Kendra Brooks and her independent run for City Council continue to widen the cracks in the calcified Philadelphia Democratic Party machine.
Democratic Party boss Bob Brady had sharp words for Councilwoman Helen Gym when she first endorsed Kendra in August, ominously joking to remove her from the party’s “sample ballot”.
The threats have now escalated - to strip committee membership from Gym and any other Democratic Party Committee member who endorses Kendra or her running mate on the Working Families Party ticket, Nicolas O'Rourke. State Rep. Chris Rabb firmly stood by his endorsements of the two, undergoing verbal abuse at a recent ward leaders meeting.
Democratic Party rules allow this punishment for endorsing out-of-party. Yet Kendra boldly appealed to some 3000 DP committee members to support her run. Committee members who support a genuine working class program should absolutely brave the wrath of the party leadership, line up by Kendra’s side and fight to win this election.
Some supporters of Kendra have claimed that her victory would strengthen the local Democratic Party, by catalyzing a leftward shift in the party and engaging a whole new layer of voters. Socialist Alternative is actively campaigning for Kendra and Nic, but we disagree with this perspective.
The party that runs this city believes that Philadelphia rises and falls not with the health and vibrance of its people, but with the opportunity for profit it provides for Fortune 500 companies and real estate developers. The retaliation led by Brady is just the tip of the iceberg. Thus far, the Philadelphia ruling class has not felt truly threatened. A confident “rank-and-file” effort to take over the Democratic Party machine, committee seat by committee seat, ward by ward, punctuated by a few inspiring runs for higher office, on its surface, is an understandable and logical approach, and will even be tolerated for a time. But when the ruling class and its political machine feel challenged, they will act swiftly to command compliance from any progressive upstarts, and to expel those who resist.
We stand alongside all those willing to challenge the machine, to fight for bold working class demands, and to drive Trump’s party out of Philadelphia. But we believe the best way to do this is to build our own party.
A victory for Kendra and Nic would be an unprecedented opportunity to build a powerful, cohesive movement among the workers and poor of Philadelphia: to fight for rent control and affordable housing, for taxing the rich to fund our schools, and for a POC-prioritized unionized green jobs program. The strength of this movement would be much more decisive for winning working class demands than any attempt to wrest the party machinery from the establishment Democrats, but consolidating the movement within an independent organization is key.
Win or lose, whether or not Brady revokes the memberships of elected committee members, Kendra and Nic should call a conference of these leaders, alongside the political and labor organizations who supported their campaign and the hundreds of volunteers who pitched in. At this meeting, people would discuss how to kick this movement into the next gear: Should activists return to running for committee positions? Could the forces around this campaign work build united power under the Working Families Party formation? Or, as we urge, is a broad, but fully politically independent formation necessary?
Most people will agree that defeating the Republicans will not be the end of the fight for working people in Philadelphia, but it would mark a key juncture, at which we must reassess strategy for the coming period. Climate change, economic crisis, and the rise of the far right are upon us, and we may not have much time for second chances.