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.

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.

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.

Identity Politics and Racialized Gang Conflict

This week in North Philly Notes, Robert Weide, author of Divide & Conquer, writes about growing up surrounded by racial division and sectarian conflict.

Since I was a child, racial divisions and gang conflicts have permeated my experience. I grew up in Los Angeles, the reputed “gang capitol” of the United States, during the peak years of the violent crime rate in the late 1980s and 1990s. I was 15 years old in the peak year of violent crime in Los Angeles (and the nation) in 1993. Like many children my age, I joined a neighborhood crew that could be described as a gang at the age of 13. The principle draw for my associations and affiliations was that that I was of mixed-race heritage. Having always been excluded from every category in America’s racial taxonomy, I found a sense of belonging and camaraderie with my homeboys.

Ours was a sort of junior gang known colloquially as “tagbangers”, associated by friendships and family with the two predominantly Latino Sureño affiliated gangs in our community, Culver City 13 and 18 Street, each of whom were embroiled in racialized conflicts with African American Crip and Blood affiliated gangs respectively. While gang violence was endemic to our existence at the time and funerals for boys and young men were a regularly occurring ritual in our world, one particular murder, that occurred less than a month after my 18th birthday, had an indelible impact on me. I recount the narrative of my friend Eddie’s murder at the hand of an African American Blood affiliated gang member in the opening stanza of my book. At the time we took for granted the presumption that predominantly Latino Sureño and predominantly African American Crip and Blood affiliated gangs were natural enemies and the animosity that carried over both gang and racial lines seemed as inevitable to us as the sky is blue.

I wasn’t until I became educated that I began to question how and why we had found ourselves in those racialized gang identities and how those oppositional identities served to orient us in conflict with one another across racialized gang lines. After reading about the history of capitalism, the race concept, and nationalist ideology, I realized that our fratricidal blood feuds only served to insulate the real cause of our frustration and anger, the ruling classes whose wealth and privilege only exist at our expense. That epiphany melted away decades of racial resentment and sectarian hostility I had harbored compelling me to finally realize that there is no them and us, there’s just us. That is the epiphany that I hope this book brings to many other young men like me both in the U.S. context and around the world—that we have been used for generations as the instruments of our own oppression, fighting one another instead of defending one another in the face of skyrocketing wealth stratification, burgeoning neo-fascist movements, and impending ecological collapse.

As a result of my education I also realized that the race concept, nationalist ideology, and the contemporary identity politics so pervasive in academia and the media are the conceptual tools that American oligarchy uses to compel us to oppose one another, just as white supremacy did for generations before us (and in many ways still does today). That is why I wrote this book, not just to examine racialized gang conflict, but, moreover, to expose the conceptual foundations of racialized sectarian conflict in contemporary America and the modern world at large. The foundations of these conflicts are predicated on and continue to be perpetuated by purveyors of identity politics in academia and the media. This book is an attempt to challenge those who perpetuate identity division and sectarian conflict.

Only by understanding the history of how we have been divided can we discard our oppositional identities and instead join in solidarity to resist our collective oppression. While I harbor little hope of dissuading the contemporary purveyors of identity politics in academia and the media who are personally and professionally invested in perpetuating identity divisions in our society, my ambition is that the book I have written will trigger the same epiphany I had in scholars who have not staked their careers on promoting division and conflict, and most importantly, provoke that epiphany in the parties to sectarian conflicts themselves, particularly gang members. Facing unprecedented wealth stratification, burgeoning neo-fascist movements, and ecological calamity the likes of which the human race has never known, we cannot miss the opportunity to put our differences aside and join in solidarity to save our children’s future before it’s too late.

A Q&A with Faith Ryan, Temple University Press’ new Production Assistant

This week in North Philly Notes, we get to learn more about Temple University Press’s new production assistant, Faith Ryan. Faith comes to Temple after having worked most recently as an Associate Project Manager at Vista Higher Learning in Boston. She received her BA in Writing, Literature, & Publishing from Emerson College in May of 2016.

 

What were your past publishing jobs?

