On Sunday April 21 Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER) assembled concerned citizens in a citywide meeting to address ways to improve the city. They laid out plans for winning real progress in three areas – good jobs at the Philadelphia airport, improved education, and immigration reform.
Workers at the airport, where a full-time job doesn’t even pay the bills, are organizing for living wages and increased opportunities for residents of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods. Parents, teachers and students are organizing to raise achievement levels and graduation rates. And immigrant communities, where families are torn apart, are organizing for fair immigration laws. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Muslim clergy called on local elected leaders to change the way the city approaches these issues.
Over 3000 congregants from 40 churches across Philadelphia attended this impressive show of strength for POWER, a relatively new organization, where they heard firsthand accounts of the need for change to revitalize Philadelphia.
Tara Russell, a wheelchair attendant at the Philadelphia International Airport, can’t make ends meet. She makes $7.25 per hour, barely enough to cover her monthly rent. "So how do I survive? I don't. I have to borrow $20 here, $20 there. I get $300 in food stamps, but I'm always broke." Russell was joined by security guards, concession workers, cabin cleaners and other airport workers who are organizing with UNITE HERE and SEIU 32 BJ. They want to see a living wage of $10.88 written into the lease agreement the City is negotiating with US Airways.
"We believe that the city of Philadelphia must stop promoting policies that favor the wealthy and start favoring the poor and disadvantaged," said Rabbi Linda Holtzman from Mishkan Shalom Synagogue in Roxborough. "We have learned, 30 years later, that trickle-down economics does not trickle down to those most in need."
City Council members Mark Squilla and Kenyatta Johnson committed to support POWER's airport agenda. Council member Maria Quinones-Sanchez gave her endorsement in a video shown to the assembly.
Philadelphia Schools Superintendent William Hite, who attended the rally, agreed to partner with POWER as it works to improve education in the city. He implored POWER members to support the district’s request for $60 million from the City and $120 million from the State to close the district’s budget gap. He pledged to meet regularly with POWER leaders to chart a course for improving the district’s performance.
The assembly also heard from undocumented immigrants about the need to pass federal law providing a reasonable pathway to citizenship. A minister from one of the participating churches shared how his own family has been torn apart by current immigration policies. He has to split his time between his job in Philadelphia and his wife who lives in Canada, unable to enter the United States. POWER is joining with its national allies in the PICO network to support fair immigration reform.