by Barbara Sherf
Two weeks after the 2nd Annual Women’s March in Philadelphia, Wyndmoor resident Jo Ann Miller, joined by 16-year Springfield Township realtor Zeta Cross, hosted a fundraising house party for Chrissy Houlahan, a candidate for United States Congress in the 6th District.
The 6th District is one of just twenty-three across the nation that voted for Hillary Clinton, but has a Republican representative in Congress. Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) has been in Congress since 2014 and won 57 percent of his district’s vote in 2016.
According to Wikipedia, the district was substantially redrawn in 2002 and again slightly modified in 2012. Its strange shape in 2002 brought charges of gerrymandering by Democrats who argued it “looms like a dragon descending on Philadelphia from the west, splitting up towns and communities throughout Montgomery and Berks Counties.”
The combination of very affluent suburban areas of Philadelphia and sparsely populated rural areas was possibly designed to capture Republican voters, but changes in voting patterns in southeastern Pennsylvania has made the district much more competitive in terms of a Democratic victory.
Houlahan, a Stanford- and MIT-trained engineer and former Air Force captain, greeted the 50 to 55 guests on Sunday with grace and candor. Among her accomplishments, the first-time candidate helped scale the Springboard Collaborative, and served as president and chief financial officer and chief operating officer for the nonprofit organization formed to promote literacy among elementary school children.
Miller, who opened her home, and Cross, who helped with food, set-up and cleanup, met when their daughters were in elementary school together and have known each other for 22 years
Cross previously donated space in her Mt. Airy office to help Barack Obama win two terms as president, and Miller worked out of that office on the campaign with other volunteers. When Donald Trump became President, Cross said she was “floundering around and looking for some way to make an impact.”
“I decided that the thing that makes the most sense is to try to flip a house seat,” said Cross. “I knew I needed to reach beyond my comfort zone in this mostly blue district and looked outside of the area.”
Miller had been searching too. In the fall of last year a friend invited Miller to a fundraising house party in Center City to meet Houlahan.
“I went and felt it was a race that could be won,” she said. “The campaign staffers were very open and accommodating when I offered to have a fundraiser. What I like most about her (Houlahan) is that she has a very hopeful message.”
Miller was politically active in college and later attended marches supporting the Equal Rights Amendment and women’s reproductive rights.
At first the numbers seemed disappointing, said Cross.
“Initially lots of people could not understand why they should get involved and spend $50 in a district that they were not in,” she said. “That made me crazy. The most important thing that we can do to defeat Trump is flip the House from Red to Blue. We desperately need to rein Trump in so that we have the power to defeat his dumb legislative ideas and pull together to impeach him.“
Miller, who was expecting thirty guests, was elated with nearly double the turnout.
“I suppose what I did is a form of political activism in terms of party politics,” she said. “I’ve donated to candidates before, but I had never hosted a fundraiser like this. There are a lot of ways to get involved and make a difference and it was refreshing to be around like-minded people.”
Both women say they will knock on doors and make phone calls for Houlahan in the hope of effecting change.
“My feeling is that the U.S. Congress and executive branch are so far to the extreme right that I don’t think they are representing the majority of Americans,” she said. “This is the year we can take control of government and move it back to the center.”
Cross remembers getting tear-gassed at a rally in Washington during the Vietnam protests. She also worked in public radio during the Iran–Contra affair and remembered the station carrying the hearings live.
“Sometimes political activism goes to sleep, and you live your life, but Trump was a wake-up call, and now I’m seeing people I never really knew were political getting out there and doing what they can as their own form of activism,” said Cross. “There is always something you can do, no matter how big or how small.”
Barb Sherf can be reached at Barb@CommunicationsPro.com.