South Philadelphians gathered together in the garage space of Second District Brewing, waiting for candidates from Pennsylvania’s 1st Senatorial District to introduce themselves at a Grassroots Advocacy for South Philadelphia (GRASP)-sponsored Q&A forum held on Feb. 6.
Sen. Larry Farnese and challenger Nikil Saval took center stage, responding to questions on topics ranging from voter accessibility to climate change.
A crowd member asked Farnese about what could be done at the state level to address poverty and a shortage of affordable housing in Philadelphia.
“I think it’s important to understand where we are right now in housing and to continue to bring back affordable housing like I’ve been doing over years,” Farnese said.
Scenes like this aren’t uncommon at Second District Brewing, where GRASP has been holding monthly meetings to encourage citizens to get involved with politics at a local level.
“We are a group of friends and neighbors who try to empower people in the community by being a nonpartisan organization to get involved with politics so they can essentially have an influence at some level,” says GRASP co-chair and 39th Ward committeeperson Chris Nevin.
Since November 2017, GRASP has been holding meetings and events for residents to connect with representatives and candidates for upcoming elections. Monthly meetings are held the first Thursday of every month, usually at Second District Brewing, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
These events both educate residents about down-ballot elections and give each candidate an opportunity to detail what they bring to the South Philadelphia community, Nevin said.
“If we are connecting them to the candidates that are going to be making decisions that really kind of impact their actual lives, then they ought to have a voice with them and put a face to the actual name before they press the button on the voting box,” said Karen DiLossi, also a GRASP chair and 39th Ward committeeperson.
Several South Philadelphia residents often attend these meetings to hear from local representatives, but GRASP leaders also hope the meetings help develop a stronger sense of community.
“People come even if we don’t have an actual slate of activities, but they come because they feel connected to not just us as a group, but to each other,” DiLossi said. “I feel like that is important. I feel like that’s definitely a service that we are definitely providing.”
Community members are also welcomed to get involved with GRASP by volunteering at local events sponsored by the organization. Volunteer roles include participating in voter registration drives, event planning, and canvassing for GRASP-endorsed candidates.
“I got involved because I feel so strongly about being an educated voter, meeting someone, knowing what they’re about, and trying to decide to see if they are a good fit for what is important to you” said Maureen Brown, a local resident who has been volunteering at GRASP events.
Learning how to connect with public servants is the best thing residents and volunteers can take from working with GRASP, Nevin said.
“I always thought there was a space between myself and the candidate, and I’m realizing now that it is much smaller than you would think,” he said.
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