Siegel: A bipartisan agenda around safety, security and stability

As a new state representative, I had the honor of attending Governor Josh Shapiro’s inauguration and hearing his plans for his new administration. As a member of the legislative branch tasked with helping to make the goals of this governor reality, I left with an enduring sense of optimism and confidence about the future. 

As Gov. Shapiro identified freedom and its many crucial forms in our country and commonwealth during his inaugural address, I was reminded of another period of uncertainty about the future of freedom and our democracy, and another speech extolling our nation’s commitment to those values.

Franklin Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union, delivered 11 months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, sought to rally Americans to the cause of defending democracy abroad against fascism, while expanding the definition of freedom to include economic freedom and freedom from fear of attack or harm.

1941 marked for many around the world the high-water mark for totalitarianism and authoritarianism, which seemed to spell the end for self-determination and rule by the people.  A year earlier, John Kennedy Sr. in a career-ending statement declared “Democracy is finished in England. It may be here.”  It seemed that the combined forces of the Axis Powers would prevail and usher in a new era of tyranny around the world.

Roosevelt, as he had so often done, looked to defy the dark mood of the time and encourage Americans to embrace the promise of both the country and its commitment to global peace.

Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech asked Americans to define freedom not only in the context of freedom from government oppression, but also the responsibility of government to ensure freedom from financial insecurity and to actively protect Americans from physical danger, in this case, from foreign adversaries. 

On Jan. 17, Gov. Shapiro stood affirmatively against a similarly uncertain time around the country and world. Election denialism remains strong; supporters of former Brazilian President Bolsonaro stormed government offices; Vladimir Putin remains committed to a deranged fantasy of rebuilding the Soviet Union; and extremist legislatures and governors around the country are advancing bills that dehumanize trans-children, block the teaching of AP African American history and restrict a woman’s right to choose. 

Across the country and commonwealth, families are struggling to afford their rent, put groceries on the table and make it to the middle class. A crisis of affordability has left Pennsylvanians and Americans feeling hopelessly stuck in an endless cycle of struggle and suffering, questioning whether government and their leaders can provide any solution.

Gov. Shapiro offers a bridge to a better tomorrow and the promise of a bi-partisan consensus around that expansive definition of freedom put forth so many decades ago. Pennsylvania has the potential to live up to its reputation as the Keystone State, offering a symbol of progress and bastion of hope for citizens tired of gridlock and petty division.

That new consensus can be built around safety, stability and security, which form the foundation of a fulfilling life for individuals and families. It represents the embodiment of the American Dream, which was never about the picket fence and single-family home, but rather about the good-paying job and benefits which helped that family afford it; the strong neighborhoods, cities and towns where those families resided; and the economic stability and security that came from knowing that way of life would persist for themselves and their children. 

It represents the comfort and confidence that comes from knowing that a single sickness or emergency won’t mean losing your home, that the serenity of your neighborhood won’t be broken by another tragic shooting, that our national security is strong and that our economy offers every family an opportunity to thrive, not just survive.

We can start by investing in comprehensive public safety by addressing the statewide recruitment crisis in law enforcement while also creating a youth service corps to foster the next generation of civically minded and engaged young folks. We can fund proven models of violence-prevention programs that stop shootings before they happen. And we can codify into law protections for our LGBTQ+ community, ensuring that everyone feels safe and respected.

We can unleash a new era of energy production by making Pennsylvania a hydrogen hub and harvesting Pennsylvania’s rare-earth minerals, putting our state on a path toward clean energy and breaking China’s stranglehold on refining the materials that make our cellphones run and our planes fly.

We can invest in housing affordability, helping grow our rural, suburban and urban communities; strengthen the working-class safety net through paid leave; and invest in apprenticeships and growing union membership. 

Pennsylvania can be the bulwark against the politics of cynicism, restore confidence in democracy and its ability to solve people’s problems and usher in a new era of freedom for Pennsylvanians who live under the oppression of poverty and hardship.

Joshua Siegel is the state representative for the 22nd District, representing parts of Allentown and Salisbury Township.