This fall, the POWER Metro team organized a series of vigils in West Chester, PA. Every Thursday evening they gathered on the courthouse steps to draw attention to the upcoming education trial in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court and the need for 100% fair education funding in the state. Metro leader John Barnett, one of the organizers of the vigils, reflects on the vigils’ impact and what the team learned.
How did the weekly POWER Metro vigils come about?
Initially the Chester County POWER group decided to hold vigils on Thursday evenings in West Chester simply to learn how to do it. We had to find out where in the city government to get permission to use the courthouse steps, what was involved, etc. It was an opportunity to grow as a team.
What surprised you about the planning experience?
We were very lucky with how some aspects of the vigils came together – it was kismet. For example, I was introduced to an activist musician and businessperson, Tom Buglio, who manages the keyboard/piano department at the wonderful West Chester music store Taylor Music. Tom advised us that we would need to have amplification, microphone, etc. because the traffic noise was loud at the courthouse. Tom then generously offered to loan us his personal sound equipment. And we used it each Thursday for nine weeks!
How did you have to change and adapt plans as the vigils continued?
We originally planned to hold a vigil each evening until the October 12 start date of the Education Funding Trial. But soon after we started, the Commonwealth Court pushed the start date back to November 12. The POWER Metro team made a joint decision to continue the vigils through that date.
Anything you learned or would do differently if you planned a similar action again?
Next time I will be more ready to pivot when things change. We’ll have a “rain” option if the weather becomes inappropriate for outdoor activity. I think I would also be more proactive and deliberate with the message that we want the media to spread. I’ll be ready to tell the newspaper reporter exactly what I want them to put in their article. Lastly, for an outdoor event like this, I won’t hesitate to have a centerpiece of some type. We used a large 8×8 colorful poster board that one of our member artists designed, and it really helped us get noticed in our location. Definitely worth repeating.
Did anything unexpected result from your participation in the weekly vigils?
Although our main purpose was to bring attention to the Education Funding Trial, it became apparent that the vigils also provided solace to the participants. Working towards education justice can sometimes be disheartening, but the vigils bolstered our spirits as we got together each week. It created community and boosted our energy.