Indian American Feminist Congressional Candidate Endorsed By Bernie Sanders Could Make History
In today’s episode of disappointing statistics about diversity and representation, I give you the U.S. Congress: 80 percent male, 80 percent white, and 92 percent Christian. That’s a pretty problematic breakdown, which explains the pretty problematic stuff that Congress has been up to lately. But here’s a glimmer of hope: Self-proclaimed feminist Pramila Jayapal could be the first Indian-origin woman to become a member of the U.S. Congress, as the current frontrunner for the state of Washington’s 7th Congressional District seat to succeed incumbent Jim McDermott. (This is not a drill.)
Washington State Senator Jayapal currently represents the 37th Legislative District. A Democrat born in Chennai, India, she immigrated to America as a teenager, and has engaged in local activism for decades since entering the non-profit sector in 1991, after briefly working as an investment banker on Wall Street (you’ll be happy to know she’s now quite antagonistic toward it.) She currently leads the congressional race in her district, which will vote on August 2.
While environmental, women’s, and racial justice issues all appear important to the self-proclaimed feminist, her platform also strongly reflects Democratic presidential hopeful and progressive icon Bernie Sanders’ in its zeal for economic justice.
“What Congress needs is a progressive voice who is unafraid to take on these powerful interests—who is willing to fight for all Americans, not just the wealthiest 1%,” Jayapal wrote in her initial fundraising appeal.
Some quick things you should know about her, beyond how Bernie Sanders and feminist activist Gloria Steinam have both endorsed her, so, yeah, she’s basically #ProgressiveGoals:
- Jayapal has a long history of advocating for immigrants and the middle-class, co-sponsoring last year’s minimum wage bill as well as a bill to help students who weren’t from English-speaking homes. According to In These Times, she established Seattle’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.
- She’s supported the movement against police brutality by co-sponsoring the ACLU’s body cameras bill.
- Jayapal has also sponsored a bill to “fund more interpreters for department of health programs,” according to the Seattle Met. She also sponsored legislation to provide for two free years of community college tuition and pre-register teenagers who are receiving their driver licenses to vote
- Jayapal is also really big on “saving the environment” and “protecting it from damage through carbon tax.” Throughout her career in politics, she’s advocated for a more environmentally conscious transportation package for her state.
- She currently has the highest score on a recent social justice report card from the Washington Community Action Network.
- The first time I recall hearing about her was in the aftermath of the controversial early August Bernie rally in Seattle that was protested by Black Lives Matter activists. She wrote an essay in response to the incident, and, eloquent, empathetic, insightful, and balanced, it speaks volumes to her character and values.
The Hindu reports Jayapal is supported by 17 labor unions and “a whole range of women’s organizations.” She’s raised over $750,000 in campaign funds as of May 13 from 30,000 contributors, most of which are less than $100 each.
And if her values seem pretty much aligned with those of Vermont Sen. Sanders, that explains why she’s one of the three Congressional candidates he’s supported. The two officially met in September 2015 and discussed everything from gender and the economy to race and mass incarceration, and Sanders officially endorsed her in April, writing to his donors:
“Pramila… is not afraid to take on powerful special interests. She’s fought for immigrant rights, opposed the war in Iraq, and worked to protect Social Security. She’s also running her campaign with our political revolution.”
And the endorsement is mutual. Of Sanders, whom Jayapal has endorsed, the Congressional candidate told The Hindu that, while the decision wasn’t easy, she supports Sanders and it’s mostly about Hillary’s record on war and the economy: “Hillary brings a lot to the table, as far as women’s issues are concerned. But her position on war — wars have a deep impact on women — ties with the Wall Street and changing positions on issues were not reassuring.”
Meanwhile, “[Bernie] has engaged a whole swathe of people. He has fundamentally changed the political process by getting these new groups into politics. He is pulling the Democratic Party platform to the left, something that many people in this country have been yearning for,” Jayapal said.
Sanders himself performed well in the liberal state in its March primary, and surely even Hillary supporters would celebrate Jayapal also scoring and, in so doing, making history this August. If she’s right about Sanders “pulling the Democratic Party platform to the left,” I hope to see more candidates like her in the future. After all, 2016 voters will be the most diverse ever according to PBS, and I’d love nothing more than to someday see this reflected in Congress.