Philadelphia What used to be a dead zone not far from Center City in Philadelphia was hopping on a Friday night with people all over the streets as I was dropped off in a mad rush from the airport as Jasmine Rivera, the regional organizer for ACTION United, drove off to find a place for the car. We had a good crowd at Robin’s Books and Moonstone Arts Center thanks to Craig Robbins of ACTION United and his team, old and new leaders, old and new organizers, and friends and bystanders.
Once again it didn’t take long after describing the books for the ACORN post-mortem to begin, and these topics were covered in depth, but some of the more interesting questions involved the potential for community-labor coalitions, where I heartily agreed though answered that I thought the jury was out on whether or not these were real partnerships or simply transactional alliances where the community components were very much junior partners. In Pittsburgh and Philadelphia one gets the feeling with both One Pittsburgh and Fight for a Fair Philadelphia that these are the labor equivalent of grass-tips organizations, which is ironic since the capacity for real partnerships seems remarkable in both places. Something worth more investigation, I think. Visiting with some of the organizers afterwards they regaled me with tales of the Fight for a Fair Economy street theater in front of Wells Fargo, which produced good humor, but I had trouble following the point or where it was producing any pressure or building much, so I need to find out more.
It was great to hear the progress being made on the campaign in Philadelphia to win sick days for workers in the city. Last year ACTION United had led efforts to win sick days through the Council to be vetoed by Mayor Nutter. This year they are gearing up to win a larger majority that could resist the veto. The basic proposal seems to be 5 sick days for establishments with 5 or more workers.
Critically on the “citizen wealth” and “self-sufficiency” agenda, it was delirious to hear that ACTION United has now taken the first steps to move its tax preparation service to a fee-for-service basis. Even at the introductory level of $30 per return, they have already brought in over $10,000 demonstrating the potential in this area is significant.
More disappointingly, I ran into Bruce Dorpalen, who had been with ACORN for many years and a key player in our housing programs and chief architect of the amazing housing counseling program we had run which allowed hundreds of thousands of families to obtain housing. He confirmed rumors that they had shut their doors, unable to right-size the operation to the funding resources available.
Nonetheless, exciting things are in store in Philadelphia. Seeing old and new leaders still wrapping their arms around the organization and trying to chart the path to the future, gives great hope.