When asked what was distinct about her campaign, Summer Lee said she isn’t running on anything that isn’t “basic human stuff.”
“I don’t see that I’m not running on anything that isn’t common sense,” Lee said.
Lee is a Democratic candidate for District 34 in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives primary election May 15 — challenging Paul Costa, D-Braddock. She joined 35 students at the Pitt Progressives’ weekly meeting in David Lawrence Hall and spoke about the importance of everyday people being politically active.
Pitt Progressives Co-chair Sean Bailey, a sophomore computer science and philosophy major, was able to convince Lee to come through her campaign manager, who they are friends with. Bailey is a fan of her policies since she is running on “a platform of fairness and economic opportunity for all.”
“I think she is probably the most, or one of the most, gifted speakers I have ever heard running for local office in Pittsburgh,” Bailey said.
She supports universal healthcare, improving public education and raising the minimum wage to $15. But she focused much of the talk on moving toward more diversity in politics.
Lee said one of her biggest priorities is to support people from impoverished or underrepresented communities running for office. She said the public doesn’t want a situation where seats are vacant or where those in power can “appoint their friends.” She also wants to better educate eligible voters.
“We have to be able to reach back and support other folk who share our values and who share our perspective, making sure we are fostering a pipeline for them to also get in,” Lee said.
Lee discussed how she came from North Braddock and Rankin and went to Woodland Hills High School, what she described as an underfunded public school. She also came from a single-parent household.
“I somehow stumbled my way up through Penn State and onto Howard Law and through that. Nobody in my family has done any of that so I understand generational poverty and generational inequality, and that’s kind of where I come from with everything I do,” Lee said.
She also said the solution to getting more people who come from impoverished and underrepresented backgrounds like hers involved in politics is to elect more people who relate to them and communicate with them regularly about their needs.
“But the problem is that we have this system where we have candidates who have been in office for so long that no one even knows who they are,” Lee said. “And we have politicians who come into our community and they ask us for our votes and then we never hear from them again.”
Junior anthropology major Becca Tasker, a member of Pitt Progressives, is working on Lee’s campaign as a fellow and attended Wednesday’s meeting.
“Everytime I hear her talk I just fall a little bit more in love with the campaign and it reassures me that the work I’m doing is like good work and that getting her into office is worthwhile and beyond what we need right now,” Tasker said.
Tasker said the American people need young progressive candidates and politicians from underrepresented groups, including people with disabilities and people of color. She also said the people need more candidates that care about their constituency beyond “getting votes.”
“We really need to be pushing candidates that not only care about their constituency but live in these communities and know what life in these communities are like,” Tasker said.
Lee said a problem she sees with the Democratic party today is people are too willing to compromise. She said this needs to change because it limits the potential benefits of constituents.
“I hope that people get from that that you need to be courageous in your pursue in your values and your platform and your agenda,” she said.