Philly Socialist: Grassroots Political Party Organizes Locally
National politics headlines have been nearly omnipresent in the United States. Every conversation or short scroll through social media seems to eventually provoke a good amount of politically induced hand wringing — especially on the left. The political climate in Philadelphia is no different, leading to a marked uptick in civic engagement and political activism. Amid what has been a busy few months for the group, the Philadelphia Socialists decided to gather at Win/Win coffee shop and bar to socialize, exchange information, and, of course, talk politics on Thursday, February 23rd.
The group has representation in West Philly, South Philly, and Kensington. Brandon Slattery, a representative of the Kensington branch of the organization, sits at a long table pocked with white pins with the group’s insignia on it, a mailing list clipboard, and pamphlets describing the goals of the group.
What aspects of socialism does Slattery think would work best for Kensington? “Well, all of it,” Slattery says, “I think socialism is necessary and inevitable.”
Slattery explains that in his view, Kensington could benefit from the socialistic concept of a planned economy. Free of speculative spending on housing, citizens of the neighborhood would be guaranteed the right to housing, which Slattery believes would curb Kensington’s unprecedented rate of gentrification.
As it stands now, Slattery says, “the only people really winning in the economy of Fishtown and Kensington are the real estate speculators, people throwing up these houses overnight, people buying and flipping houses, and the rest of us are just wondering how much longer we can live there before we have to move.”
Slattery also believes that a socialist Kensington would mean more regular work and better benefits for construction workers and laborers, aiding in both the infrastructure and jobs problems that the neighborhood faces.
Whichever side of the political spectrum one is on, the implementation of socialistic principles into Kensington is an enormous, and likely very distant undertaking which, Slattery explains, lies in the Philly Socialists’ long term plan of grassroots party building through civic and activism. In the meantime, Slattery and the Philly Socialists in Kensington have repurposed a vacant lot at Lawrence and Arlington streets into a community garden and offer free English classes to any resident of the neighborhood.
Mara Hanau, another member of the Kensington branch of Philly Socialists, became interested in the Philly Socialists shortly after she immigrated to America from Colombia.
“When I was in college, I was working with Occupy. When Occupy happened I had only been in the country for three years,” Hanau said, “after that I was trying to join political organization I liked, one that could offer me a solution to the problems we are having, and I just couldn’t find any.” Eventually, Hanau met Slattery at the Barbary where the two started talking about politics. He invited her to check out the garden and come to a meeting.
Now Hanau works primarily at Philly Socialists Kensington branch where she focuses training new leaders for the movement, but has also teaches free ESL classes in Kensington. The free ESL classes, Hanau and the Philly Socialists believe, is an easy way to immediately give citizens more access to opportunities in the community. “I really like teaching in the neighborhood because you really get to know everyone around there,” Hanau said, “and then you see them all the time. You just build a relationship with them.” While the work is rewarding, Hanau admits it can be challenging “It’s really about teamwork, you know? You always need to be present and working with everyone. If you don’t do that, the classes are very stressful,” Hanau laughs.
Hanau sees a lot of her own mother in many of the people she teaches, “I really like teaching English because, you know, my mom didn’t know English, and I know a lot of the struggle. Especially older people who come to those classes, they didn’t get a chance to go to high school. I went to high school; my mom didn’t go to high school. They don’t get the exposure so they don’t know the language. I like to be able to make people’s lives easier.”
While Hanau certainly ascribes to socialist views, she believes better overall political engagement can only benefit society and that people should not feel intimidated to do so. Hanau says, simply, “Who the fuck cares if you come off as crazy? It’s just as hard to become a billionaire as it is to get socialism, so which one are you going to pick?”