The No #PhillyShrug campaign begins

Helen Ubinas sports her thought-provoking T-shirt with airbrushers Jordan Santiago (left) and Omar Brown in the Gallery at Market East.
Helen Ubinas sports her thought-provoking T-shirt with airbrushers Jordan Santiago (left) and Omar Brown in the Gallery at Market East.
Posted: March 15, 2013

IT STARTS WITH a T-shirt, a $25 anti- #PhillyShrug custom creation by the guys at Airtime Airbrush in the Gallery at Market East.

Jordan Santiago dutifully took down my specs, including a trademark symbol. Branding is essential in a campaign, people.

Though when I went to pick up the shirt the next day, airbrusher Omar Jones admitted he wasn't sure what it meant.

"I figured it had something to do with ... muscles?" he guessed.

Close. I coined the term in a column last month about Philly's "whaddya-gonna-do" reaction to everything from dirty streets to shady politicians - including a governor who apparently doesn't see what the big whoop is about lobbyists acting like his sugar daddies.

My point: If city residents would just stop shrugging and start exerting their collective voices - and yes, muscle - a lot of what needs to change in Philly would.

Plenty of you shrugged at that, too. But you know what, Philly? I shrug at your shrug.

The No Philly Shrug campaign is on.

"We call that 'If it don't apply, let it fly,' " Santiago said as he handed me the shirt.

"Oh great," I said. "So there are multiple names for this attitude?"

"People have been doing that for longer than I've been alive," the 28-year-old said.

The way Santiago figures it, people get tired of fighting and losing. "Just look at the schools."

"Fine," I said as I slipped the shirt on over my sweater. "Let's look at the schools" - because frankly what unfolded during the schools-closure hearings illustrates exactly the kind of attitude Philly needs more of.

Did most schools slated to close remain on the closure list? Yes. But a few were removed from the chopping block. Credit the passionate - outraged - parents, teachers and students who fought the good fight. A fight that is far from over.

Santiago didn't say much at first, but I could tell he was mulling that over.

"No, I get it ... there's strength in numbers," he said after some thought. "I guess you just have to make sure you have the right leaders."

And expectations. Much as an outrage machine like myself wishes it were different, outrage doesn't always come with a win. It's about being involved and engaged, and putting unchecked mopes who sidestep laws and ethics and common decency on blast.

Sometimes that means you lose. But never as much as if you don't even try.

As folks passed by the airbrush stand, Brown took a break and joined the conversation. The 43-year-old spent years trying to improve things in his Philadelphia neighborhood, he said. Eventually, he committed what many call the ultimate Philly Shrug - he moved out.

In a city where people get killed over dog poop, Brown said, you have to be real careful where you direct your outrage. "We're living in an era of disrespect," he said.

True. But what if we take a cue from all those parents and teachers and students who protested school closures and apply our own passion to issues that have been shrugged off for too long? It's a long list. Pick one. Any one. Property tax deadbeats, for example.

Wouldn't we at least start to chip away at the ingrained Philly Shrug, I asked?

By this point, we attracted the attention of George Huckins, who was talking with Brown before I engaged the business partners in my ploy to end the Philly Shrug.

Huckins said shrugging has become something of a coping/survival mechanism. Maybe the answer lies in reaching the younger generation, he offered.

Maybe. But before pushing more problems onto the next generation, let's step up and do our part.

I'm new around here, not naive. The Philly Shrug was generations in the making and it's going to be a tough habit to break.

But even Patrick Huss - a former Philadelphian who responded to my Philly Shrug Tweets who said "shrugging beats banging one's head bloody against a corrupt machine" - admitted "Philadelphians are capable of great passion."

Just look at how much they dedicate to sports and cheesesteaks, he said.

Want to join the No Philly Shrug campaign at the ground level? Tell me what you or someone you know are doing to break the deadly Philly Shrug cycle. Winners get exclusive Airtime Airbrush anti-#PhillyShrug T-shirts.



Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen. Ubinas

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