I have never been a political person.
In truth, I was just too cynical. My values in life were pretty simple – be a good person; treat others the way you want to be treated; stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves; help those in need whenever it is within your power to do so; and lastly, try to leave the world a little better off than the way you found it. Maybe not always easy, but simple. Not nearly as convoluted, secretive and self-serving as the world of politics always seemed.
By trying my best, (although being a flawed human being, my best was not always awesome), I figured I was doing my part. I had an instinctual distrust of people in power, or at least those who wielded it in such a conspicuous way. They were clearly guided by some type of arrogance, narcissism, or the kind of insecurity that required the constant validation that a life in “public” office, and its consequent ability to impact the lives of others, would fulfill.
As I got older, I observed that those with real power are often quiet. They do not bully others. They don’t feel the need to show off, or brag, or receive the fawning of sycophants. I also learned that there are really good people out there doing extremely difficult work with absolute selflessness. People who put their lives on the line, who sacrifice much and ask for little. These are the people who truly make the world a better place.
I met many such inspiring people first in the arts community, and later, in the non-profit world. When I founded my charity, No Crayon Left Behind, I discovered an immense network of supportive people. Kindred spirits who offered to help simply because they saw that I needed it, and because they believed in the work I was doing on behalf of the environment and under-served children. It’s a sad commentary that I found this kind of behavior shockingly unexpected. But it renewed my faith in humanity. For real. True heroes are the quiet ones who put their heads down and follow their hearts and moral compasses that actually function. They do what they believe is right. And they do it with compassion, respect for others, and with dignity.
But all this does not answer why I’ve chosen to run for the PA House of Representatives, a contest in which I’ll face off against a career politician, the incumbent Speaker of the House. A race which I’ve been warned could get very, very ugly.
The reason is simple: I’m doing this for my children. The children who changed my life by coming into this world. The son and daughter who, as soon as they were born, made me feel it was nothing less than the least I could do to be the best that I could. To constantly strive to be better and do better. To live by the values and principles I’ve worked so hard to instill in them, something I believe is most effectively done by acting in accordance with those values and letting them see it, rather than lecture them. In short, I believe in walking the walk, and that one’s character is forged and defined by actions.
Like many, I was forever changed by this past election. I know it sounds dramatic, but it broke my heart. It wasn’t merely the outcome itself, but the journey leading up to that. A journey that dragged America through the gutter and showcased the worst of human nature. To say I was appalled doesn’t cut it. Here I was, a life-long cynic, someone who had worked for years as a screenwriter in Hollywood, and even I was in a constant state of disbelief and shock at how completely hideous people – adult people – were behaving, for all the world (and more importantly, all the world’s children) to see. The hatred, the anger, the bigotry, the xenophobia, the “everyone who isn’t just like me”-phobia, represented the exact opposite of everything I’ve taught my kids.
I grew up in New York, and I lived in Los Angeles, and I have been in extremely diverse communities for most of my life. Sure, it hasn’t always been smooth or without its tensions. But when it works, it’s a beautiful thing to behold, proving that we truly have more in common than not. And yes, even before this election, there was still a lot more work to be done, (I’m jewish, so believe me when I say that I’m keenly aware) but it’s worth everything we have as a nation to get there. It is a goal worth striving and sacrificing for.
In the wake of Trump’s victory, my children looked dazed. They looked, quite frankly, devastated. Worse, they looked – they BECAME – more jaded. They lost some essential part of their innocence. Because the behavior of the adults around them, the decisions and the judgments and the toxic statements, the circus of just plain mean-spirited insanity that was paraded before their eyes day and night, that I could NOT look away from like a train wreck happening in slow motion, proved to them that ADULTS DON’T KNOW ANYTHING. Or at least we don’t know more than they do. And we certainly don’t conduct ourselves with any more dignity or grace or integrity. We LET THEM DOWN.
Again, this is not just about the outcome, but about the entire epically repulsive, shameful process.
I have always said to my kids, “Don’t wait for someone else to solve a problem. Be that someone.”
That’s how I feel about this country. We have an existential problem, and people need to step forward to solve it. We can’t afford to wait for someone else to rescue us, or it. The dream of America is a series of principles about how to treat one another, and we just watched that dream get eviscerated and spit on. Seriously. This is extreme language, but watching how we are tearing one another apart is pretty damn extreme. The fabric of this country is unraveling, and we need to put it back together before it becomes unrecognizable and unsalvageable. Before we learn that brutal lesson which also happens to be the theme of countless country songs, of not knowing how much you love something until it’s gone.
That is the promise I made my children. That when you see injustice, you fight against it. You speak up against intolerance. You do not let fear be the thing that stops you from doing what your heart tells you is right. When you see something wrong, you do not let it stand, and you most surely do not wait for someone else to make it okay.
I want my kids to understand the true gift – and price – of living in a democracy. That each of us has power and a voice. But it is up to us to use them. And if we don’t, then we have no one to blame but ourselves.
I have decided to run for office because I am so profoundly unhappy with the direction in which this country is headed, and which I can see mirrored right here in my adopted home state of Pennsylvania. Because I’ve seen, in recent months, that I was wrong to paint all politicians with the same brush. That there are still many out there fighting to keep the integrity and decency that motivated them to get into public office in the first place, despite facing adversaries who play by a different set of rules. And because I want my kids to live in the kind of world they deserve. The world I thought would be theirs because they had the great privilege of being born in the United States of America. So I am walking the walk in order that my children see that even someone like myself, not a career politician, can step up to make things better. I am a concerned citizen. I’m mad, I’m motivated, and I am using the voice that our constitution was written to defend, because I want my children, as well as all children across this amazing country, to know that they too can, and should, use theirs.