Hey Philly Environmentalists– Let’s Take a Look at the PA Governor’s Race

by William Lawrence, Philly Environmental Activist

“As 2014 approaches, it’s time to take a look at the upcoming Pennsylvania gubernatorial race.”

I cringed typing that sentence. Every two years, my progressive/leftist Facebook friends go through the same debate–boycott the election? Campaign for the Democrats? Third party? Well, it’s that time again. Though I’m not yet commited to a particular form of engagement with this election, I think the least we can do is understand the candidates and issues, anticipate how the election is likely to play out, and determine our best course of action.

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I care about multiple “issues” and consider my life’s work to be the project of collective liberation, but my primary political engagement is as an “environmentalist.” For that reason, this piece is targeted at other (mostly white) environmentalists in the Philly area, both inside and outside the NGO world.

We have a choice to engage with the election, or ignore it entirely. I hope we can have a conversation about the risks and opportunities of any approach we consider. The main point of this piece is to suggest that John Hanger’s candidacy provides opportunities for meaningful coalition-building with other social movement organizations in Philadelphia, and not engaging with his candidacy carries considerable risks for our relationships with those groups.

John Hanger 101

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Let’s start out by looking at where Hanger stands on the issues. He calls the push for corporate school privatization in Philadelphia “unconstitutional.” He wants to expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania and supports a national single-payer healthcare system. He is unequivocally pro-labor and strongly opposes “right to work for less” laws.  He supports the incremental legalization of marijuana and speaks openly about how the drug war has been an instrument of discrimination against people of color.

Hanger is an outside shot in the Democratic primary because he doesn’t have the name recognition of the frontrunner, Rep. Alyson Schwartz. For this reason, Hanger seems to be banking his chances on strong support from social movement organizations. He has already explicitly supported the Media Mobilizing Project and Parents United, and rejected critics of the Point Breeze Organizing Committee. Organizations like PBOC understand that getting behind the Hanger campaign could be a way to elevate their profile and their issues both city and statewide in the process of supporting a solidly progressive candidate.

Hanger is an energy policy wonk who served as head of the state Department of Environmental Protection under Ed Rendell. In this election, he seems to be positioning himself comfortably in the realm of “political feasibility” with regard to environmental issues. He wants to implement a statewide climate action plan to reduce emissions 30% by 2020. He also wants to tax and regulate fracking, which is much better than Corbett’s current policy, but nothing to get fired up over. Fracktivists are demanding no fracking, not better fracking.

It’s worth mentioning that Hanger gave a less-than-flattering interview for the documentary Gasland when he was chair of the DEP. He gives his honest opinion, which is that the risks of fracking are real, but minimal compared to coal and oil. Needless to say, this doesn’t sit well with the filmmaker Josh Fox. On the flip side, Hanger recently received the endorsement of several families who have led the fight against fracking in Dimock, one of the most famous sites of contamination by the gas industry.

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Hanger is no worse on the environment than Schwartz or the other Democratic candidates. In fact, I think he’s better overall. But it’s easy to see why environmentalists wouldn’t want to put any energy behind his long-shot primary campaign.

So what does this mean for environmentalists?

As I see it, we have three choices in how we relate to this election: (1) ignore electoral politics altogether, (2) ignore the primary and engage with the general election, or (3) engage with the primary and the general election. Let’s explore these options. I am not committed to any one approach, but I’d like to start a conversation about what is the most strategic path. I go into the most detail with approach 3 because I am leaning in that direction, and I also think it is less-often articulated than the other approaches.

1. Ignore the election

The argument: History is not decided at the ballot box, it is decided in the streets. None of the candidates have the environmental agenda we need because we are not yet strong enough as a movement. Engaging with seriously compromised candidates will distract us from doing the real organizing that will lead to real solutions.

Who’s doing it: Grassroots activists and organizers working on their own campaigns.

2. Ignore the primary, engage with the general election

The argument: We should support the Democrat in the general election, because taxation and regulation of fracking is much better than what Corbett will do. There’s no strong reason to bother with the primary, though. If taxation and regulation of fracking is what we get with any Democratic candidate, why pick one over the other? If anything, we should endorse the primary candidate who we expect to win, so we’ll have more influence later on.

Who’s doing it: In all likelihood, Penn Environment, Clean Water Action, and other “green” NGOs, unless they get a better idea.

