For a group of women in western Pennsylvania, 2016 was a shock and a reason to get politically involved for the first time. “Forget about taking no for an answer, they’re not even asking for permission.”
By Jennifer Medina
Carolyn Gibbs puts on the striped pants first, then the striped jacket. The hat is the final touch. That’s if it’s an Uncle Sam day. For Statue of Liberty, it’s a mint green dress, a foam halo and a political sign, usually, standing in as the torch.
Before Donald Trump became president, Ms. Gibbs, 59, rarely dressed up for Halloween, only occasionally for a costume party.
But for the better part of four years, she has shown up to rallies in shopping centers of suburban Pittsburgh in elaborate costumes, ready for the role of playful protester.
“I’m willing to make a fool of myself for democracy,” is how she often puts it.
Yet for all her playfulness — and it is boundless — Ms. Gibbs is driven by a sense of anger and residual shock. How could so many of her neighbors in western Pennsylvania vote for a man she saw as a threat? She still finds herself stuck on the question.
“I had begun to think we were including and serving everybody in this country,” Ms. Gibbs said. “But that’s totally not true anymore.”
For the past four years, Ms. Gibbs and half a dozen women (along with one man) have poured countless hours into Progress PA, a political group they created to get Democratic candidates elected in western Pennsylvania, a part of the state that helped fuel Mr. Trump’s victory last time. Joseph R. Biden Jr. is counting on voters like them — older, suburban dwellers — to win back Pennsylvania, where polls show him ahead. But their work is less about their enthusiasm for the former vice president than their revulsion at the current occupant of the White House.
Before the Trump era, these women were hardly radical. Many have voted for Republicans, including George W. Bush. They represent not just the kind of feminist activism that Mr. Trump’s victory ignited, but the particular had-it-up-to-here-with-my-Republican-neighbors anger of suburban western Pennsylvania, where dozens of similar groups have cropped up in the past four years.
“I had never had this kind of burning unquestioning desire to do something myself,” Stacey Vernallis, 60, said, of her political life before 2016. “I was always willing to let it be another person’s job and just be a voter and maybe a donor.”
She described waking up the morning after the 2016 election with five different pits in her stomach. She imagined her children losing their health care, and her youngest stepson, adopted from Nepal, facing heightened discrimination.
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