream. I have had several brushes with my allergies in the past, but this reaction was the scariest. Usually, I can get away with throwing up the toxin, taking an antihistamine, and I am fine. Not this time. My tongue began to swell and my heartbeat quickened as I realized the seriousness of the situation. I did not bring my Epi-Pen with me, but a generous patron of the restaurant went searching for one nextdoor. A stranger gave up their Epi-Pen to help me, a truly selfless act because those things are expensive. Moments after injecting myself, I was whisked away in an ambulance per the advice of a dining doctor. Months later, the emergency room bill arrived at my house. The ambulance ride alone cost one thousand dollars. My family owes UPMC because I had a potentially deadly allergic reaction. According to my discharge papers, allergic reactions are ranked high on the emergency scale; they are consid-
BY LILY COHEN
ered life-threatening situations that require immediate medical attention. Yet, once you are treated and safe, you are sent a little present in the mail. The bill’s large sum conveys the gravity of the situation, but illuminates the inhumane and insensitive nature of our healthcare system. I was in danger, with no other option but to seek medical care and then my family is charged for the saving of my life? Medical teams are available to us, but the cost of healthcare and insurance makes that resource more inaccessible. In addition to my many allergies, I also have a chronic health condition. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an Inflammatory Bowel Disease that commandeers my overall health. Thankfully, I am currently in remission, but this period of relief is not guaranteed forever. I must live with the fear that my debilitating pain may return or develop into something worse. To manage my symptoms and any pain, I inject myself every two weeks with Humira, a biologic that you may know from their frequent television-ads. My body needs this medication in order to feel healthy. Without insurance and subsidies from Humira’s drug
company, my medication would cost five thousand dollars. This is a hefty amount of money for most Americans, especially those who cannot afford insurance. If someone needs to pay for their medications out of pocket, can they afford to buy groceries for the week, pay their mortgage, rent, or any other important expenses? We should all have equal access to health services, not have to forgo them in order to survive. Not only do I take the pricey Humira, but there are a plethora of other drugs that my family has to pay for. I take twenty-five pills and seven vitamins a week to manage my Crohn’s symptoms and to combat any drug side effects. I also have asthma, so I need two different, up-to-date inhalers at all times. Lastly, I am prescribed Epi-Pens for allergy emergencies. All of these medications have outof-pocket costs, even though I am a fortunate individual with health insurance. Luckily, my family has health insurance, but we had to change our plan for the new year. My mother had to leave her job in June, where health insurance was an included benefit and the health insurance of her two children came out of her paycheck every two weeks. We were no longer able to afford the insurance we once had, so my mother spent countless hours looking for a cheaper one. The one we settled on does not cover as much as our old one did. With our new plan, being ill feels even more like a burden than it did before. There is also an added layer of shame because I am so young. Youth is often conflated with health, but this is not always the case. I am merely nineteen and will forever bare the weight of my conditions. My afflictions will remain a con-
stant in my life and so will the financial stress. I am not choosing to be sick, but the reality is that I am. Those with chronic illnesses must endure intense physical suffering, so why should they be subjected to financial suffering as well? For a middle class family it is not ideal to spend so much money on health insurance, but at least we know we are covered. There are thousands of people in this country who cannot afford that safety. The healthcare system is horribly designed. Why do we isolate those who need our help the most? Doctors have a duty to help the sick, the broken, and every citizen in this country. The price of health insurance is making that impossible. I fear that one day, I will put my parents and myself into so much debt because I dare to be sick. Humira is an immunosuppressant drug and so my immune system is weaker than the average person. At any moment, I could easily catch a cold, pneumonia, or Covid-19. I worry about what will happen if I need more medication, if I contract a serious illness, or if I have another emergency. Tons of money already goes towards buying my health, but my health should not be bought. My health should be an unencumbered freedom. Everyone is entitled to health and wellness; it is dishonorable and unjust that we live in a world without that privilege. Lily Cohen is a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh where she intends to study Digital Media. She hails from Philadelphia and until this year, she had lived there all her life. She is working on becoming trilingual as well as perfecting her command of the English language. Every day, she continues to navigate the world with her 20 plus allergies and numerous other health conditions.
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VOICES OF THE MUSIC OF MAGA
hen life gets tough, I always have music to help me through it. Genre doesn’t matter. Rap, jazz, metal; I don’t care. Just never country. It reminds me too much of people from home. Through most of 2020 and now 2021, I’ve been listening to a lot of music. Nearly everyone seems on edge. You don’t need me to tell you that though. Rural-central Pennsylvania is no exception. I drive to work in the morning and I pass rows of “TRUMP PENCE” signs decorating front lawns of my hometown. Every now and then I pass the occasional household with a Biden endorsement, but those are particularly rare where I live. Even though the election is over, the hatred and anger, which has played such a huge roll in politics for the last several years, is very much still alive. I’ve never been against having strong political opinions. I’m still not. But as I look around at what is happening to my community as well as others, it makes me never want to turn the news on again. People have taken their political beliefs to the extreme. Every day I hear another heated political argument going on or hear about a fight that started over something political. The amount of hate I’ve seen, particularly from the right-side of the political spectrum, is disgust-
BY DOMINICK ABATE
ing. As far as I’m concerned, the recent uptick of political awareness in the past several years by right-wing supporters is little more than racist and hate-filled rhetoric. Being a person of color in my area doesn’t help. Although my government documents have me listed as being “white,” my skin must not have gotten the memo. Being brown in sea of old German,
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Dutch, and English families makes me stick out like a sore thumb. Just my presence makes me the topic of political discussion and racist remarks. On numerous occasions I’ve been confronted in public by strangers and force fed their political opinions. The sun was setting on one particular hot July evening as I loaded a TV into the back of a customer’s minivan on
the far side of the Walmart parking lot. Beginning my walk back, out of a large white van, emerged ten white people who all appeared to be related. Little kids got out first, then the teenagers, and lastly four adults. As I walked back, the largest man spotted me and cupped his hands around his mouth to form a megaphone. “HEY BROWINE!” he shouted. It echoed around
F THE FUTURE the lot. Regretfully, I turned and made eye contact with him. Just a glance. I knew it would’ve been better just to keep walking and to ignore him. “HEY BROWNIE!” he continued. I didn’t look this time. He was having fun with it and so was his family. I could hear the snickers and giggles from the adults to the kids. I just continued walking. After realizing I wouldn’t turn again, he did whatever he could to berate me and get a reaction. I tuned him out for the most part although some things got through my filter. I could hear him shouting “spic,” “go back to Mexico,” “stop stealing our jobs,” all followed by his family howling like a pack of hyenas. Eventually I got back to the store and continued working while they went on to do their shopping amidst their fits of cackling. Although I was slightly shaken from how blatant their remarks were, it wasn’t anything new to me. My ambiguous appearance has haunted me throughout my life, making me the target of racist comments towards African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, Indians, and Arabs. Unfortunately, although I wish I could’ve found solace with my also-brown father, he has never been someone to talk to about these things. Being as dark skinned as I am, he also experiences an enormous amount of discrimination in our area. The difference is, he is also a very conservative person like the people of our town and carries all the anger they
do as well. Due to this, he just ignores these ongoing problems whether they affect him or myself. Whether it be because of his preference for the conservative economic ideas or something else; I don’t know. There was only one thing I was sure of while dealing with these issues: I was alone. For much of 2020 I battled with depression due to everything going on. I didn’t know what a Trump victory would mean to my nation or to me as an individual. I contemplated whether it would be better or worse for me if Trump lost. His spirit was embodied by the people of my town, and I couldn’t take being alone during the pandemic with nothing but anger and resentment surrounding me. For much of the spring and fall semesters, I struggled to stay on top of my school work due to the mental trauma. While things looked bleak from my perspective, I realized that there was one thing I knew could help me: Music. Through all my pain, music is really the only thing that has kept me sane. Whenever I have issues regarding anything, especially the hatred in today’s political climate, I know I can always pop in my AirPods, turn on Spotify, and escape. When I’m dealing with some racist or political events that happened throughout the week, Kendrick Lamar is my go-to. If I’m in a mood where I just want to jam and rock out for a little bit, I put on Queens of the Stone Age. If I just need to relax and destress, Tame
Impala is always so soothing to hear. Through everything, music has always been there for me. Nearing the end of 2020, I had an epiphany. There was nothing I could do to change the racist and ignorant views of others. Rather than give in to their hatred and become depressed, I stopped caring about their opinions and began focusing on myself. If I let the depression from their actions take over my life, then those people win. Instead, I now try to let the things they say bounce off of me and I disregard it. Some things that happen still hurt and some things in the news may worry me, but I no longer let it have control of my life. Regardless of wheth-
er Trump had won, I still would’ve continued to stand for what I believe in and kept moving forward with my life to prove the hate mongers wrong. I will live my life the way I want to and forge my own path, separate from anyone else’s opinions of who I am or who I’ll become. I listen to music just as much, if not more, now in 2021 than I did in 2020, but it’s no longer an escape. Now I listen to music for enjoyment. Dominick Abate is from the small town of Mt. Pleasant Mills, Pennsylvania. He is currently a 19 year old sophomore at college at the University of Pittsburgh and majoring in accounting.
