Keep Philly Cool; Open the Pools!

PHILADELPHIA — A group of some 100 citizens of Philadelphia of different generations from communities across the city demonstrated at City Hall yesterday with a simple demand: “Open our pools!” Their signs and chants left little doubt about their message:

“Turn on the Tap!” — “Mayor Nutter, Turn on the Water!”

The demonstration was a grass roots response to the city’s decision to close 27 of its 73 public swimming pools as a cost saving measure. The protesters first rallied outside City Hall in the noon sun where they heard adults and children address the group. The intensity of their feelings came out in their words.

Claudia Sherrod, president of the Point Breeze Community Development Corporation, said that two pools in her area had been closed and “the pools are dry and empty; the children need the pools and the youth need to be reached.”

Irene Russell of South Philadelphia posed the question: “What can our kids do if they can’t go to the library and they can’t go to the pool, but they can walk out the door and buy a gun? Put the money back in the neighborhoods!”

Damon Roberts, a South Philadelphia attorney, father of two and an organizer of the rally told the group, “This is not just about pools; it’s about what they represent: a place where children can go when they are not in school. Closing pools and closing libraries is a recipe for disaster. We do not want the budget balanced on the backs of our kids!”

After the outdoor rally, the group proceeded into City Hall and to the second floor hallway outside the mayor’s office. There the rally continued until the mayor’s chief of staff, Clarence Armbrister, came out to face them.

Armbrister explained that the mayor was in Harrisburg lobbying on the budget, but the demonstrators stood their ground and refused to back off their issues. They questioned Armbrister about priorities and about tax abatements for Center City real estate developers while the City was closing pools, libraries and fire stations.

Earlier this year, the threatened closing of 11 city public libraries was averted by the timely action of a city-wide coalition which is now supporting the neighborhoods who have lost their swimming pools this summer. The rally made clear that the pool closings are affecting neighborhoods in widely different parts of the city.

Many of the young people present took the microphone and eloquently expressed their urgent desire to have their swimming pools reopened. The group was predominantly African American, but it included white youngsters from Kensington which has also had pool closings. Samantha Mackie of Fishtown told the crowd she felt “horrible” about having no place to swim or go for fun this summer.