3. Engage with the primary and the general election

The argument: Hanger’s candidacy offers an interesting opportunity to align progressive forces in Philadelphia. As I mentioned above, his hopes of victory are reliant on an alliance with social movement forces, which is driving him to actively court their support. It’s too early to say if this will play out, but let’s consider the possibility that PCAPS, Point Breeze Organizing Committee, Decarcerate PA, and progressive unions like UNITE HERE all come together to support Hanger. In other words, the most active community and labor organizations working on the issues that matter to Philadelphia’s working class and communities of color.

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Where do white environmentalists fit into this equation? If we are not at the table, it could give the impression that, as individuals and as organizations, we are not interested in school funding or racist drug laws. And let’s face it–if we aren’t willing to ally ourselves with the groups fighting on these issues, then we really can’t claim to care about them. The effect will be to reinforce the long-standing divide between white environmentalists and other social justice struggles.

Anti-Fracking Activists Rally In Washington

Joining the (hypothetical) Hanger coalition would enhance our long-term ability to win victories in Philadelphia and statewide. First, it would build trust with other progressive organizaitons and help us win support for future environmental initatives. It would show that we’re more than single-issue, out-of-touch treehuggers. This benefit will happen whether or not Hanger wins the election. Second, if he does win and implement his platform, it would roll back the 1% agenda in Philadelphia and shift the balance of power towards the working class and communities of color. This is good for its own sake, and it’s also good for the success of environmetnal protection. Two of the fundamental struggles in this country are between white supremacy and communities of color, and between the 1% and the working class. In each of these struggles, guess who is most in favor of environmental protection? That’s right–communities of color, and the working class. Empowering these communities is a prerequisite for a truly sustainable society.

What’s the next step?

I actually want this to be a conversation. I’m curious what you all think about this opportunity. Was I uncharitable in my representation of options 1 and 2? Which options 4 and 5 did I miss? I’m curious to know more about what questions the green NGOs are asking, including Penn Environment, Clean Water Action, Clean Air Council, and others. Is my read on them correct? Is there any chance of getting them to spend time on a long-shot candidate like Hanger?

Obviously, continuing to monitor the campaign is important, both to see what the candidates do and what endorsements they pick up. We decide what’s next.

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What’s At Stake for Point Breeze in the Governor’s Race?

Important thinking from The Point Breeze Organizing Committee.

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On September 25th, Laporshia Massey, a sixth-grader at Bryant Elementary in Southwest Philadelphia began having asthma issues at school. Because of massive budget cuts to our public schools, Bryant can only afford to staff a nurse two days a week. There was no nurse at school that day – no one trained to recognize the severity of the symptoms. A school staff member drove Laporshia home at the end of the school day because she felt weak. She collapsed in her father’s car on the way to the hospital, and she died from asthma-related complications later that night.

Jessica Desvarieaux

In 2011, 289 school nurses worked in Philadelphia. Now only 179 nurses work in the district.

There are many forces responsible for the gross underfunding of our public schools, but few of them have had as major an impact as Governor Tom Corbett. He has decreased education funding by $1…

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Obamacare, Single-Payer, and the Pennsylvania Governor’s race.

All over the news, people are talking about “Obamacare.”  In the video below, PA Gubernatorial Candidate, John Hanger, stands in support of it’s implementation, validates the concerns of Unions, and calls for Single Payer – even going so far as mentioning by name grassroots PA organization that have been fighting the good fight.

 The political significance of this cannot be overstated.  The political forces attacking the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” are, as has been documented, a legacy of Jim Crow – racists and their anti-Government political cousins.  The attacks on “Obamacare,” which we know was a give-away to the health insurance business, nonetheless, constitutes a political force that intends to establish that there is no role for Government in Society.

John Hanger, like other Single-Payer supporters such as Howard Dean, with these stakes clear, chooses not to bow out of the fight over the Affordable Care Act.  He instead engages it, offering support.

He goes further though by validating the concerns of Unions with the law, and calling for the resolution to be Single-Payer.

In regard to Health Care as an issue for the Governor’s race, Hanger makes his support for Single-Payer crystal clear.

Other candidates, like Rob McCord, for example in his Keystone Politics questionnaire, chose not to say anything about supporting Single-Payer.  He gives an answer that leaves him space to move based on what’s politically expedient.

This poses a tactical question for Single-Payer advocates in particular and Progressives in general.  What is the best strategy for using this Governor’s race as a vehicle to advance and achieve Single-Payer?

Should we get behind one candidate? Or is there a different approach to moving the entire field of Democratic primary candidates?

Many Democrats regard Hanger as the most progressive however are concerned he isn’t viable.  It’s absolutely true that there are times to play it safe, however if we just play it safe as a matter of habit, it can be self-defeating for progressives, we’ll miss big opportunities.  Bill de Blasio’s expected victory this Tuesday in the general election for NYC Mayor is a perfect example of progressives making what seemed impossible, possible.

