Civil Society

From From Dusk till Jawn
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Civil Society
Arts & Entertainment
"World-class museums, cutting-edge galleries, and ubiquitous street murals make this city a trove of creative riches."
– New York Magazine

 Philadelphia is one of the United States' most historic cities. Home to over 26 museums and countless historical landmarks, it is a cultural center of gravity that only seems insignificant in comparison to New York City in whose close proximity Philadelphia nonetheless thrives.

 It has an incredibly vibrant arts district on South Broad street, expanding arts areas in its sprawling suburbs such as, Norristown, and Doylestown. Active theaters, music venues, comedy clubs, art galleries, street murals, concert halls, film festivals, and outdoor craft shows can all be found within and surrounding the city itself. There are open air shopping experiences such as those in Peddler's Village in Bucks County, and even a seasonal Christmas Village that pops up in Center City every winter.

 Many treat the Philadelphia art and entertainment scene as a staging ground for entrance into New York's more prominent one, and to some extent this is true. Comedians workshop here, artists find residencies here, and hip hop artists from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince to Meek Mill consider Philadelphia to be their point of origin, if not their home. It's a simmering stew of cultural and artistic influences from around the world, creating a unique crucible for creation of one's art and one's reputation.

"The one thing that I regret in my life more than anythin' else, that my grammar is lousy... and I talk with a New York accent."
– Lucky Luciano

 Crime is ubiquitous in Philadelphia. It exists in city hall, and filters on down through all aspects of city life. While it's true that people are able to go about their lives in Philadelphia without ever being touched by crime, crime is nonetheless pervasive. Cars are broken into, some are stolen. Houses are burgled, pockets are picked. Muggings take place, drugs are available on most corners in the badlands, and you can find a bookie to make whatever lousy ill-advised wager you'd like unless it's on the Dallas Cowboys.

 If you want to grease the palms of a recalcitrant building inspector? Crime. If you want to pay that traffic cop not to ticket you for the meter running out? Crime. Want your fix? Crime. The halls of power are paved with bribe money, and the coffers of local unions and non profits are siphoned off by embezzlement. Philadelphia is a giant bloody steak ripe for eating, and it never seems to run out of meat. Maggots roil and fire burns, but the slab of promised food remains.

"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn."
– Benjamin Franklin

 The city and county of Philadelphia is home to an astonishing 115 colleges and universities, 300 public schools, and nearly 100 charter schools. This isn't counting the 60 catholic schools among the 235 private schools within the city limits. Taken altogether, Philadelphia's education infrastructure is some of the most impressive in the nation. It gets high ranks for its college programs and poor ones for its public schools. Its charter schools march in lock step with the strides of most of the city schools, only they do it without providing services to disabled students or those who speak English as a second language. For a city founded in part on the value of a good education, the test scores and outcomes across the whole of Philadelphia's public schools make it clear that is a value that only the affluent are permitted to cherish.

 The universities in the region produce breakthrough technologies in medicine and chemical science, provide leading archaeologists to digs across the world, send attorneys to New York law firms and artists and performers to LA Soundstages. Drexel churns out the business leaders of the future, while Temple fills the regions hospitals with residents and nurses.

 By gaining access and control in education, you open doors in the halls of government, win the focus of a hungry lens from the media, and tap the libraries and archives filled with stored knowledge and the laboratory resources of hundred million dollar science programs. The competition for grant money is fierce, tenure is hard to come by, and column inches in the journals of academia are bought with the future careers of the people you are beating to publication.

"Not only are there regular reminders that ethics are a forgotten art in Philadelphia, but the side effects of rampant waste, fraud and abuse are impacting the lives of working-class Philadelphians each day."
– A. Benjamin Mannes, The Hill

 The truth of the matter is that the City of Philadelphia is so deeply entrenched with the Democratic Party that it's nearly impossible for a Republican or independent to win a district seat on the city council, and there hasn't been a Republican mayor since the signing of the Home Rule Charter in 1952. Two At Large seats are reserved for minority party or independent candidates, and one of those is currently held by the Working Families Party. The consequence of this one party rule has been predictable. Decades of waste and corruption have resulted as city contractors receive sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts while the trade unions and developers cozy up to familiar politicians, bankrolling their campaigns and pet projects in exchange for access, concessions, and contracts.

