It’s last Monday night. I’m still furious about the election, and I’ve brought my anger to the Painted Bride Art Center, for Young Involved Philadelphia and Committee of Seventy’s Born To Run event, which seeks to give the citizens of Philadelphia a lesson in running for office, featuring guests like former mayoral candidate Doug Oliver and as-of-now former Senate candidate Marty Molloy.
Nearly 300 people hang on the panel’s every word, and some folks—political aspirants, almost certainly—are taking notes. They even laugh politely during the downbeats of Oliver’s address about what it was like to run for mayor. There is wine and cheese, and everyone’s holding a pale ale and the vibe is ludicrously wholesome. The people are happy and shiny, and ready to push forward into bold new horizons, challenge the system and fix what has been broken.
Only … I’m not with them yet. I’d rather be outside with the protesters in Center City, railing against the system that put Trump on his way to the White House. Instead I’m here, with this group of of would-be politicians, trying to understand how they are already moving on from the travesty of November 8.
“This election showed people that to make a change, we need to be involved from the ground up, rather than just having a say at the ballot box,” says Gwen Emmons, a YIP board member at Young Involved Philadelphia, who helped organize the event. “I think this event is indicative of people feeling dissatisfied, and ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work.”
I’m with the impassioned masses down the street, who for the past week, have voiced their anger with marches and shouting and placard-waving and tears. As well they should; Philadelphia has sustained a wave of hate crimes following the election of Donald Trump, and in spite of the president-elect’s plea to “Stop it,” they’re unlikely to end. The world has been turned on its head; civility has been excused.
The day before the election, YIP had sold about 30 tickets. They ended up selling out three times, with a crowd of 275 eventually showing up; 45 percent of those 275 people, according to a registration questionnaire, said that they were interested in running for office. (Young Involved Philadelphia is already planning another Born To Run event for December, with a topic based on feedback from attendees of the first event.)
“I figured that we would sell about 100 tickets to people who were our target audience, people who were working on campaigns,” Emmons says. “I’d say about 12 hours after the election results were announced, we sold out. There’s a silver lining to every cloud—every orange cloud.”
While Emmons did note a certain “orange cloud,” event organizers are hesitant to mention the president-elect by his name—quick to remind that they are members of non-partisan organizations, and not because he’s Voldemort. The attendees are less measured in their thoughts. Chris Chacko says that she’s horrified, but not surprised that Trump came out on top. “Racism and xenophobia and misogyny and crypto-fascism have existed in this country for a very long time, it’s just that a disproportionately less-heard portion of the population has experienced it,” she says. “In a way, I’m glad this happened, because it’s motivating more white people to fucking do something. It shines a lot of light on a problem that a lot of us face constantly.”
Chris is attending the event with three friends; they intimate that she’s the one who would likely seek office. The rest claim that they’d be happy to simply be administrators.
“We’re all starting to wake up from really, really bad Wednesday hangovers,” says Nick Bonneau, who says he signed up for the event after the election results were in. “There was an opportunity to have a really experienced candidate in office, but also a woman candidate who has a lot of history dealing with social issues and has good fiscal policies as well, and a lot of people got out there. I mean, she did win [the popular vote], and by more and more every day.”
Nick says that while the event made clear some of the obstacles that face those seeking office—like fundraising and signature-collecting—the event was elucidating, and may be “inching” him more toward running.
The crowd, which hung around for an hour after the guest speakers wrapped up, seemed to feel empowered and forthrightly positive. But it was also almost entirely white. It’s not the greatest look for a majority-minority city after a national election in which voter turnout was down across the board, after which liberals are desperately talking about increasing the roles of minorities in government, and after which minorities across the country are sustaining harassment and hate crimes.
To their credit, the organizers recognized the problem. “I see my job as trying to lift up people of color and trying to advocate for people of color and trying to clear the path for them to seek office,” says Emmons. “That’s something that YIP is trying to do a better job of as a whole.” She says that Young Involved Philadelphia offered tickets to community organizations that serve the LGBTQ community, people of color and immigrants.
There is, of course, work to be done across the board. Too many Philadelphians—and Americans—are intimidated by the prospect of running for office. But the crowd seemed energized after the event. Maybe our future governor was in attendance, and just saw the light. I’d put my money on Chris.
I understand why those people assembled at the Painted Bride. A lot of them are angry too; a lot of them are fuming. They know that once we bumble our way through the Kubler-Ross model, we’ll need bright-eyed leaders who will be able to sympathize with what we’ve suffered. We’ll need them to validate our concerns, so that we know that we’re not just finicky liberals marauding in the face of federal inconvenience.
But, like many others in Philadelphia and the country, I’m not ready to move past the anger and on to the next thing. In spite of the encouraging sight of ambitious Philadelphians being willing to fight the good fight after Trump’s unexpected election, I am still unsatisfied. I’m furious, and still grieving.
I’m with the impassioned masses down the street, who for the past week, have voiced their anger with marches and shouting and placard-waving and tears. As well they should; Philadelphia has sustained a wave of hate crimes following the election of Donald Trump, and in spite of the president-elect’s plea to “Stop it,” they’re unlikely to end. The world has been turned on its head; civility has been excused. Philly’s own Equality Coalition is planning to protest every day until president-elect Trump becomes President Trump. They’re going to hoot and holler and carry on, even while conservative commentators chastise them for their indolence and All-Lives-Matter Facebook uncles chew them out for being un-American.
They are the mirror opposite of the suited men and women in the Painted Bride, some of whom may be the future of Philly politics. And thank God for those protesters; they and the Born To Run attendees are two sides of the same coin. Without the anger that the protesters provide, without the visceral feeling that they bring to the street, we might not remember what’s at stake, what’s been compromised and what we have already lost. Without that anger that accompanies grief, we might not properly find the end of our mourning for what has happened. I choose to remain angry, at least for now.
But I understand why those people assembled at the Painted Bride. A lot of them are angry, too; a lot of them are fuming. They know that people like me have a lot to sort through, and that those people on the street aren’t going to abandon their fervor anytime soon. They know that once we bumble our way through the Kubler-Ross model, we’ll need bright-eyed leaders who will be able to sympathize with what we’ve suffered. We’ll need them to validate our concerns, so that we know that we’re not just finicky liberals marauding in the face of federal inconvenience. We’ll need those new leaders, perhaps born at the Painted Bride, to help channel that fury into something more constructive than battling and assailing the people we love with our self-righteousness.
So rage and rave; organize and seek office. Fight and make peace. Pretty soon, those two very disparate ideologies are going to have to work together to make some real change.
Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified Chris Chacko, from the YIP event.Header photo by Lorie Shaull via Flickr