Last week, the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th District made national headlines when the Democratic candidate for the state legislature, Conor Lamb, beat incumbent Republican Rep. Rick Saccone in a district that President Trump won by 20 points in 2016. Lamb’s victory was considered by many a potential sign of Republicans losing their stronghold in conservative districts with possible implications for the midterm elections in November. Behind these front page stories, however, a grassroots movement is gaining ground, paving the way for much more transformative change in Pennsylvania by pressuring for legislative reform in both parties.
Leading this charge is a group called March on Harrisburg, a grassroots movement to restore democracy in Pennsylvania through lobbying state legislators and engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience. Headed by 27-year-old rabbi Michael Pollack and comprised of a decentralized, creative network of 20 core organizers around the state, March on Harrisburg has organized intensive lobbying campaigns at the state legislature, several multi-day marches to the state capitol, numerous acts of civil disobedience and dozens of arrests.
In recent months, activists have held 18 local “barnstorming” events around the state, from the sleepy town of Slippery Rock to downtown Philadelphia. The events — which drew crowds as few as a dozen people to upwards 175 — were held in Unitarian Universalist churches and often featured speakers from local organizing campaigns like Lancaster Against Pipelines and Berks Gas Truth.
Pollack, a former fundraising intern for the Democratic National Committee, got the idea for this statewide pro-democracy movement while sitting in a jail cell in Washington, D.C. It was in April of 2016 and he had just been arrested with over a thousand other protesters as part of a mass civil disobedience led by the Democracy Spring movement, which was targeting big money in politics. Pollack saw how the march broke through echo…