During college and for a while after graduating, I worked as a freelance copyeditor and proofreader, reviewing Wiley journals and books for Delta Education. Most recently, I was an Associate Project Manager at Vista Higher Learning, a world languages textbook publisher based in Boston. Over my four years at Vista, I managed countless Spanish and French textbooks (elementary through collegiate level) and did support work on a few German and Italian titles.

What book(s) are you currently reading?

Currently, I am reading The Empire of Gold, by S. A. Chakraborty, and We Have Been Harmonized: Life in China’s Surveillance State, by Kai Strittmatter.

What’s the last great book you read?

Yerba Buena, by Nina LaCour. It’s a wonderful read. I can’t remember the last time I read a book with such clear and realistic characterizations. No part of the book felt contrived, as is typical of romances, and I was impressed by how honest and moving I found the characters’ struggles.

What book made the greatest impact on you?

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, by Barbara Demick. I picked it up way back in high school and I still think about it to this day. It’s an incredible piece of reporting, and is the standard against which I judge every other nonfiction book I read.

Which writers do you love (or hate) the most?

Geraldine Brooks and Tracy Chevalier are both longtime favorites of mine. I love nothing more than to disappear into a slow, well-written historical novel, and they’re some of the best in the business as far as I’m concerned. Year of Wonders, Girl with a Pearl Earring, and The Last Runaway are my favorites from them.

When and how do you read?

I read constantly: mornings, evenings, lunchtime. Sometimes I’ll read all day on the weekends if it’s a particularly good book and I don’t have anything on the schedule. Mostly I read physical books, either ones I’ve purchased or borrowed through the library, though sometimes I’ll listen to audiobooks if I’m traveling.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I have to go with Sam Anderson’s Boom Town: The Fantastical Saga of Oklahoma City, Its Chaotic Founding, Its Apocalyptic Weather, Its Purloined Basketball Team, and the Dream of Becoming a World-class Metropolis. Despite never having set foot in the state of Oklahoma and having zero interest in basketball (a major through line of the book), I loved Boom Town. The book is just as wild and winding as its subtitle—and very entertaining.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine?

This is a bit of an impossible question, as heroic characters don’t interest me much… But I’ll go with Belle from Beauty and the Beast if only because I, too, would love to read all day and be gifted my own personal library.

What Temple University Press book has particular meaning to you?

Yasemin Besen-Cassino’s The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap. Like all working women in America, I’m very aware of the pay disparity between men and women. And like most adults, I mostly think of it in terms of its deleterious effect on adult women—but of course this issue affects teenage girls as well. As Besen-Cassino’s book lays out, the long-lasting consequences are not only financial but psychological as well.

What Temple University Press book would you recommend to someone?

I would recommend Miriam Frank’s Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America. LGBTQ+ people have always been at the forefront of battles for social change, and of course the history of unions is no different. I think it’s important all working people know how their rights came to be, especially as queer figures aren’t often highlighted in traditional histories.

What book will you read next?

Next, I am planning to read We Don’t Know Ourselves: A Personal History of Modern Ireland, by Fintan O’Toole. I heard him speak when I was volunteering at the Free Library several months ago and he gave an absolutely brilliant talk. I’ve since read a few of his New Yorker articles and I love his style. I’ve been looking forward to sitting down with his book for a long while now.

What three writers would you invite to a dinner party?

Usually I’m more interested in a writer’s creations than the authors themselves (real people tend to disappoint), but there is one writer I could listen to talk about both their books and their life for dinner, dessert, and drinks after: R. F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War series and Babel. Her ability to churn out one fantastic book after another while simultaneously completing degrees at places like Oxford and Cambridge is a mystery to me. I’d love to have her talk my ear off for an evening.

Listening to What Workers Say

This week in North Philly Notes, Roberta Iversen, author of What Workers Say, provides stories and voices from the labor market on the chronic lack of advancement.

A common question when meeting someone new is asking them, “What do you do?”

People’s work, and the labor market more broadly, occupy millions of people’s lives in the U.S. and around the globe. But why is “What do you do?” often the first question? Of course it’s partly because most people need the money that work provides—and often need more money than their particular labor market job offers. It’s also because what we “do” is often shorthand to others for “who we are.”

