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Credit: Chase Sutton

Amid city and nationwide protests against police brutality, Penn students are now urging Philadelphia councilmembers to reallocate millions in increased police funding toward other city services.

On June 5, Penn Dems, Fossil Free Penn, and thirteen other student organizations joined forces to hold the “Phone Bank for a Just Philly Budget" event during which students contacted Philadelphia city councilmembers to express opposition to Mayor Kenney’s new budget plan. 

The budget plan, released on May 1, 2020, presented a revised budget for the Fiscal Year 2021 amidst economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

While the budget proposes millions of dollars in cuts for city services such as the Health Department, Homeless Services, and the Office of Arts & Culture, it also proposes a 14 million dollar increase in funding for the Philadelphia Police Department. 

Roughly 100 students participated in the phone-banking event and called each member of the Philadelphia City Council, except Helen Gym and Kendra Brooks, since they have already spoken out against the budget plan. 

A document was provided to these students by the organizing campus groups that contained a script of what students could say when calling or emailing the councilmembers, but students were also encouraged to personalize their messages based on issues most important to them.

“Right now, people are very focused on contacting district attorneys, which is really important, but it’s also important to use our power as constituents of our own cities to advocate for change most directly,” rising College sophomore and Penn Dems Communications Director Emma Wennberg said. “In this case, if we are able to defund the police department, there’s an opportunity to limit their power.”

Wennberg added that organizers in Philadelphia have been pushing for similar reforms for a long time.

"Black activists have been doing this work long before it was in the news cycle,” Wennberg said. “It’s important that all of us who are getting in this fight now remember this work and remind ourselves that we must keep doing this even when it isn’t flooding our Instagram feeds.” 

Rising College junior Marina Dauer, who is the Events and Outreach Chair of the Student Sustainability Association at Penn, said that it was refreshing to see so many students come together to engage in issues related to Philadelphia, despite their current physical distance from Penn’s campus and, for many, from the city in general. 

“With events like this, it’s really great to see Penn students focusing not only on Penn-related issues but on Philadelphia issues too, because we are also a part of this community,” Dauer said. 

Before students began calling the councilmembers, 2019 College graduate and current Rhodes scholar Anea Moore provided them with a resource guide and offered phone banking advice to students as a former city council intern and Philadelphia native. Like Dauer, Moore stressed the importance of Penn students’ involvement in issues affecting the Philadelphia community at large. 

“During my time at Penn, I noticed that when Black lives matter stuff pops up in Ferguson, in New York, in Minneapolis, Baltimore, or wherever a Black life may have been taken away, students will be ready to speak out against it, but they aren’t always willing to stand up for the Black folks that live less than a mile away from them,” Moore said. 

“So I’m just hoping that Penn students, and not just Black students or Philadelphians at Penn, but the entire community, continues to engage in ways like this in the future,” she said.

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