How do we fix Philadelphia’s poverty under President Trump?

    A block in the Mantua neighborhood of West Philadelphia is shown. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

    A block in the Mantua neighborhood of West Philadelphia is shown. (Emma Lee/for NewsWorks)

    In the hours after President Donald Trump was sworn in on Friday, the battle for America’s soul took shape.

    President Trump and Press Secretary Sean Spicer sparred with journalists as the New York Times and other media reported that anti-Trump protesters at the Washington DC Women’s March outnumbered crowds for the inauguration itself. 

    Cities like Philadelphia hosted similar women’s marches, but the protests weren’t limited to America. More than 600 anti-Trump protests took place around the world. British activists hung signs bearing the words, “Build bridges not walls.” Acts of defiance took place in Scotland and the Philippines, in Japan and in Belgium, as activists challenged America’s new president on women’s rights, migrant rights, racial equality and climate change.

    In my view, that’s a good thing. But while its nice to see the world community oppose a presidency most Americans voted against, all politics is local, so our fight must begin at home. 

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    Take Philadelphia, for example. In 2007, the city’s poverty rate was 23.8 percent. That was the highest poverty rate of any of America’s 10 largest cities. A decade later, Philadelphia’s poverty rate is 26 percent, and we remain the poorest big city in America.

    So while gentrification has improved some neighborhoods for newcomers, nothing has changed for a quarter of Philadelphians.  

    That’s not Trump’s fault, and given the influx of federal dollars we saw during the last decade—both through the Affordable Care Act and federal stimulus dollars—I can’t blame the Obama administration either.

    Certainly, a portion of the blame belongs to state politicians like former Gov. Tom Corbett, who cut education spending significantly and stonewalled on billions in federal healthcare dollars. The Republican legislature and current Gov. Tom Wolf also cost taxpayers when they forced school districts to borrow millions during last year’s prolonged budget battle.

    But when I look at the decisions that most directly affect Philadelphians, I believe the responsibility lies mainly on the shoulders of local officials. For while they deserve credit for decreasing crime and bringing skyscrapers to our skyline, while they get high marks for bringing papal pageantry to our streets, they have failed to adequately address our most pressing issue—poverty.

    When “Shared Prosperity,” the city’s anti-poverty program, consists of a skeleton staff, a website, and little new investment in the people, there is no real focus on poverty.

    When 55 percent of city property taxes are slated to go to the School District, yet city leaders continue a 10-year property tax abatement that benefits developers, there is too little focus on education.

    When 44 percent of big budget city-funded construction projects hire no minority workers in fiscal year 2015, we need greater commitment to inclusion.

    When successive mayors issue executive orders mandating that the city negotiate with trade unions that systematically exclude people of color, the city is contributing to injustice.

    In the age of Trump, there will be no stimulus funding. In fact, a published report from The Hill indicates that the Trump administration seeks cuts to federal programs dealing with civil rights, violence against women, minority business development, and community policing.

    In other words, there is no cavalry riding in from Washington. That’s why we can no longer afford to nibble at the edges of Philadelphia’s poverty.

    When you’re poor and you don’t have a computer, an online list of resources is useless. When you’re poor and your neighborhood school closes, the talk of education is meaningless. When you’re poor and your elected representatives speak only of the middle class, the campaign speeches are worthless.

    So excuse me if I don’t seem giddy over the international focus on Donald Trump’s agenda. Pardon me if I don’t seem overjoyed about the marches that rightly express outrage about his plans.

    Donald Trump’s presidency is a result of Americans failing to politically engage on the local level. That must change now.

    If it doesn’t, we can’t blame our problems on Donald Trump or anyone else. We’ll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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