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.

Books to choose for Election Day

This week in North Philly Notes, we offer books on voting and elections in honor of Election Day.

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

Blue-State Republican is the remarkable story of how his carefully messaged, pragmatic approach to governance helped build a coalition of moderate and conservative Democrats, independents, women, college-educated and Black voters and maintained his GOP base during a time of polarization and negative partisanship. Mileah Kromer takes readers inside Maryland politics to illustrate exactly how Hogan won where Republicans lose and consider whether the un-Trump Republican offers any lessons for how the GOP can win the center-right voters who continue to make up a majority of the country.

If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress: Black Politics in Twentieth-Century Philadelphia, edited by James Wolfinger 

Philadelphia has long been a crucial site for the development of Black politics across the nation. If There Is No Struggle There Is No Progress provides an in-depth historical analysis—from the days of the Great Migration to the present—of the people and movements that made the city a center of political activism. The editor and contributors show how Black activists have long protested against police abuse, pushed for education reform, challenged job and housing discrimination, and put presidents in the White House.   

Philadelphia Battlefields: Disruptive Campaigns and Upset Elections in a Changing City, by John Kromer 

Should the surprisingly successful outcomes achieved by outsider candidates in Philadelphia elections be interpreted as representing fundamental changes in the local political environment, or simply as one-off victories, based largely on serendipitous circumstances that advanced individual political careers? John Kromer’s insightful Philadelphia Battlefields considers key local campaigns undertaken from 1951 to 2019 that were extraordinarily successful despite the opposition of the city’s political establishment.

Gender Differences in Public Opinion: Values and Political Consequences, by Mary-Kate Lizotte 
 
In this era in which more women are running for public office—and when there is increased activism among women—understanding gender differences on political issues has become critical. In her cogent study, Mary-Kate Lizotte argues that assessing the gender gap in public support for policies through a values lens provides insight into American politics today. There is ample evidence that men and women differ in their value endorsements—even when taking into account factors such as education, class, race, income, and party identification. 

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele 

After the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, a large cohort of women emerged to run for office. Their efforts changed the landscape of candidates and representation. However, women are still far less likely than men to seek elective office, and face biases and obstacles in campaigns. (Women running for Congress make twice as many phone calls as men to raise the same contributions.)  The editors and contributors to Good Reasons to Run, a mix of scholars and practitioners, examine the reasons why women run—and do not run—for political office. They focus on the opportunities, policies, and structures that promote women’s candidacies. How do nonprofits help recruit and finance women as candidates? And what role does money play in women’s campaigns?

The Great Migration and the Democratic Party: Black Voters and the Realignment of American Politics in the 20th Century, by Keneshia N. Grant 

Where Black people live has long been an important determinant of their ability to participate in political processes. The Great Migration significantly changed the way Democratic Party elites interacted with Black communities in northern cities, Detroit, New York, and Chicago. Many white Democratic politicians came to believe the growing pool of Black voters could help them reach their electoral goals—and these politicians often changed their campaign strategies and positions to secure Black support. Furthermore, Black migrants were able to participate in politics because there were fewer barriers to Black political participations outside the South. 

Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns, by Kelly Dittmar 

From the presidential level down, men and women who run for political office confront different electoral realities. In her probing study, Navigating Gendered Terrain, Kelly Dittmar investigates not only how gender influences the campaign strategy and behavior of candidates today but also how candidates’ strategic and tactical decisions can influence the gendered nature of campaign institutions. Navigating Gendered Terrain addresses how gender is used to shape the way campaigns are waged by influencing insider perceptions of and decisions about effective campaign messages, images, and tactics within party and political contexts.

 Forthcoming in December:

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

Given the news media’s focus on national issues and debates, voters might be expected to make decisions about state and local candidates based on their views of the national parties and presidential candidates. However, nationalization as a concept, and the process by which politics becomes nationalized, are not fully understood. Are All Politics Nationalized? addresses this knowledge gap by looking at the behavior of candidates and the factors that influence voters’ electoral choices.

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.

The origins of a Real Book

This week in North Philly Notes, bassist/composer Alan Lewine, a Director of Jazz Bridge Project writes about creating The Real Philadelphia Book.

Listen to a Spotify Playlist of selections from The Real Philadelphia Book here.

12 years!  That’s how long it’s been since pianist and music professor David Dzubinski conceived and began collecting material for The Real Philadelphia Book (RPB). Finally it is coming to the public thanks to the partnership between Philly’s non-profit Jazz Bridge Project (JB) and Temple University Press (TUP). 

Conceiving the idea of a fake book celebrating the rich history and current greats of Philadelphia Jazz as early as 2010, David first discussed the RPB concept with then-executive director and Jazz Bridge founder Suzanne Cloud and JB board member Jim Miller in 2012. The project that has become RPB began to bear fruit with encouragement from Lovett Hines of Philly’s historic Clef Club and the Philadelphia Jazz Project’s Homer Jackson who arranged a meeting with the Samuel S Fels Foundation. This meeting led to the grant that provided some seed money.

