On the afternoon of her announcement of a run at Pennsylvania’s 190th District’s special election seat, West Philadelphia’s Pamela Williams — lesbian, community advocate, LGBTQ activist and ordained minister known to her flock as “Pastor Pamm” — was bouncing off the ceiling. That Williams could be the Commonwealth’s first openly lesbian state representative is one thing. To serve her constituency with the credo, “Progress Starts with the People,” as her campaign motto reads, is quite another. With a full and easy laugh, and boundless energy after a long day on the stump, Williams preached the gospel of great works and good political maneuvering.
Q: Why move into politics, or direct political action? Certainly, you’ve changed the lives of those to whom you minister, and you are an always-involved community activist who traffics in direct action. Why go the extra step? What was your initial inclination?
A: The first thing is that I truly believe that I am the best candidate for this job. Going to Harrisburg gives me the opportunity to set policy and legislation that will remain in place for years to come. When I look out at the district that I serve, I can tell you that I truly listen to their needs, wants and concerns. I firmly believe that it’s time for someone to go to Harrisburg and stand up for these people. I do say that ‘progress starts with the people,’ but I do not believe that they have had the voice that they require in government, let alone state legislature. I have been involved in advocacy and social justice work, but I prayed about this, and this is the right thing for me to do.
Q: This is in your blood, however, as your mother (Novella Williams) was a longtime civil rights activist in West Philly.
A: I’ve been involved in politics and social activism my entire life. She took me around on all her campaigns, knocking on doors, placing bumper stickers on cars, and putting up posters, during my early childhood. I’ve been an executive committee member at the 60th ward, as well as a vice chair there. I’ve always been involved in politics. I just want to take it to another level. People have been denigrated and treated amorally. They need a voice.
Q: Especially one that knows the political process. Where were you raised, because I remember your mom well, and, I believe we’re from nearly the same neighborhood, mine being 58th & Elmwood.
A: I was born at Misericordia and lived at 54th and Cedar. My mother’s activism brought our neighborhoods together. Her works helped prevent the division in the city. We came together.
Q: … You will be the first out woman to serve in the state house. What is the first thing that you do for the local LGBTQ community?
A: Stand up and let them know that I am a lesbian African-American woman and that I love all of God’s children. I carry the fearlessness of same-gender loving people with me when I go to the state legislature.
Q: Along with you not being a politician — rather, an activist outsider — you come from the Working Families Party. People don’t always get what an independent party stands for. Sell me.
A: We are connected to the philosophies that people, all people, matter. We’re built on the principles of economic justice and the freedom of all people to exist how they choose. It is truly a party for the people. Too many times, we get involved in party separation and divisiveness where the people are un-included in the process, that they are not cared for or looked after. I may not be a politician, but I know politics. I know that democracy was created so that all people have a voice. The Working Families Party is interested in empowering all people.
Q: People often say religion and politics don’t mix. How will faith play a role in your administration?
A: My life is governed by my relationship with the God of whom I serve — Jesus the Christ, the prophetic voice of God himself, herself, themselves. To cross-pollinate politics and religion is necessary because of how most of us have been taught.
Q: Do you believe African-American Philadelphia is well represented at a state-house level, and what changes would you like to enact?
A: I am at a crossroads there. What does it mean to represent the African-American people? Me being African-American, anyone being African-American, doesn’t necessarily mean they represent. I stand and will serve on the premise that all God’s people matter. I get there — I will stand tall and proud. I may have to scream some days at my colleagues in the house. There have been people in my district who have been underrepresented in the past, and that will no longer be the case. That’s our goal and promise.