Thursday, March 8, 2018

I had not expected this: Only 5 more Democrats filed for committeeperson in 2018 than filed in 2014!

Center: Steve Paul, Chair Democratize Philly

I had not expected this. In my book Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party, I predicted that the green shoots of democracy which emerged in the 2014 committeeperson elections would take root in Philadelphia neighborhoods and result in a revitalized ward system in 2018.

On January 15, 2018 a group of progressive organizations announced the formation of Democratize Philly, a coalition initiated by ADA to recruit and support progressive candidates to run for Committeeperson. In January and February organizations such as Caucus of Working Educators, Neighborhood Networks, Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Moving Philly Forward, Philadelphia Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), Philly for Change, Reclaim Philadelphia and 3.0 ran workshops on how to run for committeeperson.

The level of activity and degree of enthusiasm appeared to be much greater in 2018 than was the case in 2014, suggesting that discontent with the undemocratic Democratic Party may be finally reaching a tipping point.

However, the numbers suggest otherwise. Dave Davies reported that 3,267 Democrats filed to run for committeeperson, only five more than in 2014. And only 513 Republicans filed for committeeperson, down from 788 four years ago.

Davies turned to Jen Devor, who ran committeeperson trainings for an explanation of these disappointing numbers. Devor suggested that perhaps fewer incumbents were running and so the mix contained a larger proportion of newcomers. She suggested that longtime committeepeople might not be running because "it’s a more competitive race this time around.“ Maybe. But there are other reasons long time committeepeople might be retiring. I am stepping down after 32 years as a committeeperson in the 9th ward because I think old folks should not be hanging onto these positions for 30, 40 years but should make room for a younger generation to fill these slots. I know others in in my age cohort who are retiring for this reason. I am happy to report that an energetic young woman will be running for the slot I’ve held for decades.

We won’t know until we learn the number of incumbents who chose not to run(for whatever reason), just how disappointing the 2018 numbers are. We also need to know where the newcomers are concentrated. According to Davies' report, City Commissioner Al Schmidt said that the neighborhoods with the highest number of candidates appeared to be in the Northeast and South Philadelphia where there are contests for ward leader.

Are they candidates who are running simply to support a particular candidate for ward leader, which is likely to be the case in the Northeast? Or are they candidates with a vision of how the ward system should operate or a political philosophy they would like to advance—-as is more likely to be the case in South Philly? The numbers are not what I had hoped to see; however, there may be a significantly higher number of people with a deeper commitment to political change than we had in 2014.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Soon there will be daffodils!

Winter gets harder and harder. Each year I am more and more impatient for spring. The snowdrops were late this year but now they are in abundance

Species crocus are everywhere:

And witch hazel is in bloom. It's on its way out but still wonderfully fragrant.

It never really feels like spring has arrived until the daffodils bloom; unfortunately it looks like I’m going to have to wait a week or so for the first daffodils to emerge.

Soon I will be out there working in my garden. Cicero said it all: "If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

So impressed by the number of organizations running workshops encouraging their members to run for committeeperson!

A Philadelphia/NOW/ Philadelphia CLUWworkshop on running for committeeperson at Big Blue Marble bookstore on February 10

I have been so impressed by the number of organizations out there running workshops encouraging their members to run for committeeperson-- Philadelphia Chapters of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Philadelphia Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), Neighborhood Networks, Philly for Change, Reclaim Philadelphia, the Caucus of Working Educators, Moving Philly Forward, 3.0 among others.

The level of activity and degree of enthusiasm is much greater than was the case in 2014, documented in my book Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party. And the activity in 2014 was much greater than in previous election cycles.

Discontent with the undemocratic party Democratic Party may be finally reaching a tipping point. Growing numbers of political activists and concerned citizens realize that our one-party town can no longer afford an undemocratic Democratic Party. The closed, top-down party structure, currently disintegrating into competing factions, is not working. 2018 provides an opportunity for real political change, with engaged committeepersons a powerful force, educating voters about candidates and about the democratic process. Something is happening out there!

