Reforming Philadelphia

This week in North Philly Notes, Richardson Dilworth, author of Reforming Philadelphia, 1682-2022, writes about what the history of reform might tell us about contemporary city elections.

On May 16 of 2023, Philadelphians will vote for mayor in the Democratic and Republican primaries, and the general assumption in this overwhelmingly Democratic city is that whoever wins the Democratic primary will also be elected mayor in the general election on November 7. The nine declared Democratic candidates represent a relatively broad ideological mix, from the relatively conservative candidacies of Rebecca Rhynhart and Allan Domb, to the more liberal candidacy of Helen Gym. But given that the current mayor Jim Kenney has reached his two-term limit, we are guaranteed to have a new mayor who will most likely set a distinct policy direction for our city government.

In my book, Reforming Philadelphia, 1682-2022, I wanted to provide a short but comprehensive and deep context for understanding political events such as the 2023 mayoral election, by placing it in the long history of what I call “reform cycles.” “Reform” is a broad mantel that has been claimed by innumerable politicians for a variety of reasons. Among historians it is most typically associated with the Progressive Era at the turn of the 20th Century. For my purposes, I took the historian’s definition of reform but generalized it into criteria that might be found in any historical period. My criteria were that a reform cycle is defined by:

  • A new idea regarding the city and its purpose in the world.
  • Actors who attempt to take control of city government and reform it in the image of this new idea.
  • Actors conceived of as thwarting reform – sometimes known as “the machine.”
  • Elections in which reformers gain some control over city government.
  • The implementation of ideas that transform the city to some degree.
  • Public recognition, typically provided through the press, that reform occurred.

Using these criteria, I identified the following five reform cycles:

  • The 1840s to the city-county consolidation of 1854
  • The 1870s to the adoption of a new city charter in 1887
  • Mayor John Weaver’s revolt against the machine in 1905, to the adoption of a new charter in 1919
  • The Democratic sweep of elected offices in 1951, to the mayoralty of James Tate in 1962
  • The mayoralty of Ed Rendell, from 1992 to 2000.

My definition of reform cycles raises at least two important questions. First, it appears that race is a notably muted feature in my reform cycles. And second, what about the contemporary period? What can all of this tell us about the 2023 mayoral election?

With respect to race, I argue that the emergence of a substantial Black political class  — a product of the dramatic change in the city’s racial composition after World War II – fell largely into existing machine-reform categories, which was itself a result of the fact that the reform-oriented White political establishment moved relatively quickly to incorporate Black politicians, certainly to a greater extent than in many other cities (such as Chicago for instance). Thus, race-based political organizations such as the Black Political Forum or the Northwest Alliance functioned largely as earlier white reform organizations. And Wilson Goode was arguably a reformer when he was elected as the city’s first Black mayor in 1983. Yet crucially, Goode’s election fails my criteria for defining a reform cycle because it was not recognized as such, for at least two reasons: (1) Goode’s mayoralty was more often defined in the media in terms of race rather than reform, and (2) Goode’s reform status was often overshadowed by larger policy blunders, such as the MOVE bombing and the city’s near-bankruptcy.

With respect to what my conception of reform cycles can tell us about the 2023 election, this is the subject of the third and final chapter of my book, in which I argue that there are currently two overlapping reform cycles, not unlike the reform cycle of the 1870s and 1880s, which was quickly followed by the reform cycle of the 1900s and 1910s. In the 21st Century, we can identify a reform cycle that was driven by the economic resurgence in and around Center City, resulting in the election of Michael Nutter in 2007 and extending at least to the surprise election of Rhynhart as controller in 2017. The issues that defined this reform cycle were campaign finance reform, increased government responsiveness and accountability, planning reform, and environmental sustainability. The second reform cycle is defined in policy terms by social and racial equity and justice and was most visible politically in the elections of Larry Krasner as district attorney in 2017, and of Helen Gym and Kendra Brooks to at-large council seats, in 2015 and 2019, respectively.

Thus, the 2023 mayoral campaigns will fall along a policy and political continuum defined by these two overlapping reform cycles – what journalist Larry Platt has also called a battle between “progressives vs. reformers.” The actual election dynamics will be shaped by at least two long-term trends that have fundamentally altered the city’s electoral politics: Declining voter turnout, which provides greater leverage to smaller groups; and a diminished local media, which makes it harder for campaigns to communicate to a mass audience. The sad result is that our local political universe is more fragmented than in the past. And with so many candidates running in the Democratic primary – so many of which are of high quality – whoever the winner is will undoubtedly be the choice of a minority of voters, making it more difficult for the new mayor to claim a mandate and set an aggressive policy agenda.