THE BOARD OF PUBLIC EDUCATION OF THE
SCHOOL DISTRICT OF PITTSBURGH ADVERTISEMENT FOR BIDS
Sealed proposals shall be deposited at the Administration Building, Bellefield Entrance Lobby, 341 South Bellefield Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15213, on February 23, 2021, until 2:00 P.M., local prevailing time for: Service & Maintenance Contracts at Various Schools, Facilities, Facilities & Properties Gas and Oil Burners, Boilers and Furnaces Inspection, Service, and Repairs (REBID) Project Manual and Drawings will be available for purchase on Monday, February 8, 2021 at Modern Reproductions (412-488-7700), 127 McKean Street, Pittsburgh, Pa., 15219 between 9:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. The cost of the Project Manual Documents is non-refundable. Project details and dates are described in each project manual. We are an equal rights and opportunity school district
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VOICES OF THE MOVEMENT OF FORGOTTEN AMERICA
e reach the apex of the highway exit that wraps around the weather-hardened billboard for Weis’ Supermarket. I cannot think of a better substitute for a “Welcome to Shamokin” sign. The small-town creeps out under a gray blanket surrounded by decommissioned coal mines and emptied factories. Wandering through the streets of Shamokin evokes feelings of nostalgia. Remembrance of better days with livelier people, employment and comfortability. Now, days are riddled with stained brick, shadowing signs of popular retail stores that once thrived… along with Confederate flags proudly draped off truck beds and telephone poles. Thanksgiving was just a few days ago, so my family and I are in Shamokin for the weekend and staying at my grandmother’s house. I feel uncertain, and a little anxious, at the reaction from my extended family about the election just a few weeks ago; they all voted for Donald Trump in the historic 2020 election, and are not afraid to show their support. Shamokin is certainly a right leaning, conservative town. They
BY ADAM KAPLAN
Adam Kaplan and his hometown of Shamokin'
loosely represent the Trump supporter stereotype of religious, gun toting, pro-life, conservatives. Regardless, we entered the neighborhood and my father pulled in to park the car. I could see in his eyes the nervousness that comes with being blue in a sea of red. His eyes also projected preparation for a beratement of “liberal snowflake” attacks. Not directly of course, he is their son in law after all. But everyone is thinking it. Every time we pull into my
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Mam’s driveway, we make sure to bring the mail in for her. My brother comes up to me with the wad of newspapers and cable bills to show me a Catholic newsletter that exclaims… “WHAT SIDE DO YOU WANT TO BE ON!”. On one side are Donald Trump and the Pope. The other side are Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar. I stood there shuffling around my thoughts. My brother and I folded it up and threw it the back of
the car, hidden under a bag of car-ride junk food. We walk in to see my uncle, my aunt, and my cousins. Things start off cordial as always. As we began to unpack, I could hear my family talk about what Trump is doing for the Middle East and how great the economy was prior to COVID-19. I did not think much of it, until I heard the voice of a slick talking Fox News anchorman, spilling out logical fallacies that sadly reaffirm their views. He brought up something about Black Lives Matter and I knew that was a dark and dreary road to go down, especially in the context of family talking politics. My Mam and cousins, with a perfect display of tunnel vision, blurred out the toxic, smug, and slightly racist remarks
F THE FUTURE by a man they expect to be the pinnacle of truth. My brother and I sit there and make eye contact, preparing for someone to say something that might just bring the spirit of Barry Goldwater back to Earth. And then, with such confidence and conviction, my cousin says the three words I wrongly assumed to be debunked, “ALL LIVES MATTER”. My mom pretends she didn’t hear, or maybe responded with a futile eye roll. My brother and I laugh for some reason. Nothing is funny, but if we react the way we want to, it might escalate the situation. My Dad did not get the memo. He is a naturally loud talker, so his normal voice can easily be misconstrued as him screaming. He of course starts off with an ad hominem attack, probably calling his nephew in law an idiot or a racist, I forget which one. Definitely not the best way to go about things. My family in Shamokin is close. Political disputes do not usually become personal. Maybe a few backhanded Facebook comments, but we remain family. However, the argument took off and sides quickly became clear. My brother, my dad, and I arguing with my cousins along with the occasional interjection from my Mam. Tensions rise as we try to break down the
brutal reality of institutional racism and how black families were pushed into low-income areas with low quality public schools and limited opportunities for jobs increasing their chances of getting into crime and going to jail, a punishment that cripples these communities for generations. This is why we see things such as the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor happen so often. I tell them that they have no idea what it is like to live a life that is predicts such an uncertain future. Silence looms. I stopped talking, it was pointless to continue. My anger, and bit of self-righteousness, collapsed in on itself because the truth is, Shamokin residents do understand what I am saying. Communities in central Pennsylvania, and my extended family members, see the racism in this country - and to put it simply - do not care. As I listed off the shortcomings of the communities that people of color live in, my cousins should have laughed in my face. People living in Shamokin do understand what it is like to struggle. Shamokin public schools are not much better, in addition to drugs and crime ramped in the streets. What Shamokin residents care about is economic security. In a wake of a technology revolution, coal has become antiquated and the industry that employed so
many of these residents has dissolved. The people of Shamokin have seen the economic troubles that many people of color experience, and for this reason they feel neglected and forgotten by the rest of society. Imagine a middle-aged white man who recently lost his manufacturing job and struggles to support his family. He cannot afford better schooling for his children and can hardly put food on the table. He sees the injustice of losing his job and watches Fox News that supports every one of his personal beliefs. He feels validated. Finally, a platform that realizes his struggles, and now a Presidential candidate that promises forgotten Americans a better future! He finally sees a hopeful destiny for his livelihood. The way Black Lives Matter defends people of color shares many similarities with how Trump, QAnon, and Fox News defends the central Pennsylvanian narrative. They give national, even global in some regard, representation for this former blue-collar worker that feels counted out. This man summarizes the misunderstood psyche of struggling central Pennsylvanians. So, when I outlined the effects of racism and the results of segregation, my cousins can easily pose the question “Well what about my
friends’ fathers who lost their job… do they not matter?”. One of the main arguments against someone saying “all lives matter”, is that black lives currently are being oppressed. However, my cousins beg to differ. This country is progressing without them and they need representation, which explains their affinity for outrageous conspiracy theories and far right media that legitimizes their point of view. It was easy to leave behind the coal industry that once powered the United States, but it will not be as easy to leave behind the families and communities that made up that industry. Although they may seem ignorant, this is an incorrect assumption. This side of America is not evil, it is dismissed. They are still here and are willing to be as loud and proud as they can to defend the way of life that this country once appreciated. Adam Kaplan is a Sophomore Economics student at the University of Pittsburgh minoring in Creative Writing and Statistics. He enjoys writing through the eye of multiple perspectives and strives to make the reader question their own point of view. Adam hails from West Chester, PA, but will spend the next few years in Pittsburgh taking classes and preparing to apply to Law Schools.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 21
VOICES OF PEOPLE TRUMP POLICIES
can still feel his fingerprints indenting the sides of my hips, the traces he carefully marked up my back, my blonde hair slowly gliding through his fingertips. My body froze in fear as I never felt this vulnerable before. Many months later, I found myself sitting in front of my managers in a conversation that I was too scared to initiate myself. The musty smell of their office still inhabits my nostrils, as I recall the firm grip of the ballpoint pen in between my shaken hand recalling and recording his actions. My teardrops collided with the paper, smudging my words. The red marks from the cold bathroom tiles that hugged my legs remain clear in my mind as I cried next to the toilet, muffling my sobs by the sound of a flush, silencing any vulnerability that would escape between my breath. I was sixteen. He was forty. I am still reminded about it every day. “A young woman from Philadelphia drugged and assaulted outside of a bar escapes rape but is in critical condition” is loudly muttered right as I turn on the television. I learned two very important things from a young age: pepper spray and a rape whistle would become my two primary protectors, and I should never walk home alone in the dark. I have always had to make sure my clothes were not too
BY J.S. revealing before leaving and I have also gotten in the habit of keeping track of how many drinks I consume so men cannot use my insobriety as an excuse to benefit off my body. Living my life always looking over my shoulder has become a very exhausting lifestyle, so much that I have become numb to it all. It is both triggering and traumatizing that I have had to live the past four years under a President who is a rapist and treats women like objects, especially because this treatment is one that I am all too familiar with. The worst part of it all is that my father voted for this misogynistic man not only once, but twice. It has been challenging these past couple of years to see my father view politics the way he has. I believe that this 2020 Presidential election has become more about human decency than anything, and I also believe that it has drastically separated the younger and older generations of voters. My father has made it abundantly clear that he likes Trump's policies, but not him. My dad grew up in a rural county in Pennsylvania. If you look at the map of Pennsylvania, go near the city of Pittsburgh, then scan over the endless acres of cornfields to its righthand side, you will find his hometown. After visiting multiple times and being around his side of the family, I have seen where the root of
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my father’s Republican political viewpoints stem from, and I have grown up seeing how his views reflect on our lifestyle. In 2008, my father lost his job. My parents had to pack up every Christmas morning, birthday dinner, and memory from that home, stuff it into a brown box, and hand it over to the bank as we were forced out of our home. As a young girl, I had no idea what was going on. (I was just excited to get my own room.) I have moved three more times after that due to our leases coming to an end and for a while, we couldn’t call anywhere home, it all just felt so temporary. Every two years, we would have to reuse those brown boxes and start the process all over again. Seeing my dad go from his 9-5 job in the city to scrubbing toilets at night and my mom taking on three part-time jobs just to keep us alive put everything into perspective. Looking back now, I understand. My father favors Trump’s policies and traditional Republican values like decreasing taxes and creating more jobs because at one point we had nothing. We were unstable, on reduced lunches, and shopping at second-hand stores. My father does not want us to be cold and hungry, because he feared that we would be at one point. The responsibility and pressure he must feel every single day to take care of
his family is why he believes in what he does. Since my “coming of age” era happened, during the times where I had to practice how to hide under my desk to shield myself from bullets, watch women all over the world fear that their right to their own bodies would be stripped away from the hands of male authority, and witness the empowering members of the BLM movement be violently tear-gassed and shot at by police all while white terrorists summoned by Trump were escorted down the Capitol steps during an insurrection, it has become more than just foreign policies and health care plans to me. It is about human decency. From educating myself on political matters, using my voice on social media to influence change, and voting in my first Presidential election, I am trying to find my place within all of this, which is trying to be on the right side of history and fight for human decency So when my father voted for Trump, I cannot help but question whether he views my experiences as a woman as less important than the trade policies and economic success stories of Trump’s Presidency. I sit and ponder why he would vote for a man who is so similar to the one that took advantage of me. Am I really protected? I remember during the weeks leading up to the elec-
F THE FUTURE
tion, I asked my dad who he would vote for. Already knowing the answer, I clung to the hope that maybe he would change his mind. But he proceeded to tell me exactly what I had suspected. My stomach dropped and my heart followed right with it. My throat choked up as it tried to barricade against the swell of tears hiding behind my eyes. Part of me wanted to scream. “WHY WHY WHY? After everything I have to go through? Why are you choosing him over me?” But, I stayed silent and put my phone down. Because at times, it gets hard to talk to my father about what happened to me at work, and what continues to happen to women everywhere. This is not because I think he is not sympathetic, but because sometimes it is too hard. How do I tell my dad that some man put his unwanted hands
on his little girl? Or that his little princess gets sexualized by men at street corners at night? That the little innocent girl he used to tuck into bed every night with a hug and a kiss is not protected by her youth anymore? I also think I am too scared, that if I talk to him about it, I will have to live it all over again. My father is not a monster. He is the exact opposite. Therefore, it has been so troubling for me. There is no reason to hate my dad. He is not an abusive drunk. He is not a dead beat who went to the store to get milk eighteen years ago and has yet to be seen. He is the most hardworking man I know and has given my family everything we could ever want. He rebuilt our family, refusing to let us stay broken, and he has stayed so strong, even when that becomes nearly impossi-
ble to do. I know deep down that it is our generational divide, gender, and life experiences that makes our political views so different. As much as I wish I can say Donald Trump is the only misogynistic, rapist man out there, he is not. I acknowledge that if my dad voted blue, girls would still be assaulted and raped, and black men and women would still be treated inhumanely by many. It is just how the world has seemed to become. But if my dad did not vote for Donald Trump, it would help my experiences seem like they matter, making them more meaningful than issues such as foreign policy. With Donald Trump out of the office and our first female Vice President in it, it is a huge step for women everywhere. This new era is unknown territory, and I would
be lying if I said I was not scared shitless. Our country is divided and broken and who knows how we are going to reach this golden beam of unity that President Biden so heavily preached about obtaining. Even though the fear of our country remaining broken stays in the back of my mind, this is hopefully the first step we can take to grow and move forward. Change needed to come so we can heal, so I can heal. It is refreshing to know that human decency won that day, not just tax plans and healthcare reform. People proved to be more important than policies. Even though it is so conflicting having a father who voted for Donald Trump, trying to change my dad is not going to change what happened to me, and I must live with that. Even though every time someone goes to touch me I flinch and I live my life looking over my shoulder while fearing the dark night, that doesn’t mean women should continue to live like this everyday. It isn’t living. We have become so numb that we normalize what happens, but hopefully as we turn a new leaf we can begin to change so girls no longer have to say “me too”. J.S is a student at the University of Pittsburgh where she is studying Communications on the Digital Media track. As a writer for The Pitt News, she primarily writes about her college experiences during a pandemic while also touching on her own experience with mental health. Ahw asked that her name be withheld.
PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 23
VOICES OF BREAKING THE BUBBLE
hroughout my entire life, my family had taught and continuously enforced how important loving and caring for others is. Whether hating someone due to a disability, someone's financial situation, someone’s skin color, or someone’s sexuality. Growing up I had always been told that we are all human. It had never dawned on me how hateful the world is through my early life through middle school and even early high school. Living in a predominantly white and more well-off suburb in the South Hills of Pittsburgh for my entire life created a bubble around me, separating me from the world outside of Pleasant Hills and Thomas Jefferson High School. This bubble basically isolated and separated our school district and the neighborhoods inside from the poorer and less fortunate neighborhoods around ours. The lack of diversity for years had basically sustained and supported older and more insensitive ways of living and thinking about others. While more and more kids and people moved away from the older forms of thinking as younger couples moved into the neighborhood and district, some of these views still remained. Going through high school, I had become a student leader at my local church. Throughout middle school, I had gone to the youth group, which gave me a very solid idea of
BY ANTHONY SICHI
how the program was run and the hearts of those who were in charge of it. During my time leading at the church, I had met some of the most caring and loving people I had ever met and gotten much closer with my best friends. While I didn’t really care much for religious aspects of helping at the church, I cared more for the moral lessons that further supported what I had been taught my entire life. The life lessons some of the stories we had covered further solidified and supported what I was taught growing up, to love and care about everyone no matter what your differences are. Constantly being surrounded with a support system and people I knew I could rely on made me feel like what I had been
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taught was valid and taught to who I thought was a majority of people in our area and surrounding areas. The small group of guys that had been our “chat room” to discuss the stories and the difficult times we may potentially be going through still stays in contact to this day and continues to support each other. During my early tenure at the church and through my early years of high school, I really had no political opinions and didn’t really care too much about what happened in the elections or for any policy made. The neighborhood I had grown up in was a predominantly white, well-off, conservative area, which in a way made me feel like believing in conservative policy and
politicians was my only way to go. Granted, at the time I was extremely ignorant to the idea that these policies would still impact me even though I was not the one voting for or against them, I really just turned my mind off when it came to any political debate. The constant debate and arguing was just something I didn’t care to participate in. You were either right or wrong. Around the 2016 Election is when I first began “caring” about politics, even though at the time I really had no idea what was going on, I had simply been told to support the lesser of two evils, which at the time I had thought was Donald J. Trump. Two impeachments and a new president later, I can firmly say, yeah I was wrong in supporting him. While I was very non confrontational when it came to political debate and discussion due to my lack of knowledge, I had always believed what I thought was right and everything else was wrong. My eyes really began to open on what I had really been supporting and believing was “the right way” to run a country when I first saw the disgusting states of the detention centers at the border of the United States and Mexico. Seeing easily over 100 Mexican immigrants squished into an area that
F THE FUTURE looked to be about 50 feet by 50 feet, sleeping and laying with what looked like tin foil blankets on top of them opened my eyes to thinking, “Holy shit, is this what I supported?”. It made me feel sick to my stomach. It led me to do more research and give more thought to what I really believed in politically. Coming from learning to love and care about everyone no matter our differences and seeing the mistreatment of these people looking for a better life being forced to live in extremely dehumanizing conditions, helped me to realize maybe what I was supporting and had no real knowledge about wasn’t for me. As I take a retrospective look on the past four years, I can firmly say I went through my early adult years at a very important time in history, not only for the country as a whole, but also just for me. Donald Trump was not a true Republican, and I don’t let him alter my view of those with conservative views, but in a weird way I am thankful for his four years in office. I am not thankful for the things he did in office, the hate and violence he incited when it came to telling white supremacists to stand by during Black Lives Matter Protests, or him calling for more violence when his supporters stormed Capitol Hill, but I am thankful for the fact that we can learn from these events, as I did early on. While I can look back at those years and feel in a way thankful, there’s
others around the country that had the worst years of their lives due to being shunned by the president. It helped me realize how underrepresented some are around this country. These past four years helped me to develop ideas and thoughts that I firmly believed in and supported my values I was taught from early on in my life. My views of supporting everyone no matter what I feel like were more supported by liberal views. There’s always going to be somebody who was dealt a worse hand than you, and it’s not their fault. They were simply put in a worse circumstance than more well off areas around the country. Like I was supported by those who had more knowledge and understanding about life during my years at the church, I feel like people need to be supported and guided in the right ways and supported if they are fogging through tough times. I was taught to care about and help people no matter what, I feel like my values were better represented by the liberal party. Anthony Sichi is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh studying Media and Professional Communications on the Digital Media track. He hopes to work in advertising. He grew up in the South Hills of Pittsburgh and has always taken an interest in creative writing, deriving inspiration from his favorite music and films.
DEBT, ART SCHOOL, AND THE AMERICAN DREAM BY DI-AY BATTAD
I am a terrible Pilipinx immigrant. When I was seventeen, I decided it would be perfectly fine for me and my already-financially-strapped family if I took out student loans so I could major in art at a school that cost $55k per year. My parents were incredibly supportive. Even though our family once lived in a small, dusty house outside Manila, with an outhouse instead of a bathroom, and where we put buckets under the places our corrugated-tin roof perpetually leaked. There were flies everywhere, and stray dogs and cats. We made rattly, rudimentary musical instruments out of beer bottle caps, wire, sticks and nails. And yet, my parents never let me and my brothers know that we were poor. They focused on our learning. Not just on school learning, but on pursuing our curiosities and interests in ways that made us want to learn. When I was in high school and deciding my course of study, I saw college not as an investment but a gateway into a wider world of ideas. I chose to study art because it was an area in which I felt unrestricted. I wanted to learn to observe the world, process information, and communicate in the most impactful ways. So many parents found ways to take out loans to pay for a $55k-a-year education for me to see my dreams through, and I got into debt. Upon graduating, I couldn’t bring myself to borrow more money for an MFA as some of my peers were doing. I’d watched as some of the other art and humanities graduates from previous years moved to larger cities, only to boomerang back to Pittsburgh for a few more years until they could find the direction and courage to leave again. As for me, the more I scanned the “qualifications” sections in hundreds of open-position postings, both in Pittsburgh and everywhere else, the more sorry I felt about my chosen course of study. I eventually became a fulltime teaching artist, and my income barely rose above $15 an hour after five years. While I was able to make my student loan payments, I struggled, relying on food stamps and pantries at times, and I constantly needed to figure out how to continue making rent. The first thing I
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had to cut from my budget was going to music and art shows - the things that I had once found so much intellectual freedom in had become restrictive; excessive. While I was materially uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have racked up feelings of guilt and regret if I also, as a Pilipinx, didn’t inherently have a sense of familial duty. My mother once told me that in her family, the oldest child would go to college first, make enough money to help get the second-oldest through college, who would then support the next in line, and so on. “That’s the Filipino way,” she explained. And as supportive as my parents had been of my pursuit of my own interests, they are still Pilipinx parents, and did hope that I would be able to help the family out when I’m able to. When my cousin, who I don’t know at all, graduated from college, my dad asked me if I could spare her any money. When my younger sibling wasn’t able to financially support himself, I was asked if I could afford to make a monthly contribution indefinitely. The asks always upset me, but not with my family. I was upset with my collegeyears-old self for not having the foresight to invest
my borrowed, high-interest money in skills that were a little more marketable than “can write a barely-passable paper on the queer aesthetics of noise the morning after VJing all night and then crashing from Ritalin juice.” Pursuit of my own interests? What was I thinking. My parents had lovingly worked to bring me to the United States, which enticed them with the promises of higher education for their children. Their hope for me was to have a rich, fulfilling college experience which would then lead to a life abundant with curiosity about the world
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unhindered by finances, and the resources to pursue what interests while allowing me to give back to my communities. Yet, after finding myself under the strain of financial insecurity after college, I became bitter towards not only my parents, but also myself for so eagerly adopting the American ideals of individualism and freedom to pursue what I want. It took a while for me to admit to myself that my resentment was misdirected. Lower-income parents should not be punished for encouraging their children to maintain and follow their sense of wonder about the world
through higher education. College should not be a for-profit industry that betrays those like my parents who are well-meaning and full of hope for their children. Young people should have the freedom to pursue what intellectually motivates them; we can advance fiercely as a society that way. Eventually, I started freelancing in video production with a tremendous amount of help from friends who either were already in the field and taught me those skills, or trusted me enough to lend me cash. I’ve been lucky. Now I’m relatively comfortable - I still never have enough money to save, but I don’t have to default on my loans, and I can eat healthful, home-cooked meals and take actual breaks from work instead of using my vacation days to work a second or third job. At the same time, I’m still burdened with familial guilt and regret. My grandmother today cleans hotel rooms for a living, while I enjoy a job that doesn’t allow me to give back to my family because of the less-than-ideal paycheck, but nonetheless gives me a sense of purpose.
Being able to fend for yourself and provide for your loved ones is empowering, no doubt. It is also empowering to be
F THE FUTURE able to pursue what you are interested in, and for those of us who choose the latter in a world in which art and profit are often contradictory, it’s nice to be reminded of the value in what we’re pursuing. There is much we can do to remedy the state of higher education in America, and we can still save future college students from the traumas of either financial insecurity or lack of personal fulfillment inflicted by the student loan crisis. For those of us already deep in it, reminders of what motivated our more idealistic past selves can go a long way in keeping us mentally afloat. Amanda Gorman’s work at this year’s presidential inauguration was moving. I don’t know how intentional this was, but her performance was framed in the most saturated blocks of blue, red, and yellow - the primary colors, invoking for me a return to youth, clarity, and potential. The performance, the colors surrounding it, the meaning of the right words arranged in just the right way, and spoken in just the right time, were all striking against Biden’s almost-grandfatherly speech. I could focus again.
I remembered art, and I wanted more. I visited poets’ social media pages to scan for links to buy their books. Along the way I noticed the designers and illustrators that the writers and their publishers commissioned for their book covers. I have so many tabs open for when I’m ready to finalize my fevered shopping spree; I really do feel like I’ve been missing out, and I guess all it took for me was seeing a piece performed on a real or metaphorical stage, supported by those who have the power to, after four years of getting used to hearing numbingly shocking news every single day. And it was a creative piece in a world that was not asking it to justify its own existence - art is not a just a luxury, but a fulfillment of my parents’ promise for me, and that is clear again. Di-ay Battad makes videos for and studies parttime at the University of Pittsburgh. They lived in the Philippines, Singapore, and Connecticut before moving to Pittsburgh to study electronic and timebased art at Carnegie Mellon University, and became an American citizen at age 20. They’re for hire as a freelance videographer.
