activism · neighbors · Ward politics

Action Day 22: Meet with neighbors to understand how (if?) the local connects with the national.

Fascinating meeting at Ben Plantan’s house last night–and as chock-filled with acronyms and new vocabulary as any/all of the political lessons I’ve garnered since the election of *rumpf! I took notes, listened, mused, and . . . now this.

Here are a few of the tidbits that I digested in 1.5 hours at Ben’s house. (Ben is running for Judge of Elections in Ward 22, where I live — though I am in a different division.)

New vocabulary: ward, election judge, street money, WAM, hoagies


  1. The gathering was as racially and religiously diverse as I would hope for in a Mt. Airy neighborhood–a shift from my Women’s March postcard writing huddle, which was, from what I could gather, exclusively White lesbian and cisgendered women between the ages of 30 and 60. At Ben’s, I could detect a (slightly) larger range of stories, backgrounds, races, ethnicities and religions from the introductory comments. The meeting’s brain trust — the bulk of knowledge of how local politics work — resided in three White men who were active in politics in the seventies. Two are or were lawyers. Also present was Ward 22’s Majority Leader of Elections, an African American woman, who shared some of her expertise in leading those efforts for the past several years–and she cited her entry into local leadership as being encouraged by the work of Ralph, a local leader (and lawyer).
  2. The group also featured five new prospective candidates from my own age demographic — five of them! — three of whom are People of Color, and the remaining two White (one being Ben himself, a passionate and vocal dissenter in the midst of the current anti-Muslim chicanery). These identity details matter to me because I want to be part of a movement in which my local representation reflects the full range of my community, in as many identity areas as possible. I want my democracy to be representative of who lives in my neighborhood. I also don’t need to page through Invisible Man again to know that Whiteness in a vacuum breeds superbugs. My question: have these bugs evolved to resist intercessions like ours entirely?
  3. Ward politics seem to be largely about fulfilling the needs of the larger party — who may or may not really care how or by whom their party line is being upheld, as long as it is. Maybe also some parking issues and requests for increased police patrols. This party focus is problematic for obvious reasons. As I write this post, my students are writing an in-class essay connecting events and ideas in Orwell’s 1984 to contemporary events. So I am left wondering, again, how and whether my local leadership impacts things that I care about beyond parking, which I don’t care too much about to begin with.
  4. There was a moment in the conversation when these words and ideas appeared: tribute, fiefdom, and one other Game of Thrones-style power reference that I am congenitally disinterested in. My inside voice said, “Whoa! That went dark and conspiratorial!” And then the outside voices, the brain trust, batted no eyelids and proceeded to confirm that these postulations about local politics were, in fact true–and they sometimes culminate in someone refusing to buy the hoagies and suffering the weight of being politically shunned until restitution is made or the office is filled with someone with better culinary sense.
  5. Yes — I took this to the absurd place where it indeed felt like it was going — but there was also a committee member (person who serves the ward leader and division constituents) who is receiving notifications about ward meetings the day after the meetings happen. It occurs to me that this is politics at its core — power containment, management, protection and consolidation — and the thing I find repulsive in our national administration, in the texts I teach, and in people in general. Rather than seeing this fact as something chuckle-worthy. or a rally-cry, I am left with the question: Why? What drives me to participate in this broken system? Where are my energies best focused?

Today Adam, one of the attendees, shared this piece from the Chestnut Hill Local, which answers many of my queries. It is penned by Chris Rabb, our state rep, who is working against “machine politics”.  Here is a Philadelphia Magazine article in which he describes his unsavory interactions with–but does not name–our very own leader of the Fighting 22nd.

But back to the meeting: Ben did convince me, with sheer force of kindness, intellect, hospitality, and brie, that I should trade in my current Independent registration status for a Democrat registration so that I can vote in the May 16th primary elections. I will do that, although I am not fully sure why. He may not owe me WHAM or street money, but I think I will still shake him down for a hoagie. 


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