Community Action Groups Shut Down Center City, Protest Gov. Corbett

May 16, 2012 by Randy LoBasso / PhillyNow

crowdWhen Governor Corbett comes to Philly, he does so with good reason. Like, say, he speaks with the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the one group in Southeastern Pennsylvania that may still support his budget priorities. That’s what happened yesterday at the Prince Music Theater—and protesters from several community action groups were ready for his appearance.

Members of Fight for Philly, Decarcerate PA, the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, Act UP Philly, Occupy Philly and others began organizing on Chestnut, between Broad and 15th, just before 4 p.m., showing their homemade signs, handing out fliers and wrapping themselves in a red carpet to greet the governor, who had better sense than to walk in the front door.

The groups were there, they said, to protest the governor’s budget cuts and other priorities; things like tax loopholes, mass incarceration and cuts to public education. In all, I’d estimate the crowd grew to about 300 at its largest. After about an hour of chanting and building the crowd, leaders of the organizing groups spoke through a bullhorn, implying they hoped Corbett could hear them from outside. “I believe that 99 percent of these issues could be solved if corporations paid their fair share,” said Sam Jones, an organizer with Fight For Philly. “We are here to let Gov. Corbett know that we will not allow him to balance the budget on the backs of our school children…our most vulnerable citizens…the poor…[and]…working families.”

<--break->

Jones had a point. As has been reported, Corbett’s proposed budget did make a lot of cuts this year and last—including $21.6 million from Philly’s public schools, $264 million from higher ed and $319 million from general assistance (which could mean up to 80,000 Pennsylvanians losing access to medical care).

But it also spends $187 million on the Dept. of Corrections, $685 million for three new prisons and expanding nine others, and leaves tax loopholes virtually untouched. The Legislature has filled in some of the holes in Corbett’s budget, but many say not enough. Which is a problem, because Corbett signed Grover Norquist’s pledge to not raise taxes while running to lead the state in 2010.

educationincarcerationJones, reached after his speech, said most of the problems Philadelphia families are dealing with could be softened if Pennsylvania closed the so-called Delaware loophole (which allows companies to lower their Pennsylvania taxes through “royalties and similar payments to affiliated holding companies in low-tax states”) and repealed many corporation-friendly ALEC-created bills. Corbett has suggested closing the loophole would equate to a tax increase and he might veto a bill that’d do just that.

“To be perfectly frank,” Jones told PW, “here in Pennsylvania, with a Republican majority [in the Legislature]…and a Republican governor, the only way to [repeal the aforementioned legislation] is to get them both out. Many of them have signed pledges for no tax increases, which means no tax increases for corporations and the wealthy.”

Erika Slaymaker, of Decarcerate PA said Gov. Corbett and the people of Pennsylvania need to think long and hard about our mutual priorities. “There is a plan to expand nine prisons and to build three more across [the state],” she said, noting Pennsylvania’s priorities should be in schools and general assistance funding.

“The thinking is that [more prisons] make us safer, that having more people in prisons makes us safer,” she said. “We’re saying that that doesn’t actually make us safer. What makes us safer is people going to school, people having the housing that they need.”

Decarcerate PA has listed many of their priorities at PAPeoplesBudget.org.<--break->

protestdance“I think it’s part of a bigger, neo-liberal agenda that has been in the works for decades,” said Dave Onion of Decarcerate PA. “They’ve been trying to privatize…programs and our resources have been going faster and faster to the top 1 percent of society, the corporations, at the expense of everybody else. It’s important that we live in a society that shares resources as much as possible.”

After the speakers finished, the group walked east on Chestnut and around the corner, noting Gov. Corbett would attempt to sneak out the back—the same way, it was assumed, he snuck in. The crowd, then, congregated on Sansom, outside a parking garage repeating the same chants (“I say Corbett, you say one term,” “Up with the schools, down with Corbett,” “Stand up, shut ‘em down, Philly is the people’s town”) that’d been going on earlier.

About half the crowd left after 10 minutes, until there were smaller clots surrounding the building—including one at 15th and Sansom. If Corbett were to leave, the thinking went, the crowd would have to see him.

Police blocked off 15th Street as drumming and chanting ensued. No one, not even “normies” unaffiliated with the protest, were allowed to get by. I hung around 15th and Sansom as we heard heavy chants and screams a block away. It was later determined that the governor was in one of a few vehicles that was given access to travel the wrong way down Sansom from the back parking garage and come out on Broad Street to leave the city. Many screamed only the 1 percent would be given this sort of luxury. However, it was not confirmed whether or not Corbett was in one of the cars. For all we knew, dude rode in and out in a black helicopter no one saw.