Saturday, January 17, 2009

by Louise Francis

On January 6 two busloads of people left the West Philadelphia office of Pennsylvania State Representative Vanessa Brown. Vanessa is a first time state rep who was endorsed by the Philadelphia NOW Political Action Committee. The group was headed to Harrisburg to share and celebrate her swearing-in day with her. Included in the group was a class of children from the Darrell elementary school. Also two members of our NOW chapter, Louise Francis and Dorris Pridgen were on the busses. The fact that there were two busloads (and additional people driving to Harrisburg) was a testament to the enthusiasm and level of support for Vanessa’s candidacy and election victory. Philadelphia NOW was among Vanessa’s first and most enthusiastic supporters and we wanted to share this celebration with her. We have very high expectations for this new state representative and her ability enable real change in her district and the state.

The trip to the state capitol was approximately two hours, including a short stop near Harrisburg. While on the way there a raffle was held. Everyone on the bus was given a ticket and the tickets were placed into a bag. Four prizes were awarded based on random drawings from the tickets. Louise was asked to make one of the selections, and drew her own ticket. The prize was two beautiful ceramic and glass candleholders.

Once we arrived in Harrisburg, we were directed to a relative large conference room, where refreshments were provided. After we were settled in our chairs, Vanessa gave a speech to the group, recounting the struggles that led to become an activist and then a candidate for political office. As a single parent in a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, she was urged to obtain welfare. Because of the difficulties of her experience with the welfare system, Vanessa was led to testify at a Congressional hearing on how the welfare system abuses the people it is supposed to be helping. This then led her to become a community activist involved in a number of initiatives, including lobbying congress in DC to extend unemployment benefits. This led to her becoming a committeeperson, the entry level into politics in the city and then to her candidacy for State Rep.

Before her speech could be completed, Vanessa was called to go the floor of the House for the swearing-in ceremony. Her supporters were left in the conference room to watch events on what was supposed to be a “large-screen” TV. The “large screen” turned out to be about the size of the television many people have in their living rooms and was completely inadequate to the number of supporters in attendance and the size of the room. To make matters worse, the audio portion of the technology was not nearly loud enough. Part of the way through the ceremony, the audio sound from a nearby room showing the swearing-in ceremony of the Pennsylvania Senate could be heard, and the sound drowned out the House if Representatives swearing-in. When people from our group complained, they were told that nothing could be done. As a person who has attended many meetings and conferences, I have never experienced such incompetence in the provision of audio-visual technical services.

After we had lunch on our own in the Capitol’s cafeteria, we regrouped to attend the swearing-in of the Pennsylvania Legislature Black Caucus. Again we experienced snafus. The representatives in the House were detained after the swearing–in to debate some proposed legislation, the contents of which we could not understand, but it had something to do with committee composition, now that Democrats had the clear majority in the House. The debate dragged on and the Black Caucus swearing in was delayed over two hours, while Vanessa’s supporters, including the school children, were left watching the boring and incomprehensible debate on a screen.

The Black Caucus swearing-in finally took place and we were all please to witness Vanessa sworn in as the treasurer of the group.

Finally, several hours late, we piled back into the buses and headed back to Philadelphia. Fortunately, the terrible winter storm that had been predicted did not materialize, and the trip back was uneventful, although it had been a long day for many of us and we were tired. Once back in Philadelphia, I learned from Vanessa that she was told that the contingent from Philadelphia had been a problem – they had been noisy and had complained about the inadequate AV equipment in their conference room (Vanessa was told that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the equipment. Presumably the problems were all a figment of our imaginations.)

I have neglected to mention up to this point that the overwhelming majority of people making the trip to Harrisburg for Vanessa’s swearing-in were black and from Philadelphia. I cannot help but suspect that there were people in Harrisburg with an attitude problem, and they were not Vanessa’s supporters.


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