Temple University Press’s annual Holiday Book Sale

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase our annual Holiday Book Sale, being held through December 1 from 11:00 am – 2:00 pm at the Event Space in Charles Library, 1900 N. 13th Street in Philadelphia, PA.

Meet Ray Didinger, author of Finished Business and The Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition December 1 from 11:00 am – 12:00 pm.


Gift Books and Philadelphia Interest Titles

Salut!: France Meets Philadelphia, by Lynn Miller and Therese Dolan

Salut! provides a magnifique history of Philadelphia seen through a particular cultural lens.

Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia, edited by Paul M. Farber and Ken Lum

Monument Lab energizes a civic dialogue about public art and history around what it means to be a Philadelphian.

Beethoven in Beijing: Stories from the Philadelphia Orchestra’s Historic Journey to China, by Jennifer Lin, with a foreword by Philadelphia Orchestra Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin

A fabulous photo-rich oral history of a boundary-breaking series of concerts the orchestra performed under famed conductor Eugene Ormandy in China 50 years ago.

The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia: History, Culture, People, and Ideas, edited by Andrea Canepari and Judith Goode

Celebrates the history, impact, and legacy of this vibrant community, tracing four periods of key transformation in the city’s political, economic, and social structures.

BLAM! Black Lives Always Mattered!: Hidden African American Philadelphia of the Twentieth Century, by the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Foreword by Lonnie G. Bunch III

The inspiring stories of 14 important Black Philadelphians in graphic novel form!

Real Philly History, Real Fast: Fascinating Facts and Interesting Oddities about the City’s Heroes and Historic Sites, by Jim Murphy

Philly history in bites that are as digestible as a soft pretzel with mustard!

Exploring Philly Nature: A Guide for All Four Seasons, by Bernard S. Brown, Illustrations by Samantha Wittchen

A handy guide to experiencing the flora and fauna in Philly, this compact illustrated volume contains 52 activities for discovering, observing, and learning more about the concrete jungle that is Philadelphia all year long!

Artists of Wyeth Country: Howard Pyle, N. C. Wyeth, and Andrew Wyeth, by W. Barksdale Maynard

An unauthorized and unbiased biographical portrait of Andrew Wyeth that includes six in-depth walking and driving tours that allow readers to visit the places the Wyeths and Pyle painted in Chadds Ford, PA.

The Mouse Who Played Football, by Brian Westbrook Sr, and Lesley Van Arsdall, with illustrations by Mr. Tom.

An inspiring story, based on Westbrook’s own experiences, that encourages young readers to believe in themselves and make their unique differences their strengths.

Do Right By Me: Learning to Raise Black Children in White Spaces, by Valerie I. Harrison and Kathryn Peach D’Angelo

Through lively and intimate back-and-forth exchanges, the authors share information, research, and resources that orient parents and other community members to the ways race and racism will affect a black child’s life—and despite that, how to raise and nurture healthy and happy children. 

The Magic of Children’s Gardens: Inspiring Through Creative Design, by Lolly Tai, with a Foreword by Jane L. Taylor

Landscape architect Lolly Tai provides the primary goals, concepts, and key considerations for designing outdoor spaces that are attractive and suitable for children, especially in urban environments.

The Real Philadelphia Book, Second Edition, by Jazz Bridge

A collection of more than 200 original jazz and blues compositions, arranged alphabetically by song title, showcasing work by generations of Philadelphia musicians.

Cincinnati: Crucible of Nineteenth-Century Religious Pluralism

This week in North Philly Notes, Matthew Smith, author of The Spires Still Point to Heaven: Cincinnati’s Religious Landscape, 1788-1873, writes about the Queen City as a hub for religious and cultural life in the nineteenth century.

