What Philly Could Learn From Egypt

The Founding Fathers knew how to lead a revolution ... why don't we?

Last week, as you’ve no doubt read by now, Philly learned that 53 percent of the city doesn’t want our mayor to be the mayor again. Oh, and also that he’s nevertheless going to win—no, going to kill—in the next election. This news was set, of course, against the very dramatic backdrop of an Egyptian revolution, wherein the country’s brave patriots had taken to the streets to fight for a government where they had a voice. By end of week, the people of Egypt had won their freedom. The people of Philly had sighed, and flipped on Grey’s Anatomy.

Nothing like a historic triumph for democracy to put Philly politics into harsh perspective, eh?

I often wonder if people who grew up here in Philadelphia think about history as much as I do. I’ve been here three years and change now, but I still can’t pass Independence Hall without having a little Star-Spangled moment. The forefathers have become as much a part of Philly’s backdrop to me as the incessant honking of cabs, as the smell of grease from the cheesesteak carts. Drive through Valley Forge, and I think about George, freezing his ass off. Walk by the Constitution Center, and I think of Thomas drafting, editing, drafting and editing by candlelight. And Ben … well Ben’s everywhere. Even out chatting with tourists sometimes.

I love it. The moment I moved here, it was like watching the movie version of a book I’d read my whole life, only they were real people (who walked right where we walk today!) making the decision to do something so hard it was crazy to even try. And against all odds, and facing death, and fueled by ideals and courage, they won. (Cue the fireworks.)

Seriously, though: For a city where you literally cannot escape reminders of what people who wanted a better government were able to do—and for a city that’s becoming so open to new ideas in seemingly every realm but politics—it seems that Philadelphians do an awful lot of resigning ourselves when it comes to government and what we’ve been told is inevitable: A white mayor cannot be elected in this city. (Unless his name is Ed Rendell.) An incumbent will not lose a second term. We may live in a new Philly, but old Philly politics will always reign supreme. And DROP?! Good Lord. How is it that we haven’t all chained ourselves to City Council’s doors in protest yet?

Even seeing the city as I do—flags proudly hailing at twilight, and all—I’d still somehow forgotten, along with most other Philadelphians, that the government you inherit isn’t the government you have to live with forever. It was actually Egypt that made me feel American again.

And since then, I’ve been thinking: Voting for Nutter—if he ends up being the best candidate—doesn’t have to be a resignation to the status quo. I think we voted for a man who promised change, and now I think it’s time to remember that we can actually demand it. To stop rolling our eyes and muttering “typical” about everything that’s bad. To motivate. To be brave. To speak up. To chain ourselves, I guess, to City Council’s doors, if need be. To remember where we are, for pete’s sake. If other people could and can change the world, then we can change city politics. If we want to enough.