Reclaim Philadelphia is a grassroots, democratic organization that aims to build power for people across the city. In a political world flooded with corporate money, it is dedicated to amplifying the voices of Philadelphians. We oppose the rule of moneyed and special interests that deform our institutions and deface our government. Through issue-based and electoral campaigns, policy research, and direct action, Reclaim Philadelphia is working to organize the progressive majority in the city.
What does it mean to “reclaim Philadelphia”? It implies that something has been lost and needs to be retaken. And for us this is exactly the case: the people, organized, would take back the commons from the elites who privatize and ruin it. A more humane, more welcoming city, and a more inclusive, more democratic politics, would be the goal.
People might counter that Philadelphia has never been better. On one account, after all, the city is going through a boom time. Boosters trumpet the city’s revitalization; they point to the cranes wheeling over low-slung blocks; a new Comcast tower rising to stand in tall, glassy fraternity with its predecessor; the increasing numbers of professionals clamoring for tables at a local “Top Chef”-winner’s restaurant.
But step away from the skyscraper-shadowed beer gardens of Center City, take the trolleys out from the “innovation” districts of the universities, and look at the buckling rowhouses, the grassy, trash-filled lots cropping up between them like so many missing teeth. Here there are no cranes, only bulldozers; no jobs to be worked, only crumbling stoops to wait out the days. In many places, now, there aren’t even schools to attend. One person’s renaissance is another’s dark age. One Philadelphia is being fabricated and exalted, so that another can be cast down and forgotten.
“Reformers” reaping profits from an increasingly privatized education system, leading to greater neglect of children and teachers alike; a political caste working fist-in-glove with callous developers; a taxation system that punishes the poor and spares the rich; breathtaking levels of racial and economic segregation not seen since the days of Jim Crow; a police force marked by swaggering impunity; a working-class that sees one future after another foreclosed and boarded up: These are lived realities for the people of Philadelphia, but recognizable as realities in cities all over the country.
What has been happening for generations is the offensive by one class against another, the consolidation by the wealthy of a near-unassailable form of power, and the promulgation of their policies and views as the only truth, with no alternative. The neoliberal offensive of the last 40-odd years has made it easier for elites to keep more and more wealth, as more and more barriers to profit-making and to regulation fall. This same pattern, most visible in the world of finance, repeats itself across industries: the price of life-saving drugs goes up along with health insurance; prison systems are privatized, along with universities and K-12 education. The roots of generations of cultural life, tying people to places, are torn up, block by block, as people are displaced and expelled. The rich placidly grow richer; the commons are despoiled and the poor cast into deeper poverty.
Since the financial crisis of 2007-2008, however, cracks in the overhanging consensus have at last begun to show, and a clearer sky through them. In 2011, beginning on Wall Street, the occupation of public squares throughout the country in favor of real financial reform and an end to economic inequality triggered a widespread recognition that society is starkly divided into the one percent, and the powerless ninety-nine. After the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the #BlackLivesMatter movement (now the Movement for Black Lives) gave a much-needed and belated shock to the system of white America, who, if still only too gradually and warily, have come to realize how the immense history of racial oppression weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
Long dormant, the streets of Philadelphia and cities everywhere have woken into life: marches, protests, occupations, civil disobedience are once again the order of the day. Behind these lie mountains of independent thinking and research into problems of pressing concern; careful strategic thinking is being translated into to political action.
To “reclaim” Philadelphia, then, would be to dismantle the walls that separate the successful few from the impoverished many, on whose backs alone that success has been achieved. Call the system what you will: neoliberalism, white supremacy, patriarchy—it all sticks, it is all intertwined. It exceeds the bounds of our city and encircles the globe. But we start where we live, and where we live a clearing has opened up, and a movement is on its feet.
Founded in June 2016 in the aftermath of the Bernie Sanders campaign, Reclaim Philadelphia is committed to the idea that this state of affairs is not inevitable. In a city—a country—tending towards ever greater inequality in wealth and power, we seek policies and candidates, and we develop strategies and tactics, to redistribute that wealth to the poor, to enfranchise the dispossessed, and to invest in the commons. We believe that grassroots organizing can bring people together, and that—together, with members in every neighborhood in the city—we can unsettle the complacencies of the powerful.
We reject racism and discrimination on the basis of gender and sex, and we seek to stop these evils at their root. We insist that a viable economic future cannot be built through choking children with smog and despoiling the planet; that a warming globe is a grim threat to everyone everywhere, the poor most of all. We categorically reject the notion that police are entitled to menace entire swathes of the city with racial terror and to shoot unarmed black men and women in the streets.
We believe that, in the richest country the world has ever known, poverty and hunger should be unknown; that the exploitation of one class by another must be extinguished; that de facto white supremacy is a horror to be stamped out and abjured; that politics cannot remain and must never be the secure, easy provenance of an insouciant, vicious elite.
To resurrect some still-resonant words: another world is possible. Through organization, educational efforts, political power, and action, Reclaim Philadelphia intends to help build it.
Below are issues we care deeply about—though the list is by no means exhaustive:
To accomplish all this is a tall order. But it can and must be done. We look forward to building a Philadelphia that can be a model to other cities and regions. We envision an equal city, a just city, in whose creation the people share. We imagine a robust public school system no longer riven by segregation; a natural world no longer shadowed by toxic clouds; a workplace free from despotism. We see a city council and legislature responsive to the concerns of ordinary people. More besides—but no less.
Reclaim Philadelphia is a fiscally sponsored project of Keystone Progress (501c4) and Keystone Progress Education Fund (501c3). We are primarily funded by monthly dues from membership; in 2017–2018, we were also the recipient of a grant from the People's Action organizing network, specifically directed at funding organizing to end mass incarceration.
If you have any further questions about how Reclaim Philadelphia is funded, please direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Organizational revenues and expenses for 2017:
Labor Costs: $51,975
Office Supplies: $1,281
Total Expenses: $53,926
Grant from People’s Action: $70,000
Income from membership dues: $35,906
Total income: $105,906