This week I had the honor of joining my friend Pramila Jayapal as she made history.
Along with her family and other close friends, I accompanied Pramila as she was sworn in as the U.S. Representative for Washington’s 7th congressional district. She is the first Indian-American woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
She is also the kind of progressive champion we need in the Congress in this challenging time. Her victory is a reminder that the majority of Americans didn’t vote for Trump or sanction his bigotry.
I met Pramila in my home state of Washington in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant soon after September 11, 2001. She had recently founded the Hate Free Zone (Now ONEAmerica), which grew from a one-person volunteer operation to the largest immigrant rights group in the state. She was organizing truth and justice hearings to expose aggressive racist treatment of Muslims in Seattle, Washington and she was organizing large demonstrations for peace. As an organizer, I immediately recognized Pramila’s passion and genius.
An immigrant herself, Pramila stood up with and advocated for the most vulnerable among us in one of the most challenging and dangerous times on recent history. In doing so, she was fighting for the rights of all Washingtonians.
We became fast friends and colleagues.
Now Pramila enters the People’s House as part of a record delegation of women and and in the most racially diverse in history. It’s long overdue. She is one of only a few dozen women of color of the more than 11,000 people who have served in the U.S. Congress. The halls of power are not changing as fast as our communities or country as a whole.
But it’s her record of progressive policy and politics that elevates Pramila in the freshman class of the new Congress. Pramila was a tireless advocate and organizer at OneAmerica. She left the organization in 2012 to go into another form of public service. She served on the Seattle Mayoral Advisory Committee that negotiated the country’s first $15 minimum wage. Her service as State Senator in Washington has seen her champion a broad range of issues from access to healthcare, commonsense gun safety, and more. She is a national leader on immigrant rights and comprehensive immigration reform.
Pramila shines bright with a strong moral compass and the ability to listen to people, to transform problems into solutions and advance a vision for change that resonates across diverse communities. Pramila has knocked on doors, engaged the very people who opposed her in open dialogue, a skill that will come in handy serving in the House. Pramila and her values will be a bulwark against the ignorance and racism of President Elect Trump and his like-minded buddies in Congress.
Of course Pramila won’t do it alone. She has always supported, emphasized and depended on the organized power of everyday people at the grassroots. She needs us as much as we need her. And she is joining such other people’s champions as Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Of course in the coming period with Trump as President and the GOP in charge of both houses of Congress, she and others won’t be driving the agenda. But they can speak truth to power, stand up for moral principle and partner with mass movements in DC and at home.
I admit that walking into the Cannon House Office Building on the first day of the new Congress and seeing “Representative Pramila Jayapal” embossed in a bronze plaque on the wall made me choke up a bit. Pramila’s victory lifts up and bridges the experiences of immigrants, communities of color, poor and working families and shines a light forward toward liberation. And her political savvy will ensure that progressives will have a leader who knows how to build broad coalitions at a time when we all need to link arms and resist the Trump agenda.
I know that Rep. Pramila Jayapal will be a courageous and indispensable ally to the people’s movements in the years ahead. And a good friend too.