New Philly mural shouts out Black and queer organizers’ role in getting Biden elected

“We Did That” is up near the Pa. Convention Center, at the spot that felt like the center of the universe during ballot counting.

Artists Tisha Golafaie (left) and Symone Salib (right) with their 'We Did That' mural

Artists Tisha Golafaie (left) and Symone Salib (right) with their 'We Did That' mural

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
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If Philly helped clinch the election for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, Black and queer community organizers and voters helped make it happen.

That’s the premise behind a new mural that went up Thursday at 13th and Arch streets near the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which felt like the center of the universe when it became ground zero for ballot counting protests and celebrations.

The brightly-colored, people-centric mural comes from the hands and minds of South Philly-based artists Symone Salib and Tisha Golafaie. It was funded by Mural Arts and done in collaboration with Conrad Benner of the Streets Dept blog, who approached Salib about the project shortly after the 2020 election was called.

Salib and Golafaie worked quickly to make sure the piece, titled “We Did That,” was installed ahead of Inauguration Day.

Painted on hardboard and fixed to a city-owned fence, the mural’s pastel color scheme was inspired by renowned poet and activist Ursula Rucker’s album covers. It’s adorned with the words, “In this city, we vote for the community,” a quote born out of conversation between Rucker and Salib that speaks to the theme.

“I thought it would be really cool to point out and celebrate all of the Black and queer organizers that have been working tirelessly,” said Golafaie, 29.

Four of those organizers are highlighted in the mural:

  • Rasheed Ajamu, the native Philadelphian behind Phreedom Jawn, an Instagram info hub that shares news about and resources for Black and other marginalized Philadelphians.
  • Samantha Rise Robertson, a musician who helped organize and lead citywide protests and, notably, led the “Count Every Vote” rally and dance party at the Convention Center.
  • Amistad Law Project co-founder and policy lead Nikki Grant.
  • Nelini Stamp, director of strategy and partnerships for the Working Families Party and an organizer from joy to the polls, which brought song and dance to voters waiting in long lines to cast their ballots.

The fifth figure is a Golafaie herself, representing the “regular voters” who played a critical part in the process. “Those people helped organize, but at the same time, the everyday person is also someone who did that,” said 27-year-old Salib.

“I feel like I represent…the person that was at a protest, the person on Instagram getting information from Phreedom Jawn,” Golafaie added

Biden secured the 20 Pa. electoral votes needed to edge him above incumbent President Donald Trump on Nov. 7, right after Philly commissioners released a batch of a few thousand results. The win came after the Trump campaign began waging efforts to discount mail ballots over unfounded claims of voter fraud.

His supporters converged on the Convention Center to protest, but they were outnumbered by demonstrators insisting calling to “count every vote.” Mural subject Samantha Rise Robertson, a Black queer femme, was one of the ringleaders of the ensuing dance party, which drew an international media circus.

Salib feels the mural brings her work as an artist and teacher full circle. “I can say that my work has a political tone, but to be a woman is political,” she said. “To be a person of color is political.”

“We Did That” remains a temporary mural, set to remain on view for one year. Salib said she’s looking to donate it to someone who can give it a permanent home.

While it’s still up in Center City, Golafaie hopes passersby look at the mural and recognize their own influence on the historic 2020 presidential election.

“It’s not somebody perched up on a pedestal that’s making all these magical things happen” Golafaie said. “It’s us. We did that.”

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