Reporters from around the world covered the election week rallies at the Pa. Convention Center

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When Tony “Tone” Royster and his Positive Movement Entertainment drumline performed in front of the Pa. Convention Center rally last week, they had a bigger audience than usual. With a swarm of international reporters focused on Philadelphia election returns, Royster got a chance to take his “Philly Elmo” character global.

“Having everyone you know from all around the world seeing us is definitely going to be awesome,” Royster said with a masked smile. “I’m very excited about it.

The biggest city in the most pivotal swing state, Philly’s crucial role in deciding the next U.S. president meant it became home base for many foreign correspondents — who were in for more surprises than just the dancing, drumming Elmo.

That the week-long protest and counter protest over ballot counting eschewed violence amazed Katherine Firkin of Australia’s Network 10. The impression on her continent, Firkin said, is that protests in America are violent.

“I was expecting danger and, you know, drama on the streets,” Firkin said. “And I got here and I’m like, oh, it’s a street party. This is fantastic.”

Soaking in Philly’s defiantly festive atmosphere on Friday afternoon, Firkin called the city “refreshing.”

“It’s really wonderful to see people come out and have a bit of a street party and have the music and the dancing,” said the 32-year-old TV reporter, who also visited Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. “There actually seems to be unity here. This is the first time I’ve seen unity since I’ve come to the States.”

Sky News Italy reporter Fabio Russomando outside Philly’s vote-counting operation on Friday Credit: Layla A. Jones / Billy Penn

Ismar Madeira of Global TV, Brazil’s largest television network, is based in the station’s NYC office, but hasn’t spent time in Philly before.

“This is the first time I can see a little bit more,” said Madeira, 52. “I like it, I think it’s beautiful. This is an important city for American democracy.”

Madeira was in the city to give his South American audience a civics lesson, a rundown of how U.S. elections work —  the two-party system, the electoral college, etc. Philadelphia’s historical significance in that narrative was not lost on him.

“The Constitution was written here,” Madeira said. “So it’s beautiful to see that there’s a historical city with that importance for Americans, for the democracy, and now, in this election, the most important decision.”

Anne-Claire Poignard of France Télévisions spent only a small bit of time in Philly, and said she found a microcosm of the country’s political chasm.

“People are arguing, fighting sometimes,” she said, standing near a police line that separated a couple dozen Trump supporters from a couple hundred “count the vote” protesters. “Whatever the winner is going to be, it’s going to be hard for the country. It’s going to be a challenge to gather everyone.”

To Sky News Italy reporter Fabio Russomando, the election week happenings in Philadelphia were unremarkable, especially compared to other cities.

“I’ve been in New York and there’s been some troubles over there like fighting with the police,” said the 44-year-old. “Here, it’s pretty much okay. Even the reaction of the [Trump] supporters is normal.”

Through the eyes of Brazil’s Madeira, even the turmoil displayed in Philly was triumphant.

“It is beautiful,” Madeira said, “because that’s what democracy is like or should be like. A place where people that think differently … at the same site without fight.”

Layla A. Jones (she/her) was a general assignment reporter for Billy Penn from 2019 to 2021. Her work has helped underserved community organizations, earned free repairs for property owners who sustained...