In a Democratic Primary with eight candidates and perhaps more to join, the power of money is diluted, and the power of an organized grassroots can be amplified.

Single-Payer activists have an opportunity; one that might be lost if Single-Payer supporters, don’t unite early enough and/or are spread out amongst different respective candidates in the primary.  If we’re spread out among different candidates or spending our time trying to win over every candidate, how do we ever consolidate the Single-Payer voting bloc?  How would we ever levy the power of the Single-Payer vote?

On the other hand, if for example, Single-Payer activists unify behind John Hanger, and he loses in the primary to Allyson Schwartz, but our grassroots effort leads Hanger’s showing to be very strong, then we’ll have demonstrated the power of a unified Single-Payer vote; and so be able to negotiate and make demands as a part of entering the Schwartz coalition.

Further, betting against ourselves in the primary, could cost us an opportunity; that is to say assuming someone like Hanger isn’t viable might prevent us from seeing that we could collectively make him viable.  We know that to achieve Single-Payer, will take:  not just openly supporting it with words, but leadership in deeds from the next Governor.  That makes a candidate who was pressured to take the position far from the best option.  They may sign it if we get it to their desk, but they won’t help us get it there.

Single-Payer advocates have an opportunity with this Governor’s race and we should look for the way to be the most effective in raising our issue and ultimately enacting a different health care system in Pennsylvania.

-PPAR

John Hanger responds to Thursday’s City Council vote to accept the $45 million.

PA Gubernatorial Candidate, John Hanger echoes the testimony of PCAPS Coalition Coordinator, Jihad Seifullah, calling it wrong to use $10 million dollars for Charter Schools rather than neighborhood Public Schools.

“My top issue is Education and specifically stopping the privatization of Pennsylvania’s Public schools”

For more on PCAPS Testimony -check out the below link.

http://wearepcaps.org/2013/10/31/pcaps-says-use-the-45-million-to-restore-staff-and-services-at-neighborhood-schools/

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PCAPS Says Use the $45 million To Restore Staff and Services at Neighborhood Schools

PCAPS pushes back against the privatization agenda!

WeArePCAPS

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PCAPS coordinator Jihad Seifullah testifying in City Council today 

My name is Jihad Seifullah. I’m the Coalition Coordinator for PCAPS (Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools) and I’m here today to give testimony. For the last 7 weeks PCAPS has been around the city at more than 50 schools hearing from parents, teachers, and students. The over arching theme that we are hearing is this: 45 million is a start but it clearly is not enough. Now that we have the $45 million we need to put it where it’s needed and does the most good.

Superintendent Hite indicated last week that he intends to funnel $10 million of the $45 million into charter schools. The $45 million was intended to help neighborhood public schools. As a result of the budget shortfall – 24 neighborhood public schools were closed. Thousands of teachers and support staff were laid off from neighborhood…

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Would a Governor Allyson Schwartz STOP the privatization of Public Education?

An open letter to the Philadelphia Public Education Struggle

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This is a critical question – not just for the fate of Public Education in Pennsylvania, but also for our ability to defeat Corbett at all.  Governor Corbett has record low approval ratings and is considered one of the most vulnerable Governor’s in the whole country.  Why?  Far and away the main reason he isn’t popular is because he cut $1 billion from the state education budget.  It was the latest in a long line of blows to Public Ed and part of a deliberate effort to privatize education.  The drastic cuts have devastated schools both in Philadelphia and state wide.

Corbett’s cuts to education have produced a combination of outrage and clarity. In response, a movement to save Public Education has emerged.  Long-time activists have been joined by new parents and students activated by the fear of losing their fundamental right to an equitable education.  Importantly, this movement has united leaders and organization that sometimes have differences. This unity has produced actions, civil disobedience, hunger fasts, and protests numbering in the tens of thousands.

This is a movement that headed into the Governor’s race will either realize its power and thus define the terms of the Gubernatorial election or will fall into tired patterns of short-term, overly-cautious pragmatic thinking.  So what would the Democratic frontrunner Allyson Schwartz do for Public Education?  And is her commitment to Public Education so genuine and substantive that she can lead the Public Education Movement’s effort to defeat Governor Corbett?

