Philadelphia Elections: Casino Free Philadelphia

In the 2007 Philadelphia elections, the top issue is crime. This is both in terms of corruption in local government and, most important, in terms of the skyrocketing rate of violent crime throughout the city. Philadelphia has become the murder capitol of America. The city is also in desperate need of increased social programs. The solution that many local politicians, as well as Governor Ed Rendel, have decided on to solve this problem it to bring the casino industry into the city. Considering the massive social problems that casinos bring with them, this will only exacerbate our already severe problems with crime and violence. It also has the potential to destroy a few local neighborhoods.

Many grassroots activists, both conservative and progressive, have been working together to fight moves by the local and state government to bring casinos into Philadelphia. The central nexus of this fight is an organization known as Casino Free Philadelphia. A couple months ago, Casino Free Philadelphia collected more than enough signatures to place a referendum on the ballot for the May 15 elections that would forbid the construction of any casinos in Philadelphia within fifteen hundred feet of schools and residences. This would have effectively blocked the introduction of the casino industry into the city, and it also would have passed easily (one poll showed 79% support for the ballot measure). However, the casino industry took the matter to court, and successful had the referendum thrown off the ballot over a zoning issue.

Long story short: against the overwhelming will of the people of Philadelphia, local and statewide politicians of both parties who have all received huge contributions from the casino industry are trying to ram social-fabric destroying casinos into several neighborhoods in the murder capital of America. Yeah, that will help out the city. Here is a ten minute interview I conducted with Dan Hunter of Casino Free Philadelphia to further explain the situation, as well as what local activists are doing to fight it:

In response to the referendum being thrown off the ballot, Casino Free Philadelphia is taking a page out of the civil rights movement and holding a counter election so people can vote on the ballot measure anyway. Perhaps the most amazing part of this story is that even after having an overwhelmingly popular referendum thrown off the ballot, the casino industry is actually spending money and conducting robocalls to run in that counter-election. Even though they have a huge number of local politicians in their pocket and have denied the people a legally binding vote, the casino industry is clearly still afraid of the locals.

There are ways you can get involved in this campaign. Casino Free Philadelphia's home page can be found here. Their voter guide for the upcoming elections can be found here. They have also engaged in a number of unique actions, including clever online videos and civil disobedience. You can get involved by emailing them at This issue may seem local, but it is rapidly spreading around the country, as the casino industry continues to move into more and more cities and states. Fighting it here in Philadelphia is an important step in fighting it nationally.

Next up on my Philadelphia election blogging will be an update on the mayor's race.

On Building Multi-Racial Coalitions


The discussion Chris began on diversity in the blogosphere is an important one, and I'm happy to see it being brought up here.

While diversity as a progressive value is assumed, and the overly white and wealthy make up of the progressive blogosphere is a noted problem, there seems to be some confusion around what the right solutions are. People are struggling with this for a variety of reasons, one of the main ones being that progressives are still not comfortable confronting, dealing with or talking about issues related to race. I think exploring this issue requires some level of stepping back and looking at the bigger picture.

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Philadelphia Elections Update: When The Machine Blinked

Today, I actually (gasp) left my house in order to meet face to face with some of the people working on progressive and reform issues for the upcoming Philadelphia election (May 15th). Right now, the big story in Philadelphia is how Michael Nutter has surged into a strong second place against Tom Knox, and by now might even be in a dead heat. Back in December, if you had asked pretty much any political insider in Philadelphia, I doubt that a single one of them would have predicted that the campaign would culminate in a fight between Nutter and. Knox. This development is a huge shock to the establishment political system in the city, but it is also a story for another post.

There many other important campaigns taking place in the city besides the mayoral election. In fact, when city council races and many of the issue-based campaigns are combined, the mayoral race is arguably secondary. One such campaign is for clean election reform. Philadelphia has long been plagued by corruption and a pay-to-play system of government, Last year, as a means of trying to reform the system and reduce local corruption, Michael Nutter successfully led the fight to pass campaign finance reform legislation that reduced the amount of money individuals and business could donate to local candidates from infinity (no joke) to much smaller amounts. However, a couple months ago, in response to Tom Knox's self-funded rise to frontrunner status in the mayoral election, the Philadelphia city council had introduced a bill to repeal that campaign finance reform legislation. This turnaround on campaign finance reform took place in less than six hours after the release of the first poll showing Tom Knox leading the campaign. However, what was even more shocking than city council's attempt to repeal a major cornerstone of local corruption reform in a desperate attempt to save their own asses, was that a couple of weeks later they actually backed down to public pressure and left the existing campaign finance law in place. Truly, city council actually listening to outrage from residents in the city was unprecedented. Of the incident, over at Young Philly Politics, Dan U-A wrote:

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The Netroots Should Not Be Fairly Compensated

Jerome, Matt and several others blog already covered this, but the still unfolding story of Obama's MySpace page angers me quite a bit. For those that have forgotten, here is a quick reminder of how money is spent in electoral politics:

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Blogosphere Avant-Gardism

In one of my very first major posts on MyDD--a post which I paid $25 to write at a Kinkos in Modesto, California as there was no other way for me to get online--I posited the political blogosphere as the avant-garde of political and opinion journalism. Considering that it is now quite old in blogosphere terms, and the conditions under which I wrote it, I am surprised at how well it still stands up. Here is an excerpt (emphasis in original):
While the poetic and artistic avant-garde sought to relocate the primary purpose of art away from the aesthetic function, I had a very difficult time figuring out what the Blogosphere sought to do differently than the Political Opinion Complex. However, at long last I think I have it.

While the corporate funded Political Opinion Complex seeks to distribute information primarily for the purpose of consumption, the primary goal of the Blogosphere is to distribute political information for the purpose of agitation / direct action. The POC only wants you to consume what it produces. The Blogosphere seeks for its consumer to act after, or even as a result of, consumption of its product. To put it another way, The Blogosphere is a counter-institutional formation that seeks to relocate the primary purpose of political and opinion journalism in agitation toward action rather than in profit-based consumption.
Three years later, I no longer agree with some of the specifics of that formulation, but I still subscribe to the general sentiment (for example, I wrote something similar in an article for the BBC last October). What I would change in my original formulation is that we are not just agitating toward action, which is of course important and the tremendous rise in progressive political activism in recent years is a testament to our success in that department, but also that we are also seeking to create a new political reality and alter the national political conscious. In so doing, we are challenging the political reality created by what I once vaguely called the Political Opinion Complex, and perhaps now even more vaguely refer to in class based terms such as the establishment media and political aristocracy. It is a political reality that has gone unchecked and unchallenged for a long time. Remarkably, and unlike most avant-garde movements, we have actually had a tremendous amount of success in our challenge to this reality. Peter Daou, who perhaps first, and perhaps still best, articulated this important function of the progressive blogosphere, must be proud, even if it isn't necessarily to the benefit of his candidate at this point in time. :)

More Sunday blogosphere avant-gardism in the extended entry.

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