 Despite having one of the highest per capita tax burdens in the nation, Philadelphia's public pensions are facing a $5.3bn shortfall. And with money pouring in from federal, state, and municipal government the Sheriff's Department of Philadelphia somehow managed to "misplace" over $53 million dollars. The streets are a shambles, bridges are crumbling, the city's parks are deteriorating rapidly, and despite politician after politician, union leader after union leader, cop after cop being caught, outed, prosecuted, and punished? There is always a successor in line waiting to fill the void and exploit the power it offers them.

 A movement is rising within the city's working class, however. Groups like Philly Socialists, the Working Families Party, Black Lives Matter Philly, and the Philadelphia Tenants Union have rallied behind candidates outside of the political mainstream, seeking to deliver urgently needed change to city hall.

High Society
"The city of Philadelphia is all about the underdog."
– Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagle

 The old money in Philadelphia has more or less always existed along the Main Line, so named for the name of the railroad trunk that used to pass through it. Commuter rail still passes through the northwestern regions and suburbs of Philadelphia, although the locals refer to it interchangeably as the R5 or the Paoli-Thorndale line. The Gilded Age of the 1880s to the 1920s was the peak of prestige for the Main Line. Townships like Radnor, Wayne, Merion, Haverford, and Devon sprung up around the palatial country estates of Philadelphia's wealthy elites. Those days are long since gone, and the upper-middle class has filled itself in around the ever shrinking lots of the old mansions still occupied by the truly wealthy, but it remains an undeniable truth that the Main Line is where the wealthy and powerful of the region live and play. Money and power pour into this part of the region and rarely, if ever, flow back out again. The poor and the powerless may only catch a glimpse of these places through the frosted window of a SEPTA train, or when they show up to clean the toilets of the people that live there. And the residents are happy with that arrangement.

 High Society in Philadelphia is quite subjective. The old money families with names like DuPont, Widener, and Lenfest still live at the gleaming tip of the diamond, admired for their history and achievements as much as their contemporary fortunes and influence. Yet the newly wealthy and powerful continue to make names for themselves, establishing their own nascent dynasties in technology, media, and the arts. The cosmopolitan nature of the city ensures that class is the true factor in these social circles. Race and religion are of vanishing importance where the solidarity of the wealthy is concerned. Wealth and its utility eclipse all other concerns. And in a town where whole hospitals can bear the name of a wealthy founder, vanity and charity are frequent bedfellows.

 Are you old blood or new money? Do you wish to share your prosperity or build a higher wall around your country club? Or is your goal buying enough politicians and police officers to tear down the walls of someone else's and absorb their influence for your own? It's all there for the taking now. The Gilded Age has ended. And we're making America Great Again.

Law Enforcement
"Thank you for calling the Philadelphia Police Department. Please hold."

 Law Enforcement in Philadelphia provides the very best protection and service that money can buy. Unfortunately, the majority of Philadelphians can't cut such checks. So they have to make do with whatever's left, which is typically late to arrive, uninterested in doing anything more than taking down a report, and if you're very lucky they won't shoot your dog before they leave. Almost since its inception, the Philadelphia Police Department has been marked with scandal, corruption, and controversy. Corruption in their narcotics division has led to the reversal of hundreds of convictions. Philly police officers have been caught selling heroin while in uniform, beating suspects who wouldn't supply them the drugs to sell, and even for using the credit cards of inmates in detention to fund casino nights and exotic dancers.

 All of that is recent history. All of it is true. And all of it happened in a world without supernatural forces beyond their ken pulling their strings from behind a veil of eldritch power and dread secrecy.

 In the real world, all cops are bastards. In the World of Darkness, that would be a compliment.

 With all that said, there are those who join the force with the hope of creating positive change. Turning in the dirty cops, making clean busts, improving life for their community and its citizens. They are few and far between, and rarely long for the force. Such individuals face a constant uphill battle, a relentless unmerciful slog against a strong headwind of community mistrust, governmental neglect, and deeply entrenched white supremacy and corruption.

 Philadelphia has many street gangs. One of them wears the badge.

<<Action News Theme Intensifies>>" – @Allikatz

 The Philadelphia Media Market is not limited to Philadelphia, nor even to Pennsylvania. It stretches as far north as the edge of the Lehigh Valley, east across the Delaware encompassing much of South Jersey, south to the edge of Wilmington, and west to the fringes of Amish country. It reaches the eyes and ears of millions in eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, and southern New Jersey. It influences politics and elections in three states, and reports on topics vital to the local economy and politics. As with much in Philadelphia, it is compared unfavorably to New York City's media market, and is thought to lack the political impact of the DC media market. But in that comes a measure of freedom. The lack of national scrutiny and the enormous audience make it an excellent test market for new ideas, for better or for worse.

