YI Conversations: SEPTA Strike

November 7, 2016

septa-station-photoIn the past month, the Youth Initiative has added a City Life Simulation to our repertoire. The purpose of the simulation is to present Youth Initiative participants with realistic decisions that a family living in Philadelphia has to make regarding monthly expenses. Each participant receives a household size and a gross monthly income. The household sizes range from 1 to 2 adults with 1 to 2 children, and the gross monthly incomes are based on the average living, minimum, and poverty wages in Philadelphia. After receiving this information, simulation participants move their way through scenario based stations that present spending decisions surrounding food, children’s education, transportation, health insurance, housing, adult education, as well as a “wild card” station that presents unexpected yet realistic expenses and sources of income. At the end of the simulation, participants share how and what they prioritize and what money they have remaining. Then, we get to ask the question: what’s missing? What other expenses exist in the world that we did not include in our simulation? Childcare. Taxes. Copays and medication. Wifi. Smartphones. Utilities. The list goes on.

If we were to host a Youth Initiative group last week and run our City Life Simulation, we would certainly have had to make a note to participants that while they may have chosen to “purchase” SEPTA transpasses for their families, in reality, they might not actually have been able to use them. If we were hosting a Youth Initiative group last week, we would be amiss to not discuss the implications of Transit Worker Union strike. We would present the viewpoints of both SEPTA and the Union. We would discuss that the union is protesting the discrepancies in pensions between SEPTA management and operators. We would discuss workers’ rights. We would discuss how wage raises and pension increases would be at the expense of the public transit riders.

Apart from the union workers and SETPA representatives, we would discuss how a SEPTA strike affects the city.

For many Philadelphians, the SEPTA strike is a nuisance – an increase in traffic congestion, less parking availability, longer commutes – but is livable. For others, it’s inconsequential.

But for others, the SEPTA strike has the potential to be crippling. How many students cannot make it to school? How many people have missed critical doctor’s appointments? How many have been unable to report for jury duty? How many workers have been late to jobs, been written up for it, and are at risk of losing employment? How many of those affected of vulnerable, marginalized Philadelphians?

For all, the SEPTA strike offers an opportunity to critically engage with current events in our world, what informs social and political movements, and what steps must be taken to achieve progress. We must all ask the questions: What are the racial implications of the SEPTA workers strike? What are workers entitled to, and to what extent are they entitled to ensure that they receive these entitlements? To what end does the whole suffer to satisfy a portion? If we were to host a Youth Initiative group last week, we would immerse them into the reality of life in Philadelphia, unapologetically informing them on and asking questions around the complex issues facing our beloved city.

The Youth Initiative doesn’t exist to take sides or to tell participants what and how to believe. The Youth Initiative exists to ask the necessary questions of youth, to train them to make observations and ask questions of the world around them, and to investigate past and present social, cultural, and economic contexts that inform how we interact with our neighbors.

If you’d like to bring a group to explore the complexities of our city, to engage with vulnerable Philadelphians, and to broach subjects not always discussed openly, let us know. Contact Devin Johns a devin@broadstreetministry.org or visit the Youth Initiative website at bit.ly/BSMYI. We can’t wait to learn with you.


Written by: Devin Johns