Aging leadership and a more engaged young electorate have given Philadelphia one of its best opportunities in years. Although the old guard may fight it, we are at the beginning of a generational shift. If we no longer want to be considered "corrupt and contented," young Philadelphians need to rekindle the momentum of the Obama campaign and change the city's politics.
Ben Franklin once said, "At 20 years of age, the will reigns; at 30, the wit; at 40, the judgment." With the right mix of will, wit, and judgment, we might just save this city from repeating the mistakes of the past few decades.
We are the "We Generation." The Internet, AIM, Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Facebook grew up as we did. Our perspective is much more global and collaborative than that of our parents, but it has also led us to become more connected to our local communities.
Our worldview may be progressive, but it's tempered by disillusionment and even cynicism. Until very recently, we haven't had any inspiring leaders to shake us out of our apathy.
I could praise Obama for his vision of hope and change, but the real brilliance of his campaign was that he tapped into an existing groundswell and coopted it. We were waiting for someone to sweep us off our feet, and he did.
He spoke our language - that of social networking - and applied it to the political process. Last year's election brought renewed interest in and modernization of grassroots politics. Thousands of people got up, talked to their neighbors, and actually started to care about how the election would affect their community.
Grassroots activism is not new to Philly. It's as natural to us as hating the Mets or the Cowboys.
We've grown up with Mrs. Johnson from down the block collecting signatures for ballot petitions. Our parents and grandparents told us stories of marching with Cecil B. Moore outside Girard College. We watched Jane Golden turn the Mural Arts Program into one of the greatest community organizations in the world. Yeah, we know a thing or two about grassroots activism.
But we also have seen how a grassroots system can be corrupted - how the political parties use their tentacles to exercise power and protect entrenched ways; how communities are held hostage by City Council members and state senators; how both Democrats and Republicans use the Parking Authority, the Board of Revision of Taxes, and other city agencies as patronage machines for family, friends, and committee people.
Consider this a call to arms for Philly's next movement. Thousands of us campaigned to change the White House; now it's time to campaign to change our house.
We were burned out after the marathon presidential campaign, and the contests for district attorney and city controller aren't too sexy. But now is the time to pick up the ball again.
Over the next two years, we have an opportunity to take hold of the future of Philadelphia. Last year's momentum must be renewed and applied locally.
It is time to start organizing and paying attention to the 2010 and 2011 elections. Elections of committee people, the block-level representatives for the political parties, and Council members will determine the fate of the city for another four years. This is an opportunity for change that must not be missed.
The Roots said it best: "The whole state of things in the world 'bout to change. ... You listeners, stop what you're doin' and set it in motion, it's the next movement."