Op-ed: We must come together to fix issues we’re facing

Joe Hohenstein, who is running in the 177th Legislative District, gives his opinion on the recent attack in Pittsburgh.

Hohenstein

By Joe Hohenstein

My family and I have lived in this neighborhood our entire lives, and I am running to keep it safe from threats like the opioid crisis. So when I read my opponent’s angry screed, I considered addressing her straw man arguments one by one. Should I clarify that I oppose putting “Safe Injection Facilities” in our neighborhoods? Should I call her out for being unwilling to take on the Big Pharma companies that have flooded our streets with poison for the sake of profit? Or having any serious ideas about shutting down the heroin “Air Bridge” from Puerto Rico? There is so much to say, it was hard to know where to start.

And then the violent events of the past week tragically unfolded.

Two fundamental American values — freedom of speech and freedom of religion — were attacked by homegrown terrorists. A man, warped by an ideology, sent bombs in the mail to former presidents of the United States and others. Another man, emerging from a cocoon of hate, killed 11 elderly Jewish people at Shabbat services at a Pittsburgh synagogue. He then tried to kill the police officers who courageously confronted and stopped him.

It is my opinion that these attacks are not isolated acts, but rather the result of a politics of hate for which the president himself shares responsibility. To be clear, I am not suggesting a direct relationship between the president and these terrorists. Mr. Trump’s responsibility is not criminal; it is moral. He and his stalwarts have failed to lead or to support the fundamental freedoms upon which the republic was established.

Our democracy and our form of government is rooted in resolving our differences without resorting to violence or to de-humanizing our neighbors. Instead, the president and my opponent relentlessly push the idea that some “other” group will harm us. Whether it is calling folks “junkies” or “illegals” or “enemies of the people,” this kind of rhetoric plays on people’s fears without suggesting any obvious solution.

Except violence.

At some of his rallies, then-candidate Trump’s calls for violence were obliged by supporters who threw punches and shoves. President Trump has continued to demonize journalists, immigrants, religious minorities and his critics and political adversaries. And that’s exactly who was targeted this last week by two terrorists who felt empowered by the president’s rhetoric — and even saw it as giving their violent actions credibility.

So forgive me if I get a chill when my opponent wields a softball bat, blames people trapped in addiction and chases applause from good people who are frustrated by the “zombie apocalypse” taking over our streets. She’s not taking a Louisville Slugger to Purdue Pharma, which pushed OxyContin like it was candy corn on Halloween. She isn’t screaming about the greedy doctors who are hooked on the easy money that comes from enabling the addictions of sick people in our community. She doesn’t talk about the fact that 4 out of every 5 people struggling with opioid addiction started with a prescription and that her Republican pals, like the opioid-friendly Tom Marino, are the ones who made it almost impossible for the DEA to stop the flood of prescription pills in Northeast Philly. In fact, she is not talking anywhere unless she controls the environment. She has declined two separate invitations for debate.

She and the party she chose to join a year ago don’t have any solutions to those problems. And she’s hoping that you’re so angry, you won’t notice.

Well, I’m angry, too. I’m angry at the neglect our neighborhoods have suffered, from Fishtown to Rhawnhurst. I’m furious that we don’t have a full fair funding formula for our schools. I’m mad as hell about our unsafe, crumbling infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt in a way that will bring jobs to our neighborhood.

But none of that gives me an excuse for any type of violence. What I choose to do with my anger is look for ways to bring people together, not break us apart. I chose to work toward a real plan that meets my full responsibility to my community. The job of a state representative requires listening in the neighborhoods and then advocating in Harrisburg. I have been listening for almost three years now (after living here, working and volunteering my entire life). I am ready to go to Harrisburg to fight for what my neighbors need and deserve from our government.

I recognize that, as an aspiring public servant, I have a higher standard of conduct to which I must adhere. I am prepared to accept responsibility to create a better world than the one we have been given. I am running for office because I believe I can help with the hard work of crafting real solutions for the entire community — not just those who look like, pray like or think like me. I recognize that everyone in the community is one of us. The people my opponent insults are someone’s brother, mother, child or friend — maybe even yours or mine. Politicians who engage in talk of violence or, worse yet, actual violence that damages our whole community (even those parts they claim to be protecting) cannot be trusted with our families’ futures.

Driving people away with a softball bat is not a solution. It is a choice that fails to acknowledge the responsibility to serve the entire community. It is a political stunt that treats some of the people in our community as less than human and, therefore, unworthy. When we buy into that, we start to lose our own humanity.

I believe we deserve better. I believe character and temperament matter. I believe leaders need to be prepared to respond with the right balance to tough situations when given a choice between our hopes and our fears. We deserve leaders in Washington, Harrisburg and City Hall who recognizes that. We deserve a world shaped by hope and unity, not fear and divisions. Let’s work for it together. ••

Joe Hohenstein is running in the 177th Legislative District.