This book is the first monograph on the religious landscape of pre-Civil War Cincinnati, which was in many ways the representative city of antebellum America. Mark Twain infamously hoped to find himself there when the world ended, it being “always twenty years behind the times.” In its heyday, however, the Queen City was a hotspot in the development of the nation, embracing the future rather than awaiting the apocalypse. Before St. Louis and Chicago eclipsed it as the leading city of the Midwest, Cincinnati was a vibrant metropolis attracting curious travelers and utopian idealists from across the world in the wake of booming trade and economic migration. Although Cincinnati was first and foremost a commercial hub on the Ohio River, itinerant preachers, domestic missionaries, and social reformers shaped the cultural life of the city as much as the pork merchants, steamboat manufacturers, and artisans who founded its economy. Just as twenty-first century urbanists emphasize the “liveability” of modern cities, so too nineteenth-century boosters obsessed over the character of their communities, and religion was a big part of that obsession. One writer boasted in 1841, “that within one hundred years … Cincinnati will be the greatest city in America; and by the year of our lord two thousand, the greatest city in the world.”

Cincinnati never quite realized the full ambitions of its boosters, but nor was it the Midwestern backwater Mark Twain so slyly deprecated. Situated in the heart of the Ohio Valley, the Queen City drew heavily from its rich agricultural hinterlands, as well as the booming infrastructure of the Market Revolution, connecting it by road and canal to the great cities of the east. Such connections also brought religious influences, beginning with evangelical Protestant connections during the Second Great Awakening of the early nineteenth century. In consequence, Cincinnati flourished as the western hub of the so-called “Benevolent Empire.” This network of voluntary religious societies sought to reform society by marshalling the energies of lay worshipers—men and women—as well as the more traditional leadership of the ordained clergy. The Queen City was soon home to societies promoting both foreign and domestic missions, the distribution of Bibles and religious tracts, the founding of Sunday Schools, promotion of temperance, and, of course, the abolition of slavery. Perhaps the central figure in this movement was New England preacher Lyman Beecher, who came to Cincinnati in 1832. Remembered today as the father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Lyman Beecher was president of Lane Theological Seminary, a bastion for educating clergy to sow the gospel through the western frontier. The very prosperity that made Cincinnati a magnet for evangelical institutions, however, was also its Achilles’ heel. “We must educate! We must educate!” warned Beecher, “or we must perish by our own prosperity.”

The cultural dominance of Presbyterian evangelicals was ultimately short-lived. Cincinnati benefited tremendously from the arrival of Catholic immigrants from Germany and Ireland in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, though immigration stirred the darkest fears of local nativists, steeped in generations of anti-Catholicism. Beecher’s notorious 1835 polemic, A Plea for the West, warned against “floods of pauper emigrants” arriving from Europe. Many Cincinnatians shared Beecher’s concerns, while bloody outbursts of violent nativism occurred during the Know-Nothing nadir of the 1850s. But the story of Cincinnati contains seeds of hope as well as moments of despair, and dialogue shaped sectarian relations as much as conflict. Much of this dialogue was pragmatic and institutional, but no less valuable in helping Cincinnatians figure out their way to religious pluralism. Protestant philanthropy helped endow the city’s first Catholic churches, for example, encouraging valuable economic migration in the process. Many of Cincinnati’s Catholic schools educated generations of Protestant children, despite fierce competition between the public and parochial schools systems. And Cincinnati was also home to other forms of cultural and religious expression besides Christianity, including Reform Judaism, a progressive tradition that reflected Cincinnati’s diverse religious landscape.

These themes are further explicated in The Spires Still Point to Heaven, showing how nineteenth-century Cincinnati tested the boundaries of nativism, toleration, and freedom.

University Press Week: What author is #NextUP

It’s University Press Week and the Blog Tour is back! This year’s theme is Next. Today’s theme is What author is #NextUP?

Celebrating first-time authors, Luis Felipe Mantilla, blogs about publishing his first book,
How Political Parties Mobilize Religion: Lessons from Mexico and Turkey, with Temple University Press in June 2021

How Political Parties Mobilize Religion began as a doctoral dissertation that I had set aside for a few years to work on other projects. As tenure drew near, I returned to the book project with some trepidation. I knew the project had important merits–the case selection was good and the core insights about religious parties were original and important–but I also knew it needed a lot of work. I wrote a proposal that emphasized the manuscript’s strengths and treated its weaknesses as arguments for why the book would be different and better than the dissertation. However, despite putting on a brave face, I knew I would need support and encouragement from my future editors.

When I approached a few other presses with the project, I got positive feedback but not the kind of commitment and enthusiasm that I needed to jumpstart the project and keep it going. Some editors seemed very excited about turning my manuscript into different book on the same topic. I felt uncertain and rather discouraged.