Yet “who we are” does not begin to touch the lack of opportunity in many of today’s labor market jobs, whether in manufacturing, printing, construction, healthcare, clerical work, retail, real estate, architecture, or automotive services. These are occupations and industries that have employed nearly two-thirds of the U.S. workforce since 1980, as workers in these areas since the 1980s until today vividly describe in What Workers Say. I talked to 1,200-plus people at length for this book since the early 1980s, some of them repeatedly, regardless of what occupation they hold or industry their job is in. They have all recognized that there’s little to no opportunity for promotion or advancement in their jobs, despite the fact that people, their communities, their families, and their country as a whole, need what these workers do. At the same time, too many of them are also not paid a living wage.

The workers in the above-mentioned occupations and industries—regardless of socioeconomic characteristics—typify the types of struggles, discouragement, and on-the-job injuries that continue to affect millions of workers in the U.S. and elsewhere. Just as Studs Terkel’s Working (1972) valuably introduced the populace to what many jobs and occupations were like across the U.S. up to the early 1970s, the workers in What Workers Say describe their jobs and occupations from 1980 to today—a period of rapid and tumultuous labor market change. For example, Tisha [a chosen pseudonym, like all of the worker’s names] in manufacturing, Joseph and Randy in construction work, and Kevin in a printing job, are among those workers who vividly illustrate the shift to service occupations from the earlier, higher-paying manufacturing occupations.

In one of the most dramatic examples of this shift, 40-year-old, African American, Hard Working Blessed, experienced multiple eye injuries on his manufacturing job, which resulted in demotion and severe wage reduction. He ended up as a Fast Food Manager, with lower pay and a job that did not make use of his extensive work experience in manufacturing. Clerical workers, such as Roselyn, Wendy, Ayesha, Susan and others similarly describe struggling with frequent recessions and layoffs over the period. Others, including Noel, Tom, and Shanquitta (for a period), describe frequent job disruptions and store closures from the increase in offshoring jobs to countries that pay workers even less than the U.S. does. And many healthcare workers, such as Laquita, Tasha, Martina, and Annie and others experience “credential creep,” where higher-level education became a hiring requirement, even though the demands of the job were suited perfectly to these applicants’ current credentials. This, of course, resulted in new forms of inequities in hiring.

In short, the workers tell the real story about today’s jobs so others can know what these jobs are really like. The richness and depth of the workers’ words help readers to understand that the formal definition of “unemployment” is very strict and does not cover many people who have been laid off or who aren’t able to look for work. Their words also illustrate the fact that since the 1980s there often haven’t been enough jobs for all who want labor market work, and that the default social policy response to low pay has been person-oriented: that more education and more skills are what is needed for greater equity in the labor market. In some cases, the coronavirus pandemic has illuminated the low-pay issue, to the benefit of current workers, but not in all cases and not necessarily to the level of a living wage. These workers also vividly describe what they’d really like to be doing, which leads in the final chapter to a solution that I call “compensated civil labor.” 

Drawing on German sociologist, Ulrich Beck’s idea of civil labor, I add “compensated” to the idea of civil labor. Compensated civil labor expands what we think of as work, how we do work, and particularly, how we do paid work. Compensated civil labor would allow the many people like Teresa to work at her rental car company part-time and satisfy her “heart-string” (aka her passion) of part-time food catering to her church, children’s school, and community and also be compensated for doing it. Compensated civil labor could also enable expansion of the notion of “work” well beyond the labor market in ways that can tap into today’s workers’ desire to engage in environmental protection activities, broader family participation, community contribution, and the like. In short, compensated civil labor would mean compensating people for their non-labor-market work, whether by actual money, exchange, or other forms of compensation. Data in the 2000s from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Employment Statistics Survey and the Current Population Survey, together with numerous existing civic examples, aim to stimulate civic leaders, philanthropic foundations, educators and others to consider compensated civil labor, which could benefit workers, families, communities, and countries alike.

Temple University Press’ Fall 2022 Catalog

This week in North Philly Notes, we announce our forthcoming Fall 2022 titles.

