The reaction was predictable, of course. 

The Union League of Philadelphia gives its annual Gold Medal Award to (conservative) Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, and leftist alarm bells sound a call to action. Like the parting of the Red Sea, out came the red brigades, the street activists with hastily written placards, woke editorial writers and social media commentators (Facebook) calling the Union League’s decision to award DeSantis its highest honor “repugnant” and “hateful.”

Many pledged they would never set foot in the place again despite the Club’s legendary swank cocktail parties. 

READ MORE — Thom Nickels: City Council’s proposed sprinkler ordinance looks to be costly and ineffective

Councilwoman Helen Gym, Philadelphia’s version of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, jumped into the fray with this to say: 

“You’ve got to have somebody, when, as soon as they walk into the room, systems of oppression fall and new systems of opportunity are built. When I walk into the room, systems of oppression fall and new systems of opportunity come up, and everybody in the room knows it.” 

Besides being a Rubik’s cube of messianic psychobabble, that statement certainly did not prevent Helen Gym from enjoying a Union League cocktail party a few days later — proof, perhaps, that one cannot “cancel” the Union League as if it were just another “racist” statue in South Philadelphia.

On the other hand, one could always ask: Dear Helen Gym, how do you spell h-y-p-o-c-r-i-s-y?

Cartoon by Tom Stiglich

At least the leftist street activists — in hibernation since the George Floyd riots of 2020 — finally had something to sink their teeth into. But, yes, there they were in front of the Union League with their shaggy hair, trim Leninist beards, smiling or holding placards picturing Nazis while others waved ideological flags of various denominations.

In an editorial protest, The Philadelphia Tribune quoted the Rev. Alyn E. Waller of the Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church.

“It is a disgrace. It is wrong. It is a smack in the face of the people of this city,” Waller said. “How are you going to honor someone in a city that is 44 percent African American, and he has determined that an AP course on African American history has no educational value? That is not acceptable.” 

(Well, Rev. Waller, perhaps if that AP course on African American history had more African American history in it and less Black Lives Matter, there wouldn’t be a problem.) 

Senator Vincent Hughes, quoted by the Tribune, asked, “Why are you promoting this individual who, in their philosophy, sees so many people, black and brown folks, LGBTQ+ folks, as secondhand citizens?”

All City Council members, with the exception of David Oh and Brian J. O’Neill, signed a letter to the Union League’s CEO Jeffery McFadden, expressing their “strong disappointment” in the club for its actions.

“We will not allow anybody, whether they’re from Florida, or wherever, to come to Philadelphia and disrespect us,” said the Reverend Robert Collier of the Black Clergy of Philadelphia.

How well I remember the Black Clergy of Philadelphia in their vociferous opposition to the city’s early Gay Rights Bills in the 1970s, when some of their members yelled in front of City Hall that homosexuals should not be protected from job discrimination because they had “rotten teeth.” 

Talk about disrespect! 

Let’s consider, for a moment, some of DeSantis’s controversial policies: 

Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law prohibits classroom discussion about gender identity and sexual orientation from kindergarten through the third grade, the idea being that discussions concerning sexuality, gay or straight, should only be handled by parents or families. Toddlers, after all, should not be subject to state-sponsored programs that tap into made up gender philosophies that have nothing to do with reality.

When you look at the Florida law this way, it’s neither anti-LGBT or anti-heterosexual. 

Activists call DeSantis a racist because Florida rejected the Marxist basis of Critical Race Theory that divides the world into only two groups: the oppressed and the oppressor.

The Goldwater Institute is correct when it states that Critical Race Theory places an emphasis on grouping individuals into categories and then calling for additional rights and benefits to be given to minority ethnic groups. 

This was the beginning of “identity politics.” 

It’s as if the entire city has swallowed a social activist pill that’s turned everybody into a monochrome-thinking robot, much like all those activist hippies in the ‘60s who carried around the sayings of Chairman Mao.

“The adherents of Critical Race Theory advocate for the destruction of businesses, public buildings, and monuments,” the Institute stated. “College students who shout down their peers, professors, or guest speakers use the language of Critical Race Theory when they demand that others should be silenced because of their beliefs. K–12 materials based on Critical Race Theory teach that we should be less tolerant of ideas with which we disagree, making children ill-prepared to respectfully hear and debate various points of view in the future.”

The charge that DeSantis is anti-immigrant is another false flag, although the Left would have you believe that to ship busloads of illegal migrants to American cities — cities designated as sanctuary cities — is somehow racist and anti-American. It is the Left that has worked hard to erase the distinction between legal and illegal immigration: In 2022 alone, 502,602 migrants from South America were released into multiple American cities already saddled with problems of drug addiction and homelessness. 

For some years now I’ve been hearing comments about the rising tide of new liberal Union League members, and how many of these new members have an affinity for all things “woke.” This was disappointing news to me because it was my hope that the Union League would be the last holdout in a city that has gone woke at every level.

It matters little where you go — art gallery or theater openings, the Barnes, PMA, the American Philosophical Society, et cetera — you will find that everything starts off the same way: you’ll be lectured on land acknowledgments, diversity, equity, equality, and maybe even the use of pronouns. The feeling is somewhat like being in the second grade and being instructed by your betters.

It’s as if the entire city has swallowed a social activist pill that’s turned everybody into a monochrome-thinking robot, much like all those activist hippies in the ‘60s who carried around the sayings of Chairman Mao. 

This is why it is spectacular thing to see the Union League stand aside and say “no” to the protest rabble on Broad Street; a “no” to the editorial rabble in the city’s newsrooms, and another resounding “no” to City Council’s “rabble” condemnation of the DeSantis award.

As for those members of the League — nearly 100, as reported by the press — who objected to the DeSantis award and threatened to leave the League, one can only say: Dear League members, if it was your intention to change the League into a social arm of City Council when you joined, then I am happy you are hurt and outraged that the League didn’t capitulate to your demands because this means — thank God — that the forces of “woke” don’t yet have complete control of the city.

Thom Nickels is a Philadelphia-based journalist/columnist and the 2005 recipient of the AIA Lewis Mumford Award for Architectural Journalism. He writes for City Journal, New York and Frontpage Magazine. He is the author of fifteen books, including ”Literary Philadelphia” and ”From Mother Divine to the Corner Swami: Religious Cults in Philadelphia.” His latest, “Death in Philadelphia: The Murder of Kimberly Ernest will be released in May 2023.

3 thoughts on “Thom Nickels: Thank the Union League for standing up to lefty groupthink”

  1. No place in the Union League for wild eyed lefties. If they lied on their application to get in, the club must remove them and hold their sponsors accountable. Plenty of other places for leftwing loons.

  2. The thing with leftist activists is they rail against what they perceive to be injustices, either racial, class, educational or economic. But, once they achieve power, they perpetuate the same so-called injustices. I never saw a destitute leftist activist.

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