DANCE LIKE EVERYONE'S WATCHING BY JACKIE SWARTZ Growing up in suburbia, with hundreds of white privileged kids roaming my high school halls, politics was an issue that most of us did not concern ourselves with. None of us had to worry about the outside world while stuck in a bubble where the week’s biggest crime was someone going ten miles above the speed limit. But, in recent years, it has been a lot harder to not “concern yourself” with politics. Everything has become an issue of politics: wearing a mask, supporting the police, pledging allegiance to the flag. The words “liberal” and “conservative” are marked as two of the most popularly used insults in our society. After escaping this bubble of privilege and security, I have become much more exposed to politics and the current state of the world. I have begun to develop my own opinions, fears, and hopes about America which largely stem from my identity and background. The two parts of my identity that deviate from the all-powerful individual of society (a white, straight, Christian male) are my religion and gender. One of these, I can mask (literally), but the other I cannot. They both, however, have greatly affected my position and vulnerability in the world. Living in a time of the #MeToo movement, I began to grow an immense fear of my increased susceptibility to sexual harassment as a woman. I fear walking home alone at night. I fear wearing clothes that may appear I am asking for it. I fear that the mere utterance of “no” may not be enough. I fear simply existing. In pure daylight, walking the streets of New York City, a group of men strolled past my friend and me. One whistled and another muttered “Damn!” unapologetically. Being catcalled is not flattering but extremely demeaning and belittling. These fears and perspectives are not irrational or uncommon but instead universal among women. My fear of being female greatly increased when the entire nation deemed Continued on Page 28 PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 27
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it okay to elect a sexual predator as President in 2016. The role model and face of America reported to the office with several rape allegations against him. Because he could climb to arguably the most important position in America with this on his resumé, his actions could be deemed acceptable to millions of others. Religion is the other aspect of my identity that is often vulnerable to hate. At the recent insurrection of the Capitol, rioters were seen wearing sweatshirts with phrases such as “Camp Auschwitz” and “6MWE” or “6 Million Wasn’t Enough,” 6 million being the number of Jews brutally murdered in the Holocaust. These rioters were not condemned but praised by the former President. Nazi groups still prevail in the world today. Expressing this part of my identity to some could be deemed unsafe. Judaism, unlike being a female, is much easier to hide. I only become vulnerable to this identity as I enter a synagogue or install a mezuzah on my door frame. Those who are willing to express their Jewish identity so openly incite fear in me. On the first night of Hannukah, while walking around Philadelphia, I saw six men, dressed in yarmulkes and tallit, dis-
playing their excitement for the holiday by dancing to the cultural music blasting on one group member’s sizeable speaker. One also proudly carried a bottle of vodka that was fueling their celebration. It reminded me of my childhood when I paraded around with a Star of David plastered on my shirt, oblivious to any judgements I might be receiving from the world. They still carried the innocence I once did. I, however, did not. Now, this intense religious enthusiasm scared me. In my mind full of paranoia and constant anxiety, I worried that anyone could be walking around
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in such a public setting, possibly one with intense hatred towards Jews. Their clear display of religion could get them hurt or even killed, but that did not stop them from dancing to the music. As much as I wanted them to stop, in order to avoid attracting attention from the wrong crowd, I deeply admired their bravery and commended their will to keep celebrating. They made themselves vulnerable by exposing something that could be so easily hidden. They unapologetically embraced their identity. I envy, but utterly lack, the bravery that those drunk dancing men carried
through the busy streets of Philadelphia. I often conceal this part of my identity. I avoid wearing the Star of David on my chest or distinguishing myself as Jewish in any regard. I do have the nose to show it, but luckily the masks have greatly helped with that aspect of it. Being able to almost completely hide a part of my identity is a luxury. To show our identity is often a matter of choice. I can hide my religion, LGBTQ+ individuals can hide their sexuality, but Black Americans cannot hide the color of their skin. Their vulnerability to the world and those individuals in it is heightened solely because of their dark skin. Hearing accounts of black men getting eyed in a store or being arrested without cause disgusts me. My immunity to these incidences as a white person is unwarranted. This immense unfairness is what has made me so empathetic to the Black Lives Matter cause. It is sickening to me that anyone could deem another as inferior solely because of a difference in their coloring. Explaining this unfairness to others is something I often find myself doing. Like most family dinners, there’s mention of politics. At one, my aunt was bold enough to say that “All Lives Matter” with
F THE FUTURE her far-left niece sitting right across from her. In the most patient tone that I could muster up, I bashed this notion until she finally understood that what she was saying was horribly wrong. I told her that skin color alone instills fear in Black Americans, that people see them as lesser based on one small aspect of their identity. She rebutted by asking why Jews, targeted for the most religious hate crimes in America, do not protest the same. I explained to her that we are not forced to plaster the Star of David our chest, heightening our susceptibility to hate. Black Americans cannot hide the color of their skin against those who discriminate against them. I asked her if she would say the same thing if Jews in the Holocaust, forced to wear a yellow “Jude” star on their chest marking their differences, had protested “Jewish Lives Matter.” Appalled, she realized the weakness and ridiculousness of her argument and joined the side of her 18-year-old niece. The two unique parts of my identity have given way to the open-mindedness and left-leaning nature that I have developed. I realize that my gender and religion are not all that I am. I am vulnerable. I am emotional. I am capable. Our differences should not exempt
us from feeling, being, or becoming. Frustration arises when I must explain what I consider obvious to seemingly accepting individuals, often those who follow most closely with the dominant figure of society. Responding to the Instagram stories of ignorant individuals has become one of my favorite pastimes. Our differences are not something we can simply turn off, yet they are still used as a cause for discrimination. Overwhelming society with our differences is the only way to destigmatize them. There is undoubtable hope for those deemed less by an overwhelming amount of society. Differences just need to be normalized and, maybe one day, even celebrated. We need to continue leading Feminist movements, protesting for Black Lives Matter, celebrating sexuality in Pride parades, and happily dancing to Hanukkah music, unfazed by the consequences that could ensue. Jackie Swartz is studying Communication at the University of Pittsburgh. She is from Upper Dublin, Pennsylvania and enjoys spending time with her friends and her dog, Louie, in her free time
THE HERO OF THE STORY BY JACOB CARMODY
Growing up, I loved superheroes. I still do, as a matter of fact. I think the biggest reason I gravitated towards the idea of superheroes is that no matter what evils and villainy they face, superheroes almost always do the right thing. Even when they do not do what is right, when they falter and fail, they eventually redeem themselves and become the heroes we need them to be. This seemingly moral absolutism fascinated me, and I ended up adopting this into my own beliefs. Perhaps it was a means to cope with my underlying depression and anxiety, but I wanted to be like these heroes I read about, and a desperate need to know what was right and what was wrong grew in me. There was a right and there was a wrong, a good and an evil, a light and a darkness, and everything else in between would somehow find its way to either side. For a while this was easy. The right thing was what helped people, what made everyone safe at the end of the day. Whatever would end with you riding into the sunset with the world sleeping soundly was what you wanted to do. Whatever caused hurt and pain was what to avoid. What made these beliefs even easier to digest was that I grew up with little to challenge any of them. I was, and still am, a white straight male who lives in the suburbs of Pennsylvania and went to private Catholic schools my entire life. I had a set list of rules that defined what was good and just, what was needed to be good in this world. You were to go to church, follow the teachings of the Bible, and just be a good person. It was never complicated, and yet also never felt like it was the truest form of good one could achieve. Once I reached high school, where we were still being taught to be good Catholics and follow the rules, I began to stray from what I previously believed. The more I learned about God and the Bible, the less I believed in a being who, being all powerful, could also be all good when there was so much Continued on Page 30 PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 29
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evil lingering in the world. Sure, my teachers and pastors had explanations for everything, I just did not believe anymore. I decided I was agnostic. I would appreciate the Church’s teachings while being able to disagree and question what I was taught. Where I thought this would bring me clarity, it only led me further into a state of moral disarray. I felt like I had the freedom to not have to follow whatever I was told unless I truly believed in what was being taught. I chose what was right, not anyone else. Unfortunately, I really had no clue what I believed in beyond the Church and God, so I turned to other sources for answers. Sources that seemed so certain and definite in what the world needed. More specifically, I turned to conservativism and politically rightwinged ideologies. Everything these radical conservative activists and politicians said made sense to my impressionable young mind. Abortion was an unjust evil, affirmative action was unfair, capitalism created the best opportunities for people, illegal immigrants were criminals by law. FOX News and other right-winged news outlets told me what was right, that you cannot let these ‘liberal snowflakes’ ruin our great nation with evils
such as socialism. I had found a fight to support, a fight that felt right because it defined what was good and what was bad by going beyond what a deity that I did not even really believe in said was right. Not to mention that most of the people in my community were also conservative and held similar views. I thought I had found the villains of the story, the people and ideas the heroes were to oppose, and the answers I was looking for so long for seemed to be revealed. If that last bit gave you a sense of distaste for my person, I assure you I do not enjoy reminiscing in
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how I was. Not because I think conservatives are wrong about everything or are evil people. Most conservatives I personally know are genuinely good and kind people who want our country and everyone in it to thrive, and do not attribute themselves to the radical ideologies I upheld. I simply realized how narrow minded I was at the time. Albeit I was a straight white male who never had so much difficulty beyond my own mental health issues. I never needed for anything I could not reasonably obtain through my successful parents and comfortable living conditions. Socially
and financially, I was, I am, the definition of being privileged, and that blinded me into becoming radicalized on issues I did not truly understand. Only when I went to college did my understanding of the world change. I was no longer in the comfort of my predominately rich and white suburb. I was in Pittsburgh, where everyone and everything was so much more complex. People of different races, genders, sexualities, and overall experiences coexisted, and I began to understand issues of racism, sexism, and discrimination more clearly. I could no longer hide behind the political views I once held because now I was interacting with people who knew firsthand what was really going on in this country, and it was a sickening realization. Luckily, my family is relatively diverse regarding politics. While some of my family was similarly conservative as I was, while some were less extreme and much more left leaning, making this transition easier to digest. No one hated each other for supporting different parties, because we were family. Nonetheless, the beliefs and ideologies I held so strongly were more fallible that I realized. As I adopted these new views, I still felt I had less and less of an understanding of
F THE FUTURE what was right. How could these beliefs that seemed so indestructible at the time fall apart so easily? While my eyes widened to better understand these injustices I was ignorant to, I still felt challenged in my morals. I grew up being so privileged in every aspect of my life and did not face the difficulties and evils so many others faced. I recognized these injustices, and I did not know what to do. Was I to simply say I stood against injustice? Did I need to march with everyone in the streets in protest? All of this seemed right as well, but I still felt like my morals were incomplete and in disarray. I knew had a duty as someone who was not being discriminated to do right by those who were. I desperately wanted to do the right thing, and I still do today, but I was not right winged or conservative anymore, and I was also not liberal nor left. I no longer had a side to tell me what to do and what to believe. I was again lost, searching for answers. I hoped for so long I had these answers. I had turned to religion, to politics, and to my community, but the more I found answers the more I had questions. I looked to everyone else who seemed they knew what to do, but when those close to you are so politically diverse,
like your brother being strongly conservative while your best friend is an Anarcho-Communist, the conflict hardly resolves. Through all my experiences and understandings of the world around me, there is so much that I do not understand. I always wanted to like the characters I read about, to be the hero of the story. Even though I could not fly around in a colorful costume, I wanted to help defend the innocent and stand against evil. I wanted good and evil to be clearly defined and the actions to stand with the good be even clearer. Honestly, I do not know if they ever will be. The world is so much more complex than that, so for now, being who I am, all I can do, all any of us can do, is to continue to try to do right. We must strive to be the heroes of our own stories, and hope that it is enough. Jacob Carmody is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh from Mars, Pennsylvania. He is studying English Writing and Information Science. Besides writing he is also a self-taught artist, a below average skateboarder, and an aspiring graphic novelist.
