The wide-spread popularity of Sara Morell’s ‘15 petition objecting to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) proposed 2015 suspension of the Media/Elwyn regional rail line has exceeded all of her expectations. The petition, which was originally designed as a means for students at the college to voice opposition to the line’s shutdown, has amassed support from people living throughout Delaware County and beyond. The petition has currently received 3,370 signatures, most of which, to the surprise of the petition’s creators, have come from individuals not affiliated with the college.
“I never really thought that the petition would gain the level of support that it did,” said Morell, who drafted the petition with the assistance of political science professor Ben Berger.
Morell’s inspiration for the petition came over fall break when, through Berger, she found out about a rally being organized by Swarthmore Mayor Rick Lowe to support the continued opeartion of the Media/Elwyn line. According to Berger, the rally was an important means of voicing support for SB-1, the State Senate-passed transportation bill that would provide SEPTA with $400 million more per year. SEPTA has requested more than that but says it will be able to maintain current service with that amount. Berger warned students in the email that “SB-1 is far from a sure thing right now.”
Because the rally took place over the break, few students were able to attend. This prompted Morell, a student in Berger’s “Democratic Theory and Civic Engagement” class, to take action by finding a way to demonstrate the support of students at the college while they were away. She decided to use Change.org, a website where one can create a petition and share it over social media.
The petition is directed at Pennsylvania House Speaker Sam Smith (R., Jefferson) and Minority Leader Frank Dermody (D., Allegheny), asking them to voice opposition to the line’s closure in the House of Representatives.
“This petition is a very small part of a much larger bit of organizing around this issue,” said Morell.
Other organizational efforts include a letter, which she attached to her petition, written by Mayor Lowe to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives calling on representatives Smith and Dermody to advocate for SB-1.
Lowe’s letter highlights the line’s role as a means of access to the hospitals, job opportunities, educational facilities and arts and culture of Philadelphia. He also cites the importance of the SEPTA line as a means of bringing economic development to the borough of Swarthmore.
Lowe concluded the letter by saying, “Please do not let a small minority in the House block a measure that could help prevent an economic disaster striking our town and surrounding area.”
“It’s obviously an issue that greatly affects this school,” said Morell. “But reading the comments on the petition allowed me to recognize the broad scope of the problems.”
It was through these comments, in which individuals living along the Media/Elwyn line voiced their concerns about everything from longer commutes to the depreciation of the value of their homes, that Morell realized her petition had the potential to speak for a broad community.
“It was really important that the message stay the same for all of the people who were signing it, but also that the petition properly reflected the range of people being affected by this issue,” she said. Morell redrafted the petition but was careful not to make significant alterations beyond including a sentence about how Delaware County citizens would be affected. Signatories represent communities from all over the region including Swarthmore, Wallingford, Philadelphia, Media and many more.
While the petition has received extensive support throughout the Swarthmore community, not everyone thinks it is the best means of handling the potential SEPTA shutdown. Preston Cooper ’15, managing editor of the conservative Swarthmore Independent, argued that the opposition should focus more on the way that state agencies like SEPTA pay construction workers.
“I respect the petition, but I see this situation as an opportunity for broader reforms,” said Cooper. Cooper suggested that Pennsylvania’s prevailing wage law, which calls for workers on state-sponsored projects to be paid at the prevailing union rate, should be modified or eliminated. Some House Republicans are making a similar push, arguing a deal on funding will not be reached without some modification of the law.
Regardless, all seem to agree that the closure of the SEPTA line would have terrible consequences for both the college and Pennsylvania residents living along the Media/Elwyn line.
“The vote in Harrisburg is imminent, so if you care about this issue now is the time to act,” Berger said.