United States Representative Chrissy Houlahan believes in many things: Civility. Decency. And also meaningful disruption.
“My office’s value is respectful disruption. We are trying to make sure that we’re changing the rules, but we’re also trying to not blow the whole place up. And that will take some time,” she said on Wednesday night in a virtual town hall conversation with The Philadelphia Citizen co-founder Larry Platt.
Houlahan, who ran for and won her seat in 2018, said she was drawn to serve in this way after seeing the outcome of the 2016 election.
“When the election of 2016 happened and my dad [a veteran] and my daughter [a member of the LGBTQ community] were both crying because they were afraid of what the nation … had said about them and people like them and people not like them, that was the reason I rose my hand to try to be part of the healing, and part of the solution,” she said. “That’s why I’m in this fight.”
Among some other gems the audience learned:
Her father is her hero
Houlahan’s dad, Andrew Jampoler, came to this country when he was about 5.
He was born into a Jewish family in Poland in 1942. His father was murdered during the war; and his mother and grandmother subsequently took him to Warsaw to live safely with a Christian family, while they entered the camps.
When the war was over, his mother and grandmother retrieved young Jampoler and immigrated to the U.S. He went on to serve for more than 30 years in the Navy, retiring as a Navy captain.
“He’s really, genuinely my hero and a real example of the American dream,” Houlahan said. “Service has always been part of my blood. And I was raised by my dad to believe that we have to give back to the nation that’s given us so much.”
She said her mom gave everything to be a Navy wife—no small feat—and that she currently has three active-duty family members.
She wears approximately 10 gazillion hats
Growing up, Sally Ride was Houlahan’s hero. The trailblazing astronaut’s example guided her to Stanford University and then on to the Air Force.
Houlahan went on to MIT to get her PhD (she’s an engineer). She joined Teach for America, which led her to be an 11th grade chemistry teacher at Simon Gratz High School in North Philly. And she was part of the founding team of Springboard Collaborative, the now-national nonprofit that supports students and families with literacy and avoiding the “summer slide” (and, now, Covid slide).
Later, she became chief operating officer at AND1, the sports brand that started by selling irreverent T-shirts out of car trunks and grew, under Houlahan’s leadership, to be a multinational brand.
She is also a wife and mother to two grown children, who motivated her in her role at AND1 to make company culture welcoming to working parents, with nursing rooms, generous parental leave and health benefits.
Oh, and she helped pioneer B Lab before B Corps and mission-driven business models were a behemoth trend.
“We are a fragile, interdependent people,” Houlahan said. “Not just Americans, but the planet. And the way we treat each other matters. And things like paid parental leave or things like healthcare, education equity, environmental justice, all of those kinds of things have been completely laid bare at this point of time.”
She’s committed to coalition-building
As a rookie congresswoman, Houlahan pleaded to join a third committee, despite the fact that two is the norm.
She co-founded the Women in STEM and STEAM Caucus as a way to address and take down barriers to getting more diverse people into STEM and STEAM fields.
She’s part of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of 50 legislators who work to find common ground and champion bills accordingly.
And she started an informal group called For Country Caucus, convening 10 Democratic and 10 Republican former military members of every ideological background every other week to search for common ground.
She can be an Eeyore
She concedes that among her cohort of former-military rookie congresswomen (dubbed “the Badasses”), she’s the Eeyore in the crowd, the pessimist. Yet she remains optimistic that change can happen, and that the pandemic could have a silver lining.
“Tragically, Covid has validated, exposed, all of the things that as a Democrat I’ve always known,” Houlahan said. “We are a fragile, interdependent people. Not just Americans, but the planet. And the way we treat each other matters. And things like paid parental leave or things like health care, education equity, environmental justice, all of those kinds of things have been completely laid bare at this point of time.”
She believes there’s no turning back. “I have optimism, even though I’m an Eeyore, because this, I hope, has opened people’s eyes … to understand why so many people are a paycheck away from disaster, why it matters that you have health care.”
Naturally, she’s eager for Election Day on November 3. “I do think we are always on this pendulum,” she said, “and I’m hoping that the pendulum will swing back to the better angels at this election.”
It’s election season in Philadelphia. Are you all set to vote?