THIS IS HOW MY STORY BEGINS BY JASMINE MCDUFFIE
When I think about where I came from, it’s hard to pinpoint a single idea. My mother is white and my father is black, but I didn’t know what this meant at a young age. By the time I was two years old, my father was no longer in my life because my mother was scared of what might happen. I was raised by my mother and white grandparents from this time forward. At around the age of four, my mother began a new relationship and I now had someone to call “dad.” At that point in time, my grandparents were the ones that my twin sister and I felt were our parents. They got us involved with sports, dancing, extracurricular school activities and much more. When my mother moved in with my new father, my sister and I decided we wanted to live with my grandparents still and that’s exactly what happened. My grandparents did everything for us and still do today, and I’ll always remember that. At about the age of six, I started to wonder….where is my real dad? What happened? My mom would allow us to call our dad once in a while, where he would promise to buy us gifts, send money for us, maybe even come visit...but that was all a lie. After I went through these random conversations and nothing came of them, I grew a hatred for my father and decided I wanted nothing to do with him. So, I continued to live my life growing up in an all white household, going to a public school and excelling in sports at a young age. By the time I was twelve years old, my mother got married to my stepfather and things were going to change. My white stepfather is a doctor and had job opportunities far away from my grandparents so we were going to be moving. My grandparents couldn’t bear to be far from their grandkids and they were going to make sure it didn’t happen. My mom, step dad, twin sister and I moved only four hours away from my grandparents (Jamestown, NY) to Scranton, PA. At this point in time, I was devastated because not only were all of my friends at my old home but Continued on Page 32 PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 31
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I also still wanted to live with my grandparents. As time went on I grew to love Scranton and all the friends I made. The majority of my friends were white, so I didn’t always know how to express myself or react when someone would say something cruel to me. I continued my love for sports here and excelled because of my stepfather. From when I was a kid to now, my relationship with my stepfather has changed drastically. From hating the guy for being “strict” to loving him for being just that. I think about my life and how differently I would’ve turned out if my mom stayed with my real dad. When I turned 15 years old, my stepfather forced my sister and me to get jobs and we hated that because none of our friends were working so why would we? Little did I know that him forcing a good work ethic on me would develop me into the person I am today. He inspired me to do better and be better, with no excuses because someone somewhere has it way harder than I ever will. School is very important to him, and from a young age, he instilled the mindset in me to work hard. He is a Pitt alumnus, and I am following in his footsteps going here because I want to be successful, just as he is.
When I moved to Scranton, PA it was a big adjustment at first, but as I said before I made friends quickly and grew to love it. I went to a public middle/high school and I never felt different than anyone else. By the time I was in high school, there weren’t many black students and I slowly started to realize that not everyone is going to like me. I didn’t know or feel as if I was different until I started to get called names like the n-word, negro, dirty, etc. In class, in sports, and out in public I would be called things for the color of my skin and I just thought, “Wow, they don’t like me because
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of the color of my skin?” That was honestly outrageous to me and I didn’t know how to react so I just let it go. A time that I’ll never forget was when I was sixteen years old and I went to Target with my sister and mother. My sister and I were walking around on our own when we were in the same aisle as two girls that were younger than us. These girls started to say things to us that were quite rude so we decided to walk away. Shortly after, we are back with our mom still shopping when the manager comes up to us and tells our mom that we need to leave. We were confused
and asked what was going on? When the manager proceeded to say that we were trying to kidnap the little girls bothering us in the aisle. She then continued to say that she has us on camera every weekend coming to the store and harassing people and trying to kidnap kids. My mom was shocked that this was coming out of the manager’s mouth considering we were practically kids and only went to the store with our mother. I had no idea that this incident occurred because we were black, and this is when our mom decided to have a talk with us. She said we need to prepare ourselves and be more aware that there are mean and racist people who will try and hurt us with words but that we should always stand up for ourselves.
As the next year continues and I deal with racist encounters, now knowing why people didn’t like me really opened up my eyes to the cruel world we live in. At the same time, I was struggling to know where I came from and what to say when these things happened. I decided I wanted to see my dad and my siblings that I hadn’t seen in so many years. My oldest sister actually reached out to me a few years back and we would talk here and there. I talked
F THE FUTURE to her about meeting up, but I was always scared of how my family would react so I waited for the right time. My father lives in Buffalo, NY and coincidentally I also have family on my mother’s side that lives there. When I was seventeen, my sister and I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Buffalo and I secretly planned to meet up with my father and siblings. My little brother that I had never met was having a birthday party on the night of our visit. After visiting with family on my mom’s side, my sister and I went to the birthday party. It was a surreal experience. I didn’t know how to feel or act but it was nice to see my siblings and catch up. I talked to my father and the entire time he was talking about himself and didn’t ask much about me at all or what he has put me through. He bragged about how he takes care of my little brother and helps out the rest of my siblings with money, but it all seemed like a lie. He said he was sorry, but didn’t say what for. I knew the right answer was forgetting about his two wonderful twin daughters, but he would never admit that. At that moment, I realized that he hasn’t cared about
us or wanted to get to know us the entire time but that’s something I needed to find out on my own. I came to the realization that my stepfather is more of a father to me than my real dad ever was and has also prepared me for the real world. I am a black woman in America that faces hard things every day that a white person will never face. I was raised in a white household where I didn’t necessarily learn how to react to these kinds of things the way I would in an all-black or mixed household. After the experiences I’ve had, I wouldn’t change the way I was raised now or ever because I am a strong and independent person because of it. Jasmine McDuffie is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh. She is studying Corporate Communications with a minor in Digital Media and plans to work for a tech/media company after graduating. In Jasmine's free time she enjoys spending time with friends and family, staying active, skiing, and writing.
DESPITE VOTING FOR TRUMP, I WAS GLAD TO SEE BIDEN TAKE OFFICE BY MARSHALL WORTH
2020 marked my first year of eligibility to cast a ballot in a presidential election. I was excited and grateful for the opportunity. More importantly, I took the responsibility seriously. Despite having lived in the United States for my whole life, I do not take the right to vote for granted. Not all people have such a right; it is one of those things that is easy to overlook but would be dearly missed if taken away. Leading up to the election, I made sure to be conscientious of this and give my decision the thought that it deserved. While I knew that my one vote would not tip the scales of our democracy, I wanted to feel confident in my decision. I did. Around the beginning of October, after months of wavering, I decided that I would vote for Donald Trump. I had done my due diligence. Lists of pros and cons filled my notebooks. Over the year, there were times when I was sure I would vote for him, sure I would vote against him, and even times when I settled on the idea of abandoning my sense of duty and leaving my ballot blank. Ultimately, I stuck with my gut and went for Trump. My political ideology is built on two broad pillars. The first is my unrelenting support for economic nationalism; I believe that the government should exist to protect its country’s workers, not let them fall victim to the supposedly glorious but often disadvantageous global free market. Secondly, I stand opposed to the interventionist warmongering that has plagued 21st-century American foreign policy and fueled unforced and irreversible carnage and instability across the world. As a general practice, I think that our government would be wise to hesitate before intervening abroad and I find past administrations’ unwillingness to do so brazenly irresponsible. I view the direction in which our country is pointed regarding these topics as of the utmost importance. Despite Trump’s long list of flaws, he is strong on both issues. Continued on Page 34 PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 33
VOICES OF Continued From Page 33
During my decision-making process, I grew to realize the luxury of my perspective. Whether the country reelected Trump or chose a new path in Biden, my life would remain mostly unchanged. I remember my mom, an avid anti-Trumper, remarking to me a couple of years into his term that as much as she detested his occupation of the presidency, Trump’s heading of the government had very little tangible impact on her life. Her small business was running just the same as before, as were the schools that her children attended, and the general day-to-day routine that she always moved through remained uninfringed upon. While Trump’s demeanor, personality, and general behavior outraged her, his rise to power hadn’t really changed her life. This is obviously a position of extreme privilege, and it’s a position that I share. I live comfortably in a Philadelphia suburb and go to school as an undergraduate student at The University of Pittsburgh. Regardless of who holds government offices in Washington, Pitt isn’t going anywhere. Neither are the opportunities that come with being a student there. I am fortunate beyond description.
Even as a Trump voter, I knew that if Biden took office and my greatest fears about his agenda were realized, I would be unscathed. For example, what if the United States military were sent into a bloody and meaningless war like it was in 2003 with then-Senator Biden leading the charge? Or, what if Congress and the White House joined forces to create and implement an American job-killing, globalist trade deal as happened in 1993 when NAFTA was approved by 61 senators including Biden? I would fiercely disapprove of either of these hypotheticals, but
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all the while, I would be unaffected. I am not in the armed forces, and neither is anyone in my family or social circles, just as I do not work in manufacturing, and neither does anyone in I know. I am not forced to be nearly as invested in and beholden to the actions of the government as many are. Since I don’t have as much “skin in the game” as most others, it is easier for me to have a flexible stance on my candidates. This, I believe, is why months after casting my ballot for Trump, I found myself able to jump ship. While a laid-off worker at a manufacturing plant may have
felt that his livelihood depended on Trump’s reelection, mine did not. My aforementioned pillars have not changed; during election season, I saw supporting Trump as synonymous with those values. That’s why I voted for him. I continue to passionately stand by those principles. What has changed, however, is what it means to be a Trump supporter. Since the election, supporting Trump has grown to also mean supporting scheming and lying when things don’t go your way, blaming mysterious, outside forces instead of accepting responsibility for your shortcomings, and ultimately, stunningly, resorting to violence when all else in a corrupt pursuit has failed. Trump behaved in all of these ways following his electoral defeat. It was impossible for me to get behind. It started on election night. I followed the news on my laptop as I messaged with friends and spent time on the phone with one of my aunts. We were up until 3. I was hoping for a Trump victory, but not expecting one. As the returns began to flood in, Trump led in practically every battleground state. It seemed like 2016 all over again. The early results did not surprise us; anyone who had paid real attention and
F THE FUTURE had any sense of objectivity knew that polls predicting Biden landslides across the board were fantasies. Nevertheless, we knew that Trump’s leads were misleading. Mail-in votes, which were correctly projected to lean heavily in favor of Democrats, were largely yet to be counted. It was easy to foresee what was going to happen. Trump’s leads would shrink, and the races would become airtight. The only question remaining was whether or not Biden’s gains would be enough. I thought that they would. As the hours ticked away, a Biden victory seemed more and more likely. By 2, it seemed like a foregone conclusion. Despite this, when Trump addressed his supporters at around 2:30, he astonishingly claimed victory. Next, he declared that if Biden’s mail-in votes were enough to hand him the presidency, then the Democratic nominee’s victory would be a fraud. This was the beginning of the end of my time on the Trump train. The next two-and-a half months were an embarrassment. I saw Trump’s behavior leading up to and climaxing on January 6 as a symbolic middle finger to the exact people whom he was supposed to represent: the voters. As a first-time candidate in 2016, Trump vowed to govern as a populist. That’s why I was drawn to
him. Disregarding the will of the electorate as Trump did at the end of his term couldn’t be further from populism. It was the kind of behavior one would expect from the exact kinds of insider elites whom Trump has promised to rebuff. Trump had demonstrated that he believes he is bigger than democracy. Bigger than our republic. He is wrong. Trump establishing himself as an enemy of fair and free elections has made partisan disputes over economics, foreign policy, and everything in between moot because, at the end of the day, the will of the people is most important. I would rather have a democratically elected president with whom I have disagreements than a leader who the country did not want. Candidates come and go, but democracy must endure. “And at this hour,” President Biden proclaimed in his inaugural address, “democracy has prevailed.” Marshall Worth is an undergraduate student at The University of Pittsburgh studying economics, business, and writing. He writes for the university's student-run newspaper, The Pitt News, and enjoys both journalistic and narrative-based nonfiction writing. After college, Marshall hopes to pursue a Juris Doctor degree."
