Pitt senior kick-starts her career in progressive politics


Carolyn Pallof | Senior Staff Photographer

Samantha Schatten, a senior political science major, is the deputy campaign manager for Bethani Cameron’s campaign for city council.

By Betul Tuncer, Staff Writer

Most graduating seniors are looking for the next step in their career. But for Samantha Schatten, she may have already found it.

Samantha Schatten, a senior political science major, has already started her career in politics while simultaneously pursuing her degree, in hopes of pushing for policies that will positively impact the safety and lives of the public. For her, this currently entails working on campaigns and pushing for politicians to enact policies that actually benefit communities in need of change. Schatten is currently the deputy campaign manager for Bethani Cameron’s primary challenge against Anthony Coghill to represent District 4 of Pittsburgh City Council.

Prior to working with Cameron, Schatten had been involved as a field organizer for Jerry Dickinson’s campaign for Congress last year against incumbent Rep. Mike Doyle. Dickinson, who was her professor, got Schatten in contact with Cameron knowing she would be interested.

The fact that Cameron was a single mom running for office was an element that attracted Schatten to work on the campaign, since she was also raised by a single mom.

“I’ve seen that single moms absolutely belong in every aspect of society, but especially the government,” Schatten said. “Because they know how to stretch a dollar, how to work when resources are low and how to negotiate after having to do so with petulant little kids on their own.”

Schatten said two defining moments gave her a clearer understanding of why she needed to study politics — the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue massacre and the actions and rhetoric of the Trump administration.

Schatten’s synagogue in Squirrel Hill is only a few blocks from Tree of Life, which she has visited since she was 2 years old. She said even though the Jewish community in Pittsburgh has many different synagogues, they are all close and feel like one joint community.

“The fact that that could have been my synagogue and that the people who were killed could have been my neighbors — and in a way, were my neighbors,” Schatten said. “That really was a turning point for me where I saw the tangible effects of President Trump’s hateful, anti-Semetic, racist and Islamaphobic rhetoric.”

Schatten said she had to do something and couldn’t just “stay silent.” She said it’s not enough to simply be silent toward injustice and hate-driven crimes, but one must actively be working for change.

“There’s this saying in Hebrew, ‘tikkun olam,’ that basically means repairing the world, and that’s one thing that I was taught a lot,” Schatten said. “You can’t just be sitting around and not doing anything, you have to be repairing the world.”

Schatten said this means fighting and advocating not just for her own community, but for other communities who also suffer at the hands of hate.

“For me that not only meant standing with my community, the Jewish community of Pittsburgh, but communities all over,” Schatten said. “Standing with Muslim communities after the Christchurch shooting and with Black communities after countless racist motivated shootings by police and by white supremisists across the nation.”

She said it’s hard to be motivated after feeling the emotions evoked by hate crimes and tragic events like these, but felt that actions must be taken to ensure that they don’t continue to harm others.

“I realized I need to get out of bed and actually take the anger and the hurt I was feeling and put it towards advocating for policies that work and that make people’s lives better,” Schatten said.

When initially meeting Cameron, Schatten said the candidate made it clear why exactly she was running and what her goals were for Pittsburgh.

“Bethani reached out to me and let me know exactly why she was running, which was that city council has not been as effective as it needs to be,” Schatten said. “And currently a lot of what’s getting done in the City is not being done with the right tools.”

Schatten said she was compelled by Cameron as an individual and by the policies she stood for, such as public safety and police reform policies, which she hoped would help make “Pittsburgh an actually livable city, because right now it is not.”

Lizzie Marasco, Cameron’s campaign manager, said she first met Schatten at a volunteering event for the Jerry Dickinson campaign. She noticed that Schatten stood out and seemed really engaged in the event.

“When you have these events you have people that are scared to interact, but Sami was immediately really outgoing,” Marasco said. “And she had some really insightful things to say about why she was interested in getting involved and what issues she was passionate about.”

She said Schatten helps the people around her stay energized and positive, especially during difficult times, and that she always has a plan for what’s to come next.

Marasco said even while focusing on school, Schatten manages to prioritize her political work, and that what she has done so far as a student is amazing.

“We were working together on the Jerry campaign and the Bethani campaign and besides school being a priority, her number two was always the campaign,” Marasco said. “I think it’s really remarkable what Sami has achieved up until now as a senior at Pitt and becoming a deputy campaign manager.”

Michelle Bjornstad — a senior psychology and human resources double major and friend of Schatten — said she finds it very interesting how driven Schatten is about politics and how she even managed to encourage their friends to get more involved as well.

“She’s so passionate about everything and it’s really cool for us to see that as her friends. Out of all of our friends she seems to be the most driven in their career,” Bjornstad said. “She always encourages us to get involved as well, since we are typically apolitical. She even got us to vote in this past election.”

Bjornstad said she finds it admirable how much work Schatten has already managed to accomplish in politics and hopes her friend gets to further pursue her career in whatever makes her happy.

“She’s done so much for her career already, with so many different internships and jobs, and I’ve always admired that,” Bjornstad said. “I hope that whatever she does she’ll be happy and be able to expand her career even further.”

In terms of her future career in politics, Schatten said she has no intentions of running for office herself and that she isn’t necessarily the type that likes to be the face of a campaign. Instead, Schatten said she would rather enact change behind the scenes and make sure that the people running for office get the help they need and are doing what they promised to their constituents.

“I really want to make sure that the good people who do want to run for office and who believe wholeheartedly in things and say them with their chest are able to have the resources and the team to do that,” Schatten said.

Having been so actively engaged in politics herself, Schatten hopes that other students at Pitt can also become more politically involved for the sake of “repairing the world.”

“If you’re someone who sees a problem and says, ‘Why is no one doing anything about this?’ you should be looking into politics,” Schatten said. “It’s never too late to start getting into politics, activism and community organizing. We need more regular people who actually care.”