Who Is: Helen Gym: Here Is Her Campaign Announcement Speech
Helen Gym: Campaign Announcement
February 9, 2015
I stand here filled with gratitude to see so many of you here. I am so lucky, and we are
all so lucky, 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,
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
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