Happy Philly Shrug-iversary, friends!
About four years ago, I coined the phrase Philly Shrug to describe the it-is-what-it-is-cuz-it’s-always-been Philly attitude that drove me crazy – and still does.
Litter-strewn streets, crime-ridden neighborhoods, beloved corrupt politicians – I just didn’t get the way this city, my new city, meh’d all types of nonsense.
So I urged my fellow Philadelphians to scrub the shrug, to reject what has been for what should be.
I got my fair share of shade -- mostly from lifelong Philadelphians who hate newbies calling them out almost as much as they hate being called the sixth borough of New York City.
In a completely scientific (not really) analysis using charts and polls and surveys (still no) I found some good news and bad news.
The good: When it comes to big, national issues – racism, sexism, immigration, health care -- we show up, we speak out, we represent Philly like it’s our full-time job.
It’s been nothing short of inspiring these last few months to see people hit the streets against the president, and in support of women and immigrants and a growing list of marginalized people targeted by our current administration. Sure, the protesters came from all over Pennsylvania, but many who high-tailed it to the airport after Trump’s first travel ban were responding to a call from our very own Helen Gym, perhaps the least shruggy politician in the city.
But when it comes to local issues, our daily quality of life, we’ve still got some serious work to do.
I’ll start with my biggest pet peeve: litter, which I've said sounds one of the loudest and saddest statements about the state of a city. The 10th annual Philly Spring Cleanup is coming up, and that’s swell. But trash remains a citywide embarrassment. Seriously, celebrate the current boom of city development all you want. But that’s like getting all done up for a party and forgetting to wash your hair.
As I wrote the other day, once again we are being forced to answer to our increasingly visible homelessness problem. Has the number of homeless increased or does it just look that way? That’s up for debate until the latest numbers come out. But this much is undeniable: We continue to look like a city that doesn’t care for our most vulnerable.
And then there’s our Stockholm syndrome with corrupt politicians who hold the progress of the city and its citizens hostage. In 2014, shortly after I first called us out on shrugging, U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah was reelected despite widespread reporting of his misdeeds. In 2016, he was convicted of racketeering and related charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison. If our history of supporting corrupt Democratic incumbents is any indication, I’d bet we haven’t heard the last of him.
But in my book there is no bigger shrug than our reaction to violence in the city.
Sure, there are plenty of people and groups and task forces plugging along, doing their part – though I have and continue to call for an accounting of all the city-funded antiviolence organizations. Are they really making an impact? Prove it.
Right now we are failing, and nothing shows that more than how people are getting away with murder in this city: More than half of the city’s homicides go unsolved.
I don’t buy that the only reason that killers are roaming free is because people aren’t speaking out, but I’ve done enough stories over the years about mothers pleading with the public to come forward to know that’s a huge part of it.
So much so that I’m asking people to join me on June 15 to fill the steps of the Art Museum against violence. Violence touches all of us in one way or another, so we should have no problem gathering to finally make this crisis our priority.
The fact is that when we raise our voices to local issues the way we do national ones, change happens. Take all the protests and meetings held to address racism in the Gayborhood.
You know that old saying: All politics is local.
Well, so are shrugs.
As always, if you've been outraged at something and have turned that outrage into change, let me know. Same goes for stories about shady business as usual that needs airing out.