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The really good news from the Women’s March--the emphasis on voting!

I managed to attend part of Saturday's Women’s March and was encouraged by the large turn out. The March was diverse in age with many young women, including many who looked like they were high school age.

In terms of race/ethnicity, the March was once again a disappointment. Given the demographics of Philly, the crowd should have been much more diverse. I know the organizers worked hard to attract a multi-racial crowd but the fact that 53% of white women voted for Trump no doubt had some thing to do with the low numbers of women of color. We have work to do.
The president of Planned Parenthood called on white women to do more to "save this country from itself," acknowledging that women of color were responsible for with many of the recent political victories.

The really good news from the March was the emphasis on voting and on the critical need for more feminist women to run for office. Many of the signs conveyed the message that women must use the power of the ballot to get rid of Donald Trump. Marches can energize and galvanize but the only way to rid our county of this monster is to elect a Democratic House and Senate who will impeach him or, failing that, defeat him in the 2020 presidential election.

It will be a different electorate in 2020. Many of those young women at the March were too young to vote in 2016, but they will be out in force in 2018 and in 2020. I was especially heartened by the Las Vegas rally, which launched an effort to register 1 million voters and target swing states like Nevada in the 2018 midterm elections. Change is coming.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A potentially powerful new coalition:

Center: Steve Paul, Chair Democratize Philly

I can’t think of a better way to celebrate Martin Luther King Day than to encourage citizens committed to racial, gender and economic justice to become involved in the political process. Today the members of Americans for Democratic Action Southeastern PA (ADA), the Caucus of Working Educators, Neighborhood Networks, Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Moving Philly Forward, Philadelphia Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), Philly for Change, Reclaim Philadelphia, and United Voices for Philadelphia announced the formation of Democratize Philly, a coalition initiated by ADA and chaired by Steve Paul. From the press release posted on the coalition’s website:
We are announcing the formation of Democratize Philly, a coalition of progressive organizations seeking to recruit and support progressive candidates to run for Committeeperson who are committed to the values of social, economic, racial, and gender justice. Our mission is to increase democratic participation, voter turnout, and transparency in Philadelphia’s political process.

We come together around this mission because we believe that a healthy democracy is built on the political participation of all its citizens. Unfortunately, voter turnout has continued to be dismally low in Philadelphia. Last November was a stark reminder of that reality with barely 20% of Philadelphia voters turning out to vote.

A consensus has emerged that our one-party town can no longer afford an undemocratic Democratic Party. The current closed, top-down party structure disintegrating into competing factions is not working. 2018 provides an opportunity for political change -- engaged committeepersons can be a powerful force, educating voters about candidates and about the democratic process.

Some highlights from the press conference:
Numa St Louis from United Voices for Philadelphia emphasized the contributions of immigrants to our society and urged recent immigrants to become engaged in the political process.

Amy Roat and Luigi Borda from the Caucus of Working Educators: We “encourage educators, parents, and public school advocates to do more by becoming an elected committee person this spring. With active members in every section of Philadelphia we are uniquely positioned to help make real change. Our goal is to do the work necessary to hold politicians accountable to provide the children of Philadelphia with the schools they deserve.”

Margaret Lenzi from Neighborhood Networks: “Unfortunately, the Philadelphia Democratic Party as it’s now constituted, is a failure at its core function of getting out the vote for candidates who have our back. That’s why it’s so important for progressive Democrats to become committee people in 2018, an opportunity that won’t arise again for four years. NN’s Committee Person Project provides training, resources and assistance to progressives who want to run for Committee Person in 2018.”

Grace Palladino from Philadelphia NOW: "2018 will be the Year of the Woman, and the National Organization for Women is thrilled to be a place where female candidates can come to get support, a platform, resources, and encouragement. I believe Donald Trump has awoken a sleeping giant, and the awe-inspiring potential of women working together is being revealed across this nation. If you are a female or feminist candidate looking for support, please reach out to NOW’s Philadelphia chapter today. We are here for you.
Grace Palladino from Philadelphia NOW

Many thanks to Emma Restrepo for a video of the press conference highlighting the speeches of Amy Roat, Luigi Borda, and Margaret Lenzi.

