Part I: Generation X
Recently, I decided to branch out into interviewing other progressive candidates for Congress besides women. So, I decided to feature a candidate, who has what I call “the trifecta.” He’s a veteran, a scientist, and he lives in a key state, Pennsylvania: Tom Prigg. Veterans have a special place in my heart as I have several family members who are vets and I think highly of any individual, who is willing to sacrifice their life for their country and the safety of their fellow countrymen. In addition, I, like many others, have been enraged at the current administration’s decimation of science and facts. Indeed, scientific discoveries are not “alternative facts.” They are quantifiable and provable truths and scientific advancement is needed to cure diseases, spur inventions that create jobs, save our environment from the “point of no return,” and expand our understanding of the universe, our planet, and our bodies. The knowledge and voices of citizens with medical and scientific backgrounds are vitally important.
Tom Prigg is a Progressive Democrat running for Pennsylvania’s newly formed 14th district, which encompasses Washington, Westmoreland, Greene and Fayette Counties under the redistricting plan that was implemented due to heavily gerrymandered localities in Pennsylvania. Prior to the redrawn districts, he was located in the 12th congressional district. The Democratic primary will be held on May 15, 2018 where he will be running against three other Democrats.
He was born and raised in a rural area in Washington County, PA and currently resides in Canonsburg, PA (Washington County), is married, and has three children. He knows what it’s like to struggle as he grew up in poverty, his father left his family when he was ten, and his mother “worked many jobs” to support the family “while putting herself through school.” In a blog for the Daily Kos, he writes, “We were greatly in debt and lost utilities on a regular basis. When our heat was turned off, I still remember stacking several blankets on top of myself and desperately snuggling with my dog for warmth…Sleep was a sanctuary from the hunger pangs. If the lack of food wasn’t causing my gut to twist, it was the ulcers from worrying that did.” He expanded more upon his early years to me, “Yes, we got food stamps and I remember the giant block of orange government cheese…I also got free school lunches…We tried to keep most of our poverty a secret, but you can only keep so much from getting out. Recounting the hardships of his childhood is difficult and he previously preferred to “forget it and move on.” His recollections, though, provided key insights, “In some ways I like that aspect of my life, but it was hard…Although, it’s fed the fuel for me to do this. So, in some weird way I’m grateful for the experiences.”
After graduating from Trinity High School, he joined the military in 1988, became a sniper for the 82nd Airborne division, and was sent for duty in Panama due to the drug wars that were occurring at the time. Life in the military provided essential life lessons that he “could accomplish anything if I kept working hard.” He elaborates:
It taught me to ignore the critics and just keep working that no one can stop me as long as I didn’t give up and just keep progressing forward. That lesson has repeated all my life after I learned it. Especially now in a congressional campaign. I have many people who try to discourage me because I’m not rich or know rich people. Yet, I’m out working all of my opponents and I have built what money buys. It’s the new way forward as far as I’m concerned. We’ve seen what kind of politicians money buys and it’s been terrible.
After leaving the army, people told him, “I wasn’t cut out for college. They said I should apply to be a state cop. But I wanted to be a scientist of some sort.” Ultimately, the life lessons from his childhood and military service endured and he received a B.S. from the University of Pittsburgh [Pitt] in Neural Psychology and Sociology. Later, he received degrees in Creative Writing from Pitt and a graduate certificate in Disaster Management and Public Health Preparedness. He worked studying neuroscience at Pitt, but when scientific grant money evaporated in 2013, he found himself unemployed. Despite his academic credentials and employment history, it was difficult finding employment, so he applied for a job at a grocery store to help support his family. He was hired and worked in the meat counter and gained insight into the importance of unions. Later, he became a contributing writer for USA Today – College. Currently, he is a Lab Manager at the University of Pittsburgh.
Like myself, Tom is a member of Generation X, the generation who came of age in the 1980’s. We watched Star Wars (not Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope), endured bad hairstyles, played outdoors, functioned without cell phones and the internet, watched the first Space Shuttle launch, remember a divided Germany, witnessed the removal of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communism in Eastern Europe, saw the birth of rap music, and can recall a time when Republicans and Democrats were able to work together in a true bi-partisan manner. In case you’re wondering his favorite eighties, bands are The Beastie Boys and Nine Inch Nails and his favorite movies are Terminator and Conan – The Barbarian. The wisdom garnered during this generation should not be underestimated.
Finally, what struck me most during our discourse were the similarities between Tom Prigg and the other grassroots candidates. Like the other candidates, he has experienced hardships in his life, yet it hasn’t led him toward hatred of other people, but in fact, has steered him toward compassion and empathy. Plus, he is running for the purest of motives, he truly wants to make a positive difference in everyone’s lives. He is not a professional politician, but an ordinary citizen who has the same struggles and concerns as the rest of us. His impoverished childhood, military service, varied educational background, and unemployment turmoil that led him to working in a grocery store to make ends meet will serve his constituents well as he is a reflection of them all.
Check back for Part II: Don’t You Forget About Me
To donate to Tom’s campaign, please go to: https://secure.actblue.com/contribute/page/tomprigg4pa12