Knowledge is power and a president is not a king, say political groups and activists who are offering advice to help people get involved in local politics.
Spurred by the election of President Donald Trump, efforts are underway to get the “average citizen” involved in local politics, with the idea that making a difference starts at home.
Two days before Trump took the oath of office in Washington, 450 people filled the pews in the Church of the Holy Trinity on Walnut Street, looking for tips on how to begin their own fledgling efforts.
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Starting with the catchy title, “How to Run for Neighborhood Office and Win,” the event was organized by the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Committee, a new group that is hoping to establish its own foothold in the local political scene.
“All politics are local,” said Larry Otter, quoting a famous political truism. Otter, an election lawyer who spoke at the Jan. 18 event. “Elected officials in your city can pass ordinances that affect you immediately.”
Malcolm Kenyatta is well aware of Philly politics and attended last month’s event to get some pointers before he starts his own mini-movement.
Kenyatta’s grandfather, Muhammad Kenyatta, was a professor and civil rights activist in the 1960s, and ran for the Philadelphia mayor in 1975.
Malcolm Kenyatta's project is to get people more involved by starting at the beginning.
He plans to channel the local and national outrage that many felt following Trump’s election —and his more recent executive orders —to start leading free “Civic Saturday” sessions, near the area where he grew up in North Philadelphia.
“When people have questions, we need to make sure they are armed with an understanding of our government,” he said in an interview. “Donald Trump is not a king. He’s a president.”
Joe Driscoll, one of the founders of the Philadelphia Democratic Progressive Committee, also cited Trump’s election as the impetus to form the committee.
Driscoll organized the January event in hopes of getting more people to run for positions that don’t make headlines -- like Inspectors of Elections and Committee Person — but can still play a vital role in the democratic process.
“The party doesn’t advertise that these positions are available,” he said.
The group has set its sights on May 17, when three election official positions in each of Philadelphia’s 1,686 voting divisions will be on the ballot in the municipal primaries. There are still 40 percent of Election Board slots open, and candidates can canvas for signatures from Feb. 14 to March 7 to get on the ballot.
The positions ensure a fair and accurate vote count on Election Day, Driscoll said. He said it was “paramount to the success of the voting process to make sure people are well trained at polling places.”
The positions may not have the power to repeal and replace a healthcare system, but they do speak to the foundation of the democratic process.
Though there is little glamor in knocking on doors in the dead of winter to collect ballot signatures for local office, Trump’s election has activated a sense of political determination in many, Otter said. “You have to start somewhere,” he said.