Opinion | First-years: You should care about Pennsylvania politics


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A view of the Cathedral of Learning.

By Paige Wasserman, Staff Columnist

If you don’t already know, Pitt is a public university that provides more affordable tuition to in-state students, as well as need-based financial aid. To provide these benefits, Pitt relies on a hefty appropriations bill from the Pennsylvania government. However, during this year’s budget cycle, this funding was hotly debated, and surprise — it came down to politics.

Why, you may ask? Well, Pitt conducts life-saving research with fetal tissue. 

Despite abortion being legal in Pennsylvania through 23 weeks of pregnancy — paired with the fact that this research is only carried out with patients’ consent, and investigations have found that Pitt is compliant with federal and state regulations — many Pennsylvania Republican legislators found this research blasphemously unacceptable and were willing to block Pitt’s funding over it. 

We, the students, received emails and read social media posts every day from Pitt telling us to sign petitions and urge our senators to vote in favor of Pitt’s appropriations bill. Chancellor Patrick Gallagher urged current students and alumni to take action in an interview with Pitt Magazine

Admittedly, it was annoying that the University essentially said to us, the students, “You’re going to pay 60K a year unless you shoulder the responsibility of performing political labor while you study and job hunt full-time. Thanks so much bestie! :)” But, understandably so, Pitt was willing to do whatever it had to. It was stressful, and a lot of us, already cynical about the people in power, felt really helpless.

And the Republicans and the pro-life organizations that bow to the whims of fascism are making the feelings of helplessness worse. They’re not going down without a fight. 

Since the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade, Pennsylvania anti-abortion groups plan to beef up their operations, and they’re raising more money than ever before.

The Women’s Choice Center, which says it provides “life-affirming pregnancy services,” has raised $1 million so far this year, which is almost twice as much as 2016. Amy Scheuring, the group’s executive director, says it’ll spend most of these funds on advertising to keep up with the pace at which pharmaceutical companies advertise abortion pills.

The Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation State PAC has also increased its expenditures in the second quarter of 2022. Among the expenditures are donations to political candidates and payments to media manufacturers. These expenses indicate their desire to further influence Pennsylvania anti-abortion legislation and overall fortify the pro-life movement. 

But why should you really care?

Well, this isn’t like other political issues, where they only affect poor people or women or people of color –– which, if you don’t care how legislation affects other people, disrespectfully, eat my toenail clippings. If you’re a Pennsylvania resident and a Pitt student, you are a potential casualty of the right’s culture war. State Republicans want to smother you, their constituent, beneath a mountain of student debt because of their own misunderstanding and miseducation regarding medical research. If that angers you — and it should — it’s time to get involved.

How do you do this? For starters, if you’re an out-of-state student from a staunchly blue or staunchly red state, I encourage you to register to vote at your dorm room address. Pennsylvania is a swing state, and there’s a really contentious Senate race between John Fetterman and Mehmet Oz this November. 

This race may not pertain directly to state Senate matters, but it’s crucial to capturing better control of the U.S. Senate and passing meaningful legislation regarding issues such as gun violence, federal legalization of cannabis and immigration law. If you’re from Maryland or Mississippi and you groan at the constant federal gridlock, this is a great place to start your activism, or at the very least your new political awareness.

If you’re an in-state student, depending on where you’re from, it may be wise to register and vote at your home address. Why is this important? Because Pitt resides in Pennsylvania’s 42nd State Senate district, which typically goes blue. If your home address is in a State Senate district that either swings or goes red, your vote will be more powerful there, assuming you’re voting blue. Check out this resource from the Pennsylvania General Assembly to find out who your legislators are, and look at trusted resources like those from Ballotpedia to learn more about this year’s state Senate race and see who’s running for your district’s seat.

Also, don’t just look at federal and state Senate races. Vote and research your vote AT EVERY LEVEL. Municipal, local, state, federal, everything. The smaller the government realm is, the more it affects your day-to-day life, from your property taxes to the quality of your sidewalks. 

I know it’s overwhelming, especially if you’ve never been interested in politics. My passion for politics began at a very early age, but I understand that’s not the case for everybody. There’s a lot of social pressure in high school –– many people censor their beliefs to fit in, or perhaps their social circles discourage formation of any beliefs at all. Your world is about to get a lot bigger, and you’re going to form relationships with people who don’t look and think like you. Lean into your curiosity and challenge yourself to learn more.

So, first-years, this is your wake-up call. Your opportunity at financial wellness and a head-start toward the rest of your life lies squarely in the hands of pro-life wackadoos. Vote, talk and care. It’s about to get really important.

Paige Wasserman (she/her) writes about the arts, pop culture, campus culture and things that make her want to scream. You can reach her at [email protected].