Reclaim Philadelphia starts a new East Falls/Roxborough group
Last year’s “Count Every Vote” block party in Philly was a rare bright spot in a dark season. Instead of violence in the streets, there were festive crowds (with video going viral around the world). Thanks to organizing by local progressive groups like Reclaim Philadelphia, good things happened in Philadelphia.
Chuck Gondos and Kyra Schwartz, organizers with Reclaim, hope to keep those good things going here in East Falls and Roxborough with the founding of an East Falls/Roxborough chapter late last year. We caught up with the two activists to find out how the new chapter addresses issues unique to our area and how neighbors and civic organizations can get involved to keep the fight for progress going here and throughout the city and state.
What’s Reclaim Philly about?
Kyra Schwartz: Reclaim was created to ensure everyone’s right to quality education, healthcare, a livable environment, housing, safety and justice, regardless of economic background, immigration status, gender or ethnicity. The group was founded in 2016 by former members of the Bernie Sanders campaign here in Philadelphia because we didn’t want to stop progressive grassroots organizing.
We’ve already had several wins for progressive candidates like Nikil Saval (Senator, 1st State Senate district), Elizabeth Fiedler (State Rep, 184th Legislative district), Rick Krajewski (State Rep, 188th Legislative district) and Chris Rabb (State Rep, 200th Legislative district). So we rely on local organizing to really tap into all of these progressive-leaning people that live in our city and focus on getting progressive policies enacted and progressive candidates elected.
How’s the effort gone in East Falls and Roxborough?
KS: We’ve just started up our group and had our first meeting in October last year. About 40 people showed up. We’re really excited to keep building it by focusing on neighborhood developments and making sure that we have investment in things that are needed here.
Chuck Gondos: In this area, there are a couple of main issues. Since East Falls and Roxborough are along the Wissahickon Creek and the Schuylkill river, we heard from a lot of people about environmental issues, particularly the Wissahickon Creek watershed.
Being outside Center City, people are also interested in improving transportation. Lastly, working people from both areas would like to see more affordable housing because many residents are getting priced out of them.
In Roxborough or East Falls right now housing prices aren’t all that affordable. You’d be lucky to get a $1200 mortgage on an “affordable house.” That’s not cheap, particularly when you add in the costs of expenses like education. Whether you’re a student trying to pay off your loans or parents paying for your kids’ education, you’re paying a lot. So when you factor in all of that, $1200 isn’t even close to affordable housing for most. And apartments aren’t an alternative – they’re often more expensive than houses.
How can people get involved?
CG: Depends on your interests. There’s so many task forces in Reclaim Philly that cover a range of issues – housing justice, healthcare for all, mass liberation, queer liberation, and gender justice to name a few.
Our job as neighborhood leaders is to connect new members with various task forces and find ways to advance those movements in our community. We also plan to connect with local civic associations in Roxborough and East Falls to get a better idea of the issues in our areas and to implement actionable items.
KS: Regarding the structure of our neighborhood groups, members join the task forces they like and bring back what they’ve learned and share with the group. It educates us all and helps us come up with actionable items. You can sign up at the Reclaim neighborhood group website. We send members about 2 emails a month with updates and other info.
And how did you get involved with activism?
KS: I’ve always been interested in advocating for myself and my community as a transgender woman, like fighting for more teens inclusive policies at my college (Penn State).
As for Reclaim, I started during the pandemic actually, at the beginning in March with Rick Krajewski’s state rep campaign. I was really impressed with his pivot towards mutual aid in the community. He spent a lot of time and money on outreach and supplies. I called potential voters, asking them if they had any urgent needs, like food, medicine, PPE, cleaning supplies, things like that. Then coordinated a volunteer to go and deliver those things. I really wanted to bring that level of community engagement, of talking to people and finding out their needs.
During this last primary season, I volunteered with the Warren campaign, and then the Bernie campaign after that. I found myself burned out of presidential politics and looked towards local, and that’s how I found myself at Reclaim’s door.
CG: I didn’t get into politics until really 9/11 pushed me into it. I was a senior in high school. And that happened and I wondered what caused this? It got me into studying Arabic and the Near East at Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) and Temple University. And it really opened me up to a lot of political things both nationally and internationally. At both CCP and Temple I got involved with a couple social justice movements before joining Reclaim.
General overview about where things stand with the election and its aftermath?
CG: We’ve seen Trump lose lawsuit after lawsuit. We saw threats in states to not certify their vote totals and those efforts have failed. Joe Biden will be sworn in as President January 20th, but that doesn’t change what a lot of our community is facing.
In Philadelphia we are seeing the local economy take hit after hit due to Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus. More people are going to lose their jobs, lose their healthcare, lose their homes, lose family members, and communities are going to be devastated. We have seen the unemployment rate go up 10% when comparing June 2019 and June 2020.
We need Philadelphia City Council and the Mayor to listen to its citizens and rein in the abusive, violent, and lawless Philadelphia Police Department.
We need the federal government to combat the devastating effects the coronavirus has had on our country and pass legislation to put money in the pockets of those in need, making healthcare a right and free to everyone, and make sure that state and city budgets are funded so important social welfare programs are not cut. Without these systemic changes the poor, underrepresented, and everyday working-class people will struggle to survive and thrive – even well after the pandemic.
What are your next steps?
KS: We’re strategizing and developing people-centered plans to hold Joe Biden accountable to deliver for working Philadelphians on a Green New Deal, homes for all, healthcare for all, and a more equitable education system. Whether that is supporting new and inspiring candidates or the citizenry applying pressure through direct actions – we will continue to push for the rights of all.
In our December meeting, we had a great discussion around neighborhood concerns as well as broader issues impacting Philadelphia, including gentrification, affordable public transport, public school funding, climate change, healthcare, and voting rights. We shared ideas for addressing some of these issues in the future, including creating and supporting existing mutual aid groups in our neighborhoods.
These groups operate under a simple notion – everybody has something to contribute, and everybody has something they need.
To join the East Falls/ Roxborough Group: reclaimphiladelphia.org/neighborhoodgroups