The most important political office is that of the private citizen.
—Justice Louis D. Brandeis
Every day for the past eight months or so, we’ve been blogging about solutions that can move Philadelphia forward, shining a light on those among us who refuse to outsource leadership to the usual purveyors of the status quo. We’ve met, and introduced you to, some inspiring characters and some sui generis ideas that just might reshape our shared landscape.
But we were really doing much more than what appeared on our blog. Each day, a small group of us, Philly patriots all, were engaging in an ongoing experiment that is quite literally as old as our history itself. We were having a conversation about just what it means to be a citizen of this beguiling, breathtaking, maddening city. And about what Philadelphia needs to take that ambitious leap from good to great.
It needs you. It needs your voice, forcibly bellowed, and your effort, and your time. It needs you at community meetings, it needs you at the polls, and it needs you speaking truth to power. Because that’s how change happens. “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice,” Bobby Kennedy said in South Africa in 1966, challenging an entrenched, racist system, “he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
Well, Philly needs your ripple. Just consider:
- 27% of registered voters showed up to vote in the 2015 Mayoral primary
- 8.1% of Philadelphians describe themselves as active in their neighborhoods (31st of the top 50 cities)
- 28% of city residents still don’t have access to broadband Internet (among the worst in the nation)
And yet: 60% of city residents describe Philadelphia as a “great place to live.”
Philly needs you. It needs your voice, forcibly bellowed, and your effort, and your time. That’s how change happens.
What do these statistics mean? That all the great stuff happening in Philadelphia—the restaurant scene, the influx of millennials and immigrants, the vibrant arts community—has happened despite having one hand tied behind our back. That local democracy is broken, in the city where it was born. That the principles first penned 239 years ago in a basement room at 7th and Market, identifying our most fundamental rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, while self-evident, are not self-renewing.
Philadelphia doesn’t just need another news organization. It needs a movement of citizens who refuse to outsource leadership to a political class long characterized by an insidious transactional culture. Here, you can read about solutions and the disruptors among us who are committed to thinking differently. But, critically, you can also add your voice to the mix. Hit our Do Something halo (like the one to the right) and let our Social Action Team advise you on how to help write the story of your city. Or check out our guides to learn what you can do on a daily basis to make Philadelphia better. We want to be the Wawa of civic engagement —a one-stop shop that makes it easier for you to speak out and catalyze change.
As a journalist, I’ve spent most of my professional life passively sending information out into the atmosphere, without regard to where or how it landed. Well, our history tells us that this citizenship thing? It’s anything but passive. So, welcome to the Philadelphia Citizen, a community of active and activist citizens—millennials, Gen Xers, and seasoned, impatient Philadelphians—who count among our patron saints Sen. Gladys Pyle. Never heard of her? Neither had I. But she was a badass, through and through. The first woman elected to the United States Senate in 1938, the first female Senator to never marry. She was outspoken and unafraid — two qualities every citizen should aspire to. We came across ol’ Gladys when we found her answer to a question about what citizenship meant to her:
“The Greek word for idiot, literally translated, means one who does not participate in politics,” she once said. “That sums up my conviction on the subject.”
So a bunch of us have made a conscious decision to not be idiots. Won’t you join us?
Header photo: WikiCommons