Are All Politics Nationalized?: Evidence from the 2020 Campaigns in Pennsylvania, Edited by Stephen K. Medvic, Matthew M. Schousen, and Berwood A. Yost

Do local concerns still play a significant role in campaigns up and down the ballot?

Beauty and Brutality: Manila and Its Global Discontents, Edited by Martin F. Manalansan IV, Robert Diaz, and Roland B. Tolentino
Diverse perspectives on Manila that suggest the city’s exhilarating sights and sounds broaden how Philippine histories are defined and understood

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

The historic accomplishments of 14 notable Black Philadelphians from the twentieth-century—in graphic novel form

Blue-State Republican: How Larry Hogan Won Where Republicans Lose and Lessons for a Future GOP, by Mileah K. Kromer

What the story of Maryland’s two-term Republican governor can teach us about winning elections

Bringing the Civic Back In: Zane L. Miller and American Urban History, Edited by Larry Bennett, John D. Fairfield, and Patricia Mooney-Melvin

A critical appraisal of the career of Zane L. Miller, one of the founders of the new urban history

Cultures Colliding: American Missionaries, Chinese Resistance, and the Rise of Modern Institutions in China, John R. Haddad

Why American missionaries started building schools, colleges, medical schools, hospitals, and YMCA chapters in China before 1900

Divide & Conquer: Race, Gangs, Identity, and Conflict, by Robert D. Weide

Argues that contemporary identity politics divides gang members and their communities across racial lines

Engaging Place, Engaging Practices: Urban History and Campus-Community Partnerships, Edited by Robin F. Bachin and Amy L. Howard

How public history can be a catalyst for stronger relationships between universities and their communities

An Epidemic among My People: Religion, Politics, and COVID-19 in the United States, Edited by Paul A. Djupe and Amanda Friesen

Did religion make the pandemic worse or help keep it contained?

Gendered Places: The Landscape of Local Gender Norms across the United States, by William J. Scarborough

Reveals how distinct cultural environments shape the patterns of gender inequality

A Good Place to Do Business: The Politics of Downtown Renewal since 1945, by Roger Biles and Mark H. Rose

How six industrial cities in the American Rust Belt reacted to deindustrialization in the years after World War II

Justice Outsourced: The Therapeutic Jurisprudence Implications of Judicial Decision-Making by Nonjudicial Officers, Edited by Michael L. Perlin and Kelly Frailing

Examines the hidden use of nonjudicial officers in the criminal justice system

Memory Passages: Holocaust Memorials in the United States and Germany, by Natasha Goldman

Now in Paperback—Considers Holocaust memorials in the United States and Germany, postwar to the present

The Mouse Who Played Football, Written by Brian Westbrook Sr. and Lesley Van Arsdall; Illustrated by Mr. Tom

Who would ever think that a mouse could play football?

Never Ask “Why”: Football Players’ Fight for Freedom in the NFL, By Ed Garvey; Edited by Chuck Cascio

An inside look at the struggles Ed Garvey faced in bringing true professionalism to football players

The Real Philadelphia Book 2nd Edition, by Jazz Bridge

An anthology of compositions by popular Philadelphia jazz and blues artists accessible for every musician

Reforming Philadelphia, 1682⁠–⁠2022, by Richardson Dilworth

A short but comprehensive political history of the city, from its founding in 1682 to the present day

Refugee Lifeworlds: The Afterlife of the Cold War in Cambodia, by Y-Dang Troeung

Explores key works that have emerged out of the Cambodian refugee archive

A Refugee’s American Dream: From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the U.S. Secret Service, by Leth Oun with Joe Samuel Starnes

The remarkable story of Leth Oun, from overcoming tragedy and forced labor in Cambodia to realizing dreams he never could have imagined in America

Richard III’s Bodies from Medieval England to Modernity: Shakespeare and Disability History, by Jeffrey R. Wilson

How is Richard III always both so historical and so current?