A longtime friend and colleague suggested I reach out to Temple, specifically because of its series Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics. Encountering Paul Djupe, the series editor, was a breath of fresh air. He immediately grasped the potential contributions of the book and quickly became a mentor and advocate. His critical suggestions were always targeted and constructive: he was able to identify specific weak spots in a way that helped me to address them without undermining the valuable components of the broader project.

Aaron Javsicas, the press editor, was also consistently supportive, and his practical insights helped ensure that the book stayed on track without making me feel stressed about the process. He was adroit in dealing with several potentially tricky issues. For example, he was the first to suggest a version of book’s current title–the previous version was a bland compromise I had never liked but settled on for lack of an alternative–and he was immediately supportive when I tweaked it to better fit the core argument.

I was regularly impressed with Temple’s ability to get top-tier reviewers at various stages of the project. The feedback from anonymous reviewers was remarkable in its thoroughness and quality, and many of their ideas played a central role in the revised case studies and the final chapters of the book. The last set of reviewers, whose comments are now on the back cover, are preeminent scholars whose approval meant a great deal for a junior scholar like me.

The last stages of book production, from reading proofs to crafting a cover, could easily have been overwhelming. Instead, thanks to Paul and Aaron’s encouragement and the support of the rest of the staff at Temple, it became an opportunity to look back and gain a real appreciation for a project that had taken almost a decade to complete. I particularly appreciated their patience as I suggested changes to the cover design.

Finally, Temple has done a remarkable job of keeping in touch with me after publication. Publicity manager Gary Kramer’s newsletters have alerted to me reviews of my work in a variety of journals, many of which I would have otherwise missed. It has also provided a sense of community and continuity, which, given my experience with Temple, I sincerely appreciate.

From my first encounter with Temple to the present day, the press has done a wonderful job of making me feel like a valued contributor rather than a number on a list or a demanding client. As a first-time author, it was a remarkable experience and one for which I am profoundly grateful.

Celebrating the Italian Legacy in Philadelphia

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase our recent program celebrating the publication of The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia, edited by Andrea Canepari and Judith Goode.

Cover for The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia

Temple University Libraries and Temple University Press recently participated in an event at Charles Library celebrating the publication of The Italian Legacy in Philadelphia: History, Culture, People, and Ideas, edited by Andrea Canepari, the former Consul General of Italy in Philadelphia, and Judith Goode, Professor Emerita of Anthropology and Urban Studies at Temple University.

Chancellor Englert introducing the panel

The program, which was simulcast with Temple Rome, opened with remarks from Temple University Chancellor Richard Englert, and a welcome from Cristiana Mele, the current Consul General of Italy in Philadelphia.

Panelists (left to right) William Valerio, Domenic Vitiello, Andrew Canepari,
Judith Goode, Chancellor Englert, Inga Saffron

The book was showcased in a panel featuring the coeditors as well as two of the book’s contributors, Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron and William Valerio, director of the Woodmere Art Museum.

Canepari spoke about the many rich contributions Italian Americans made to Philadelphia, from art and architecture to food and even Rocky. He also highlighted the “Ciao Philadelphia” celebration of Italian arts, culture, and community.

Andrea Canepari presenting

Goode described the contents of the book, focusing on the approach the contributors took when recounting the history of Italian immigrants and the development of Italian culture in the city. Saffron next presented images of the many Italian influences on Philadelphia architecture, while Valerio discussed various Italian artists whose work is housed in and around the Woodmere Art Museum.

William Valerio presenting

Wrapping up the event were remarks by University of Pennsylvania Professor of Urban Studies Domenic Vitiello, who effused about the book and how its broad treatment of history and urban studies provides something of interest for everyone.

Coeditors Judith Goode and Andrea Canepari signing and posing

Canepari and Goode as well as the other presenters then attended a reception on Charles Library’s 4th floor and terrace, where they signed copies of their book.

Andrea Canepari at the reception; Inga Saffron at the reception; William Valerio at the reception

What next for cultural exchange with China? 

This week in North Philly Notes, Jennifer Lin, author of Beethoven in Beijing writes about the Philadelphia Orchestra cancelling their 50th anniversary trip to China.

The news from the Philadelphia Orchestra last week was disappointing, but frankly not a surprise. The orchestra canceled its China tour, planned for May 2023. The reasons cited were travel complications and potential problems created by the ongoing pandemic. 

