Grassroots democracy

This is the time of year when wards across Philadelphia make their candidate endorsements for the upcoming primary on May 17. Both Republicans and Democrats engage in this process. Recently, Democratic ward leaders in 39A and 39B in South Philadelphia acted unilaterally to endorse a documented Trump supporter in the race for state representative in the 184th District. Just a few days later, Philadelphia’s Democratic City Committee followed suit. We, as elected committee people, feel compelled to respond to this problem.

These actions trouble us because they ignore the democratic process to which we are all committed. This anti-democratic behavior disrespects our neighbors’ interests. We are disappointed they chose not to consult with the committee people in their wards. We were elected by our neighbors to represent them, and should have the opportunity to do just that.

Philadelphia is divided into 66 wards, each one has 11 to 51 divisions, and each division has two committee people, like us, who are elected by their neighbors. Together, committee people elect a ward leader. These committee people share information from their neighbors with elected officials so they can be better represented. We also bring information about government programs and services to our neighbors who may need help.

In our current political climate, ward leaders should work with committee people to reinvigorate the Democratic Party throughout Philadelphia. That’s why we run for these positions. We believe in grassroots democracy and community representation. These positions offer small compensation for the hours worked on election days. We volunteer our time because we believe talking with our neighbors is the best way to encourage participation in the democratic process. We know democracy takes work.

The Philadelphians who serve as committee people also fulfill the essential services of any democracy. When you go to the polls this May, they will greet you before you step into the voting booth. At the end of the day, they will be the ones who tally the votes in your division. They have the responsibility of ensuring fair elections. Everyone wants their vote to count.

With this endorsement, the current leaders of the Democratic City Committee have turned their backs on elected committee people and ignored the incumbent, state Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler. Rep. Fiedler has worked tirelessly since her election in 2018 to improve constituent services throughout the district, increase school funding and bring in significant grant money for local recreation centers. She has also restored faith in the electoral system by engaging the community directly and by being transparent about her votes in the state legislature.

During the pandemic, many neighbors turned to us when they were having difficulties filing for unemployment compensation. One resident’s claim had been stuck in the system for months. Others have sought help applying for state-sponsored health care. Rep. Fiedler’s staff helped our neighbors navigate these systems. Without this assistance, our neighbors might have struggled even more financially, risking their ability to support their families or losing their home.

In addition to excellent constituent services, Rep. Fiedler fights for neighborhood priorities. Our neighbors with school-age children have expressed their gratitude for Rep. Fiedler’s commitment to increasing education funding and for her commitment to lead and asbestos remediation in Philadelphia’s schools. Ignoring these problems can lead to health problems, contributing to learning difficulties in school.

With people throughout the country questioning the honesty of elected leaders, and with disturbingly low voter turnout in non-presidential elections, we need more people to be engaged. We need to show what real leadership looks like. We can do this when we elect leaders on all levels of government who show up for our communities, and when we hold them accountable for their promises on the campaign trail. We can do this in Philadelphia. It begins by talking directly with our neighbors and voting for elected officials who will act in the interests of their communities. This is the only way to build the trust that’s essential to any democracy and to building a stronger city. 

Stan McDonald, Maureen Brown and Karen DiLossi are Democratic committee people in the 39th Ward.