Freda Egnal

Them That Do - Freda Egnal - 4800 Osage AvenueFreda Egnal – 4800 Osage Avenue

“Stop Bitching, Start A Revolution,” reads the Zendik Farm bumper sticker on the Prius parallel-parked between handicap parking signs. The sign poles are decorated with beads, fabric, earrings and ribbons. This is Freda Egnal’s spot.

Freda is a funky lady. She dyes flashes of blue, green, yellow and purple into her white hair to match the rainbow rims of her glasses. She covers the walls of her front-porch office with posters and buttons shouting slogans like HOUSES NOT HIGHWAYS (1970’s) or REFORM HEALTHCARE NOW! (2000’s) – most are from community campaigns and projects that she has worked on.

When I met Freda a year ago, she had been a block captain for over 40 years. A few months ago she passed on that position to a young couple who volunteered. But she hasn’t been able to rewire her captain habits. “I still send out emails,” she says. The neighbors can’t break their familiar patterns either, Egnal says. “People still come to me with small problems and I try to help them.”

Egnal speaks proudly about her block. “We became organized in the 1970s and we made a big effort of looking out for each other.” She says never felt unsafe and remembers feeling  “offended when Penn told their students that it wasn’t safe west of 40th Street.”

Her fondest memories from her block-captain days are the First Friday Block Club meetings, in which block business was mixed with socials. “We had a lot of neighbors make presentations about their own areas of expertise.” Egnal remembers. “And of course we would always eat.”

After graduating from the UPenn School of Social Work in the late ‘60s, Egnal moved into the home on Osage Street with her partner, Herbert Bickford, and worked for the city of Philadelphia as a community and labor organizer.

As a civil servant, Egnal was ‘hatched’ – the term used to describe the federal Hatch Act that forbids government employees to work in party politics.  Now retired, Egnal is free to dedicate her time to a lifelong passion for politics. She represents her neighborhood division on the Democratic Party Committee. Egnal says it’s, “the lowest rung on the party apparatus.”

But her humble rank in the Democratic Party doesn’t keep her from believing in change. “I think capitalism clearly has failed. I still think we need a revolution.”