Even though Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin led his musicians on a successful tour of European capitals last summer, he would face a vastly different situation if he took the orchestra to Beijing or Shanghai. In stark contrast to the United States, China adheres to a strict zero-COVID policy. In practical terms, this would be unfathomable to Americans. Last spring, Shanghai, a megalopolis of more than 26 million people, went into full lockdown for much of its population for two months. Imagine if Philadelphia had a mandatory lockdown for just a week! Now imagine if for some unforeseen reason, China went into lockdown mode during the orchestra’s visit? You can understand the reasoning behind the decision to cancel the tour. 

But what makes this logical business move so disappointing is the tour would have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s historic tour of China in 1973. That trip is the subject of my oral history, Beethoven in Beijing, as well as a documentary I co-directed by the same name, now streaming on PBS. 

My purpose for writing the book and creating the documentary was to elevate the historic importance of that tour. Many people know about “ping-pong diplomacy” and how, in 1971, the surprise detour to Beijing by American table tennis players opened the bamboo curtain separating the United States and China just a crack. But not as many understand the critical role of “music diplomacy” in repairing relations after decades of isolation. And front and center in that diplomatic endeavor were the “Fabulous Philadelphians.” The oral history places the orchestra’s tour against a geopolitical backdrop of Nixon’s groundbreaking decision to go to China in 1972 to begin the process of normalizing relations. Both sides wanted more cultural exchanges and the Philadelphia Orchestra became the first American orchestra to perform in China. 

To this day, Chinese audiences recall with heart-felt nostalgia the time the Philadelphians came to town. When a Pan Am charter carrying 130 Philadelphians touched down in Shanghai, there were no more than 100 or so Americans living in China. The musicians won over the Chinese public and made front-page news. As conductor Eugene Ormandy said on his departure, the tour “was about more than music.”

A 50th-anniversary tour would have been a reason to celebrate the ties that bind. But even if the pandemic burns out by next year, a larger question lingers: What will become of cultural exchanges?

Relations between Washington and Beijing are the worst in decades on so many fronts. The list goes on and on and can lead to truly terrifying scenarios of conflict. But I think back on the most memorable concert I covered in China. It was the Philadelphia Orchestra’s 2017 China tour, which ended in grand fashion in Beijing with a performance of Beethoven’s 9th, featuring a Chinese choir. After the finale, every person in that concert hall felt the same elation as we sprang to our feet. It was sublime. 

Recalling that moment reminds me of the words of the Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian author Wole Soyinka. To paraphrase him, politics demonizes, while culture humanizes. 

And in these tense times, we need more music, now more than ever.

Why Richard III?

This week in North Philly Notes, Jeffrey Wilson, author of Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity, writes about why the historical figure seems to be everywhere these days.

“Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer,” Richard III beams at the start of Shakespeare’s play.

Summer 2022 really was Richard III’s “glorious summer,” with four major productions appearing all at once: Arthur Hughes for the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon; Danai Gurira in the role at the Public Theater in New York; Colm Feore at the Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada; and The Lost King, a feature film starring Sally Hawkins.

Each production brought something new. Hughes was the first disabled actor to play Shakespeare’s most famous disabled character for the Royal Shakespeare Company, creating conversations about the relationships between disabled actors’ and disabled characters’ bodies. Gurira was the first Black woman to play Richard III on a major stage, sparking discussions about disability and intersectionality. Feore opened the Stratford Festival’s new Tom Patterson Theatre, harkening back to the festival’s first ever play—Richard III in 1953. And The Lost King commemorated the tenth anniversary of the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton on August 24, 2012, stirring controversy about the representation of academic work in mainstream media.

But why Richard III? Why is he always everywhere?

While mired in details of medieval English history, Shakespeare’s Richard III and its configuration of disability, villainy, and tragedy still speak to us in the twenty-first century with a surprising urgency. “Foremost among the standard-bearers of Disability Studies is Shakespeare’s Richard III,” noted leading disability scholar Tobin Siebers just before his death in 2015. Richard’s body was international front-page news when his skeleton was discovered. He’s in that echelon of Shakespearean characters—Shylock, Falstaff, Hamlet, Othello, Caliban—who have entire books written about them, like mine: Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity: Shakespeare and Disability History.

Richard III was Shakespeare’s second-most popular play in print during his lifetime and the most performed history play in both the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries. The four greatest Shakespearean actors of the past four centuries—Richard Burbage, David Garrick, Edmund Kean, Laurence Olivier—all played Richard before Hamlet.

