Philadelphia is NOT "Corrupt & Contented"-- Just "Oblivious"
Last week's announcement that Philadelphia will host again the "VARELA National Awards on Excellence in American Journalism on Latino and Multicultural Issues", with $40,000 dollars in awards for Journalists across the US, including those from dormant Philadelphia... went largely unnoticed.
To hurl the handy epithets once again, after over 100 years of this, too easy exercise, is, let's call it for once, preposterous.
Although the now mythical Lincoln Steffens were to resurrect today, and were to look at a couple of the affairs of the city, he would immediately throw his hands up in horror over his face, and scream again the terrible words, it is substantially wrong to repeat his too easy, too simplistic, too comfy definition of our city.
We are not "corrupt" or "contented". Or are we?
*Read Spanish Version / Lea versión en español: Filadelfia: Ni corrupta ni satisfecha, solo olvidadiza
(By the way, what is wrong with being contented?, Wasn't Mr. Thomas Jefferson desirable outcome, in the Spring of 1776, while the founding father was drafting our Republic's Political Scripture, and wrote "in pursuit of Happiness…?").
Perhaps it may be a mistake also to call Philadelphia "corrupt", or "corrupted", because the "contented" condition can't be necessarily the result of the first one. It can be, in other words, genuine, legitimate contentment. Period.
It doesn't mean corruption is absent, and we are, once again, "chemically pure" in our thinking and also our actions, as were our Founding Fathers in their own moment of levitation. Like for example General George Washington, our first President, who saw the dangers of absolute power too close (so close to him, after wining the war and being a 2-term president) and, therefore hastily removed himself from it.
Men have their different reasons for their actions, and it may be a mistake to second-guess them, or, worse, condemn them based on only one outside appearance, which is only one arris of the polyhedron each of us represent.
Furthermore, to scream "corrupt and contented," is ungrateful-- contemptuous as well, we may add, making here the most common of human errors: We curse the earth, the very ground we stand on, the only we currently have. Ungratefully.
A writer made that mistake recently in the press of this city, and we won't repeat it here, not because of the ingratitude it implies, but also because of the ultimate dishonesty the said predicament may even foster.
"Whoever hasn't sinned among all of you, fallen creatures in need of redemption, hurl the first stone…", a fiery preacher with lighting-rod power may speak to us down from a fearsome pulpit somewhere in North Philly.
Isn't enough, "Enough"?
This is another line of thinking, no less critical or devastating than Mr. Lincoln Steffens' muckraking style was:
Philadelphia is, simply, first and foremost, "Oblivious."
Before it became "Corrupted & Contented", or anything else, in the full exercise of another human weakness, we have become, simply, innocently, "Oblivious."
Please allow me to offer a simple evidence, "fresh of the presses", from last week happenings in our city.
Have we forgotten this was, and this still is --the moment we believe it-- hollow ground, by 16th Century Quaker standards?
Or, much closer to us --neighbors of Benjamin Franklin's grave by Independence Mall-- by the high standards of our Founding Fathers?
Or, by the average standards of so many men and women who, anonymously, have populated the land over the past 235 years passed since Jefferson penned his "Declaration of Independence".
Here in the Valley of the Delaware River, where William Penn landed and started his "Holly Experiment", and where so many thousands of Human Beings have made this Land --building on Penn's Legacy-- also honorable and brave. And, when necessary, the inhabitants are always quick to pick up a fight, always for the right reason.
(In other words, the "Moral Outrage" [el furioso llamado de la Conciencia] may surface, any time.)
Make no mistake about it:
Beyond "the Corrupted" and "Contented" appearance, you may still find "bone and steel". Just dare to scratch...
... At your own peril.
We are, therefore, above all, "Oblivious", before we became "Corrupted and even Contented."
Oblivious, for example, of our History, so full of rich data and abundant reasons to feel the Pride this City may urgently need right now.
Take a look at this one, completely forgotten, and to which we have grown so preposterously indifferent:
Father Félix Varela y Morales, resident of Philadelphia in the year 1824 --close to 200 years ago-- planted in this land precious seeds of human value that, transferred to today's world of commerce, pressed to grow because of the now global competition, would make marketers, looking for that demanded growth, salivate abundantly.
But we are numb, I take as a result of being oblivious for so long.
A scalpel, though, what circumstance requires.
Last Thursday we didn't have one handy to cut through the indifference. One local event, of national projections, was missed out completely by all the Mainstream Media of the City, cordially and repeatedly invited by AL DIA's PR person, and also Temple University's own PR machine.
Save ABC Channel 6, "Philadelphia Neighborhoods", and Temple University's "TUTV", the rest of the news media missed out. Totally.
Last week's announcement that Philadelphia will host again the "VARELA National Awards on Excellence in American Journalism on Latino and Multicultural Issues", with $40,000 dollars in awards for Journalists across the US, including those from dormant Philadelphia, went largely unnoticed across town by everybody, including by the journalists themselves called to earn the honor and the substantial cash.
Even the professional Journalists holding to a harder-than-ever-to-keep job, missed out this public announcement made at Temple's School of Communications, by Journalism Chair, Dr. Andrew Mendelson, Dr. Tom Jacobson, Dean of the School of Communications, and myself.
Journalism, at this uncertain dawn of the 21st Century, is not dead.
On the contrary it is "alive and kickin'..."
It is the case in Philadelphia, in particular, where the "Philadelphia Spirit" can turn turbulent, once it "remembers" and finally "wakes up."
It is for us, the enlightened on the value of this memory from the Past --so full of meaning toward our common future-- to reach out more aggressively, and also more gently, but always persistently, to call the attention of our local writers and editors to this simple story.
It is the simple story of a man who preceded us all, and was better writer, and way more thoughtful than the majority of us. Perhaps way better than Mr. Lincoln Steffens, too busy himself muckraking that was left with no time to polish more his very basic writing craft.
His name, again, is Father Félix VARELA y MORALES, as it will be written on a PA Historical and Museum Commission blue metal plaque in front of #70 South of 3rd Street, later this year, where this first and foremost Latino resident of our city wrote, also preached, and also published, for the first time in America, in the Spring of year 1824.