It began with four-nights of fireworks in July while the Democrats convened. It was the start of a beautiful relationship between Philadelphia and the national spotlight that would last through election day at least.
All eyes were on us (collectively as Southeastern Pennsylvania). The Democratic Convention pitted Philly against Cleveland because the race to the White House had to run through Pennsylvania and Ohio. Politico identified the race in Bucks County (PA-8) between Democrat Steve Santarsiero and Republican Brian Fitzpatrick as the congressional race to watch in 2016. The New York Times ran its quadrennial article about Levittown (my hometown) as the quintessence of Trump v. Clinton battlegrounds.
Philadelphia was the star of the national political carnival, the political epicenter of the 2016 electoral cycle. We were the center of attention. We were sure to receive promises of political attention (read: money), praise for our ways of living (read: ego strokes), free marketing (read: business), and regular visits from important people (read: excitement). A few doors down from my home, the Clinton campaign was mobilizing.
Well, that ended abruptly, didn’t it? All it took was the right-swipe of a poll showing Pennsylvania clearly siding with Hillary Clinton and slipping from the grasp of Donald Trump. Now you’re more likely to see the Vice Presidential candidates around town than Trump and Clinton. Philadelphia? So yesterday.
Now what are you supposed to do? Here a few suggestions:
Go Back to School
Citizen columnist Jeremy Nowak suggests that this political cycle should actually allow a serious inquiry into important issues such as jobs, globalization, and allocation of scarce public resources. Against the backdrop of what seems to be shaping up as a political rout, apply the passion you feel for your chosen candidate to substantive issues-based policy making. Talk about real things that matter in your life and those of the people around you, as Nowak recommends.
Clean Out Your Closet
Philadelphia’s civic culture (and integrity) is on its heels. As Citizen editor Larry Platt summarized succinctly, the evidence of political dirt goes beyond the obvious (the conviction of Representative Chakka Fattah, for example, and now the conviction of Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane) when headlines feature regular Center City FBI investigations. Maybe this is a good time to clean out some of the political dirt that has built up in your city. Corruption spreads when no one is asking hard questions and it becomes part of the political culture when the voting public stands by instead of standing up.
Follow the news, understand the claims and charges, Tell your elected officials you are watching and want to see better governance; write them letters or call their offices. Go here to find out who to reach out to and how to reach them. Especially now, they will hear you.
As Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said when he was President Obama’s chief of staff, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”
(Come to think of it, with front-page corruption weekly, maybe Fall 2016 was not the best time for Philadelphia to be in the national spotlight.)
Get Some Exercise
Get involved in campaigning for your candidates at the federal, state, and local levels. So what if you have never knocked on doors for candidates or made phone calls? Think of it as your political attempt to go from your couch to a 5K. The more you do, the more likely your candidates will get elected.
There is a lot more to governance than the Presidency. Local and state races matter. The ideal democracy requires real disagreements leading to meaningful solutions, and that requires a strong legislature working with or against the President. Even if Clinton keeps a clear lead in the state, the Senate Race between Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Katie McGinty is critical to partisan control of the U.S. Senate, every Congressional race (not just PA-8) is up for grabs, and which party will control the House or Representatives will be influenced by your vote.
Spend More Time with Your Kids
Or your Partner, Spouse, Friends, Neighbors, Co-workers. Build relationships around real life or substantive issues instead of yelling at your TV or computer. You do not have to agree, but you do have to make the effort. Model civil civic debate, and learn to agree to disagree. The strength of a community, or a nation, is not measured by how much we agree but but how well we disagree. Talk about the issues you hear about—heck, maybe your kid can teach you something about policy or politics. They will be running your world someday, so why not start the conversation now?
While you’re at it, encourage your kids’ schools to teach civics in the classroom, the way schools in America used to. Support the work of The Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement, or just to your child’s history teacher.You want civically engaged adults? Start early.
Take a Trip
If you just cannot stand missing out on the political action, hit the road. If you were primed for action, find the most competitive Presidential election state you can and show up. Your campaign will welcome you and put you to work. Where to go? Watch the news, but right now we’re talking Georgia, Utah, or Arizona. You could do worse!
Can’t get away? Refresh your understanding of the founding American principles written in Philadelphia in the 18th Century. You live in Philadelphia, birthplace of the American revolution. Visit Independence Hall. Explore President Washington’s home on Independence Mall. And don’t miss The Constitution Center’s “Headed to the White House” exhibit to see how campaigns and elections turn into policy and governance.
When you get left at the altar, nothing feels better than expressing yourself. Speak with your vote. The registration deadline is October 11th, but don’t wait to register. You can do it online. No excuses.
Mark it on your calendar now.Header photo by Sarah Blask