How to rally the troops: Philadelphia’s public banking campaign started with like-minded groups and churches, before moving to City Hall

Philadelphia lobby day

Councilman Derek Green (right), a public banking advocate, addresses local lobbyists at Philadelphia City Hall on Lobby Day. Photo by Stanley Shapiro

 

To build a campaign to create a public bank takes a good deal of planning and on-the-ground networking at any level. Philadelphia recently held a very successful lobby day at City Hall, the culmination of several years of work by local organizers.

Conni Bille of Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks describes to PBI how the group approached the work and built toward its positive results, concluding:

Councilmembers were very receptive since candidates on the campaign trail have been eager to talk about their support of public banking. We anticipate the awarding of the public bank study contract shortly and look forward later this year to pushing for enabling legislation, in the confidence that the study will identify a roadmap for creation of a bank.”

 

Bille’s report from Philly lays out their long-term strategy:

Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks has been advocating for public banking since we learned about it at the Public Banking Institute's first conference here in 2012. As an organization founded in 2004 to advocate for a broad progressive agenda, our banking agenda moved more slowly here than it perhaps has done in other cities; however because we are involved long term in building a political base, we have accumulated a fair amount of "political capital" to apply.

Since 2004, we have been working on getting progressive candidates elected to positions at all levels of government down to the grassroots neighborhood voting districts.  Candidates come to us to seek endorsement; they fill out questionnaires and are interviewed; and then our members vote on who to support and organize door to door campaigns on behalf of our endorsed candidates.

We do this consistently every election for local campaigns as well as for national campaigns. We are not part of the Democratic party; we are independent. Perhaps immodestly we credit ourselves as a force in Pennsylvania politics influencing the voter enthusiasm and turnout in Philadelphia, the state's population center. We have thousands of people in our network and we have alliances with dozens of organizations that work for civil rights, environmental justice, healthcare, education, economic fairness and democracy. Public banking to us is a cornerstone for achieving many democratic goals.

Starting in 2014 we injected public banking into political discourse by asking candidates seeking our endorsement to respond to a questionnaire that included whether they supported public banking. This introduced most candidates to the concept and made them do some homework. In 2016, a freshman City Councilman who we had endorsed gave us the opportunity to address City Council. Through him we sought funding for a feasibility study which was granted in the 2018-19 budget. He also suggested to graduate students at the Fels Institute of Government of the University of Pennsylvania that they study the matter as well. Their study came out this winter with a ringing endorsement of the idea.

To put all this in motion a Neighborhood Networks interest group had decided a year ago to increase focus on public banking. Over the summer we recruited other like-minded organizations, such as Reclaim Philadelphia and Our City Our Schools, and educated their leadership on how public banking could help them accomplish their goals. We met with leaders and formulated a presentation which we brought out to other groups including churches. By Martin Luther King Day 2019 we were gratified to hear that the leader of the city's most influential coalition of churches was calling for the city to establish a public bank. With a Request for Proposal for a feasibility study issued by the city, we decided it was time to organize a lobby to ask for support of a public bank, particularly because primary elections for City Council are in May.

We notified our network partners and about 45 people showed up at 11 AM on Thursday March 21 at a church close to City Hall for a 90 minute training session. We presented some detailed information on public banking and ran an exercise to prepare teams to present its benefits. We ensured that each of our 8 teams was led by someone knowledgeable. In the afternoon, each team visited two council offices so that all 16 were covered. We had already lined up appointments with Councilmembers or their aides. In the few offices where we did not have appointments we were able to talk to staff and schedule follow up meetings. Council members were very receptive, since candidates on the campaign trail have been eager to talk about their support of public banking. We anticipate the awarding of the study contract shortly and look forward later this year to pushing for enabling legislation in the confidence that the study will identify a roadmap for creation of a bank.

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