Lancaster is my home, and I love it dearly. I was raised in a comfortable home on Strawberry Lane in West Lampeter Township. I grew up playing in the surrounding cow pasture, creeks and cornfields with my neighborhood friends.
My grandfather was a detective and captain with the Lancaster City Bureau of Police; my grandmother one of the first cashiers at Darrenkamp’s; and my mother a courier for Lancaster General Hospital. My grandparents took my mother, sister and me into their home when I was 2 years old. My parents had divorced, and we were struggling financially. My grandparents made sure we never wanted for anything.
Still, sometimes bad things just happen. From the ages of 2 to 5, I was the victim of childhood sexual assault. I told my mother when I was 5, and she fought with everything she had to protect me and make me safe. My mother is my hero, and I am forever grateful to her and my grandparents. They taught me to be empathetic, resilient and strong.
It wasn’t until I was 12 that I fully understood what had happened to me. A friend confided in me that one of her family members had molested her. Immediately, everything came rushing back. I struggled to cope. I started using drugs and self-harming. Middle school is difficult for most kids, but it was an especially difficult time for me.
These details are embarrassing to share. I have never spoken publicly about these things and never wished to. But I know that my story is not uncommon for young girls. Neither are the shame and fear we face when the time comes to be vulnerable and brave.
In the end, my loving family helped me overcome all of this and more. I went to Millersville University and graduated with honors with a degree in molecular biology and biochemistry. I worked in my field for two years before the election of Donald Trump uprooted my life and caused me to re-evaluate my priorities.
I was heartbroken, depressed and in utter shock to see a man who disrespected and debased women rise to the highest position of power in America. I felt powerless all over again and deeply fearful for my future. The day after the election, I went to a vigil held by faith and community leaders. I learned that an emergency community meeting was going to be held, and I looked to that meeting as a beacon of hope in a time of darkness. Out of that meeting, Lancaster Stands Up was born.
I suddenly met hundreds of people who felt like I did. Powerless. Devastated. Hopeless. These hundreds became thousands. Over the next year, this community of people reclaimed our power together. We believed that government should work for the people, not for corporate interests whose only motive was profit at the expense of all else. Before getting involved in this community, I disliked both the Republican and Democratic leadership. It felt like it didn’t matter much who I voted for. All politicians were playing the same ugly game, and we were the pawns.
But Lancaster Stands Up was different. It wasn’t about politicians or careers or money. It was about us. We didn’t have fame or money, but we did have numbers and sheer will. As the movement grew, we decided to incorporate as an organization. None of us knew what we were doing or wanted to open a large bank account in our name. Our friend and fellow leader Jonathan Smucker was the director of an organization called Beyond the Choir. Most of its staff members were military veterans; their main project was organizing veterans. But they believed in our work and agreed to be our fiscal sponsor.
Last December, I left my job to work with Lancaster Stands Up full time. It was difficult for me to leave a steady paycheck and a career I worked hard for, but the choice was clear.
I am a private person. Sharing all of this is frightening and painful. But I do so because the outlandish claims being made by political partisans against Lancaster Stands Up are personal to me and couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether you agree with our politics or not, spreading vicious lies about your neighbors is deeply unethical. Ours is not some shadowy organization run by people from elsewhere (“Group’s ties to Jess King deserve our scrutiny,” Sept. 28 LNP). We are members of this community.
Lancaster Stands Up helped me find my voice. It helped me turn my pain and trauma into meaningful action. It gave me a community. It’s something that I helped build with great love.
When you attack Lancaster Stands Up, you aren’t only attacking me. You’re attacking the hundreds of dedicated volunteers who come into our office every day. You’re attacking the good intentions and great work of everyday people trying to fix a political system that is horribly broken.
If the last two years have taught me anything, it is this: When ordinary people come together to take on entrenched power, they will use every dollar they have to tear you down. But Lancaster Stands Up has changed me. I will never be silent or feel powerless again.
Michelle Hines is the campaigns and communications director for Lancaster Stands Up.