When Pramila Jayapal spoke to The Stranger by phone Friday morning about her first week in Congress, she repeated one of her newest talking points (and one Elizabeth Warren likes too): "We’re not a minority party," Jayapal said. "We’re gonna be an opposition party."
On Friday morning, it was was an abstract promise. By the end of the day, Jayapal had made headlines demonstrating what she meant.
As she repeatedly objected to the final Electoral College count, citing voter suppression efforts in Georgia, Jayapal was gaveled down by Vice President Joe Biden. "It is over," Biden told her to laughs from other members of Congress, including House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Jayapal was just one of a group of House Democrats who raised concerns about certifying the Electoral College count making Donald Trump president, none of whom were successful in stopping the process.
"When I stood up, I knew nothing I could say would undo the presidential election," Jayapal said in a statement afterward. "But I felt it critical that the American people saw that we know how democracy has been undermined and votes have been suppressed."
That type of objection, Jayapal said, is what "we progressives are going to do for the next four years. We're not going to stop being shocked. We're never going to become complacent."
In her interview with The Stranger earlier that day, Jayapal said her first week in Washington was a mix of the mundane—unpacking, figuring out which old photos leftover from Jim McDermott to keep in the office—and the emotional. Last Monday, she said, carried the weight of "walking up and realizing I was going to have an office in this building I’ve come to so many times on issues I care about." She'd been figuring out how the House voting system works and finding her way around. She met Paul Ryan ("I told him I hope to work with him on immigration issues") and planned to attend a bipartisan training for new members in Williamsburg.
Looking ahead to working in a capitol overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans, Jayapal—an activist and the first south Asian woman in the House—brushed off skepticism about whether Democrats will be able to accomplish anything.
"It’s not a time when we're gonna pass innovative new legislation on multiple fronts," she said. "It’s just not. But I really think getting things done also means fighting for the right things and standing up for people who could be deeply hurt by things the other side plans to do."
Progressive spectacles like Friday's are nothing new for the 7th Congressional District. Former Congressman Jim McDermott made a name for himself denouncing the Iraq war and leaking illegally recorded audio of Republicans discussing an ethics investigation into then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But they underscore a (or maybe the) question facing the left in the shadow of Trump's win: Should Democrats quiet down and look for common ground? Or should they make a scene? Should they stop "shaming" Trump voters and try to figure out how to appeal to them? Or should they obstruct Trump's party at every turn and focus on building a new Democratic platform that better represents the marginalized people Trump demonizes? How do we, as The Establishment put it, "create a culture that won’t vote for Trump, that won’t vote for anyone like Trump ever again." And if that's the aim, how useful is spectacle in achieving it?
In a capitol where every corner is controlled by Republicans, spectacle may be all progressives like Jayapal have.
"If we lose in a vote and the bill gets passed, that does not mean we lose in the court of public opinion," Jayapal said. "Ultimately we have to get people back to a place where people understand that if these things come to pass—these people are not the right people to be ruling the country."