With the Democratic National Convention in town this week, both the Democratic Party and the
City of Philadelphia will do their best to put on a good show. For different reasons, they both want to highlight orderliness, competence, leadership, spectacle, entertainment, compelling drama, and hospitality.
It is normal for Philadelphians to want the convention to be successful and benefit our city, economically and otherwise. But in truth, the best way for Philadelphia to benefit from the convention may not be just to show delegates, press, and visitors our city’s best side, but also some of its worst.
Philadelphia, like most big cities — and in fact like most of the country — needs help. We still struggle with an obscenely high poverty rate. The fragile economic recovery of recent years has hardly trickled down to our poorest citizens, whose plight, if anything, is worsening. Many of our neighborhoods have been ravaged by the long-term economic violence of disinvestment.
Some of the refugees of that economic violence find themselves on our city streets or in shelters. Drugs, crime, despair, and an increasingly evident anger fueled by long-standing racial divides continue to claim victims and breed further personal and social crises.
It’s tempting to think the convention will most likely be a success if we can hide those realities. But that would only contribute to the problem. Democratic delegates, party leaders, elected officials and candidates — as well as the media — must see the truth of the ugly side of human suffering and social injustice in America. Rather than be dazzled into more amnesia about some of our most urgent national problems, those who would wield political office and power in this country must truly see and grapple with the reality of millions of Americans who struggle daily for survival and basic dignity. Only then is there a chance that our political leadership will respond in authentic and effective ways.
For that reason, Project HOME is inviting people — including delegates, party leaders, the media and the general public — to join us to address these issues at a special event on Tuesday, July 26 at 2 p.m. at the Parkway Branch of the Free Library. At “Stories From the Margins,” persons who have experienced poverty and homelessness will share their stories and discuss their election-year concerns. (This event will happen in conjunction with artist Meg Saligman’s “Common Ground” art installation, which was on display in Cleveland during the RNC, and will be here for the DNC.)
Many of these stories are painful to hear, but they are part of the truth of our nation, part of our common life as Americans. These stories are also powerful and hopeful, because they embody how, with the right resources and support, lives and communities are transformed. We believe as people hear these stories, they will be moved to action. We believe these stories can help us foster the political will we need to advocate for policies that serve the common good – including ensuring education, healthcare, and meaningful economic support for our most vulnerable citizens.
Come, listen, learn – and act. We will all be better for it.