Reading like a who’s who of the burgeoning North and Northwest progressive coalition, leaders who supported Seth Anderson-Oberman gathered for summit.
Reading like a who’s who of the burgeoning North and Northwest progressive coalition, leaders from across the 8th councilmanic district who supported Seth Anderson-Oberman in his failed bid for city council gathered at the Germantown Life Enrichment Center on Saturday for the North/Northwest People’s Summit, which was hosted by Anderson-Oberman, State Representative Chris Rabb and Philly Neighborhood Networks.
The event’s purpose, organizers told the Local, was to unite the district’s Northwest Philadelphia neighborhoods with its North Philadelphia neighborhoods so they can work together to bring about change. Anderson-Oberman narrowly lost to his opponent, three-term incumbent Cindy Bass, in May’s Democratic primary election for the city’s 8th councilmanic district. The final vote was 50.7% to 49.1% in Bass’ favor.
“We're gonna come together and figure out what we need in this moment,” said Anderson-Oberman at the meeting. “And we’re going to build the thing that meets that need.”
In addition to Anderson-Oberman and Rabb, the event featured representatives from Anderson-Oberman’s campaign, including his former finance director Nate Holt, campaign manager Rah Noonan-Ngwane and communications director Alon Gur.
It also featured Nicolas O’Rourke, a candidate in November’s general election for city council at-large.
Representatives from Philly Neighborhood Networks, like Tim Brown, Stan Shapiro, Margaret Lenzi, Maurice Sampson and Tonya Bah attended the event, along with numerous neighborhood activists like Julie Stapleton-Carroll, Yvonne Haskins, Jill Saull and Suzanne Ponsen.
Altogether, about 100 people attended.
At the beginning of the summit, Anderson-Oberman and Noonan-Ngwane led a discussion about power, the forms it takes and what people associate with it. “Knowledge,” “the ability to affect change,” “The Democratic machine,” “agency” and “votes” were words that attendees used to describe it.
Then the conversation moved to the topic of organization, which was right in Anderson-Oberman’s wheelhouse.
“People join organizations in order to accomplish collectively what none of us can accomplish on our own,” Anderson-Oberman, who works full-time as a union organizer for SEIU, said while highlighting examples of powerful organizations like unions and civic associations.
But consumer power is another way to leverage power to gain influence, Anderson-Oberman and Noonan-Ngwane said.
For instance, Anderson-Oberman said, when people spend their money at a co-op like Weaver’s Way or donate to a GoFundMe for somebody’s surgery that their insurance company won’t cover, they’re exhibiting consumer power. Consumer power also covers ways that people don’t spend their money, which includes boycotts like the ones in Apartheid South Africa, the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led movement that promotes boycotts, divestment and economic sanctions against Israel.
At another point in the summit, the following thought experiment was proposed to attendees: A developer is planning a 10-unit luxury condo building on a parcel of city-owned land where neighbors currently operate a community garden. In an effort to save the garden, a neighbor approaches the ward leader to organize resistance to the proposal, but the ward leader urges the neighbor to leave the situation alone. After doing further research, you find that the ward leader is friends with the developer. What do you do?
“Call the media,” “raise money to help campaign for the cause,” “organize a community meeting” and “get interested pirates together to come up with a plan with goals and a strategy” were all responses by those in attendance.
Towards the end of the summit, all the attendees split into four groups that focused on what they deemed their four most important issues, according to a pre-meeting survey they had been encouraged to fill out. Those top four issues were community development and displacement, environmental concerns like dumping and trash, access to safe and funded public schools and community safety.
The main goal of the breakout sessions, said Tim Brown, one of the Philly Neighborhood Networks representatives who played a key role in organizing the summit, was to come up with “concrete next steps” for how progress could be made on each issue. That means coming up with goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound, Brown said.
“That’s the difference between a vision and a goal,” he added. “‘I want to live in a peaceful city’ is a vision. ‘I want to cut gun violence in half in our city by July 1, 2024’ is a goal.”
Attendees the Local spoke with upon the meeting’s conclusion made it clear that they were looking forward to using their power to follow through on reaching those goals.
“I thought it went very well,” Dennis Barnebey, one of the event’s attendees, said. Barnebey, who lives in Germantown, hopes the meeting plays a role in “shifting the balance of power in the city so it represents working people and not moneyed interests.”
Suzanne Ponsen, another Germantown resident, said she learned how “vibrant and strong” her community was at the event.
“I've made a lot of connections,” she said. “I love the fact that I learned there are so many people who feel the same way I do about these issues.”
Maurice Sampson, another Philly Neighborhood Networks representative who played a role in organizing the event, said that the summit achieved its goal of bringing people together, and that it verified something he suspected was true: his community was motivated and enthusiastic about bringing change to their district.
“I just see so much potential here,” he said. “Now it’s all about putting it all together and moving forward.”