JB got involved in the project shortly after and David began soliciting and accepting submissions for inclusion in the RPB around 2013. JB self-published a limited, partial edition of the RPB titled The Philadelphia Real Book, Volume 1 and sponsored a series of related concerts a couple years later. Now, through some years of work with TUP, surviving pandemic interruptions of every sort, and thousands of hours invested by David, his team of transcribers and copyists and many others over the years, the comprehensive edition of the RPB is out and available worldwide.

As Angelo Versace, pianist and Director of Jazz Studies at the University of Arizona praised, “a plethora of great composers, and, with such well-edited charts, it is clear to me that this book will become an immediate treasure in the jazz education community.” And as the great jazz organist, Joey DeFrancesco said, “a must-have version … for gigging cats.”

What is a “fake book”? Why call this a Real Book? Paraphrasing Wikipedia’s definition, a fake book is a collection of lead sheets (with melodies and chord symbols) that musicians sometimes use to “fake” a performance of a song they don’t really know by heart. Fake books have been around since at least the early 1940s. Every jazz musician knows “The Real Book.” First put together in the mid-1970s by some students at the famed Berklee College of Music as an underground fake book, the original The Real Book was probably named as an ironic take on “fake book.” While full of errors, it was an improvement on most fake books and became a standard for study and on stage through several editions. The original The Real Book was distributed only under the table or by hand. Why? Because, like most other fake books, these books were entirely copyright infringement – the music was not licensed. 

Hal Leonard, a major music publisher, later used the Real Book name, licensed hundreds of compositions, typeset them and has produced many volumes and versions of legal Real Books. Then, the app iRealBook (now iRealPro) has become a standard study tool providing only chord changes and continuing the Real Book tradition. 

The RPB is the latest Real Book: fully licensed, carefully typeset, and printed with permission of the included composers or their estates.   

Speaking for myself, a working musician and retired lawyer, “After about 5 years leading JB’s efforts at contracting and licensing and coordinating with TUP to get this done, I couldn’t be more thrilled.  The hard-copy RPB looks and feels fantastic and the electronic version works well on my iPad.  So many good tunes to explore as well as a bunch of classic jazz standards with Philly roots. Thank you to David Dzubinski, graphic designer Kathy Ridl, my colleagues on the JB board and at TUP for bringing this great and useful Real Philadelphia Book to the world.”

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.

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.

Celebrating 14 notable Black Philadelphians of the Twentieth Century

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase BLAM! Black Lives Always Mattered, a graphic novel project coordinated by the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University and distributed by Temple University Press.

BLAM! Black Lives Always Mattered! Hidden African American Philadelphians of the Twentieth Century is a graphic novel that combines vivid illustrations and compelling text to create a groundbreaking, exciting, and accessible book. BLAM! highlights the lives of fourteen prominent African Americans.  They are: Julian Abele, Dr. Ethel Allen, Marian Anderson, W.E.B. Du Bois, Crystal Bird Fauset, Ruth Wright Hayre, Alain Locke, Walter Lomax, Frederick Massiah, Cecil B. Moore, John W. Mosley, Christopher Perry, Reverend Leon Sullivan, and Father Paul Washington.

With a Foreword by Lonnie G, Bunch, III, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, BLAM! contains an Introduction by the Curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, Dr. Diane Turner, and the Collection’s Librarian, Aslaku Berhanu, as well as statements by the writer, Dr. Sheena C. Howard, Associate Professor of Rider University, and by Art Director, Eric Battle, a renowned artist and illustrator.  Published by the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection, BLAM! was created through the efforts and input of many people. It is a striking and powerful graphic novel which has the potential to have great educational impact on students, teachers, administrators, and on all those who read it.

BLAM! can be used as an important teaching tool in and of itself, yet also can be utilized in combination with other educational methods by educators in their classrooms. At the end of the graphic novel, there are pages of Assignments and Activities for Students, as well as Ideas for Research Projects that individual students or a whole classroom of students can pursue. Moreover, many teachers will want to develop their own lesson plans and assignments around each chapter of this graphic novel. BLAM! will engage and excite students, setting them on a path to a deeper understanding of African American history. BLAM! also encourages its readers to use critical thinking and analytical skills. All levels of students, as well as the general public, can benefit from BLAM! For those students with limited reading abilities, the book will help them develop and strengthen literacy skills. All readers of BLAM! will be able to expand their ability to discover and continue to learn about African American history in terms of the lives and experiences of the individuals profiled in its pages. BLAM! also has the potential to inspire readers to learn about other individuals and ethnic groups who have been hidden from history. BLAM! will also pique the interest of readers to learn more about the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection and its vast holdings on African American history and culture. They will find added value in visiting the collection and accessing the materials.

In this time of systemic racism, discord, disharmony, and racial misunderstanding, there are now efforts underway and laws enacted in some states to suppress the teaching of the difficult racial history of the United States. BLAM! is able to serve as a beacon of enlightenment, casting a light on the struggles and triumphs of the fourteen, prominent African Americans of the last century that are profiled in the book.  In its beautifully illustrated pages one learns about how these individuals contributed greatly to their communities, to their nation, and in some cases to the world. These individuals, whose legacies continue now and into the future, serve as sterling examples for all readers of BLAM! Their stories will inspire generations to come.

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