Reforming Philadelphia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temple University Press’s annual Holiday Book Sale

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

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


Gift Books and Philadelphia Interest Titles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Philadelphia Book, Second Edition, by Jazz Bridge

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

Cincinnati: Crucible of Nineteenth-Century Religious Pluralism

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

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

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

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

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

University Press Week: What author is #NextUP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Announcing Kalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, Volume 9, Issue 1, Spring 2022

This week in North Philly Notes, we present the new issue of our journal, Kalfou.

Special Issue: “In These Uncertain Times, Pittsburgh”

Guest Editors: Leon Ford and Deanna Fracul

FEATURE ARTICLES

Introduction: In These Uncertain Times, Pittsburgh • Deanna Fracul and Leon Ford

Uncertainty, Discourse, and Democracy in John Edgar Wideman’s Writing, 1980s to Today • Leila Kamali

Call-and-Response in the City: Embodied Mercy in August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and GoneKathy Glass

Resisting Arrest: Race and Pittsburghers’ Struggles against Police Power from the 1840s through the 1950s • Elaine Frantz

Tomorrow Never Came • Jamaal Scott

Working Together for Health Equity: How a Multidisciplinary, Community-Engaged Partnership Reframed Our Understandings of Pittsburgh’s Maternal-Child Health Crisis • Cathleen J. Appelt, Andrew T. Simpson, Jessica A. Devido, Sarah Greenwald, and Brittany Urban

Pittsburgh, the Realest City: Shit Talk’n’, Storytell’n’, Social Livin’ • Jacqueline Roebuck Sakho

IDEAS, ART, AND ACTIVISM

TALKATIVE ANCESTORS

Derrick Bell on Living in Relation to Others

KEYWORDS

Frankstown Was the World with a Big W: Pittsburgh and Beyond, an Interview with John Edgar Wideman • Leila Kamali

LA MESA POPULAR

Black Lives and the Tree of Life • Emmai Alaquiva and Lauren Apter Bairnsfather

ART AND SOCIAL ACTION

East Pittsburgh: White Supremacy, Radical Relationships, and Chosen Family • Norman Conti

MOBILIZED 4 MOVEMENT

Where Have All the Black Revolutionaries Gone in Steel City? An Interview with Sala Udin • Tony Gaskew

TEACHING AND TRUTH

Redreaming Boundaries and Community Engagement: John Edgar Wideman and the Homewood Reading Series • Esohe Osai and Dan Kubis

Khalifa • Richard Khalifa Diggs, with postscript by Norman Conti

IN MEMORIAM

Memorial Quilt: Patchworked Remembrances of Those Stolen from Us • Mian Laubscher, Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, and Keith David Miles

REVIEW

A City Divided: Race, Fear, and the Law in Police Confrontations, by David A. Harris • Jesse S. G. Wozniak

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MOBILIZED 4 MOVEMENT

Scholar Collectives Advocating for Social Justice in Education • Lois A. Yamauchi, Joni B. Acuff, Ruchi Agarwal-Rangnath, Bill Ayers, Margarita Berta-Ávila, Kari Kokka, Kevin Kumashiro, Therese Quinn, Colleen Rost-Banik, and Katherine Schultz

IN MEMORIAM

The People’s Artist: In Loving Memory of Eugene Eda Wade, 1939–2021 • Hannah Jeffery

REVIEW

Prison Theatre and the Global Crisis of Incarceration, by Ashley E. Lucas • Chinua Thelwell

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.

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