The first Shakespeare play professionally staged in America? Richard III, in 1749. The first play performed by an African American acting company? Richard III, in 1821. Documentaries are made about the challenge and importance of Richard III, such as Looking for Richard (1996) and NOW: In the Wings on a World Stage (2014). The play inspired the recent Netflix hit House of Cards and drew comparisons to the rise of Donald Trump in the New York Times.

James Siemon, a recent editor of Shakespeare’s play, says that Richard III is Janus-faced, pointing from the early-modern age back to its medieval past but also forward to a modern future, “socially topical both to Shakespeare’s London, and, paradoxically, to subsequent social formations even today.” Disability historian Katherine Schaap Williams similarly notes, “Richard’s double-facing presence in the narrative of disability theory,” the character cited as evidence both for and against the presence of the modern understanding of “disability” in the early-modern age.

There’s always a multi-temporality with Richard. How is Richard III always so historical and so current? Why are issues related to medieval disability so relevant to modern life? Why is Shakespeare’s play so persistent? Why do we care so much about Richard III? What is the significance of his body—not only its meaning in Shakespeare’s text (what it signifies) but also its importance as a cultural touchstone in England and beyond (why it is significant)?

The question about cultural importance is connected to the one about textual meaning. Shakespeare wrote three plays about Richard. In the first, Richard’s enemies say his disability signifies his villainy, calling him a “heap of wrath, foul indigested lump, / As crooked in thy manners as thy shape.” In the second, Richard says his body is not the sign but the cause of his behavior: “Love forswore me in my mother’s womb.” In the third, Richard becomes what Sigmund Freud later called an “exception,” someone who has been slighted by nature, has suffered an unfair disadvantage, something he does not deserve and uses to excuse himself from the ethics that govern civil society. “I am determined to prove a villain,” he says with a giddy smile, but should we hear the “determined” in that line as I have been destined for villainy or as I have resolved myself to villainy?

A certain ambiguity in Shakespeare’s representation of Richard’s disability—which destabilized meaning by dramatizing different meanings being made, deferring meaning to different audiences interpreting disability from different perspectives—has created a flexible conceptual space with a huge gravitational pull: some of our most consequential theories of modern aesthetics, theology, philosophy, ethics, psychology, sociology, historiography, science, medicine, and politics have been brought into attempts to understand Richard’s body.

In a quintessentially Shakespearean exchange, the playwright’s dramatic mode, both tragic and ironic, calls upon some of life’s biggest questions (because it is tragic) but defers answers to the audience (because it is ironic), leaving Richard’s body open to interpretation in different ages embracing different attitudes toward stigma. The changing meaning of disability repeatedly recontextualized through shifting perspectives and circumstances in Shakespeare’s history plays has thus prompted and sustained more than four hundred years of changing interpretations of Richard, his body, his behavior, and his status as either the villain or the victim of Tudor history. The meaning of Richard’s disability changes with time, not only in the course of Shakespeare’s plays but also in the broader cultural history surrounding them.

An interpretation of Richard’s body is never just an interpretation of Richard’s body. When we interpret Richard’s disability, it interprets us in return. It brings us to declare our motives and commitments in our attempts to unfold, explain, condemn, justify, defend, and so forth. It catches something in our core and brings it to the surface through its configuration of abstract questions about reality and issues specific to our bodies. It brings us to consider how we would and should respond when, like Richard, we are born into a world that is totally confusing, deeply unsatisfying, or both.

Examining care injustices

This week in North Philly Notes, Akemi Nishida, author of Just Care, writes about care as an analytical framework to understand the contemporary United States

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we were forced to recognize what was at the stake in the political debates on public healthcare programs such as Medicaid, the overstretched nature of the care labor force, and our own vulnerabilities. We also witnessed continuous fights for social justice including Black Lives Matter and Asian Americans against hate crimes, as well as the development of mutual aid networks to survive together.

Just Care suggests care as a lens to understand these phenomena—and incorporates care as not only an object of study but also an analytical framework. The book examines care injustices where people—whether they are situated as care workers, care receivers, or both—deteriorate under the name of care, when care is used as a mechanism to enhance the political economy and neglect the well-being of those situated as care workers and care receivers. It also addresses care justice, or just care, which occurs when people feel cared for affirmatively and when care is used as a foundation for more-just world building.