BLOOD BY RYAN GIANDONATO
It is a tale as old as time. A young suburbanite leaves their family and home in search of a college education, only to return as a communist neo-hippie, with a copy of Das Kapital nestled under their arm and a hammer and sickle patch in tow. Perhaps that is a gross exaggeration, but the notion of college students having their upbringings challenged by their new environment and the influence of leftist politics is far from a stretch of the truth. It is a well documented fact that as one becomes more educated, they also typically tend to become more left leaning ideologically. Higher education, universities, and professors all tend to be associated with leftism, neoliberalism in particular. Oftentimes, these students return to a home that feels foreign to them despite having grown up there; they have fundamentally altered the way they view the world, and when parents or siblings are unreceptive, it can be upsetting or irritating. Take my story, for example. I grew up in a small borough just outside of Philadelphia. I was raised by my mother and father, both white, as were the majority of the people in my town. My parents raised me as Catholic, although I attended public schooling my whole life. More importantly, they both are registered Republicans, and I was raised as such. When I was younger, I was deeply invested in politics. I loved reading about it and having conversations with my dad and friends about current events. At the time, I was huge into conservatism: my Reagan Bush ‘88 bumper sticker on my car spoke volumes to that. I would watch Fox News with my dad when he had it on. I was the poster child for the Republican party. Until I went to school. It wasn’t just school that suddenly and ferociously rearranged my political perspective. I think it all started back in 2016, as I was watching the election Continued on Page 36 PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 35
VOICES OF Continued From Page 33
and eventual Trump presidency unfold. I thought he was a joke in the primaries, and I was shocked when he ran away with the Republican nomination. He was not a true conservative in my eyes, but rather a populist imposter. As I watched all of my fellow Republicans rally around him, it was truly one of the first times in my life where I began to question what I really believed in. I saw the way he manipulated people like my parents and it deeply troubled me. I gritted my teeth and hoped that perhaps his ridiculous nature would subside once he was in office. By the waning moments of my senior year of high school and after a year and a half of the Trump era, I felt extremely lost. I had gone from a raised right Republican, to a never Trump conservative, to completely disavowing the Republican party entirely. I understaItnd that his presidency had irreparable damage to individuals and institutions alike, but in a strange way, I am almost thankful for his ascension to power. If it had never happened, perhaps I would have never strayed from the familiarity of the GOP. Trump opened my eyes to what was really going on
and initiated my journey of self-discovery, and I don’t believe I’m alone in saying that. Several of the people I’ve met at school have spoken similar stories, of how seeing Trump in office caused them to take a reality check. Unfortunately, this is far from a universal experience. In many cases, the introduction of Trumpism only served to solidify or intensify conservative viewpoints, like in the case of my father. Coming home is always interesting. I remember going out to the shed, the one that my father and I had built ourselves my sophomore year of college,
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and seeing that he had hung up a giant “PENNSYLVANIANS FOR TRUMP” flag and feeling disappointed. It was different from the sticker he has on his truck or the sign that he put up in the front lawn. This felt more personal. This was a place that we had come together to build something, and not even that sacred place was holy anymore. I’m being very dramatic, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting a little, given that my father knows how I feel about Trump. It is a topic that can’t help but be brought up constantly, especially during the height of the virus lockdowns. Boarded up between four walls with people that you fundamentally disagree with politically is a disaster waiting to happen. It may seem daunting and at times unproductive, but what I’ve learned, and the point of this op-ed, is that these are necessary conversations to have. At a point where political polarization is deeply concerning and our nation faces bitter division, this is no time to put our heads in the sand and ignore the issue at hand. People don’t interact with different perspectives anymore. In a depressing paradox, our world of limitless information has yielded a
sea of misinformation and contention, rather than any broadening of our horizons. You no longer have to interact with those you disagree with; in today’s world, you can just block or mute them, or find communities where views like yours are espoused. It’s terrible and it’s unproductive, and I encourage everyone to delete their Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc., accounts or at least limit their usage. We need to start being human beings again. Have an actual conversation with someone. Challenge the views you hold. Question everything you are told. Ryan Giandonato is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing degrees in supply chain management and marketing. He originally hails from a suburb of Philadelphia called Malvern, where he spent his childhood until moving to Pittsburgh to continue his education. He is also a sports fan, namely baseball, which he has played his entire life, and continues to play on the Pittsburgh Club Baseball team. Although enrolled in the College of Business Administration, writing has always been a passion of his.
F THE FUTURE BIDEN'S INAUGURATION A SIGH OF RELIEF, NOT A CELEBRATION BY SETH BERKIN
For many, watching our 46th President be sworn into office was everything. It signified a fresh start, a hard reset for a country that appeared to be going down a very dark path. There are numerous reasons why this is partially true, but it is not to Biden’s credit, just to Trump’s faults. Our country is facing an unprecedented health crisis, rampant racism leading to countless acts of violence, and an economic state that is teetering on collapse to name a few of the problems President Biden will set out to solve. He has the next four years to determine whether or not he is America’s savior, and I for one have my doubts. As I write this, I can’t help but to gaze across my bedroom at a framed quote I have from first grade. The assignment was to write what your dream is, simple and open to interpretation. My quote reads, “My dream is that there is no weapons in the world.” Questionable grammar aside, I am proud of this quote. It represents the fear that I have always had and still exists in our culture, the fear of violence. My personal experience with violence began at a young age. Growing up Jewish in Rockaway, New Jersey (a majority Christian hometown), I faced descrimination disguised as playful banter from those I considered my closest friends. I wouldn’t bat an eye if five of my friends were Sieg Heiling when I entered the room or laughing about how funny the Holocaust was. This was the norm. At college I was faced with more of the same, when my freshman year roommates insisted on hanging a Donald Trump baseball jersey in
our dorm living room. I went to school in Pittsburgh intentionally, in pursuit of a more progressive and loving environment than I was accustomed to, but the nation we inhabited was growing more and more hateful by the day. Next year, the Tree of Life shooting occurred. As a white man, it is unlikely that I will ever be targeted in an act of violence. A cop will never shoot me instinctually, I won’t be raped because of my appearance, and to an extent I am protected by a bubble of privilege. This is what I believed before the Tree of Life shooting took place. That day served as one of the biggest reality checks of my life. In my city, the one that I sought for refuge, eleven people were murdered in the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in United States history. I don’t blame Donald Trump for the tragedy, he wasn’t the one who pulled up the trigger. However, I do blame him for fostering a mindset in our country that being hateful towards a certain group of people is acceptable. Before he took office, being a white supremacist was not a point of pride that was excused by our leader. It is his fault that young children across the country believe there is nothing wrong with being racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or xenophobic. At the end of the day, you can carry all of this hate and prejudice in your heart and still become the most powerful person in the country. That is the example that President Trump established for our youth. My immediate family has a group chat that we use to share important information, nostalgic
photographs, and keep each other posted about our lives. When news broke that Donald Trump Jr. tested positive for COVID, both of my parents and brother agreed that he deserved it and they hoped he would die. I didn’t respond. This seems to be the impact that he has on America. Trump has polarized this country so much so that we subconsciously resort to violence and anger. Violence has never been a solution, nor will it ever be. The Tree of Life shooting served as the needle to pop my ignorance bubble. I will admit that beforehand I was not as concerned about the state of our country because in the back of my head I selfishly always thought that I was protected. That is no longer the case, as being aware of the current state of the country has undoubtedly made me more sensitive to the daily struggles of minorities in America. For those who are minorities, it only makes sense to be afraid. For the past four years we have been abandoned by our government, silenced by our leaders, and ignored during our cries for equality and justice. I expect President Biden to listen to the American people, to heed the advice given to him by the intelligent individuals around him, but that is not enough. He needs to be aggressive in introducing progressive policies that benefit the American public, yet I anticipate he will only serve as a band-aid to cover up the wound that Trump inflicted, without curing the injury itself. Biden claims to represent the Democratic party, but appears to be too concerned with losing moderate support to pass any legislation that would make a difference for those who need change. Progressives requesting policies such as Medicare For All will likely have to wait for a politician who is willing to take risks, as Biden already
appears to be more concerned with his approval rating than the 417,000 Americans who have already lost their lives from COVID-19. Americans no longer have the luxury of waiting, we need our government to be better. As Biden tries to “unify our country”, America will continue the facade of being the greatest nation on Earth, while other countries laugh at our incompetence to pass ‘progressive legislation’ that in reality are basic human rights. My greatest hope with Joe Biden taking over is that he can realign the priorities of the American people, and eradicate the hate that has overridden our ability to love. He has a lot of work to do, and I recognize that the hole Trump dug him into will not be an easy one to escape from. That doesn’t mean he gets a free pass, nor does it mean that we should compromise to the idea of, “at least he’s not Trump”, when he doesn’t perform. Donald Trump did not set the bar for our President, and being a slight improvement from his ignorance should not be tolerated. Additionally, Kamala Harris needs to be held to the same standard. Although she is inspiring to a generation of young women and people of color who want a career in politics, she must be held accountable for her discriminatory acts in her past. Tokenizing her purely because of her appearance accomplishes nothing, and if she is not actively working to improve the lives of minorities she has wronged previously, then she is not doing her job. America can have their sigh of relief because it’s nearly impossible for things to get worse, but considering Biden’s track record he is not a reason to rejoice. I will be cautiously optimistic for the next four years because America has lost its way. While Joe Biden may not necessarily be the compass to guide us back, he is a start.
