Coalition to Defend Democracy Forms to Fight Act 40, Defend Philly Voters

Bishop Dwayne Royster speaks as a members of the assembled Coalition to Defend Democracy applaud

On Wednesday March 12th a coalition of labor and community organizations gathered at Bethel AME Church to launch the Coalition to Defend Democracy. Organizations such as Amistad Law Project and Abolitionist Law Center have joined forces with POWER, Black Clergy of Philadelphia, SEIU Healthcare PA, NAACP Philadelphia Branch, Working Families Party, Philly Neighborhood Networks, Penn Policy Center, Free The Ballot, CHARLES Foundation, Healing Communities and Frontline Dads to stand against all attempts to disenfranchise or usurp our vote. Watch our full press conference here:

Late last year, the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed a law to establish a state-appointed special prosecutor to oversee crimes on SEPTA properties in Philadelphia.  Act 40 potentially strips Philadelphia’s democratically elected District Attorney of jurisdictional authority over the vast majority of Philadelphia allowing a special prosecutor the jurisdictional authority to cherry pick cases at or near SEPTA stops. We spoke out against it immediately. 

“We think this is a dangerous precedent in disenfranchising communities of color by the state legislature during a pivotal election year while the future of democracy is on the ballot,” said Robert ‘Saleem’ Holbrook of Abolitionist Law Center. 

“It becomes a slippery slope that if we can do it here we will do it in other places. We will find more ways to be able to take back your power.” said Bishop Dwayne Royster of POWER.

Act 40 undermines the will of all Philadelphians, particularly the predominantly Black and Brown voters who elected DA Larry Krasner twice. It doesn’t strip jurisdictional authority from any other District Attorney in any other county––only Philadelphia, the city with the highest percentage of Black and Brown people in the state. It became law as a deal between Republican lawmakers and Democratic leadership to pass a budget that ironically left SEPTA woefully underfunded. This is yet another clear example that this law is not about public safety on public transit. 

“The simple truth is that well funded public goods keep us safe,” said Kris Henderson, Executive Director, Amistad Law Project. “What doesn’t make us safe are political games that disenfranchise voters and make people cynical about participating in political life. If we want to talk about criminality, it’s a total crime that––time and time again––our beautiful city of Philadelphia, including the public transportation system upon which we depend, is defunded by politicians with an agenda out in the counties.”

The Coalition to Defend Democracy is an effort that builds upon past work by unions and community groups to defend the democratic agency of Philly voters. From ending the School Reform Commission, which once stopped our municipal government from being able to control our own schools, to fighting the impeachment of our elected DA, we will resist any attempts to stop of us from governing ourselves.

Stay tuned and get ready to mobilize for a protest against ACT 40 on Thursday, April 4th.  It is crucially important that in a time when forces on the extreme right want to erode democratic norms that we give them not one inch. 


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