Voices | April 1-8

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FanDuel has the over-under for Phllies wins at 81.5 games.

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Building trades: Not for every woman, but they are for any woman

From the day I turned 14 until I was 21, I worked dead-end jobs in the service industry, with no path forward and no career. I did well in college, but, like many others, I found it hard to attend while working full-time without benefits. One day, as I waited on a table of generous tippers wearing Philadelphia building trades T-shirts, it clicked for me. If they could enjoy a steady career in the building trades, why couldn’t I? My girlfriends didn’t understand why I’d want to work in construction, a male-dominated field where you’re constantly on your feet. But the more I learned, as I researched careers and was accepted into IUPAT District Council 21 – the local Painters Union – as a new apprentice, the more I knew this was the field for me.

In 2018, women made up only 9.9 percent of the construction workforce, with many making up management and office staff. When I first joined DC 21, I was oftentimes the only woman on a job site for months – but the industry has changed a lot in the past 15 years.

In recent years, the Philadelphia building trades have doubled down on efforts to recruit more women into the trades. My union knows that diversity is what makes us stronger, and bringing more women into the fold is one way to grow our union and the collective power of workers everywhere. Through organizations like the National Association of Women in Construction, the ACE Mentoring Program, and my own union’s Women’s Committee, I’m able to mentor young women about the exciting careers in the trades by hosting pre-apprenticeship programs. We also work with women who have been previously incarcerated and those coming from recovery houses, when many people struggle to find work, to show the better life the union can provide.

In a country where women systemically earn just 82 cents for every $1 earned by men (with an even wider gap specifically for women of color), a union offers equal pay for equal work. My pay, along with every other member’s, is spelled out in black and white in my contract before I even step foot on a job site. And the pay is good; I’m able to provide a nice life for myself and my four boys, along with my husband. My career gives me family-sustaining wages, great benefits, and a retirement plan that will allow me to live a life in dignity when I’m older.

Plus, I have a great career, not a dead-end job. My girlfriends in office jobs can’t always say the same. I get new opportunities to grow and to develop my skills for free. Through the union, I was able to earn my associate’s degree in Applied Science from Mountwest Community and Technical College with no cost to me. DC 21 has forged articulation agreements with top schools in the area like Jefferson, Rutgers, and Penn State, making it possible for apprentices to earn bachelor’s and associate’s degrees in fields like Construction Management. Students no longer have to choose between earning a higher degree and learning a trade.

It’s critical to show girls from an early age that the building trades can be for them. Every year, NAWIC hosts a free Mentoring Young Women in Construction camp for middle school and high school girls to give them experience in the industry. Girls get hands-on experience with tools, complete fun activities together, and learn from women in the construction industry, building their self-confidence along the way. I’ve been proud to be a chair of MyWIC camp and to teach the next generation of painters the tools of the trade.

The building trades are not for every woman, but they are for any woman. Over the past 15 years, I went from being unable to open a gallon of paint to being a commercial paint instructor with my union. If I can do it, you can, too. And this year, four of our 10 new commercial paint apprentices are women. The change might seem incremental, but if every new woman recruited means one fewer woman on a job site who feels that she’s alone, then it’s worth every effort.

Erin O’Brien-Hofmann is a commercial paint instructor with IUPAT District Council 21 and has been a member of the union for 15 years.

You said you hear us, now defund the police

What began as a response to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers, developed into a national protest to re-examine the nature of white supremacy in our criminal legal system. For months this summer, in brutalizing heat and amid a global pandemic, Philadelphians of all ages, genders and races demanded structural change to the way Philadelphia not only polices its citizens, but also how it prioritizes its resources to assist the vulnerable. 

What does this change look like? As we unequivocally heard over the summer, the people demand a long list that includes, but is not limited to economic justice, an end to qualified immunity for police officers and a dismantling of the Fraternal Order of Police. 

These changes are complicated and ambitious, however that doesn’t grant cover for our elected officials to drag their feet. They can start with what the people were shouting the loudest – defund the police. 

City Council and Mayor Kenney are currently working to formulate the budget for the upcoming fiscal year 2021-2022, due by July 1st. They have a responsibility to listen to their constituents. The same constituents who were tear gassed, beaten and arrested. The same constituents that have to live under the fear of police violence every day of their lives. 

However, we don’t have to look as far back to this summer to see evidence for the favor of this policy. “Safety We Can Feel,” a survey of Philadelphia residents published last month by collaborating community organizations shows that 58 percent of people believe that the “police, when called, are very or somewhat unhelpful.” Some 75 percent think that “police are bad at preventing crime in their neighborhood,” and most importantly, 96 percent “support reallocating police funding toward community services.”

As a response to the summer demonstrations, City Council introduced an agenda surrounding police reform. Council passed a mandate for city residency for all new police officer hirers. A referendum passed on last November’s ballot established a Citizens Police Oversight Commission, the scope of its authority, however, is to be determined. Following the horrific incidents of tear-gassing protesters and bystanders on I-676 and the 52nd Street corridor, Council quickly sought to ban the further use of tear gas and other “less-lethal” munitions on protesters expressing their First Amendment right. Councilman Thomas introduced legislation to limit police officers’ ability to conduct traffic stops, which disproportionately targets Black Philadelphians.

These are all steps in the right direction, but they do not go nearly far enough to address the overarching concerns heard this summer. We need structural change to what our budget prioritizes, or in other words what we as a community prioritize. Every dollar spent on police funding is a dollar subtracted from affordable housing, mental health services, workforce training and many other vital community services.