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The neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party and its record

It has been Democrats – not just Republicans who have attacked Public Education.  In fact sometimes it has been Democrats who despite support from Labor Unions attacked Public Education, against working-class interests.  Democratic D.C Mayor Adrian Fenty is an example.  Labor supported him.  He in turn appointed Michelle Rhee who has been an outspoken leader of the “Education Reform” movement that represents a lethal threat to Public Education and Labor Unions.  We need a Democratic Party that is principled, progressive, champions the interests of the working-class, and fights for high quality Public Education for all.  The Corbett Administration and its right-wing governance represent the primary enemy to high quality Public Education.  But voting for Democrats doesn’t necessarily constitute a choice to stand for robust Public infrastructure or to defend Public Education.

We can learn a valuable lesson from looking at the experience of Unionists and Progressives in Wisconsin.  There, with collective bargaining rights for public workers on the line, they built a multi-racial, cross-sector movement that occupied the State House.  Social movement activists, from as far away as Egypt, took notice and sent messages of solidarity.

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However, rather than recognizing the incredible energy in the streets and the real potential to substantively shift the balance of power, some Union and Democratic Party leaders funneled the energy narrowly into an electoral effort: the recall election of Scott Walker.  If the movement had been supported in growing and escalating on many fronts and the recall had been just one outgrowth of the movement’s energy, it would have resulted in Scott Walker being defeated as one step towards rebuilding a mighty mighty labor movement.  Instead the process of turning the movement into a wholly electoral effort involved suppressing the creative energy and militancy of rank and file workers and rank and file Democrats It was disempowering and the top-down shift to a narrow electoral focus dissipated the movement’s energy.

As a result, Tom Barrett was nominated – a conservative and relatively anti-labor Democrat.  His nomination meant the movement no longer had the contrast between parties.  His nomination undermined the moral clarity and the strategic clarity of purpose.  Once, it felt again to the majority of people like politics as usual, they didn’t want to be involved.  Union organizers who themselves were frustrated with Barrett’s nomination, tried to knock on doors with discipline.  But they often couldn’t convince even pro-union community members to put Barrett signs in their lawn.  The movement further deflated, and the subsequent defeat of the recall effort constituted a deathblow to the movement.

Allyson Schwartz, Public Education, & Moral and Strategic Clarity

Right now in Pennsylvania, Public Education is on the line, and we are headed towards the Gubernatorial election.  Will we make the mistake our sisters and brothers in Wisconsin did and go “safe” and evaluate “who has the best chance of winning?” as if that question is the same in moments of broad outrage as it is in static times?

Allyson Schwartz’s campaign recently released a statement and plan saying she would champion Public Education. However most notable is what she did not say.

Her silence on Unions.  Her silence on Philly regaining local control.  Her silence on the Right-Wing’s attempt to privatize education.  Her silence on accountability standards for Charters.  Is this leadership?

Public Education is in crisis and to lead out of this crisis requires a leader who is willing to take positions of substance – ones that might make enemies.  Not a leader who puts out a position that seeks the safety of comfort and convenience even amidst the challenge and controversy faced by students, parents, and teachers.

Further, on funding, she emphasizes, “growing the economy” and “re-prioritizing the existing budget.”  By doing so she plays into the myth that the money isn’t there.  In fact, the money is there, its being hoarded by the top 1% of income earners; the money that does make it into public coffers is being reinvested in prisons across the state.

Is Allyson Swartz the leader who can galvanize the Public Education struggle in Philadelphia and across the state of Pennsylvania?  The severity to the funding cuts has made Public Education a broadly uniting issue – this hasn’t always been the case.  Is the Schwartz campaign an opportunity to take advantage of the energy and build on this unity or is a Schwartz nomination politics as usual?

Which way forward?

Amidst this Public Education crisis, Students across the city staged an unprecedented walk-out in the thousands; the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools (PCAPS) has coalesced, unifying forces across sectors, and organized civil disobedience and protests of tens of thousands; the School Safety staff, members of UNITE HERE, led a Hunger Fast and successfully beat back layoffs; Parents United has led an effort to document over 700 voices and define as unconstitutional the conditions that the budget cuts of created for Philadelphia school children–and so much more.

This is a movement for Public Education that could determine the terms of this gubernatorial election and then determine the Governor, but we have to recognize our power.

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Let’s make this race about Public Education and let’s nominate a candidate whose policies, vision and commitment to Public Education will galvanize and grow our movement – affording us more clarity, more outrage, and ultimately more people to the polls.

In solidarity,

gary broderick
Point Breeze Organizing Committee

nancy dung nguyen

dina yarmus
Young Women’s Committee – Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW)*

penny jennewein
UPenn Student Labor Action Project (SLAP)*

*Organization listed for identification purposes only.