My earliest memories of democracy in action are literally at my mother’s knee.
I remember standing in the voting booth, those old fashioned Depression-era machines we used in Pennsylvania with the levers and green curtain, while my mother cast her vote in every primary and every general election.
Later, the second and perhaps strongest influence shaping my view of all things civic and politic was my late father, Peter P. Duda. He left high school to serve in U.S. Navy in the South Pacific during WWII. When he returned to Northeastern Pennsylvania, he brought with him a fervor for political participation.
He was among the founders of the Young Democrats organization in the post-war era and a dedicated party man to his last days. He was also a strong supporter of organized labor, having worked in the steel and auto industries. He ran and won and ran and lost for many local offices in his day, including borough council and party delegate to the county and state conventions.
I remember sitting at Balon’s bar in the proverbial smoke-filled back room, meeting local and state politicians, drinking my 7-Up while important decisions regarding political endorsements by the local party were argued and decided. My dad walked door to door every election, offering a ride to the polls, being chased by many a household dog and standing outside the polls for hours every election. I found it all to be exciting and important. I was hooked.
I have never lost this excitement about the idea of local political participation, the good old-fashioned grassroots, retail politics where every opinion matters, every vote counts.
The problem with gerrymandering is that it dilutes the power of the individual citizen to have a voice in what can appear to be an overwhelming electoral system. People need to know that their vote really does count and that their issues, their hopes for their kids, their desire for a better community are valued.
I am still a proud anthracite coal cracker at heart, daughter of factory workers and granddaughter of Eastern European immigrant coal miners. I am honored on a daily basis to teach in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), where the opportunity to obtain a college degree is still an affordable and attainable goal for the residents of this Commonwealth.
Lastly, I feel that given the many opportunities I have had to receive an advanced degree and pursue a career in state and local government, I owe something back to this great Commonwealth and its many public servants … like a certain WWII vet and borough councilman from Freeland, PA. My dad.