As the the Democratic National Convention gets underway today in Philadelphia, residents and elected officials hope to bring attention to the city’s Chinatown, one of the last low-income communities of color in the Center City corridor. Over the last few decades, the area has lost a third of its housing and half of its land to development projects, “urban renewal” and gentrification, which threatens to displace residents. But for the past 15 years, Chinatown’s residents have organized and fought back. They’ve successfully fended off a plan to build a $600 million baseball stadium, and pushed back on a proposal to put a casino in the heart of Chinatown. We speak with longtime community activist Helen Gym, who was recently elected to the Philadelphia City Council, the first Asian-American woman ever to serve on the council.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Quickly, the state took over the running of the public schools supposedly to improve them—
HELEN GYM: That’s right.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —but has there been any improvement? And also, there’s been a huge growth in charters schools, as there has been all around the country.
HELEN GYM: Yes. So, in 2001, the state took over the Philadelphia public schools. At the time, they wanted to give Philadelphia, as the largest school district, over to a for-profit management company called Edison Schools Inc., which no longer exists, in fact. And, you know, in between, we’ve been subjected to all manner of experimentation and reckless, in my mind, reckless privatization of our—of a very central public institution. We have one of the larger school—charter school expansion systems in our city. It has not stabilized things for our public schools. It hasn’t necessarily led to more financing or more money, that is, more resources going into our classrooms. And so, we have a big struggle right now between, you know, a massively expanding system, but at the private end and on the individual single school model. We’re looking at an investment in a public school system overall.