Councilmember Helen Gym spoke at AL DÍA Talks on Sept. 19, 2018. Photo: Samantha Laub / AL DÍA News
 Councilmember Helen Gym spoke at AL DÍA Talks on Sept. 19, 2018. Photo: Samantha Laub / AL DÍA News

To build a movement

Councilmember Helen Gym’s call for change is being heard loud and clear, from City Hall to Capitol Hill. 


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This appeared in the AL FRENTE section (Editor's Note) of the print edition published 12/25/19.


If there is one thing about Councilmember Helen Gym which no one could question, it is this: She shows up. 

Protests, events, signings, openings - she’s everywhere that she has something to say. And there are a lot of things about which she has a lot to say. 

It’s part of her ethos, not just as a politician but as a citizen, an organizer, and, perhaps most tellingly, as a journalist (in our story on pg. 12 it’s notable that, intentional or not, Gym says she is a journalist, using the present tense to still identify with the profession). 

“I hope that what people see, despite all the chaos we see all around us, is an essential need for people to get engaged and involved - to understand that politics doesn’t have to just be election day and candidates, that politics is about every single day of our lives,” Gym told AL DÍA in September 2018. 

Her Fair Workweek legislation was about to be passed that fall, and her work so far in her first term in City Council had solidified her role as a leader of a variety of progressive causes. 

Flash forward a year, and Gym is still focused on the same message. It’s just that now, her audience has grown. 

Her legislative achievements in 2018 set the stage for Gym’s rising national profile in 2019, and a resounding affirmation of her first-term legislative efforts at the ballot box with her own victory and that of third-party candidate Kendra Brooks, whom Gym supported against Democratic establishment wishes

The councilmember, who achieved the most amount of votes in recent history for any at-large City Council candidate, has been a local voice on the national stage. In July, she gave a keynote address at Netroots Nation ahead of the presidential forum—featuring Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, and others—in which she urged Democratic leaders not to fall into looking for safe routes to victory at the expense of bolder action given the urgency of climate change, poverty, discrimination, and the many other issues which the country faces. 

Another national spotlight shone on Gym last week, when she was named in ELLE as one of 20 women of color to watch in politics in 2020, according to She the People.  

In her interview with AL DÍA for this week’s cover story featuring the councilmember as our person of the year, Gym says that she eschews the label of “progressive,” and dislikes the concept of “celebrity politicians,” though at this point many would find it difficult not to associate her with both of those concepts, given her popularity among voters and her track record in City Council.  

But all labels and honors aside, Gym is adamant that she sees herself as part of a movement for “quality public schools, clean drinking water, and a roof over people's heads,” and other “immediate and fundamental human rights needs.”  

 And if her personal political trajectory tells us anything, it is that her legislative vision is winning - in Philadelphia and beyond. 


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