Savage Politics

Our sex-columnist-turned-political-trash-talker is coming here from Seattle to make sure Santorum gets whipped but good.

By Liz Spikol
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 4, 2006

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As often happens with Web-based success, bumper stickers and T-shirts followed. The word found its way into salacious dictionaries--and books published on actual paper. Ultimately Santorum--the man--was forced to acknowledge the word existed. It was Savage's--and Savage Love readers'--great triumph.

"My goal was to get Santorum's hands dirty, discuss it and have it rubbed in his nose," says Savage, "and once I got letters he'd sent to constituents talking about it and videos of somebody asking him about it, I threw it up on the website and declared 'mission accomplished' on my aircraft carrier."

The definition Savage Love spawned is still the No. 1 Google result for the word santorum.

The senator's official website is No. 2.

Murphy's awe: PAS founder Ray marvels at what like-minded people can do when they work together.
Ray Murphy, founder of Philadelphians Against Santorum (PAS), is the yin to Dan Savage's yang. He's as politically passionate, but instead of railing and swearing, he talks sweetly about his West Philadelphia upbringing of yard cleanups and neighborhood activism. He and Savage share a pragmatism and disdain for self-righteous posturing, but Murphy has none of the urgent aggression Savage expresses.

Murphy, 27, has been involved in political activism since he helped form a block association when he was 14.

"During one of those big snowstorms in the early '90s our next-door neighbor was shot and almost killed after being mugged," Murphy recalls. "Many of our neighbors were really upset and realized they didn't know one another very well. We all pulled together and formed a block group. This was West Philly--there were no vigilante or NIMBY attitudes."

One of those neighbors gave Murphy a present: his "first copy," as he puts it, of Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. There was no chance now he'd grow up to sell stocks. By the time he turned 15, he was elected to the board of one of the community associations.

After Murphy came out of the closet, he helped found the first LGBT student group at Central High. ("It wasn't easy," he says.)

At college in Pittsburgh he put his organizing skills to use trying to overthrow a conservative student government and elect a slate of folks from traditionally underrepresented campus groups--African-American and Southeast Asian students, women and LGBTs. "When I actually went to class," Murphy says, "I was a social work major."

Murphy came back to his beloved hometown--he calls Philly a "temptress"--to work for the Philadelphia Unemployment Project as a welfare organizer. After that he left for a job in Harrisburg as coordinator of a newly formed labor-faith-community-advocacy coalition called United Pennsylvanians.

In 2004 he started working for, and it was a turning point. He'd been accustomed to working directly with the people whom his activism would affect. But working with MoveOn meant targeting a different group--"you know, Center City, Mt. Airy-type residents who really do have a lot to say but don't feel like anyone ever came up to them and asked their opinion, or gave them an outlet for their anger that they felt was productive." Murphy was energized by the commitment he saw among more than 2,000 volunteers.

"They knocked on the doors of tons of people they didn't know, their neighbors, and got them out to the polls on Election Day," says Murphy with wonder. "And it wasn't just about winning on Election Day, but it was also this process of having to build a community. That's always been what drives me--this desire to strengthen communities. That's often kind of said in a platitude kind of way, but I mean that really specifically. I've always enjoyed living and spending time and being around people who aren't exactly like me but who have some things in common and are all kind of committed to living a lifestyle where everybody's happy and everybody has opportunity."

Murphy realizes it sounds utopian and possibly naive, but he saw it work. "I felt like MoveOn volunteers were kind of demonstrating what it would mean to build those kinds of communities in Philadelphia."

But after the national election MoveOn "kind of picked up their marbles and went home," he says. "There wasn't a lot of cultivation of leadership and building of relationships among the folks who were really active in the campaign. It became clear to me we needed to have groups similar in style to MoveOn but locally controlled so we could extract resources beyond the particular election we'd be working on.

"Logically the Democratic Party and the city would be the normal place for that to happen, but I think there's a real sense the party's not that welcoming to people who have a different level of energy and a different set of ideas."

Translation: Machine politics aren't very friendly to young visionaries like Ray Murphy. But in a city with less than 50 percent voter turnout, maybe it's time for new tactics, which is probably why PAS gets strong support from Philly for Change (PFC), an offshoot of Philly for Dean that's since worked on a variety of local issues, and plans to be active in the 2007 primary.

Along with PFC, which relied heavily on the tactic during Anne Dicker's state rep campaign, Murphy is still committed to "field"--going door-to-door, talking to people one on one. That kind of personal engagement during political campaigns is a lost art, and it can be powerful in state races, he says.

"But beating Santorum by knocking on a lot of doors alone isn't going to turn the tide for Philadelphia progressives and others who want to make Philadelphia a better place to live," Murphy cautions. "The current machine's more than 50 years old, and is a testament to the fact it takes time to build power."

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