(Photo via by Keith Ivy)
A few weeks ago, I unexpectedly attended a candidates’ forum at my neighborhood association meeting. I say unexpectedly because even though I try to attend every neighborhood meeting possible — and even though I have been actually following the state representative races this year after the bribery sting story was broken by the Inquirer — I had no idea that this forum was going on.
At first, I was inspired to see five chairs set out for the five candidates — two for PA state senator and three for PA state representitives. (As a disclaimer, I don’t intend to endorse any candidate with this piece, so I’ll leave names out of it.)
But I will say that when our current representative began to speak, he did so with an overt inconvenience as if he was disputing a ticket in traffic court rather than speaking to his constituents. When one member of the audience asked a sincere question about the working poor in Philadelphia, the state representative responded first by saying that he was going to disagree with the man. He then vaguely said that if the man would have listened to information from his campaign, then he would have received his answer.
When it was time for our state senator to speak on the topic of the working poor, she touted a long list of accomplishments of fighting to raise the minimum wage and bringing a large hospital treatment center to the district to create jobs. But her challenger quickly pointed out that the minimum wage hike was part of a much larger national campaign that she had little to do with and that the treatment center was already coming to the district before she got involved.
As I said, I don’t intend for this to be a journalistic expose, hence the omission of names. What I can say for certain is that I attend a majority of our neighborhood meetings and I have never once seen either our state senator or state representative in attendance. If there weren’t a handful of challengers forcing them to stump on the campaign trail, I don’t think they would have bothered to come out for a forum either.
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This is a critical issue in the environmental sustainability world because our society’s sustainability is inextricably linked to our democracy. I would also argue that democratic ideals have the greatest influence on sustainability. For example, better land use policy and subsidies to support local farmers are crucial to supporting the larger issue of creating a sustainable food system.
This is just one hastily considered example, but what I hope it shows is that in order to create sustainable systems, we need thoughtful and engaged politicians who can guide that adaptation. And I believe that right now we have too many politicians who treat public service like a cushy retirement plan. Having a weak local committee person not only affects our city’s day-to-day operations, but having such a lack of leadership and representation in Harrisburg on behalf of Philadelphia directly affects our schools, our transportation system and our recognition as the economic driver of Pennsylvania that deserves its fair share of revenue from what we call our commonwealth.
But this is also dependent on a thoughtful and engaged electorate. May 20 is being hyped as the critical date for voting, which I sadly admit is true. This saddens me because this is just the Democratic primary, meaning that the actual general election is a farce due to the one party system in this city. Again, sustainability thrives on socio-diversity as well. But before we even get there, we need an electorate who not only goes to the polls, but who can actually name their councilperson, committee person, state representative and senator.
As someone who works in the public sector, I see first hand the great possibilities of how Philadelphia can progress sustainably, socially and economically when the best and brightest are put in public service. And if we want the city that is envisioned in plans like Greenworks and Philadelphia 2035, then everyone needs to do more research into who our elected officials are and get out to the polls on May 20 as well as November 4. I know that this plea is made every year by someone, but hopefully when the issue of sustainability is at stake, it gives us all a bit more urgency.
Nic Esposito is a writer, novelist, urban farmer and founder of The Head & The Hand Press. He lives with his wife and their animals on their urban homestead in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.
Nic’s new book Kensington Homestead will be released by The Head & The Hand Press in November 2014.-30-
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