All year long, we’re introducing you to our most creative and dedicated 2020 candidates in our new Candidate Spotlight!
Meet Shanna Danielson, a public school music teacher and a community advocate running for Pennsylvania State Senate, District 31. With an impressive background in grassroots political work, Shanna plans to tackle some of district 31’s problems with a clear and strategic plan that addresses everything from the student debt crisis to climate change. Learn more about Shanna’s vision and goals for her community below.
What or who inspired you to run for something?
I started my career as a music teacher right after the financial crisis of 2008. I taught in a tiny rural district and endured the Corbett education cuts, the Sandy Hook shooting, a shrinking student population, and economic difficulties of living in the PA Wilds. We moved to south central [Pennsylvania] a few years ago, and I found myself able to attend meetings and join advocacy groups for issues I cared about, like MOMS Demand Action. In 2018, I attended my first Indivisible meeting. At that meeting, I learned about committee people for county political parties, so I called the Democratic Party of York County to find out who my committee people were.
Turns out, there weren’t any. So I became a committeewoman and attended the Democratic Party meeting that same month. I had a meeting with my representative over the summer about SB 383, which would have allowed teachers to carry guns in school, and needless to say, I was not impressed by the conversation.
So in that Indivisible meeting, surrounded by people I did not know, I decided to run for state House. A group of people who lived in my district surrounded me, and we became a force! We ultimately did not win that campaign, but we did create the Northern York Democratic Club, which is one of the strongest clubs in the region. I decided to apply, and was accepted, into EmergePA, an intense training program for Democratic women who want to run for office. That experience was transformative and it led me to decide to run for state Senate.
After I started my new job teaching middle school band at East Pennsboro [in Cumberland County], however, I thought running for office might be out of the picture for me this year. But the more time I spent in my classroom dealing with the lack of resources, seeing the trauma our students are living with … I felt like I had to do more.
We then learned that my father was diagnosed with cancer and my whole world turned upside down. Hearing my parents talk about the struggles of the diagnosis, dealing with their insurance company, the astronomical costs involved, having to drive two hours to get to a hospital that would take their insurance … I knew I had to do everything I could to fight against a system that works so hard to keep people down. So, even though I work full time, have a son in kindergarten, and a father going through cancer treatments, I decided I needed to run. We need more working people and more women in the legislature, actually addressing the issues of women, families, and working people.
How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your campaign and your community? What have you been doing in your community as a candidate?
Our campaign has moved entirely contactless, like most campaigns. We are calling our neighbors to check on them, sending postcards, and providing critical information online. Our communities have been greatly impacted, like all communities. I am heartened to see so many citizens taking the warnings seriously and staying home, joining volunteer efforts, raising money for charities, and sharing what they can with their neighbors. We have been holding virtual events and helping people access resources they may need, including mail-in ballot applications.
Other than the COVID-19 pandemic, what issue is most pressing in your community?
Air quality and the impacts of climate change on this region are major concerns to the people in my district. South central PA has some of the worst air quality in the nation, and we’ve seen extreme heat, warming winters, and excessive rains wreaking havoc on our communities. As a state senator I will work to pass bold climate legislation that invests in renewable energy and infrastructure, not continue to give tax incentives to the fossil fuel industry.
What’s surprised you the most about being a candidate?
Both times I’ve run for office, I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the support I’ve received from complete strangers. There are so many people searching for something to believe in, to work towards, to try to move us out of the darkness we are in right now. I’ve developed incredible friendships and partnerships in my community that have really made a difference. My campaign team from my 2018 State House run went on to form the Northern York Democratic Club, which is a major force in our county now. It’s incredible to see what we have already accomplished.
If you could change one thing in politics today what would it be?
The money, for sure! When I think about how much time politicians spend asking for money, it makes me wonder what we could get done if we could focus on legislating and serving constituents instead of constantly chasing donations. A good friend of mine and fellow candidate always talks about how it is legal in PA to basically buy a politician because we have such lax campaign finance laws. I can’t wait to change that!
What would you say to someone who is thinking about running for office someday?
It will not be easy, but it is absolutely vital that we see more women and young people running for office and winning. You are qualified. There are resources available, and an army of us doing this, or who have done this, who want to see you succeed. Elizabeth Warren said it best, ‘you don’t get what you don’t fight for.’
What is one takeaway you’d like to leave your constituents with?
We have an opportunity this year to elect a State Senator who comes from the working class and understands the crises we are facing in terms of the environment, the economy for working people, student debt, skyrocketing housing and healthcare costs, and public education. I am a teacher, a mom, and an advocate in my community and I will work FOR my community, not the highest bidder.