Just Care is based on research conducted at the request of disability communities to reveal how the public care services they receive are increasingly becoming money-centered, while they demand these services to be human-centered. Also, as a disabled person, my own experiences of receiving and providing care informed my work.

Just Care considers the experiences of care workers and care receivers under the Medicaid long-term care programs, queer disabled people who participate in community-based care collectives to interdependently support each other, and disabled and sick people of color who engage in bed activism to fight for social change from their bedspaces. By being in conversation with and witnessing care routines, the multiplicity of care became particularly noticeable—it is turned into a mechanism of social oppression and control while simultaneously being a tool with which marginalized communities activate, engage in, and sustain social justice fights.

Here are some key points from the book:

  • When scholars and activists work to dismantle injustices surrounding care activities, they often approach them by looking into solely the labor exploitation care workers experience or the lack of adequate care recipients endure. Instead, Just Care engages in relational analysis to think through how these circumstances are intertwined and mutually witnessed and experienced, as care workers and receivers spend the majority of their daily lives side by side.
  • An example of relational analysis is my tracing of the parallels between the histories of welfare programs for single mothers and families in need, (neo)colonialism and labor migration, and public healthcare programs like Medicaid, from the perspectives of critical race, transnational feminist, and disability studies.
  • This analysis shows that in addition to differences in degrees and kinds of care people individually need, intersecting oppressions including racism, neocolonialism, patriarchy, and ableism shape who is currently pressured to take up caring responsibilities and how their own care needs or disabling conditions are quickly neglected. Such oppressions also make us think of disabled people exclusively as recipients of care and rarely acknowledge their caring contributions to society, let alone how the public healthcare services they receive are rarely adequate and can function to surveil them.
  • Care services for disabled people are primarily planned by centering financial benefits for the care industrial complex and budget suppressions for governments and are not based on disabled people’s needs and preferences.
  • This focus on financial benefits means that well-being of care workers and care recipients become secondary concerns. This leads them to experience mutual debilitation, rather than the presumed idea that one group thrives on the back of the other.
  • Some care workers and care recipients under such debilitating public healthcare services develop interdependent relationships to help one another, in the middle of care-based oppression they experience, by transgressing the strict roles given to them.
  • Disabled people have started care collectives to practice interdependence and based on their insistence that everyone needs care and can provide care. Engaging in interdependence in the middle of a society that values individualist independence is destined to be full of challenges. One challenge they faced is material (to physically meet all the care needs emerging within the group), and another is affective (to make sure conflicts within the group will not affect quality of care).
  • Disabled and sick people engage in social change from their bedspaces, or “bed activism.” Bed activism entails critiquing of intersecting oppressions that manifest in bedspaces and offering visions for a more just world by centering the wisdom of sick and disabled people that emerges from their bedspaces.
  • Bed activism can happen actively, for example, when bed dwellers engage in social change by writing a blog post. It also happens in inactive moments, for example, when they rest in their beds while going through depression, pain, or fatigue. Even those moments inform bed activists about their relationships with their bodies and minds or the social conditions that restrict them to their beds.

We all need care and are capable of caring for others in various ways. When we start from this foundational understanding, how can we each engage in just care or more-just world making through care? Just Care points the way to answering this question.

Fussin’, Cussin’, and Discussin’ among South Los Angeles Juvenile Gangs

This week in North Philly Notes, John C. Quicker and Akil S. Batani-Khalfani, coauthors of Before Crips, provide a historical analysis of South Los Angeles juvenile gang life as revealed by those who were there.

Before Crips is the first book on juvenile street gangs with co-authorship by a Black and a White author. One of us never left the streets, the other never let the streets leave him, and we both found refuge in professional careers and academia where we met. Over the almost forty years we have known each other we have developed profound respect and trust, forming a bond that permitted us to go places and do things that neither could have done alone. We have fussed, cussed, and discussed with one another during this time over more issues than we can recall, deepening our understanding, strengthening our analysis, and clarifying our resolve of doing what needed to be done to fill a vast hole in the academic literature on street gangs.

We recognized that unless we knew where we’d been, we were limited in knowing where we are. By using broad-based first-person interviews with key street figures, we gave voice to the unheard and space for their extensive narratives. We spoke to them in their neighborhoods, where they were comfortable, encouraging them to expound on what they knew. We augmented our written imagery with unique period photos of pre-Crip and Blood street group members and an artfully constructed map of 1950s South Los Angeles.