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VOICES OF WHAT EVEN IS NORMAL? BY VALERIE DAVIS “Young people, like you, are living such strange lives. This isn’t normal. Actually, this is very saddening knowing you have to grow up in times like these.” My dad expressed this to me a few weeks ago, and I have not stopped thinking about it since then. One word stuck out with me, in particular. Normal. I had to just stop and ponder momentarily about what even constitutes normalcy these days. What is “normal?” He conveyed this idea to me on January 8th, two days after the riot at the Capital. For young people everywhere, nothing is normal anymore. Or at least I do not know what to think of as normal. In all honesty, I am so numb to anything happening when I read the news that nothing surprises me anymore. It’s a hard thing to admit, but over the last four years, I’ve learned to just accept that white supremacy riots occur, systematic racism is quite prominent, and blatant homophobia can just, well, happen. Before I go on, read that again. Please. I cannot even believe I wrote those words, but it’s true. These concepts are accepted, even openly encouraged, by the previous leader of our country. All of these concepts have been normalized during Trump’s presidency. Don’t get me wrong - I am immensely disgusted and saddened by
specific events that have happened over the last four years. However, I believe many of these instances such as the riots at Charlottesville, the “Blue Lives Matter movement,” and the domestic terrorism at the Capital have all desensitized the citizens of the United States. It upsets me beyond belief that this is my “normal,” and it should upset everyone else, too. I vividly remember walking into my predominantly white high school with tears in my eyes on November 10, 2016. At that time, I was sixteen years old and a sophomore in high school. My only knowledge of the political world was that Trump sucks and health care should be a right. For myself and most high schoolers, I formed my own thoughts and opinions from that of my parents’ opinions. At my school, however, the political spectrum ranged all the way from Bernie Sanders’ socialism to extreme reactionaries. I had no idea our grade was so split until a seemingly ordinary Wednesday in November. When I walked into my Honors English class, I saw a girl that I had only spoken to about five times thus far in the school year decked out in red, white, and blue. I thought to myself, “Oh, nice. She watched the election last night. It’s pretty odd that she's wearing those clothes. It’s almost as if she’s actually celebrating the results of the election.” Then, I saw it. The focal point of her outfit.
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She wore a gigantic scarf with “TRUMP” down both sides, falling carefully against her upper body. I stood there in shock, coming to a horrible realization for the first time that will stay relevant to me for the rest of my life: Trump supporters are all around us. Every day. That was my first experience with a blatant Trump supporter. More specifically, a female Trump supporter. Surprisingly, I have met a myriad more since then. With a school district as big as mine, I was lucky if I knew seventy-five percent of the students in each of my classes. To
put it into perspective, I heard names at my graduation that I had never once heard before. So, as that same day at school continued, I kept my eyes peeled for other people decked out in “USA'' and “MAGA” apparel. To my disbelief, I witnessed a kid I had not recognized until that day dressed as an arrested Hilary Clinton. He even held a placard with her name and other identifiers, as though he was getting ready to pose for a mugshot. To this day, that was the only day I remember seeing him in school. That will be the only memory of him for the rest of my life. From the day after election
F THE FUTURE day in 2016 on, I gradually came to the conclusion that my high school was fiercely polarized, especially when it came to politics. As my time in high school progressed and I became more and more educated and angry with our president, my alertness was at an all-time high for people’s opinions. One day in Honors Government, my teacher had us split ourselves into those who believed they were liberal and those who believed they were conservative. Maybe that class polarized our grade even more, but I didn’t care. It showed how people thought, especially during Trump’s presidency. Looking back, I’m surprised I didn’t throw up, scream, and cry when I saw those who were not afraid to show their true colors in regard to Trump, not just in the classroom, but pretty much all around the school’s premises. I don’t know how much detail I need to get into, but maybe the image of a truck(s) with a confederate flag(s) on them will allow you to get the picture. The worst part about it was that it was normal. On a typical day, I would walk into school with a waving confederate flag in my peripheral vision. And I thought that was normal. Donald Trump has allowed racism and homophobia to run amok yet again in the United States. It’s normal. I guess. As a Gen-Z woman, I thought my peers’ political viewpoints would be the same as mine. The world has been evolving into a more liberal place, or so I thought, before remembering I grew up in Pennsylvania, one of the
greatest swing states in the nation (thank you, 2020 election). Living in a place where I drive down the street and see a pattern of Biden and Trump signs in front of every other house has opened my eyes to the real world. As much as I wish everyone could see eye to eye on politics, that isn’t the case nowadays. It saddens me beyond belief, but it’s the reality of not just living in Pennsylvania, but living in the United States. With all of that said, I somehow remain optimistic for the future. Attending a public university, meeting more and more people that feel the same way as me, and learning from liberal professors has allowed me to take a deep breath; there are sane people in the world that are capable of empathy. Maybe we will finally get back to “normal.” But what is normalcy? To those of you that are a bit older and have more lifetime under your belt like my father, normalcy might just be living in a world with a sane president. A world when the main communication of presidential alerts is not sending messages through a casual, seemingly non-relevant platform known as Twitter. A world where people actually care for and respect one another. Wow, wouldn’t that be nice right now. Valerie Davis is a Media and Professional Communications Major at the University of Pittsburgh. She is very passionate about politics, theater, and food. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading, and watching Marvel or Harry Potter.
YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE: NOTES ON THE INAUGURATION BY SIMON SWEENEY
I was voted “Most Likely to Become a Politician” by my senior class. For the display of this honor in the yearbook, I was photographed holding a piece of paper that said “Politics” on it, a silly joke, but one that in its way perfectly captured where my ideology had landed. At that point, Donald Trump had been the President of the United States for two years, and I was checked out. “Politics,” two years earlier a fundamental enough aspect of my personality that it had stuck in the minds of my peers enough to give me a superlative for it, was nothing, meant nothing. It was an abstract concept, one word on a page as a joke. This wasn’t always the case–– there was good reason for my peers to have attached this to their perception of me. In the 2016 general election, despite the initial disappointment of my chosen candidate, Bernie Sanders, losing in the primary, I engaged with a fervor. Not yet disabused of the idea that any Democrat was a good Democrat, I committed myself to Hillary Clinton, the “lesser of two evils.” I went to a couple of her rallies. I got a shirt. I got a poster. I tore into my social standing at the private Catholic high school I attended, wearing down the goodwill of everyone around me with radical leftist viewpoints like “she would be a better President than Donald Trump.” Another two years on, I watched as Joe Biden was sworn in as the 46th President of the United States, and I couldn’t feel much anything. Granted, a sort of sense of relief couldn’t help but creep in in at the successful removal of Donald Trump. I’d been anticipating that for a while. Something was missing, though. Why wasn’t I grinning like a maniac watching Biden Continued on Page 40 PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 39
VOICES OF recite the Oath of Office? Why was my most anticipated part of Inauguration Day only the reunion of the New Radicals? It’s because Joe Biden isn’t enough. In fact, he’s so far from being enough of a positive force that he works around to being a negative one. He’s emblematic of a complacency that’s taken a firm hold of the Democratic Party and absolutely will not let go; it’s in the interests of nobody in the ruling class for progressive policies to be enacted. The goal is to posture in the name of liberalism, evict the white supremacists from office, then rest on the laurels of not being aggressively evil. Pay no mind to the racism and classism (and, inevitably, combinations thereof) that’s sitting on the surface–– the President is no longer an embarrassment, and that’s pretty neat. I can’t settle for that anymore. In 2016, I was so happy to; Sanders was a lark, a guy I liked and respected but didn’t consider critically different from the propped up centrism of Hillary Clinton, of Nancy Pelosi, of the
threat of Joe Biden. I had no inclination to bother with the difference between a Sanders presidency and a Clinton one; they’re both a score for the good guys. What changed? As I can figure it, it’s pretty simple: nothing meant anything to me. Just look back at how well I fit in at the aforementioned cloister of a school before I started spouting off Clintonian propaganda. I’m just a guy. Unassuming, from a financially stable home, white, straight, and cisgendered. These conditions make it tough to clock at first, before some investigation, that politics isn’t a team sport (or rather, that it is, but the teams were not the ones I thought they were). That the Clintons, Obamas, and Bidens of the world are firmly committed only to the protection of their own class interests while ostensibly holding some sort of inoffensive, vaguely progressive values. That the Democratic Party is essentially without a meaningful ideological grounding and that its leaders, rich and comfortable themselves, only stand to benefit from lying down and letting Republicans
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roll a bulldozer over their faces. It’s this realization of the truth of these alignment that’s necessary to have a grip on what politics are in America and have been for longer than anyone would like to think, longer than anyone who’s around right now can remember. This is something Bernie Sanders is very honest about. To tell the truth, buried in the hateful bile that he spit
out the rest of the time, it’s something Donald Trump (mostly by accident, I’m inclined to think) managed to get at with some regularity. So I find myself no longer possessed of the ability to cheer for Blue Team with abandon. When I can force myself to tune in to anything political, I struggle to find anything beyond contempt for the situation. It’s beginning to feel as if there is no
F THE FUTURE ethical participation in politics; anything meaningful to be done is in attacking the system from without. Despite myself, I almost bemoan my loss of innocence here. I see relatives on both sides post little jokes in favor of their sides and I think back to when I could and I wish I could have it back, in some ways. It was easier, if nothing else. But wanting things to be easy is how we end up in this spot, patting ourselves on the back for pushing back the Trumpian menace and returning to normalcy. Considering what the normal is in America, normalcy is a problem. Normalcy means Black Americans will be killed at alarming rates by law enforcement with little to no recourse. Normalcy means people will starve while the government refuses to notch taxes up half a step on those few individuals who horde the vast majority of the available wealth in order to provide some relief. Normalcy means people will sit and die of a treatable condition rather than seek medical attention and rack up astounding amounts of debt. Normalcy can not
be allowed to continue if we want to imagine ourselves a civilized nation. So this is what’s changed. I’ve looked outside of myself and even anyone I’ve met. I’ve considered the people I may never meet and decided that they’re important to me too, something that should be easy but proves so hard for so many to consider. I’ve decided that cheering on “the good guys” I’ve been presented with isn’t enough, that even working within the system we’ve got probably isn’t. I can’t be sure of what that entails in terms of valuable action, but I am sure that it’s up to us to consider ourselves and what it’s worth getting excited for. Joe Biden’s election certainly doesn’t qualify, and from where I stand, horrifying as it is, I’m not sure what will. Simon Sweeney was born in 2000 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Central Catholic High School in 2019 and is currently studying English Literature, Film, and Nonfiction Writing at the University of Pittsburgh.
