In early February, Burien resident Brittany Williams was Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s guest at the President’s annual State of the Union speech in Washington, DC.
Williams is a single mother of two who has spent her career caring for elderly and disabled adults.
It was “an amazing moment and trip” for Williams, and below is our interview with her:
How did you get an invitation to the State of the Union?
Every member of Congress gets to pick someone to bring to the State of the Union. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the past couple of years, guests have been virtual, so to be in person this year as Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s guest was amazing.
I have gotten to meet Rep. Jayapal a couple of times. She has long supported and seen the vital work that long-term care workers do every day. Caregivers do the critical healthcare work that allows our clients to stay in their homes and receive their day-to-day healthcare needs.
I was there for all 45,000 caregivers in our union, plus the 2+ million SEIU members.
What was it like for you?
To be in our nation’s capital was an awesome experience that I will never forget. I felt powerful to be a Black woman walking in halls for where those who have shaped our nation and to walk halls that enslaved people built. Being a guest at the most important speech the President gives all year and then to see and hug senators and representatives that I admire so much – it’s something I’ll never forget. In that moment, I represented every single long-term care worker in the country.
Where did you sit? What and who did you see from your viewpoint?
I sat in the upper balcony, behind where New Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) was seated. I was able to see the Supreme Court Justices, all of the members of the Senate, and most of the members of the House of Representatives. I was blessed to sit next to Jenniffer González-Colón who is Puerto Rico’s sole Representative to the U.S. Congress, known as Resident Commissioner.
On TV, it looked at times like a yelling match – was it?
There were a few members of Congress that at times seemed to be disrespectful of the President and the whole process. But, I think President Biden did a good job – and it was pretty powerful to see everyone in the chamber agree that there shouldn’t be cuts to funding for Social Security and Medicare.
Tell us about your life in Burien?
I live in Burien with my two kids. I’ve been a caregiver for 8 years and I am active in my Union, SEIU 775. By being active in my Union, I’ve had the chance to fight for what I believe in. You know my mom and I are both caregivers. I live in Washington, where I joined a union, make over $21 an hour, have great healthcare, dental, retirement, training that keeps me up to date on care. My mom lives in Arkansas. She makes about $11 an hour and doesn’t have any benefits.
What are your thoughts on Biden’s speech?
I was blessed to be in the room. Hearing the President of our country recognize all the hard work that Americans do and that he was going to continue to fight for the social service programs that support the most vulnerable people in our community – that feeling of being seen will stick with me for a long time. To be in the same room as so many leaders, it was really powerful.
Do you hold any political aspirations? If so…what?
Over the past 8 years, I’ve been able to experience what it means for people to come together and make big systemic change. I don’t know if I’ll run for office, but if I did, I know what kind of leader I’d want to be. In Washington state we’re lucky to have elected leaders – like Rep. Jayapal – who are grounded in service, in fighting for what is right, in supporting working people and our families. I think I’d follow that strong tradition if I ever got into politics.
Any other thoughts about this experience?
The whole trip was just one highlight after another. I walked miles every single day. But one thing that sticks with me is standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial the night I arrived. And looking at the same view Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had where he gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. For a single mom from Burien whose job it is to take care of people on some of their hardest days – that was just something.