In the surge of political energy and involvement following November 8th, Philadelphia area residents have been bootstrapping their own benefits and activist events.  I first figured out that something interesting was happening when I attended last month’s West Philadelphia Community Action Fair at the Calvary Center for Culture and Community, and discovered that a small group of friends had organized it without being part of any formal group.

A few emails later connected me to Marina Ramona, who not only had assisted with the Action Fair, but is planning the Feminist Fiber Fest benefit to be held on January 14th through the 15th at The Waiting Room.  Activities will include an art exhibit, crafting, poetry and live music, all to benefit Feminist Fiber Art and Girls Rock Philly.  Marina has experience hosting creative benefits, and enjoys particularly being in West Philadelphia, which she describes as very supportive of progressive activism.

Quite coincidentally, I found out about two other independently organized benefits coming up, also on the 14th.

Molly Freiberg spoke with me at length about her event, “Party On, Humans!”, a benefit for the Southern Poverty Law Center.  Freiberg noted that she felt compelled to act after the election but didn’t know much about fundraising for a cause. However, she was confident that she did know how to throw a really good party.  “During the election and in its aftermath, I was not just reading news stories but listening to the undertone of them. The news and the voices of extreme, uncompromising politicians were feeding one side’s perception of the other side. And people on both sides were so angry, believing that if someone had a different opinion from theirs, the mere existence of that difference was going to threaten something so essential to them. And… this sort of polarization .. made it so that collaboration was no longer possible – empathy was no longer possible….So I think conversations that bring people together and build relationships make difference less threatening. Helping people to be able to see actual human beings they may not be like, but still connect to, is a way to combat polarization, reduce mistrust, see common interest, and decrease the chance that someone will project general prejudices onto the “other”. I hope to help facilitate these types of conversations.”  Party On, Humans will include a silent auction, food, music and dancing, and activities focused on bringing people from all walks of life together.

Irene Lambrou focused on her talents as a musician and the lead singer of Almshouse, saying, “What I do know how to do is perform, and I know other people who do that, and I have a vague idea about how to put on a show.”  She proceeded to organize Not Going Back: The Concert , to benefit Earth Justice, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Sierra Club Foundation.  “When I put out the call,” she recounted, “I said to myself, “OK, we’re going to make lemonade—without realizing how many people wanted to help—and six bands volunteered.”  Performers donating their time and talent include PhillyBloco, Hank’s Cadillac, Almshouse, Revival 2, Trickster Sister, and Paige K — representing a range of music from folk to rock to samba.

While Marina described being part of a “mentality” of independently organized events in a supportive neighborhood, both Freiberg and Lambrou spoke about the challenges they had as first-time benefit organizers operating on a shoestring.  All three relied heavily on volunteers and friends.  Freiberg discovered that many local businesses were happy to donate items for her silent auction, and Lambrou expressed gratitude toward 7165 Restaurant and Bar  for providing a free venue.

It’s not clear how many more people in and around the city are coming up with similar ventures, but it’s certain we will see more in the future, with these events setting an example.


DIY Organizing in Philly