From COVID-19. I GOT
MY COVID -19
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine adds one more layer of protection. A safe and effective vaccine to protect against COVID-19 is now available. Learn more: cdc.gov/coronavirus/vaccines PITTSBURGH CURRENT | FEBRUARY 17, 2020 | 41
A LIST OF WHAT ESSENTIAL WORKERS HAVE TO BE ANGRY ABOUT BY CASSI BRUNO - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST
hat an honor it’s been to be one of the very necessary people who is keeping this country going during this “unprecedented time.” Yes, a year into this shit-show and I’m still seeing the word “unprecedented” on every newsletter I receive from my job: a temp agency that assigns me work as a substitute teacher in a number of preschools and daycare centers in the Pittsburgh area. Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I don’t mind working with a mask and gloves 8+ hours a day. In fact, I don’t know why we weren’t wearing them the whole time. I just can’t say society is treating those of us who work in childcare as people who are necessary to the success of our country right now… It’s easy to feel underappreciated when you work in childcare… or hospitality, or customer service—basically, any field that’s been considered “essential” this past year. It’s the nature of the job, right? Okay, now add in a highly contagious, deadly virus. Can you imagine dealing with a “Karen” or a “Kevin” who won’t read the dates on their expired coupons while also trying not to catch Covid-19? I can because I’ve always worked “essential” jobs. Essential workers have been told all year
how important and absolutely necessary we are, while the rest of the world has refused to get with the program. We’re called “heroes.” Sure, heroes that are overworked and paid minimally. Do you really think the cashier at Forever 21 applied for that job to save society? Our jobs might require us to paste on a smile and a cheerful demeanor, but most of us aren’t exactly pleased with the treatment we’ve received over the course of this pandemic. I’ve taken it upon myself to make up a little list of things that have been pissing me off as an essential worker in hopes
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to spread awareness, so that my non-essential friends and acquaintances can understand why my already-short temper is almost non-existent after a year of this foolishness. So, here are 8 Things That Might Piss You Off if You’ve Ever Been an Essential Worker During a Global Pandemic: Lack of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). When you work with people between the ages of zero and six, you come into contact with bodily fluid at least once a day, if not thirty times a day. Most childcare centers do have paper masks
on hand, and that’s about it. Don’t worry, just in case those aren’t available, I regularly get sent instructions on how to make my own mask out of a bandana. Many essential workers come into contact with hundreds of people per day. If you’ve worked any of these jobs, you know how difficult it can be to call in sick. Why wouldn’t these companies provide their employees with high-quality protective equipment? No hazard pay. Okay, so our employers can’t provide adequate PPE, maybe they could at least increase wages so we can purchase our own… or maybe they could send us a bonus of some sort…? No? Look, it would even be nice to just see some sort of appreciation for working during a global pandemic. At this point, I’d be happy with a $10 gift card to Long John Silver’s. No Covid testing. See, I follow a lot of celebrities and movie stars on Instagram who are doing a lot of very important work right now, like making multi-million-dollar feature films that nobody will see, because we’re all suffering through a global pandemic, and movie theaters are closed... Anyway, I notice these actors and influencers are required to get tested regularly for covid-19 to ensure everyone’s
OPINION ABOUT THE AUTHOR Cassi Bruno i s a S ta n d - u p Comedian and Substitute
Teacher living Pittsburgh
safety on set while they’re making content. I just think that’s a neat idea that should extend to schools, factories, care facilities, etc. I mean it would have been cool if my job tested their staff, like, once. “The customer is always right” mentality. The customer might be right 1% of the time, and that’s being generous. The issue with this mentality has been magnified during the covid-19 crisis, because now the customer believes that they are not only right about a non-existent sale, they also think the manager at Staples is conspiring with the deep state to take away their freedom. Specifically, the freedom to not have a mask on at Staples while they’re purchasing toner and toilet paper. Your non-essential friends’ social media. At my essential job, I am not permitted to work with any symptoms related to
covid-19, so like most of my essential friends, I am trying really hard not to get sick at all, and when I can shelter in place, I most definitely am. It’s now common knowledge that large gatherings are responsible for the rapid spread of covid-19, and yet every weekend my Instagram feed is filled with pictures of parties and bonfires. If anybody should be partying, it’s essential workers after dealing with the public all day, not Chad and Stacy from HR who don’t even wear pants during their zoom meetings. Your non-essential friends telling you they’re “bored.” To quote Kourtney Kardashian: “Kim, there’s people that are dying.” I get it. Staying home all the time sucks. Isolation is terrible for mental health. It’s just hard to hear about when you’re working forty hours a week and panicking for days anytime a toddler coughs on
you. Your non-essential friends telling you how much they miss “people.” Starbucks is hiring. Not being prioritized for the vaccine. According to the CDC, the first phase of vaccinations were supposed to be going to front-line healthcare workers and seniors. To be clear, I totally agree with this. Let’s keep our hospitals safe and running properly by protecting our healthcare professionals and the population most vulnerable to hospitalization. Now that the vaccine is becoming more available, however, there are more and more people eligible to be vaccinated who don’t fall in the front-line healthcare worker or senior category. Who are these people? Apparently OJ Simpson is one of them. The affluent: celebrities, athletes, and administrative/corporate people who work from home have all been able to sneak themselves into the first phase of vaccine rollout. How do I know? None of them know how to read a room and have been posting relentlessly on social media about how “blessed” they are to have received the vaccine. When the first stay-at-home orders were issued in March 2020, essential workers were “heroes.” Politicians were praising us, commercials were thanking us, and even Alicia Keys wrote a song for us. For a year, essential workers have been told how valued we are, and yet little has been done by our employers, the government, or the pub-
lic to protect us. Most of us are working with the public for forty-some hours a week, and we haven’t heard even a guess from our employers or the government about how or when we will be vaccinated. According to The Center for Economic and Policy Research, essential workers are disproportionately women, people of color, and immigrants. Their research also finds that about 16% of essential workers live with or are individuals over the age of 65, and about 36% of essential workers have children to care for at home. If the country wants to continue to use language like “heroes” when referring to essential workers, then essential workers should be treated as such. Until then, it’s pretty clear that the term “hero” is just a smoke-andmirrors attempt to keep the poorest workers content with the treatment they’re receiving, and I can tell you now, it’s not working. So, if you know an essential worker, please understand that we are dealing with being sacrificed for the economy right now, and we’re a little reasonably pissed off. We don’t want to hear about your parties, and we don’t want to hear how bored you are. I most certainly don’t want to be called a “hero” again, unless Marvel is ready to buy my script about a preschool teacher who gets peed and puked on every day during a pandemic and heroically doesn’t lose her mind.
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THE CAP GUN BY MATTHEW WALLENSTEIN - PITTSBURGH CURRENT COLUMNIST
know a lot of dumb people. I would say that most people are what I would consider dumb. I know some smart people too. The smartest among them is N. I don’t say lightly that he is brilliant. He is very well read and able to apply his learning to critical thought in ways that were always astounding to me. He introduced me to many books and ideas. In school he moved through all the tough classes. He ended up at Yale, which was no surprise to any of our friends. His brain is perhaps most remarkable in that its capacity for intellect is only matched by its capacity for senselessness. One drunken night at Yale he fought almost the entire crew team by himself. I once saw him rip a door off its hinges by accident and walk around a party holding it, confused by what had happened. Junior year of high school he came to school almost every day with only one sideburn shaved. He did like messing with people and their expectations, but you were never quite sure what was or wasn’t play. Most weekends when we were 16 and 17, a pretty big group of friends would get together. If there was a punk show we would go to it. Most of us were in bands and there were a lot of shows in those days. When there wasn’t a show, we would find some way to get into trouble. The bookstore was an easy place to
wait as more of us arrived before we’d set out on whatever nonsense we had planned for the night. So that was often the meetup spot. It was more or less a central location for us. There was plenty of seating in the cafe where we could sit and look at art books, or Playboys, or peel the magnetic strips off DVDs, sliding them into our backpacks, filling up time as we waited. One such night I showed up and walked over to the cafe. B and P were sitting there. N showed up with a gun tucked into the wasteland of his pants. “You brought a gun? What is that for?” P asked laughing. N pulled it out and showed him that it had an orange tip, it was a toy gun. “You brought a toy gun?” P said. We sat there a few minutes and talked about girls and snowboarding and bands. I got up and walked over to the magazine rack which faced the front door. A police man was walking in. He looked anxious. He had his hand on his gun. Then another walked in, then another, then another, then another. They removed their guns from their belts and walked cautiously towards the cafe. They pointed their guns at N. “Hold it,” one said. “Huh?” N said. “We got a call that there was someone with a gun in their pants. They matched
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your description.” N stood up. “Don’t move,” the cop said. “Nah,” he said. “It’s fake.” He started to laugh. He pulled the toy gun from his pants and started waving it around to show them the orange tip. To this day I can’t believe none of them pulled the trigger. When I think about that night I wonder at it. What if it had been different cops? What if one of them had reacted too fast? I often think about the fact that N is part Mexican. In the colder months he can look
very pale, he looks white. But in the summer months he looks very dark, much less white, not white at all really. Would the reaction and treatment have been different if he had looked darker? It is speculative thinking, it comes from care for him. But it is sadly not unrealistic. Less than three years ago, about a mile from the house where I am sitting here writing this, a 17 year old was shot three times by a police officer. He died as a result of it. He was in advanced placement classes too.
Love | sex | relationships BY DAN SAVAGE MAIL@SAVAGELOVE.NET
I'm a gay guy living in New York in his late twenties. My boyfriend has really been emotionally impacted by the pandemic having been a frontline worker. I think he is suffering from some mild depression or at the very least some intense anxiety so I just want to preface this by saying I completely sympathize with what he's going through. Before the pandemic we had a really good sex life, but lately he hasn't been interested in sex at all besides a few assisted masturbation sessions. While I know that these aren't usual times, I can't help feeling rejected. Normally, I would suggest opening up the relationship, for the sake of both myself and him, and I think that he might benefit from having sex with some guys where there isn't an emotional investment. Of course, right now that isn't an option. I want to be there for him and we otherwise have a solid relationship, but this issue has been making me feel hurt. I've encour-
aged him to masturbate without me but I do wish he could include me more in his sexual life. Do you have any other thoughts or advice? Thanks For Reading As much as I hate to give you an unsatisfactory answer—you aren’t satisfied with what you’re getting at home and you’re not going to be satisfied with what you get from me either— the only way to find out whether his loss of libido is entirely pandemic-related, TFR, is to wait out of the pandemic and see if your sexual connection doesn’t rebound and/or if opening up the relationship is the right move for you guys as a couple. But if you suspect the collapse of your boyfriend’s libido has more to do with what he’s witnessed and endured as a frontline worker than it has to do with you or your relationship, TFR, therapy will do him more good than sleeping with other guys or masturbating without you. Urge him to do that instead.
My dad is dying. He had a stroke two days ago and is in a coma with no brain function. My aunt (his sister) is trying to make me feel guilty for not traveling to see him. Even though I'm pregnant and high risk. I would have to take an airplane across the country and multiple public buses to see him. I would have to risk my baby's life to say goodbye to a man I love with all my heart. She insists that if I don’t, I didn’t love my dad. I'm heartbroken. I keep calling his hospice and they set the phone next to his head so I can talk at him. He was so excited about my pregnancy and I know he would not want me to risk it. But now not only am I grieving my father, I feel guilty and selfish. Am I right to be angry? My aunt's brother is dying. She’s sad. Everyone
is sad. But this is not the first time she has used guilt to try and control others in moments of trauma. Crying On My Abdomen There has to be someone in your life who would be willing to step in and tell your aunt to go fuck herself. If there isn’t, COMA, send me your aunt’s phone and I’ll do it. P.S. I’m so sorry about your dad—who is already gone—and I’m sorry your kid won’t get to meet their grandfather. And you have every right to be furious with your aunt for giving you grief when you have all the grief you can handle right now. Don’t get on that plane. And if your aunt never speaks to you again, COMA, just think of all the guilt trips she won’t be able to drag along on in the future.
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PA R T I N G S H OT
PITTSBURGH CURRENT PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK
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