Community Advocacy in Action during City Council Budget Hearings

group pose at City Council hearingLast month, the Penn State Center Philadelphia team rallied alongside local community members and activists at City Hall, marking a landmark moment in community advocacy. With Mayor Cherelle Parker’s proposal of the One Philly budget for fiscal year 2025 earlier this spring, Philadelphia residents got a chance to provide public testimony and feedback on the plan during an in-person hearing on April 24. While the event was open to the public, there were many barriers to be a part of that process and have all voices heard.

Carly Pourzand, director of community-driven impact at the Penn State Center Philadelphia, helped to navigate that process and provide support for several individuals who took time to voice their concerns and priorities about topics spanning from parks and recreation funding to worker protections and mental health resources. Collaborating closely with the Alliance for a Just Philadelphia, El Comité de Trabajadorxs, and other grassroots organizations, the Center team helped community members advocate for a “People’s Budget” — a visionary initiative aiming to redistribute resources from areas like policing, debt servicing, and fossil fuels toward fully funding essential city services.

“This was such a powerful day,” said Pourzand. “It was incredible to hear so many community members come out and speak passionately about what they want to see in their city.  Our goal was to make sure all voices are not only present but also heard loud and clear. It shows how we can be united by the common goal of ensuring equitable representation.”

There were a lot of challenges to work through in order to actually participate in these testimonies, especially for many in the Spanish-speaking community. Because of the advocacy of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Domestic Worker’s Alliance, this event also marked a historic milestone as the first City Council meeting to be interpreted live in both English and Spanish — a testament to the growing diversity and inclusivity of Philadelphia’s civic landscape.

Throughout the process, Pourzand and the Center team supported three Spanish-speaking working mothers affiliated with El Comité, a community group that advocates for immigrant workers’ rights and welfare in the restaurant industry. She worked closely with them to navigate registration, coordinate logistics of the day, and prepare their powerful testimonies. These narratives from El Comité highlighted pressing community issues, including an urgent need for enhanced worker protections and increased investment in public parks. What was most important to the Center was that El Comité members practiced sharing their own stories.

One individual from El Comité testified that her experience while working in restaurants was wrought with sexual harassment and gender-based violence. With little to no support available from leadership and policy, she was forced to leave the workplace.

 “I began to have health problems due to the stress of workplace harassment. In other cases, the endings are worse, even suicide. With the chronically underfunded Office of Worker Protection, workers do not feel safe or supported to defend their rights or file claims of sexual harassment and violence. We need a better budget that protects and supports workers,” she said.

Another mother with El Comité echoed the ask for $2.6 million to support the Office of Worker Protection and discussed the wage gap and sick leave for workers. She testified, “I ask that city council take the side of workers and give us protections because we are so important to Pennsylvania’s economy.”

El Comité workers also asked the mayor and city council for an immediate increase of $25 million for parks and recreation. She cited the difficulty in finding a safe place for childcare during summer months while parents are working.

“As immigrant and working parents, we feel that our children are left out. With $25 million to parks and recreation, we can have enough staff to keep each recreation facility safe and operational. I need to know that you, Madame Mayor, and City Council are protecting my rights. The hardworking people who make this city of Philadelphia move deserve to have this support,” one individual said.

The collaborative efforts of the Penn State Center Philadelphia, El Comité, and their allies underscored the pivotal role of community engagement in shaping policy decisions. In a city where every voice carries weight, their collective action not only made history but also laid the groundwork for a more inclusive and equitable future.