For decades progressives have worked to make the Philadelphia Democratic Party more democratic, more transparent. See my account of this activity in Green Shoots of Democracy in the Philadelphia Democratic Party. I think we have finally reached the critical mass of progressive activists we need for real change. Interest in the committeeperson races is far greater than I have ever seen with more organizations than ever working to educate their members about running for these seats. No doubt Donald Trump has something to do with this increased activity.

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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Feminist Activism across the Generations

I took a break from writing projects for the holidays and with my Elena Ferrante book now in the hands of McFarland publishers, I’m ready to tackle a new expanded version of Feminism in Philadelphia, tentatively titled Building the Feminist Movement, Building Feminist Institutions: Feminist Activism across the Generations.

Feminism in Philadelphia charted the growth of the second wave feminist movement with an emphasis on NOW, the major engine of institutional change. This is certainly not the complete story of the history of second wave feminism in Philadelphia. Many low-income women, disproportionately women of color, struggled in obscurity for racial and gender justice; their actions were not recorded by the local press, and they were much less likely to leave detailed records. No doubt, much of what occurred was not documented, or if documented, not deposited in libraries or archives accessible to me.

Although NOW may have been the focal point, it was certainly not the only locus of feminist activity in Philadelphia in the late 1960s and 1970s. NOW activists were focused primarily on changing the rules by which society was governed and opening up government, business and what had been traditionally male occupations to women. Some, like Philadelphia NOW founding member and psychologist Jean Ferson, were also involved in the consciousness raising movement, the feminist therapy movement and the emerging women’s health moment. There were other feminists focused primarily on creating feminist free spaces—book stores, clubs, music festivals—rather than building feminist organizations. There were feminists who did not belong to explicitly feminist organizations like NOW but worked tirelessly for gender justice in their unions, their professional associations, in educational institutions and religious organizations. There were those who wanted nothing less than total revolution and were impatient of and often contemptuous towards those trying to change existing social institutions. The energy and creativity was enormous.

When conditions are ripe, a handful of dedicated activists really can transform the world. The changes in the status of women in my lifetime have been enormous and some have become so much a part of the air we breathe that we no longer perceive the extent of the changes.

Feminism in Philadelphia focused on activism and advocacy, but a major strand of the story was left untold—the enormous energy put into building feminist institutions. The service organizations founded on a shoe string by committed feminists--the battered women’s shelters, the rape crisis centers--were beginning to receive significant funding from government and from private foundations. Yes, the funding came with strings attached and the radical edge of some of these organizations was blunted, but more women were receiving services and the women who had been providing them for free could now get jobs as service providers.

By analyzing the struggle to build these institutions, I intend to try to complete the story of second wave feminism in Philadelphia, to the extent that such a story can ever be fully told. The history of feminism in Philadelphia is a case study, a microcosm of the trajectory of second wave feminism, a story unfolding in similar ways in cities across the country. The dividing line between political activism and institution building is not always easy to draw, with many individuals and organizations involved in both. The resources available for building feminist institutions were for the most part available only in urban areas and hence their concentration in large cities like Philadelphia.

I intend my analysis of this history to be a springboard for an exploration of the very different approaches of a younger generation of feminist activists who reject the organizational model of the older progressive organizations with their hierarchical structures and elected leadership. As our society becomes increasingly mobile and use of internet technology more widespread, NOW’s geographically based chapter model with face-to-face meetings as its major organizing tool, strikes some younger members as an anachronism. Many younger feminists are creating more fluid, internet driven forms of feminist organizing rather than the hierarchical structures NOW’s founding generation developed. But can social change be achieved without the kinds structured organizations that fueled the second wave feminist movement?

Yes, the January 2017 Women’s March bubbled up from the grassroots. Established feminist organizations eventually signed on, but the initial impulse came from the grassroots. It’s too soon to tell if all that amazing energy will lead to real change. We’ll have a better idea after November 2018.