Watching the DNC from the other side of Philadelphia

The 2900 block of Hope Street in North Philadelphia (WHYY, file)

The 2900 block of Hope Street in North Philadelphia (WHYY, file)

Cashier Carmen Miranda has an answer ready when you ask her what delegates and political elites should see during their stay in Philadelphia this week.

“They should see North Philly…the houses, the streets, the homeless,” she said, while bagging customers’ orders at Liberty Choice Market and Diner, near the Berks stop on the Market-Frankford Line. 

With official quarters for delegates booked in Center City, Southwest Philadelphia or Montgomery County, and the convention at the Wells Fargo Center, much of Philadelphia is out of sight for movers-and-shakers in town for the Democratic National Convention.

Beyond the high-rises of Center City is the Philadelphia which makes headlines for the wrong reasons: high poverty, low educational attainment and declining infrastructure. These far-flung communities also swell with neighborhood pride and boast relatively high rates of homeownership when compared to other large cities.

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These are just some of the voices politicians could hear if they strayed from the convention for a few hours and rode the Market-Frankford Line to North Philadelphia.

Miranda has already heard all of the jokes about her name. “All I need is a basket of fruit on my head,” she cracked, explaining that the “Carmen” comes from her grandmother.

She grew up in the Logan section in North Philly, but now owns her own home in Lawncrest, near the Montgomery County border. She said she got a grant to help with the down payment, but subsisted on Cup-o-Noodles for a year to scrounge enough savings to cover closing fees.

“They tax everything, hike everything. Hike the salary! Because minimum wage workers, for real for real, we can’t afford anything, we can barely eat,” she said, when asked what politicians should be focusing on in the city.

Eight stops further north, a Senegalese man sits on a folding chair by the Arrott stop, selling designer handbags and belts. The man, who is in his mid-40s, doesn’t want his name used, but said he follows American politics and would love the opportunity to see the DNC and talk to political leaders about his experiences as an immigrant.

“I got my kids here but my wife not here for seven years now,” he said, explaining that while he is a permanent resident of the United States, his wife had been living with him in this country illegally.

“She had MS, like Multiple sclerosis,” he said. About eight years ago, “her condition get worse and and worse.”

Without insurance, she was unable to get treatment for what can be a lifelong and debilitating immune disease. His wife is a French citizen, so she moved back home for treatment. Since that time, he said he has had no luck sponsoring her to come back to live with him and their two kids, 7 and 11, legally.

“It hurt but you got to follow the law too,” he said.

All the way at the end of the line, Erica Leggett listened to music and waited for the number five bus at the Frankford Transportation Center, in lower Northeast Philadelphia.

She said she didn’t know where in Philadelphia the DNC is happening, even though she’s been watching it on the news and had seen signs splashed all over the city.

When told of the location at the Wells Fargo Center, the pro sports complex at the southern end of the Broad Street Line, she seemed skeptical.

“South Philly, that’s weird to me. Like, there’s no attractions down there, nothing that stands for Philly down there,” she said. “It needs to be somewhere historical, so when they’re giving their speeches it’s going to count for something.”

Just then her bus pulled up, flashing “Welcome to the DNC” on the small scrolling digital screen above its doors. “Look,” she said, pointing, “we just got done talking about it,” before hopping on.

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