At one point during Thursday night’s gathering of Democrats at the Rally for our Rights in Millvale, Khalif Ali asked the crowd a question.

“Can everybody say, ‘I’m here for it’?” asked Ali, director of the voting rights group New Pennsylvania Project.

“I’m here for it!” the people responded.

“LGBTQ+ rights,” Ali announced.

“I’m here for it!”

“Black and brown rights.”

“I’m here for it!”

“Women’s reproductive rights.”

“I’m here for it!”

“Everybody’s rights.”

“I’m here for it!”

That was the tone of the rally, which served as a platform for Democratic candidates seeking a variety of offices to voice their support for progressive causes. It also provided a few progressive activists a chance to speak about issues ranging from criminal justice reform to trans rights.

Here are a few highlights:

Tanisha Long, Allegheny County community organizer for the Abolitionist Law Center. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

When I graduated [from University of Pittsburgh] last year, I was proud. It took me 14 years to graduate college. And that’s something I’ll never be ashamed of, but it should never have happened that way. We should have systems in place where people can afford to go to school. We should have systems in place that assure students of color they can get in.

Some of our best and brightest minds are incarcerated. It works that way by design. If we work towards changing the systems and reversing our laws and making sure everyone has access to education, access to food, access to shelter, then we won’t have these problems. They want us incarcerated; they want us to struggle. So it’s our job, our duty to change that and to fight for what we’ve lost.

— Tanisha Long, Allegheny County community organizer for the Abolitionist Law Center

From left, Patrick Sweeney, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas candidate; Jill Beck, Pennsylvania Superior Court candidate; Dan McCaffery, Pennsylvania Supreme Court candidate; and Bethany Hallam, Allegheny County councilwoman, who served as emcee of the event. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

[Donald Trump] is trying to undermine people’s faith in the judicial system. People need to rely on the fact they’ll be treated fairly when they come to court because, when they leave there, we want them to accept the decisions that are made …. Donald Trump is doing what he can to undermine that.

What is most important in this election is that we elect people that are dedicated to equal justice regardless of party, regardless of race and creed and gender and anything that might divide us.

— Patrick Sweeney, candidate for Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas

• • • 

The Superior Court is affecting your rights — your right to be free from incarceration, your right to parent your children, your right to your health, your wealth, your safety, your family, your job, your inheritance. These are rights that affect everyday Pennsylvanians, and whether or not you are the litigants involved in these cases, these cases are going to affect you because the Superior Court is interpreting our constitution and our statutes …. So it’s really important to understand how critical it is that we have good, knowledgeable people sitting in these seats.

Jill Beck, candidate for Pennsylvania Superior Court

• • •

The most consequential election of our lifetime wasn’t Donald Trump, it wasn’t Joe Biden, it wasn’t Barack Obama. It was 2015 when we elected three [Democratic] justices to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. They protected voting rights by declaring gerrymandered districts unconstitutional. They then protected women’s rights, they protected workers’ rights. That’s why we’re standing here today, because majorities on these courts matter.

— Dan McCaffery, Pennsylvania Supreme Court candidate

State Sen. Lindsey Williams, left, who represents District 38, and Lindsay Powell, candidate for state House District 21, at the Rally for our Rights at Millvale Riverfront Park on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

[Republicans] want to pass ‘don’t say gay’ bills, they want to ban books, they want to ban trans girls from playing sports, and they want to privatize our schools through vouchers. Those private schools have been in my office lobbying to discriminate. They actually want to protect their right to discriminate. We are on the verge — if we don’t get Lyndsay [Powell, candidate for House District 21] — of sending our public tax dollars to private schools to discriminate.

— State Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-West View

• • •

For me, politics is deeply personal. Housing — having safe, dignified and affordable housing — is one of the most critical issues we’re facing, not just in Allegheny County but across the nation.

As a young person, my family lost their housing, and if it wasn’t for the kindness and love of family members and friends, who let us stay with them while we were in transition, I wouldn’t be here. And that’s not fair, it’s not right, it’s not dignified, its frankly un-American, for us to have a system where people have to rely on favors and the goodness of family to make sure that they have a roof over their heads.

Lindsay Powell, candidate state House District 21

Matt Dugan, Democratic nominee for Allegheny County District Attorney.

We need a district attorney’s office that can think past the traditional arrest-prosecute-punish model and start thinking about, and talking about and advocating for, violence prevention programs — how we can deal with folks struggling with mental health issues, struggling with substance abuse, struggling with poverty issues, instability issues, housing issues, unequal education funding systems. How we can treat those people at their first entry into the criminal justice system, move them to the side, not require life-altering dispositions that are going to  prevent them from stability in the future, so we can get to the job of prosecuting violent crime when it occurs?

— Matt Dugan, Democratic nominee for Allegheny County district attorney

Sara Innamorato, Democratic nominee for Allegheny County executive. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Trans rights are under attack. We have attacks on reproductive health care and our democracy. Just yesterday in North Carolina they passed egregious bills that target trans kids and strip away gender-affirming care. But not here in Allegheny County, because in Allegheny County we believe that trans rights are human rights, we believe that abortion is health care and health care is a human right, that each and everyone of us deserves clean air and clean water, and that our green and sustainable future will be union made.

— Sara Innamorato, Democratic nominee for Allegheny County executive

U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, who represents Pennsylvania’s 17th District. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

It is not just federal elections, it’s every race now. It is on the ballot — our freedom. From the school board to the [state] Supreme Court justice to Congress, the Senate, the president. Those are the stakes.

— U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Aspinwall

Dena Stanley, founder of TransYOUniting. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

It saddens me, what’s happening [to trans people] in Florida, in North Carolina, in Texas, in Tennessee. People are seeking refuge here [in Allegheny County] because they feel it’s a safe place. But we have to make sure when they get here, they know this is and will continue to be so. The only way that’s going to happen is that everyone of you do your research. Google a little bit about pronouns, Google a little about trans folks. And just be respectful to human beings. That’s all it really takes — respect.

Let’s really start making this a safe space, because we have to do that in order to bring these folks in. And they’re coming regardless of whether you like it or not, they’re coming. Every single day we’re getting 20 to 30 calls at my community center because folks are fleeing Texas and Florida and coming here. There’s not even enough housing. We have two housing units for trans and nonbinary folks. Only two places if you’re homeless and trans and queer that you can go to that are safe. That’s a problem. We have to do better.

— Dena Stanley, founder of TransYOUniting

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at

Steve Mellon

Steve is a photojournalist and writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he is currently on strike and working as a Union Progress co-editor. Reach him at