South Philadelphia: A Conversation With Chris Nevin, 39th Ward Committeeperson and GRASP Co-founder

Chris Nevin, co-founder and co-chair of the nonpartisan organization Grassroots Advocacy for South Philadelphia (GRASP) and committeeperson for the 39th Ward, says his positions share two primary goals: connecting voters with their local candidates and helping them make informed decisions on Election Day.

GRASP aims to help South Philadelphia residents get better access to political information. GRASP also publicly endorses, recommends, or disapproves of political candidates. Elizabeth Fiedler was the first candidate to be endorsed by GRASP in the spring of 2018 when she was running in Pennsylvania’s 184th State House District.

Nevin, a Lower Moyamensing resident, has lived in Philadelphia for 10 years. He hopes that through his work both as a committeeperson and as GRASP co-chair he is able to initiate political dialogue between South Philadelphia residents, regardless of their political affiliation.

“If you want to show up, show up,” Nevin said. “Our biggest thing is we have respect for everyone that’s involved.”

Tell us a little about the committee person workshop event where the GRASP co-chairs and founders met.

From what I remember, Philly 3.0 hosted an event that I ended up just seeing on Facebook. It was called Get Mad Get Elected. They split us up into groups based on our ward, if we knew that information, and just basically gave a rundown of the committeeperson position. Which I wasn’t really aware of before that event. We got a packet just saying, “Here’s the registered voters in your area, here’s who are your committee people and how many votes it took them last time to win.” If you weren’t familiar with canvassing and doing all those things as well, “Hey this is how you might want to do it.” You need at least ten petition signatures, so they told us, maybe aim for thirty. We kept meeting every month going forward from that group, sometimes at Bok, sometimes at Adobe.

What did running for committee person entail?

Getting on the ballot. You have to get petition signatures to do that. You need at least ten. You can get from the Commissioner’s Office all the registered voters in your division. Going off of that information I essentially just targeted the Democrats. And I looked at it this way, I minimized it and said, “Hey, let me get my block, get most people on my block, and then spread out from there.” I also used online tools to make a postcard and take everyone’s addresses down so I could mail them. The postcards essentially explained what I would like to do in the community and what I see the position as: a political block captain. Obviously there is an issue when there’s an election and you’re not seeing any material. I just wanted to make sure I communicated with voters.

How long will you be committeeperson?

It’s a four-year term.

Are you planning on running for re-election?

As long as I live here I’m going to do it. If it was shorter terms and more people would be involved I think I’d have less inclination to run again.

What are the day-to-day responsibilities of being a committee person?

I’ve wrapped it more in with GRASP. It’s essentially holding meet-and-greets and bringing candidates to neighbors and, essentially, seeing what’s important to them and then pushing out, “Hey this is the ballot I believe in. If you would like it, take it into the election booth with you. If not, that’s fine as well. I just hope you vote.”

When was the first official GRASP meeting, and what did it entail?

The first one was in November of 2017. They were these informal get-togethers that people in the neighborhood had. At the time, we [GRASP co-founders] were all aspiring to run for committeeperson, so we would get together and talk about what we wanted to do. It evolved over time and we thought, “Now we need a name to make something formal out of it.”

Have you publicly disapproved of any candidates so far?

Not yet. You can have so many candidates in an election, and I think there’s an expectation that you can be able to, I think, in this ideal sense, just say, this one candidate, this is who you should vote for. I think it’s better for a voter to just have enough information to have freedom to make the choice that they want out of maybe a group of them and just say, definitely not this guy. Especially when it comes to judges. I’ve always thought of myself as an informed voter. But now I’ve gotten more into the weeds with all this stuff and realized there can be 20, 30 judges or something running and all most people are going to know about them is their five-minute platform speech.

We essentially have a process for it. Someone’s got to motion for it, someone has to second it and then it has to get in a supermajority vote. So you’ve got to go through a little bit of a ringer for us to say that you qualify for a disapproval.

Would you say that GRASP is a left-leaning organization? It says on your website that you are nonpartisan, but most of the candidates in attendance at your meetings are Democrats, and Fiedler is also a Democrat.

I can’t speak for the entire group, but I can speak from how I see it. Number one, the city is 80 percent, 70 percent registered Democrats. So, you are kind of working within that realm. I look at it like I’m registered Democrat for many reasons, but especially because I realistically need to be one in order to have any say in this political system. I’m sure you can always give a contrasting, contrarian view in response to that as a member from another party. But to me, just realistically, I need to be in the Democratic Party to have a say.

I’d say a lot of people that have wanted to get involved in GRASP do come from some kind of left-leaning background. These are people that have been coming out for it. But we don’t hold anyone back. For me personally, I want people that don’t think like me, or agree with me all the time, to come out. GRASP was built out of this motivation to include everyone, to not just get stuck in an echo chamber and listen to ourselves. If more people show up that do not share my point of view, than that’s great. I’m hoping for that. Right now, GRASP is a nonpartisan group, but I would venture to say that most people involved are registered Democrats.

Is there anything else you would like to add about your work as a committee person or GRASP?

If I could just say anything it’s this: I see all these things as outlets of just trying to have some kind of change in my neighborhood. I think some people get wrapped up in party politics, but I want to make a change. I want to do something and I don’t care how I have to do that. Basically, that’s GRASP. We’re neighbors literally linked by walls and I just hope that people are talking to each other.

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