Philadelphia still stands as one of the poorest big cities in America. Transitioning funding from the police department to community resources would not only curb police violence but would work to confront the overwhelming poverty facing thousands of Philadelphians every day.

Critics of defunding police often cite gun violence as a reason for why it is irresponsible to subtract police presence from high crime neighborhoods. What they fail to address however is that despite the continual increase in police funding, Philadelphia saw a record number of shootings last year, and 2021 is on pace to set new highs. It is evident that an over-reliance on policing has not been an effective deterrent to gun violence. 

City Council President Darrell Clark said, as a response to the May 29 protests in Philadelphia, “We need a new normal in our country and in our city. Our citizens are demanding to have a meaningful voice in creating that new normal. It is our responsibility to listen.” Other council members such as Jamie Gauthier, Kendra Brooks and Helen Gym have publicly stated their support for reimagining a budget that focuses on public services instead of police supervision. 

To Mayor Kenney, Councilman Clark and the rest of City Council, the people have spoken, we hope you have been listening.

Robin Kearney | Philadelphia

Puff, puff, and pass all of the cannabis bills in PA

The 2021 Cannabis Fest in Kutztown will take place on April 17 and 18. For years, the Green Party of Pennsylvania (gpofpa.org) has been proud to be a part of the growing movement to finally decriminalize growing, selling, buying and using nature’s sweet leaf. As a much-welcomed outdoor event, many Greens have already committed to convening there. For years, we have been proud to be a part of the growing movement to finally decriminalize growing, selling, buying, and using nature’s sweet leaf. Let’s take this opportunity to look at the timeline of cannabis use, the attitudes, and unjust racial implications of the war on weed. Plus, a glimpse at what is happening in both our state legislative houses.

From the not-so distant past, images of firing up a marijuana cigarette, a joint, a spliff, or a doobie meant an onslaught of images that revealed the dangers and temptations of the Devil’s Lettuce. Fearful visions of moral depravity were ingrained into our young minds as we hit tender milestones of development. If Reefer Madness had legs, it would have frog-marched our curious teen-selfs straight to the river Styx and fed us to Cerberus. If Nancy Regan was playing, many of us would have lost that DARE. 

Spoiler alert! As it turns out, simply smoking a doink did not lead most people to a road of ruin and river to the Underworld. That is, unless you were at an intersection due to your marginalized status, then you were three times as likely to end up demonized and incarcerated through racial profiling as the civil war-machine on drugs demolished entire generations of communities and families.  

Thankfully, we are collectively trying to leave the past mass incarceration where it belongs, but we need to be wary of which path to take. Legalization in Pennsylvania will ensure that we have one hand in the future and the other one stuck scraping a bowl with a pocket knife to conserve America’s sticky green gold. 

The Green Party stands for full decriminalization of cannabis. Decriminalization is the only path to ensure that everyone who needs access to the medical benefits and agricultural economic boosts are able to attain them. As it stands, for example, it can cost over $300 to get a medical marijuana card, but that’s not even the beginning of price-gouging market monopoly practices that PA and other states are engaging in. Here is another something: Grower/processors must first pay a non-refundable $10,000 application fee, then have a verifiable amount of no less than $2 million in capital and $500,000 of that must be in a financial institution. To get the initial certificate to grow, you need to pay $200,000. Plus, every year you must pay a $10,000 renewal fee. In other words, to even get that hand in the future, you need to be holding a silver spoon and have more money than any local weed dealer, plus good credit and no criminal record. These restrictions and extremely limiting financial hurdles make the market impenetrable by the same people who have diligently worked toward legalization and those who have supplied a lot of us with our dank stash. 

Without decriminalization, the most famous and literal “grassroots” movement becomes an industry for the elite to protect its hot-boxed frat boys from the ramifications of laws that have become inconvenient to the bourgeoisie. Without further development, not only is our prison system overrun with racist policies and broken promises, those same boys go on in life to getting kickbacks in their retirement funds through marajuana stocks pumped up by “woke” Wall Street. And those boys are first in line to pay the fees to grow the weed that swallowed the spider to catch the fly. 

Currently, there are a few pieces of legislation being passed around in the PA General Assembly. One bill that gets close to meeting the many issues surrounding decriminalization is being reintroduced this year by Rep. Jake Wheatey (D, District 19). The Criminal and Social Justice Reform Through a Legal Adult-Use Cannabis Marketplace or House Bill 2050 doesn’t meet all of our concerns, but it is a step forward. 

Another bill being carried over from the 2020 session is in the PA Senate co-sponsored by Sen. Sharif Street (D, District 3). Senate Bill 233 calls for incremental decriminalization by lowering fines and penalties for possession. Street is also working toward similar goals that HB 2050 proposes.

While important legislation is being written and reviewed, a fundamental problem is growing. This all costs too much for a plant that even my grandmother grew on her patio in the 1980s like some grandmothers raised chickens and sold eggs to their local grocers. The proceeds of this industry simply won’t go toward people who desperately need to supplement or build income. Nor will they aid cannabis users with one of the 17 recognized medical conditions that qualify you for a medical card. 

Another hold up in our state is coming from the representatives from both major parties trying to score wins in too many directions, but mostly wins for their own wallets. Both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of not seeing the big field and hiding behind a smoke-screen of corporate interest and old conservative views, as usual. This is something that is not true for Green Party candidates, who deny corporate funding and have the mission to fully realize the benefits to our society and social justice by decriminalizing all aspects of cannabis. They don’t call us the Green Party for nothing. And, you can put that in your pipe and smoke it!

Tina Olson, Green Party of Pa. 

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