GCAS Democracy Rising Philadelphia @ the University of Pennsylvania

GCAS Democracy Rising Philadelphia @ the University of Pennsylvania

Democracy Rising: Philadelphia

Report &  Slideshow

On July 24, GCAS organized our second annual Democracy Rising event, held at Slought (University of Pennsylvania). It was a day of dialogue and work, a time when over 60 artists, intellectuals, poets, activists, filmmakers and writers came together to frame the great challenges that confront us in our time. The event was set in the wake of political stirrings that emerged from the financial crisis of 2008, carrying forward into anti-establishment movements such as Occupy Wall Street and other cultural, social and political formations clamoring for relief from the pressures of neoliberalism and its institutionalized political component, described by Sheldon Wolin (and referenced by Chris Hedges in his talk that morning) as “inverted totalitarianism”.

GCAS researchers, eminent intellectuals and activists, and members of the public joined us for talks in the morning and dialogues in the afternoon.

Take a look at our slideshow  and report from the day below. We are processing videos we recorded throughout the day, which we will release for viewing soon.


Democracy Rising Philadelphia was filled with multi-media experiences, from short talks to dialogues, to a film by New York artist Phyllis Baldino, and music by local band Interminable.  The event differed from last year’s inaugural Democracy Rising event held in Athens, this year with a smaller discussion-oriented group, but the stakes remained high. Last years event took place amidst the turmoil of the Greek government folding to the pressure of the European Union’s new round of austerity proposals, despite the July 7th Referendum in which 63% of the Greek people voted “Oxi” (No) to the deal. This year we met in the shadow of the Democratic National Convention, as the above-referenced emergent movements face increasingly entrenched and ominous reactionary forces. The continuity between the two events was palpable, as the questions that drove us to Athens remained: How can we realize democracy and provide the most basic standards of living in the midst of the financial regime of the 1%? As Pablo Bustinduy remarked during the afternoon’s dialogues, “the characters change, but the plot remains the same.”

The context this year built on the analyses of last year, and added new angles. The questions of racism and prison education emerged to the fore through the talks of public activists Boris Franklin, Walter Fortson and Tormell Pitman, who spoke to the menacing brutality of white supremacy and the perils it presents to the solidarity that is so critical to movements today. Pulitzer prize winning writer, Chris Hedges preached the gospel of social justice, drawing on his experience as a journalist in the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, and elsewhere. Dr. Margaret Flowers spoke about her experiences resisting the deadlock of democratic representation and running for US Senate with the Green Party. She emphasized the necessity of resisting the enormous pressures we are under to compromise our most cherished goals and values in the name of a pragmatism that benefits only the most powerful.

GCAS’ graduate seminar “Listening Voices” contributed poems and performance pieces to the event, with researchers Nina PolachekSadie Luetmer, Ilya V. Abulkhanov Sigrid Hackenberg, Eva Burke, Jacques Abir, Erik Hayner, Zachary Isrow, Bonita McBride, Sviatlana Viarbitskaya, and Rosie O’Brien reading words that called us to remember the aesthetic power of our language as we discuss and analyze, and to think anew about hope and the impossible.

The middle part of the day opened up both critical analyses and positive strategies for moving forward through interventions and talks from Richard Stanislaw, Ethan Earle, Alan Richard, Joshua Ramey, and Shon Meckfessel.

After lunch we were honored by the presence of Occupy Wall Street organizer Winnie Wong and Spanish Podemos MP Pablo Bustinduy. Engaging with the room in dialogue they discussed both tactics of organizing, and the insights they have from their experiences in social movements and electoral politics.

GCAS Organizer and MA researcher Nathan Wiley helped frame the event around the pamphlet of declarations which will be published this fall as an outcome of the day’s work.  The GCAS Organizing team will be working hard in the coming weeks to compile content from the day and design this document. Stay tuned for publication information!

In addition to our vibrant group in Philadelphia we had friends tuning into our livestream from around the world, and researchers who joined us and followed along in GCAS’ Big Blue Button online classroom. You can watch videos of the day on our livestream page here. As mentioned, we are processing these now and will release them in more viewer-friendly formats soon.

GCAS would like to thank our organizers, Sadie, Rosie, Nathan and Sigrid.

For more information about the development and spirit of the event, and on concept behind the pamphlet, please visit the Democracy Rising Philadelphia event page.