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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 29, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 05
SGN exclusive interview: State Sen. Pramila Jayapal, candidate for Congress
Section One
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SGN exclusive interview: State Sen. Pramila Jayapal, candidate for Congress

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

State Sen. Pramila Jayapal announced on January 21 that she will run for the 7th Congressional District seat being vacated by long-time incumbent Jim McDermott.

In the campaign announcement posted on her website, Jayapal describes herself as an immigrant, a parent, and an activist. In an interview with SGN, she said her experience as an activist is what shapes her politics.

'The most important thing is my 25 years working in the movement. That's the most powerful thing in my candidacy,' she explained.

Jayapal founded the immigrant rights group Hate-Free Zone, now called OneAmerica, in 2001 and served as its executive director until 2012.

'OneAmerica was founded to provide push-back to the post-9/11 us vs. them narrative,' Jayapal explained. 'But it's bigger than that. There is discrimination on so many levels. Racism, sexism, genderism, homophobia. We wanted to show that America is made up of everybody.'

As head of OneAmerica, Jayapal was as good as her word, leading her organization to endorse marriage equality in spite of reservations among its conservative African and South Asian constituents.

Jayapal describes her life as 'the perfect American dream story.'

Born in India, she came to the United States at 16 to go to college, earning a bachelor's degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and a master's in business administration from Northwestern University in Chicago. After a short stint in business, she turned to a career in social activism.

'I've spent my life fighting for other people to have the American dream,' she says, 'so you know I won't just say a bunch of things, I'll work to get things done.'

While she has been in elected office for only a year, she has worked closely with members of Congress, including Jim McDermott - the man she is running to succeed - on immigration reform legislation.

'I have more experience working with Congress than any other candidate in this race,' she says.

'I'm also the only one who has experience being in the minority,' she adds. As a Democrat in a state Senate controlled by Republicans, Jayapal has a keen appreciation for the challenges she will face in Congress, if elected.

'When I started working on immigration in 2001, it was not a popular issue,' she recalls. 'There were plenty of people who voted against reforms. Even some of our friends were not with us. But I'm always surprised at the support you get from people you didn't think would be with you.

'So in Congress there's the Progressive Caucus. That's 74 people. Maybe two-thirds are what we would call progressive here in Seattle. But representatives from other cities are also extremely progressive, so you'd have a built-in caucus that might be more cohesive.'

Asked what she believed she could achieve as a congressional Democrat, even with a cohesive urban progressive coalition, Jayapal replied: 'A lot of elected think their only duty is to pass legislation, but really you have three things to do.

'First, to stop bad stuff and find opportunities to pass good things. That's a very different task when you're in the minority.

'Second, people want to be inspired. People want to see that yes, government does speak for you. Jim McDermott had huge approval in the 7th District because he said things that reflected our values.

'There are so many things wrong. How do you change that? Being in Congress is not just about good votes. It's about building the movement to do big things.

'And third, constituent services. People call into my [State Senate] office with so many problems - they can't access services, they weren't hired because they have a Muslim name, many issues - and in the state legislature you only have one staff person to help you. I'll be excited to have a congressional staff.'

As a state Senator, Jayapal will also have a vote on several anti-Trans bills now pending in the legislature.

'The Senate bill [SB 6443] may pass [the Senate],' she said. 'We'll have to work our tails around that. This is the new wedge issue, now that marriage is done.

'What bothers me most is that they're using the safety issue. It implies that if you're Trans, you're a pervert.

'I'm very familiar with how words are used around racism and nativism. They are trying to attack the character of Trans people and inspire fear in other people. It's no different from immigration.

'I don't see it passing. At least it will be blocked in the House. And we can use the opportunity to educate people.'

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Bill to restrict flags on WA state ferries introduced after Pride flags flown last June
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Hearing on Washington state anti-Trans bill SB 6443: A first-hand account
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U.S. indicts ex-Rentboy.com CEO on prostitution charge
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Downtown pickets target Wells Fargo exec for funding extremist groups

Anti-Gay, anti-choice, anti-union groups got $54 million from Murdock Trust

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Gay-owned Inay's Asian Pacific Cuisine closes its Beacon Hill restaurant with one last drag show
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SGN exclusive interview: County Council Chair Joe McDermott, candidate for Congress
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SGN exclusive interview: State Sen. Pramila Jayapal, candidate for Congress
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Pam Roach kicked off Human Trafficking Task Force
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Texas grand jury clears Planned Parenthood, indicts accusers
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EEOC finds for Trans woman in bathroom suit
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The Elton John AIDS Foundation awards more than $5.4 million in new grants
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