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Helen Gym, the articulate and tireless parent advocate for Philadelphia public schools, is running for City Council.
Here is a 30-second video of Helen.
She has already been endorsed by the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.
Here is the speech she delivered at 5 pm today.
Helen Gym: Campaign Announcement
February 9, 2015
I stand here filled with gratitude to see so many of you here. I have given a lot of speeches over the years but it is a lot easier to give a speech about an injustice that must be fought, or students who need to be supported than it is to talk about… myself. But standing here, seeing so many friends and so many people that I respect, calms my nerves a little a bit, and makes me realize how lucky I am, and how lucky we all are, to live in a city with communities like this one.
Although I have lived here for almost thirty years, I wasn’t born in Philadelphia. I grew up in Ohio, the daughter of Korean immigrants. We didn’t have much, but I was fortunate enough to grow up in a neighborhood that had public parks where I could play, a public library where I could read, a public rec center where I could swim, and most importantly, public schools where I got a great education. That education formed me, like it formed so many of you. It unlocked the possibilities of the world. It was a social contract, and it influenced how I think about the possibilities, not just the limitations, of government throughout my life.
I moved to Philadelphia for college, met and married a wonderful man, and immersed myself in this city. I taught at Lowell Elementary School in Olney. I joined amazing organizations in this city – like Asian Americans United. I became a mother and started raising my three children in this city, and I worked alongside so many amazing mothers and fathers dedicated to re-envisioning our public schools.
I helped found the Philadelphia Public School Notebook, to raise up their voices as well as those of teachers, school staff and students. I helped found a school that breathed life into culture and practices that value multilingualism, community and served many immigrant families. I founded Parents United for Public Education with parents like LeRoi, Gerald, Robin, Tomika and Rebecca. Together we’re rejecting a punishing narrative of blame and failure – and we’re making sure the mentality around our children and our schools comes through a framework of human dignity, justice and love for our children and those who care for them.
Over the years, together we have fought to make this city—our city— a better place to live. We might not have been in the halls of power, but we organized, we fought, and we achieved real, tangible victories.
We refused to let the School District operate behind closed doors, as it outsourced the decision to close our public schools. Just last week, we finally shone a light on what schools were originally slated to close. And one glance at that list made it ever more clear—as if we didn’t know before—just how dangerous it is to hand over the governance of a public institution to a small group of out-of-touch, out-of-town consultants, paid for by undisclosed millionaires.
We stood up for neighborhoods like Chinatown, fighting tooth and nail to keep stadiums and casinos out of one our most vibrant, yet threatened, immigrant neighborhoods.
We stood up to patronage at the Parking Authority, and as a result, we—the citizens of Philadelphia—made the Parking Authority pay their fair share and deliver millions of desperately needed dollars every year to the School District. Why? Because we refused to accept the status quo. We refused to accept that that was just the way things were. We refused to allow cynicism to rob children of their right to decent funding.
And when the SRC tried to put two neighborhood schools into the hands of private operators, over the objections of the parents and teachers of those schools, we stood with them, we demanded their voices be heard. And together we won.
And so, I come back to where I started, and why I am so energized to see you all here. Those victories were not my victories. They were the victories of powerful, passionate and vibrant communities, of this community. This is our moment. I believe it. This is our moment to bring a new, community-based agenda to inhabit City Hall. And so, it is with humility —and with excitement!—that in front of you all, in front of my community, that I announce my campaign for City Council at Large.
You know, people sometimes ask me if I am angry. You know what? I am. Aren’t you? We live in a city with a crippling rate of poverty. We live in a city where teachers – teachers! – are being demonized and scapegoated by those who purposefully seek to underfund and in some cases dismantle our public school system. When we know that schools which succeed depend on the partnership of dedicated professionals, how does it make sense to start a war by firing on your own soldiers? We live in a city where a child died of asthma—asthma—in a city school where no nurse was on duty, and where college applications plummeted among our most vulnerable students because we laid off school counselors. We live in a city where we incarcerate at rates that shock the senses, where family lives are destroyed, families torn apart, and young lives upended by a school to prison pipeline that is as toxic as it is immoral. As the saying goes, if you are not angry—if you are not outraged—you are not paying attention.
But, I am hopeful, too. I am hopeful because I know that we can make this city a better place to live for all of us, whether you have lived here all your life, or whether you moved here recently, and like me, fell in love with this wonderful place and have put down your roots.
And, there is reason for hope, because as our communities have pushed, there have been real victories that have demonstrated what happens when we fight—paid sick leave will finally become a reality; business taxes have become more progressive; the Land Bank was created to put vacant land back to productive use; sensible criminal justice policies have stopped the jailing of our citizens for minor marijuana possession. We’ve finally stopped police from being used as immigration enforcers; and, a 21st century minimum wage was delivered to city contractors and, for the first time, subcontractors.
And, on top of all of that, after decades of loss, our City is growing. The cyclists riding to work each morning and night, whether they are the most recent generation of immigrants to settle in South Philadelphia, or entrepreneurs creating a tech boom on North Third Street, are daily reminders that this is a place where people want to live
But this city can do more. So much more. And it is time for all of us to unite and to escalate our fight.
Fight to make the lives of working Philadelphians better by raising wages and benefits, and improving working conditions.
Fight to get the vacant land of Philadelphia working, by ensuring that the Land Bank has power, is supported, and spurs development in our communities while ensuring sensible, transparent land policies and supporting uses like community gardens.
Fight for our parks, from the Wissahickon to Wissinoming, and our rec centers, from Susquehannah to Snyder and Cottman to Cobbs Creek.
Fight for community-based policing that respects and listens to communities.
Fight for economic policies that encourage small businesses and entrepreneurs, create a skilled workforce, and make sure that everyone pays their fair share.
Fight for a walkable city that protects pedestrians and cyclists alike.
Fight for transparency, so that the days of buying access and doing business behind closed doors finally come to a close.
Fight for our immigrant communities, to end abusive deportation practices and to ensure that English proficiency is not a requisite for a responsive government.
Fight for those policies that we all understand our city should have. And when someone tells us it cannot be done, to ask why, to organize, and to demand better.
And… to fight for our public schools. You know, if there is one good thing that we have seen from the chaos that Tom Corbett and the SRC rained upon our schools, it is this: our citizens have refused to be divided. They have refused the sick game of choosing between affordable health care for our teachers and books for our children.
Turn, after turn, after turn, Philadelphians have been told that those are the choices we have. We have refused. Instead, our students at schools from SLA to Constitution to Masterman walked out of school in defense of their teachers, we chased Tom Corbett out of Central High School, and last November voters sent Corbett home after one term.
But, oh let me tell you, do we need to fight for our public schools. Education is the battle ground on which we must stake our claim, for it is the clearest expression of the choice before us, between a society, on the one hand, that privileges the few and tolerates inequity and poverty, versus a vision of a beloved community that is far different.
A vision in which public education is a compact between all of us who believe in a just, civil society.
Public education binds generations, it invests families of all economic classes in the success of our city, and in each other.
So I will fight, as I have fought, as you have fought, to defend that most cherished institution, and the biggest symbol of our commitment to a just, equitable and prosperous society.
That is why I am running for City Council.
All that I have done, all that we have done, has been from standing together and demanding change. It is from the power of our communities. It comes from something very deep within us that demands a moral agenda to the deep moral crisis plaguing our city and our nation.
I cannot do this without you. I ask that you stand with me now, and stand with each other, to make this place a city that are we proud to call home, and proud to hand to our children.