The Rise and Fall of America’s Concentration Camp Law: Civil Liberties Debates from the Internment to McCarthyism and the Radical 1960s, by Masumi Izumi

Now in Paperback—Dissecting the complex relationship among race, national security, and civil liberties in “the age of American concentration camps”

The Spires Still Point to Heaven: Cincinnati’s Religious Landscape, 1788–1873, by Matthew Smith 

How nineteenth-century Cincinnati tested the boundaries of nativism, toleration, and freedom

Teaching Fear: How We Learn to Fear Crime and Why It Matters, Nicole E. Rader

How rules about safety and the fear of crime are learned and crystalized into crime myths— especially for women

Toward a Framework for Vietnamese American Studies: History, Community, and Memory, Edited by Linda Ho Peché, Alex-Thai Dinh Vo, and Tuong Vu

A multi-disciplinary examination of Vietnamese American history and experience

Understanding Crime and Place: A Methods Handbook, Edited by Elizabeth R. Groff and Cory P. Haberman

A hands-on introduction to the fundamental techniques and methods used for understanding geography of crime

The Pitfalls of an All-Charter School District

This week in North Philly Notes, J. Celeste Lay, author of Public Schools, Private Governance, writes about how school choice in New Orleans hurt more than it helped.

The Covid-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our lives in so many ways, but for children, one of its most important and potentially lasting effects has been in public education. The pandemic has been a boon for school choice advocates, who see in this disaster a means to push legislation that eases restrictions on charter schools, voucher programs, homeschooling, and more.

The parents and teachers of public school students in New Orleans know all too well how advocates can take advantage of a disaster to achieve long-term political goals. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Louisiana’s state legislature voted to strip the city’s school board of its authority over nearly all its public schools. In Public Schools, Private Governance, I examine the path that has led the city to become the nation’s first all-charter district, and its consequences on democratic values like representation, accountability, and participation.

Although many scholars and advocates place Katrina as the starting point for education reform in New Orleans, I contend that the hurricane merely sped along and expanded the scope of the already existing reform movement in the city. The book spotlights the decade prior to Katrina to reveal and examine the incremental policy changes that made it possible for the state to seize control of the city’s schools. In this period, state legislators—including many of New Orleans’s representatives—passed a school grading system, mandated annual standardized tests, eased the pathways to alternative teacher certification, created multiple types of charter schools, approved a state “recovery” district that could take over “failing schools,” and ultimately, in the year before Katrina, stripped the elected board in New Orleans (and only New Orleans) of most of its authority. By the time the city was draining the floodwaters in Fall 2005, all the state had to do was change the definition of a failing school for it to seize all but a handful of the city’s schools.

This movement largely excluded those who worked in the schools, as well as the parents of school children. This exclusion continued in the wake of Katrina and I show that it continues to the present day. In the all-charter system, parents theoretically have choices about where their children enroll in school. They must rank preferences in a Common Application and there are no neighborhood schools to which kids are assigned. They can go anywhere—in theory. However, in reality, as shown in my book many parents are confused by the system and do not believe it is fair. In particular, they see that the racial disparities that have long been a hallmark of New Orleans public schools continue in this new, supposedly better system. The few white children who attend public schools are enrolled in selective admission schools that require admission tests and other barriers to entry. Meanwhile, the Black children who make up most of the public school district  continue to attend low-performing schools that are predominantly Black institutions.

Although a generation of children have now gone through the new system, the district’s scores have remained well below the state average and only a small minority of schools are rated as “A” or “B” on the state’s A-F scale. Though overall test scores have improved slightly, Black parents do not believe their children are getting a great education and they believe they have little recourse to do anything about it. The elected school board is essentially a mere charter authorizer, and while it has opened and closed dozens of schools over the last 17 years, parents long for high-quality, neighborhood schools staffed by experienced teachers who understand and appreciate New Orleans culture and history. This elected board has almost no authority over school operations. Rather, privately selected charter boards govern school finances, select school leaders, and establish policies. My research shows that these boards are not representative of the city; they cannot be held accountable by voters, they display disdain for parents, and they do not comply with state laws about public bodies. They routinely withhold information they are required to disclose and yet the elected board never sanctions schools or networks for these violations.

For states that are considering an expansion of school choice due to the Covid-19 pandemic, my book offers a warning about the effects of considering schools as consumer goods. There is little improvement in overall school quality, but there is devastation to the local democratic character of public education.

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