Paul, Pennsylvania

By telling us his story, we were able to work with Paul to get an op-ed published. Read it here.

“Until we put our feet down and say ‘enough,’ we’re going to keep being victimized by the system. I think it’s really on us. It’s for us to decide.”

Paul Perry, a former teacher and long-time public servant, dropped out of a Pennsylvania Congressional race after being outspent by his opponents. Unlike his opponents, he rejected large and corporate donations and did not self-fund.

“I was tired of seeing kids come to school hungry, guys having their lives thrown away by the criminal justice system, or people in my own family struggling with addiction and inequality…I was sick and tired of being sick and tired” – On why he ran for office

Paul Perry has long devoted his adult life to public service. By any objective standard, he is qualified to serve the people of Pennsylvania in Congress.

Perry holds an MEd in Urban Education from the University of Pennsylvania, a Masters of Public Policy from Berkeley and a Doctor in Education Leadership from Harvard. He’s been a Legislative Assistant for the NAACP, an intern for then-Senator Barack Obama, a Policy Analyst at the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at Berkeley, a regional Executive Director of the Reset Foundation, which helps young people involved in the criminal justice system, Executive Director of COLAGE, which unites those with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer parents to become leaders in their communities, the Founder and CEO of PDP, LLC, a social impact leadership firm, Director of Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies, and worked for schools in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Boston, New York City, and Denver – all before age 35.

And yet seven months before the primary, he was forced to drop out of the running.

“People are like ‘we need more black candidates, we need more women candidates.’ What are you going to do to make sure that woman moves from 70 cents on the dollar to a dollar on the dollar so she can even afford to think about running. That’s the debt we owe to women. Same for candidates of color…How are we going to help them actually see and feel that they can run for office.”

In the crowded Democratic primary for Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, a seat currently held by Republican Patrick Meehan, Perry’s opponents outspent him 6-to-1. It was clear that despite his qualifications, winning his race was not realistic.

When asked about whether he felt like the door was open to people like himself to run for office, he said the door was open, but “it’s a question of what weights on your back when you walk through the door…and also how steep the steps are once you walk through.” Perry committed himself to rejecting large and corporate donations, and to not self-fund. He did not have family members writing him large checks, nor did he have a network of those who could. During the day, he was the Executive Director of a non-profit, spending his limited free time talking to voters and fundraising. His opponents do not share these barriers, and proved early on to benefit from a system that unfairly favors the wealthy and well-connected. He stated, “we were at the same door, but what was before the door and after the door was very different.” He also believes that in order to have more people of color and women in office, we need to make sure they can afford to run. With public financing, he says the steepness of that metaphorical stairwell is more level.

After donors continued to fundraise for him even after unsuccessful attempts to convince him to change his policy positions “As a candidate I thought ‘this is interesting, they want a foothold on me.’ Even if they initially can’t get ahold of you, they still want to latch on. Maybe you’ll think twice…its all about power. I don’t see that changing until fundraising changes. There’s no such thing as a self-directing system, that’s how a system works, it maintains itself. There’s going to need to be greater upheaval that changes this.”

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