On Tuesday July 14th nearly a hundred people gathered outside of Philadelphia City Hall, standing behind an empty kiddie pool bound in paper chains, to protest the closure of several public pools...
...with signs reading "Pools for the People", and "From the Libraries to the Pools, People Power Rules". Residents from several neighborhoods that have suffered pool closings including, Mantua, Fishtown, Stinger Square, Chew, and representatives of advocacy groups such as PUP, Acorn, ACT UP, and the youth led nonprofit Mantua Cares, were brought together by the continued organizing efforts of the Coalition to Save the Libraries and the Coalition for Essential Services. Both citywide coalitions have become leading forces of mobilizing and raising the voices of the many people in Philadelphia who are feeling the budget cuts.
Under the banner of: Don't Balance the Budget on our Backs, people gave speeches about pool, library, hospital closures, as well as connecting these issues to the larger systemic conditions of racism and economic oppression. Some held signs saying "closing our pools will 'change the complexion of the city' relating the matter of closing pools in poor communities to the overt racism of recent incident at Valley Swim Club. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/allison-kilkenny/philadelphia-private-swim...
About 50 youth, teenagers, and adults filed slowly through the security procedures of city hall and up to the 2nd floor, with inner tubes, floaties, and signs in tow. The crowd assembled in front of the office of the Mayor, kids in front, megaphone in hand, and demanded a meeting. As they waited over a half hour for an impromptu meeting with a city official residents like 13-year-old Marcus Burbage from Chew pool in south Philly led the group in chants such as "keep philly cool, save our pool" and "Pools keep us safe, this is a disgrace."
Samatha Mackin a youth from Fishtown expressed the sentiment of the group when she said "I feel upset that they think that their paychecks are more important than us." The hot, jam packed group cheered as Katrina Clark, a teacher from Mantua who was a key organizer in the fight to keep libraries open, encouraged the youth that were there saying "People are going to try to take things from you all your lives, but you have to stand up. I know it's hard and there is alot that you would rather be doing, but I want you to know that what the Mayor is doing is wrong and you are on the side of justice." Meanwhile the exasperated city hall police kept asserting their power by reminding rambunctious group to clear a line for the hallway.â€¨
The protest almost became an occupation when it was announced that the Mayor would not be meeting with the group. When told that they would be meeting with the Clarence D. Armbrister, the Mayor's Chief of Staff, a chant of "we want the Mayor" erupted from the crowd. Protesters threatened to stay until the Mayor appeared, but were eventually appeased when told that the mayor was in Harrisburg. "He snuck out the back door to Harrisburg," Irene Russel of Stinger Square declared.
As Armbrister tried to quiet the crowd by saying that the Mayor does care about pools and that he thought community members would be celebrating the work that the Mayor had done to keep more than the originally announced 10 public pools open. Armbrister insisted that the condition of the budget was not their fault and that they were doing "the best they could" to "balance the interests of children and safety." One after another residents tried to explain that the reason why they were in city hall was not about the abstract process of balancing budgets, it was about real lives of youth and real disastrous effects on the safety and vitality of neighborhoods.
In response to Armbrister's pleas for understanding at the difficulty of balancing the budget, community members asserted that they have suggestions and need to be included in the budgeting process. They made it explicitly clear that cutting money to public resources in neighborhoods which are already under funded was not an option.
Connections were made by the protesters between pools and other cuts to neighborhood resources. The protesters spoke to the ongoing assault on their communities presently and historically in budget after budget. One resident reminded the Chief of Staff of the attempted closure of the 11 neighborhood branch libraries in December of 2008. When the representative responded "but the libraries are open" the crowd was unified in retorting that libraries were indeed open "only because we fought for them." It was clear to the city residents that if they do not fight for their children, families, and neighbors city hall was not going to look out for them.
A woman in the crowd tried to make the numbers into people when she asked Armbrister to explain to her two-year-old granddaughter why her neighborhood pool was not open. While the city officials attempt to illicit sympathy for difficult numbers, community residents continue to show that what is actually being crunched with budget cuts are people and neighborhoods and that they will not accept cuts to public resources as a solution!
(Photos by Pat Grugen and Rev. Jesse Brown)