 It is home to four major newspapers and countless smaller journals and imprints. There are dozens of terrestrial broadcast stations in reach of its homes. Endless local journals, small town papers, trade magazines, and cable stations clutter the airwaves and news paper racks of local gas stations. It's a constant battle for the attention of the public, most of whom just want to watch the game on Sunday.

"Hospitals will quote prices for parking, not procedures."
The Chicago Tribune

 There are over 30 hospitals in Philadelphia proper, excluding entirely the satellite hospitals in the suburbs of Montgomery and Bucks counties. Most of these are owned by one of the large health care corporations which dominate the region. Many are operated on behalf of various religious groups, and still more are operated under the auspices of one of the many local universities. Health Care is big business in the Philadelphia region with companies like Merck and Johnson & Johnson developing drugs in the suburbs, and sprawling health care companies snatching up hospitals across the region in order to 'streamline care' which is typically corporate speak for maximizing profits.

 Several universities in the region feature teaching and research hospitals where cutting edge procedures and technologies are being developed, and the city itself is home to the first hospital in the country dedicated solely to the care of children at the now famous Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Overall, the quality of care is quite exceptional on an in-patient basis, while out-patient care and Emergency Room care are subject to all the ills of the US healthcare system. Long waits, mistreatment by doctors and staff, and poor outcomes.

 People across the region need care and cannot afford it. This leads to forestalled treatment that makes chronic conditions into acute episodes, clogging the emergency rooms and leading to shoddy health outcomes, mounting medical debts, and loss of revenue for the hospitals themselves. In short, Philadelphia's health care infrastructure is symptomatic of the national need for immediate and profound health care reform.

"Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it."
– William Penn

 Philadelphia was a city founded as a religious experiment. Its Quaker roots gave way to rich religious diversity. Historic churches of every imaginable denomination dot the city's landscape, while modern progressive congregations assemble in disused storefronts or in the basements of schools to spread their own brand of religion. Contrary to the perception of the east coast as a haven for Ashkenazi Jews with a history solely of Christian Protestantism, the oldest synagogue in Philadelphia dates to the 1740's and houses a Sephardic congregation. By comparison, Islamic congregations are relatively new to the region, most appearing in the 1960s or later. But Hindu temples, pagan assemblies, Unitarian Universalist churches, and even Scientologists have house of worship here.

 Most Philadelphia congregations regardless of their religious affiliations tend toward the progressive here. The number of LGBT pride flags you will find flying outside houses of worship would surprise and even shock a more conservative mind. Many have a focus on charity, on housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, and generally improving their communities. They are havens for those who seek to do good, and sanctuaries for those who know they've done wrong. Recent years have seen a stark demographic shift among the faithful, as some denominations dwindle and others begin to thrive.

 Religious institutions have their fingers in many pies in the region. Hospitals bear the names of religious organizations, politicians court the support of religious leaders, and the more activist congregations feed the media a constant supply of public interest stories and controversial coverage. For better or worse, religion remains one of the most critical avenues of social change within the region. And controlling it a means of maintaining the status quo.

"What can Labor do for itself? The answer is not difficult. Labor can organize, it can unify; it can consolidate its forces. This done, it can demand and command."
– Eugene V. Debs

 In Philadelphia, in 1794, shoemakers across the city banded together and formed the first labor union in the United States. You can more or less chart the grand arc of Philadelphia labor, and to a lesser degree national labor movements, from that point onward. Today, Philadelphia remains a proud union town. Its large port is home to the Longshoremen's Union, and from there the goods are loaded up into trucks by the Teamsters. The construction goods are then delivered to the Carpenters, the Pipefitters, the Plumbers, the Electricians-- all union --to build the schools for union teachers, and the factories for union assemblers. Union labor gets to and from work in buses and trains operated by union drivers. Union linesmen tend to the power grid and the telecommunications towers while union labor patches the roads. There are exceptions, of course, but in general terms if anything gets done in Philadelphia, it's done by a dues paying member of one of Philadelphia's hundreds of trade unions.

 Behind every successful local politician is the support of a trade union. So much so that, over the years, numerous union heads have taken the fall for corruption, or for their ties to organized crime. Names like Jimmy Hoffa and Johnny Doc are synonymous with union corruption and graft, which just goes to show that bad things can spring up out of good ones. For the most part, the unions in Philadelphia ensure the working people of the city-- although admittedly predominantly the white and the male ones --enjoy good health benefits and stable, living wages. Two things Philadelphia's employers would absolutely love to do away with.