A major critique of gang research has been the spin put on the analysis by the use of data, which when infused with accepted or unrecognized political ideologies can result in the creation of “facts” when, in the wisdom of Otto Lindenmeyer, actual history has been “lost, stolen, or strayed.” Say it often enough and loud enough, leave it unchallenged, and myths become transmogrified into facts.

This is what happened with Crip and Blood gangs: they appeared to drop from the sky into the “hellhole” identified as South-Central Los Angeles, then spread like a virus to other “innocent” cities around the planet. Their formation was often simplistically associated with the Black Power movements of the 1960s. Ignored by these analyses was the powerful role played by racism, social class, power imbalances, and the differences between adult and juvenile gangs. Crip and Blood became symbolic with danger, giving any group that adopted these names their 20 minutes of fame – immediately. All communities, we hypothesize, with so-named juvenile gangs in most cases adopted the name.

Since 1946, Carey McWilliams noted, the population of Los Angeles has contained “important elements of every racial strain that has gone into the making of the American people.” Its wide-open spaces permitted various groups to remain invisible when their numbers were small. This was especially the case for Black people, whose presence was unproblematic until the demographic landscape was reconfigured by World War II. Hangout street groups of Black juveniles soon became targets for official opprobrium, following most notably in the path established by Mexican street groups, whose recognition preceded them. Similar to the Mexican groups, they were transformed into gangs. Gangs became an acronym for Grab Another Non-White Group.

By describing the street groups existent before the infamous Crips and Bloods, we show that they, while no angels, were also not the devils justice agencies and the media wanted voters to believe they were. Male juveniles fought, primarily with their fists, over jealousy and honor because of a comin’-from-the-shoulders ethic that eschewed the use of guns. Female juveniles hung-out with them and were involved in their escapades, but female behavior was more mediated by traditional values. Limited resources and legitimate opportunities contributed to theft among both genders, while Illegal drugs, which were available in limited quantities, but were of weak pecuniary value, were used and sold infrequently.

We concur with Hugh Davis Graham and Ted Robert Gurr, who write, “Americans have always been given to a kind of historical amnesia that masks much of their turbulent path.” This amnesia has also characterized our understanding of juvenile groups, and allowed us to perceive them as a foreign other, permitting the imposition of an unwarranted contempt. We note that the clichéd question, often raised by juvenile justice proponents, of why would juveniles join gangs is more answerable when turned around: why wouldn’t they?

Juveniles have been involved in same-sexed peer groups—with names—since before the dawn of capitalism. It is only over the past hundred or so years that these groups have become termed gangs. In Los Angeles pre-Crip and Blood street groups were not the essence of evil as is so often depicted, and imposed on us from an alien world—they were made in America. If they have gotten worse, it is because our society has gotten worse.

Images from the recent American Political Science Association meeting

This week in North Philly Notes we showcase the authors who stopped by the Temple University Booth at the recent American Political Science Association meeting to pose with their books.

Temple University Press’s booth

Sara Rinfret, editor of Who Really Makes Environmental Policy?: Creating and Implementing Environmental Rules and Regulations. This book provides a clear understanding of regulatory policy and rulemaking processes, and their centrality in U.S. environmental policymaking.

Shamira Gelbman, author of The Civil Rights Lobby: The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Second Reconstruction. This book investigates how minority group, labor, religious, and other organizations worked together to lobby for civil rights reform during the 1950s and ’60s.

Luis Felipe Mantilla, author of How Political Parties Mobilize Religion: Lessons from Mexico and Turkey, which analyzes the evolution of Catholic and Sunni Muslim parties to study religious political mobilization in comparative perspective.

Rachel Bernhard (left) and Mirya Holman (right), coeditors of Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, which examines how and why women run for office.

Paul Djupe, coeditor of The Evangelical Crackup?: The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition, which explains evangelicalism’s relationship to the party system.

Djupe is also the editor of the Press’ Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics series.

Amanda Friesen and Paul Djupe, are coeditors of the forthcoming An Epidemic among My People: Religion, Politics, and COVID-19 in the United States, which asks, Did religion make the pandemic worse or help keep it contained?

Richardson Dilworth, author of the forthcoming Reforming Philadelphia, 1682-2022, a short but comprehensive political history of the city, from its founding in 1682 to the present day. Dilworth is also the editor of the Press’ Political Lessons from American Cities series.

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