My name is Pramila Jayapal and I am here to announce that I am running for Congress in Washington State’s 7th Congressional District.
Nothing has prepared me more for being in Congress than my own personal experience. I know what the American dream is, and I’ve fought all my life for others to achieve their American dream.
I came to this country when I was 16 years old—my parents took all the money they had—about $5,000—and used it to send me to the United States by myself because they believed this was the place where I would get the best education and have the brightest future. I worked my way from there to being a Washington State Senator by way of a detour on Wall Street that taught me why we need to focus our attention on Main Street, to international public health, which took me to villages and towns in countries all over the world, to standing up for Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs after 9/11 when few people would.
Jim McDermott was one of the people who did stand up with me—together, we organized that very first press conference at the Seattle Center a week after 9/11 to declare Washington a Hate Free State. And he supported me as I formed Hate Free Zone, which later changed its name to OneAmerica where we became a leading player in the fight for comprehensive immigration reform in Congress.
At the helm of that organization for 11 years, and together with you, we fought to create the truly beloved community. A place where immigrants are welcomed, where workers are respected, where black and brown and white communities come together to fight for justice, where women are accorded the power that they deserve for the places they hold in the home, in the workplace, and in the community.
I chose to run for elected office after a career of organizing and advocating on the outside for change because I saw that, now more than ever, we need people of principle in power.
We need effective leaders who know both how to get things done as well as how to stand up for their constituents, rather than for corporate lobbyists.
We need movement builders who understand that our role as elected officials is not only to pass good policy or stop bad policy, but to be the bridge between government and the people, to remind people that we represent THEM, and to help inspire hope, trust, and a new generation of activism.
I’m running for Congress because our system is rigged for corporations and the wealthy, but we can fight back. The time has come to tackle this inequality: we need to raise the minimum wage, expand Social Security and Medicare, and ensure debt-free college for young people across America.
I’ll be a bold progressive fighter, someone who will not just represent you but will stand up for you and your values. If you elect me, you can be sure that I will stand up for working people, not the one percent. All the time, I’m going to continue my work on keeping our families together, not deporting them; and for criminal justice reform, not private prisons.
I come to you today tested in some of our nation’s most challenging times, having fought for some of our nation’s most challenging federal issues from immigration reform to women’s rights. I’ve built a highly effective organization, won real policy changes at the local, state, and national levels, and worked to inspire new generations of diverse leadership in everything I do.
We face a lot of challenges today in America, in our district. People like Donald Trump are whipping up hate and fear across the country, resulting in a rise in anti-Muslim violence. Like I have always done, I will lead in laying out a different vision because I know like you do that America's biggest strength is our diversity.
And with Planned Parenthood under attack, with clinics burning, now more than ever, we can’t settle for being on defense. I will fight to expand access to women’s health care, and that includes access to abortion care.
The corporate and special interests have their voice in Congress, and they have too many members scared of their power. I’m ready to take on the powerful, while organizing inside, outside, and in-between the two. I’m ready to speak out for your values even when no-one else will.
That’s what I’ve been doing for the last 25 years—whether it was in the streets, in Seattle City Hall, the halls of Congress, or now in the legislative chambers of Olympia. I’ve helped pass a $15 minimum wage and paid sick days here in Seattle. I’ve registered 23,000 new Americans to vote. I helped establish the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs here in Seattle. I’ve co-chaired the Seattle Police Chief Search panel and fought for police accountability. I’ve been on picket lines and at negotiating tables with numerous labor unions for more than a decade. And I’ve helped bring movements together—labor and community, gay, women and immigrant—so that we can expand ourselves and see our intersections.
I went to Olympia to fight for those who don't have a voice. Last year, I passed two bills, helped fund a new Southeast Economic Opportunity Center that will bring higher education to the Rainier Valley for the first time, put $5.25 million in pre-apprenticeship support for women and people of color, and fought against payday lending. I fought to reform our gun laws, this year sponsoring one of two gun reform bills in Olympia, and to increase the minimum wage and increase equity in education. And I organized Democrats and one Republican to send a letter to Congress demanding the overturn of Citizens United.
This year, I’ve worked hard on crafting bills on automatic voter registration, tuition-free community college with Senator Frockt, and lifting the statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault and ensuring rape kits are tested. We have Republican co-sponsorship on all of them and believe we have a real shot of getting them done.
What I fought for in the legislature is what I've been fighting for, the people I've been fighting for, in and around this district for the last 25 years. That's the kind of not just experience, but perspective and persistence that I'll bring to Washington.
I’m truly humbled to have served this city and this region since the day I first moved to Seattle in 1991, and got my first little apartment just a few blocks from here in Capitol Hill and worked in Fremont for an international public health nonprofit organization called PATH. I’ve lived all over the city, including in Wallingford, Madrona, and finally in Columbia City.
What I know from my 25 years of fighting for everyday working people is this: That the people of the 7th Congressional District are special. From Vashon Island to Burien to West Seattle; from downtown to Madison Park and Capitol Hill; from the University District to Ballard to Northgate, Edmonds and Shoreline. This district is made up of people who understand at their deepest core that we’re all better off when we’re all better off.
That’s why Jim McDermott was such an important voice to so many in this district—because For 27 years, Jim McDermott has stood very tall in Congress, leading hard on a single payer health plan, reforming our nation’s foster care program, speaking out for expanding Social Security and Medicare, and speaking out strongly against the war in Iraq.
I was right there with Jim at the Seattle Center in 2003. We both spoke to the crowd of 50,000 people warning that going to war was a colossal mistake, a mistake that was sure to haunt America and the world for decades, even generations.
We knew then as we know now that our values of justice, fairness and equity are under threat from those who profit from injustice, benefit from unfairness, and gain from inequity. We can hear, see, and feel this threat every day.
Our winning formula, however, is hard working, decent people who are willing to think critically, raise their voices, and speak out, build a movement, stand for core principles, and work for real changes that benefit the common good.
Because democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires that we talk to each other, building it person by person.
Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the President of Liberia and a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said, “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
I’m not afraid of big dreams, of achieving things that others say are not possible. I’m not afraid of laying out a real vision that speaks truth to power and inspires people to join us. Even disbelievers and those who may not always agree see in me an honest and effective broker who’s willing to put aside partisan politics when there are people of good faith on both sides who want to work towards real change. But if it turns to playing games with people’s lives or grandstanding, I’m unafraid to challenge the status quo.
I will fight to win things that we all deserve, because I know that we’re doing this together. It’s not enough to just believe the right things—we need someone who has ACTED for the right things, hand in hand with every day people, and with an eye always on the future of effecting real change.
I said this during my state senate campaign and I’ll say it again now: this campaign is not about electing me, it’s about electing “WE”—the “we” that works together for building the movement we need. We are going to need each and every one of you to have ownership in this campaign and this seat. So, I plan to build a campaign that is built on you—powered by the grassroots, and the energy of working people. We ARE the ones we’ve been waiting for.
In the end, the powerful have their voice—I humbly ask that I may be yours. I will be bold, I will be honest and I will demand justice. I will be your fighter in Congress for YOUR future, OUR future.
Pramila Jayapal is a state senator from Washington's 37th District.