by Sarah Toce -
Unite Seattle Magazine
Pramila Jayapal's measure of cohesiveness and inclusion comes straight from the gut. The Democratic congresswoman from Washington State's 7th District has experienced and witnessed inequality throughout her life and career in one aspect or another - as a person of color, a woman, the mother of a child who identifies as gender-nonconforming, and the daughter of parents who wanted a better life for her than was possible back in their hometown of Chennai, India. She came to America with nothing - and it changed everything.
When asked how she felt about the current temperature of the nation, Jayapal said, "Well, I think we are fighting for our democracy. We're fighting for the soul of our democracy, but we're also fighting for the legitimacy of what makes a democracy. And that is everything from the freedom of the press...to basic voting rights, to regard for the Constitution, to humanity..."
She went on: "I think one of the things that gets lost with all the different battles we're in is how people feel. And I think what we are really trying to do is inspire people to have hope, to believe that we really can make a difference and that we can push the kinds of bold ideas that lift everybody up regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ZIP code, or any other factor... Everyone should have the opportunity to live a life of dignity and respect."
The 54-year-old congresswoman serves as co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). Established in 1991, the CPC "reflects the diversity and strength of the American people and seeks to give voice to the needs and aspirations of all Americans and to build a more just and humane society," according to the caucus's website.
"It's really an honor to have a caucus that represents 40% of the Democratic caucus," Jayapal said. "And I always think about us progressives and I count Seattleites in this piece. ...I think of us progressives as being the first people with the best and most just ideas. And that's how we've made $15 minimum wage a reality. That's how we're going to make Medicare for All and universal health care a reality, because we're willing to say yes, it's not easy, yes, we need to build a movement. But the ultimate goal has to be for people to see our common responsibility to each other and to lift each other up....There is nothing without intersectionality. There is nothing. And so that's really been my focus."
That focus includes pushing beyond the limitations that are a by-product of the Trump White House. As Jayapal said, "We can't just be an opposition party [to] Donald Trump, which we [also] have to do. We have to be a proposition party that lays out a vision and reminds people that democracy requires - and justice requires - that people engage, that they don't give up hope and step away, but that they actually come toward that vision of who we can be.
"Because it's not like we just support democracy when it's easy. We have to support it when it's really hard. And I think that's why it's so important for people to understand that their individual participation matters to building a collective that brings equity and justice to everybody - their paychecks, their lives, their housing, their needs, their relationships. That is really what's at the core of this."
She added, "What is interesting is that if you look at the bills that the Democratic majority has passed in our first year of having the majority in the House, it is the things that we would do if we had power in the Senate and [had] the presidency. And that's why 2020 is so important, because I think we actually do have a consensus and it's not just progressives; it's also independents. And even some Republicans, depending on the issue..."
For example, Jayapal continued, "everybody believes we should pay people what they're worth or at least give people enough to put food on the table and a roof over their heads. Everybody understands that people should not be discriminated against. The Equality Act, the $15 minimum wage, the Dream [and] Promise Act, you know, not building a wall on the southern border but actually advocating for humane immigration reform, strengthening workers' rights on the job, whether it's...through my Domestic Workers Bill of Rights or strengthening labor unions through the PRO [Protecting the Right to Organize] Act, which we're getting ready to pass on the House floor - these are the ways in which we have to go into 2020 with a vision."
Jayapal, a senior whip of the Democratic caucus, serves on the House's Budget and Judiciary Committees (on the Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security and Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law), as well as the Education and Labor Committee (on the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, and the Subcommittee on Workforce Protections).
She stands behind her commitment to ensuring a better life for all. In addition to co-chairing the CPC, Jayapal co-chairs the Medicare for All caucus and the Women's Working Group on Immigration. She is also a member of the following caucuses: Agriculture Research, Artificial Intelligence, Bipartisan Congressional Refugee, Career and Technical Education, Congressional Antitrust, Congressional Asian Pacific American, Congressional Hispanic, Congressional Soccer, Congressional Zoo and Aquarium, Deadliest Cancers, Diabetes, Estuary, House Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Hunger, LGBT Equality, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, Native American, New Americans, Organic, Outdoor Recreation, Primary Care, Pro-Choice, Puget Sound, Small Brewers, and Women's Issues.
"We can't just be an opposition party opposing Donald Trump, which we have to do," she reminds. "We have to be a proposition party that lays out a vision and reminds people that democracy requires and justice requires that people engage, that they don't give up hope and step away, but that they actually come toward that vision of who we can be because it's not like we just support democracy when it's easy. We have to support it when it's really hard. And I think that's why it's so important for people to understand that their individual participation matters to building a collective that brings equity and justice to everybody - their paychecks, their lives, their housing, their needs, their relationships. That is really what's at the core of this."
At the core, Jayapal is a leader and an inspiration to so many - because she shows up and doesn't give up. She sees the difficulties and she continues forward, vowing to encourage growth and opportunity for us all. She invests and reinvests in the goodness that is America, and serves as inspiration for why we should all do the same.
<[EDITOR'S NOTE: This interview with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal was conducted earlier this year in mid-January before the COVID-19 outbreak and was the cover story of Unite Seattle Magazine's spring issue that came out in April 2020. Reprinted with permission.]