While she may be one of the newest faces in Congress, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) stands to bring years of experience from her fight for civil and immigrant rights to Washington, D.C., specializing in a philosophy of resistance and persistence that immigrant families desperately need during these uncertain times.
“Jayapal is a congresswoman for the Trump era,” notes a Mother Jones profile on the legislator, who is highly respected among activists, “calling for an inside-outside game of direct action and obstruction”:
Back when she was an activist in Seattle, Jayapal was struck by the loneliness of the fight. Party leaders weren’t rushing to airports to block Bush- and Obama-era deportations. Only one Democratic senator opposed the Patriot Act; only one Democratic representative opposed the war on terror. Jayapal and millions of others marched against the Iraq War, but Democratic politicians rubber-stamped it.
“There were not that many people who were willing to come out and stand up for Muslims or stand up against the abuses of the Bush administration,” she said. “That was post-9/11, so I think there was a lot of fear at the time about exactly what that meant—were they unpatriotic if they stood up?”
But a few weeks into the Trump administration, with the White House flailing angrily in a perpetual crisis of its own making, Jayapal saw something different. “I see this as progress,” she says, “because not only do we have protesters across the country, but we’ve got elected officials from the Democratic Party—and even a few from the Republican Party—who are saying this is outrageous.”
As an immigrant woman of color representing Washington’s diverse communities, it’s more than personal for Rep. Jayapal:
Increasingly her work focused on immigrants, and she served on the board of a nonprofit fighting domestic violence in Seattle’s South Asian community. In the days after 9/11, her phone wouldn’t stop ringing. Muslim women called to complain that their hijabs had been yanked off in public or that rocks had been thrown at them. Jayapal became afraid to wear the wrong clothes, or to let her son leave the house.
One week after the attacks, Jayapal formed Hate Free Zone, a nonprofit devoted to defending Muslims against what she referred to as “ruthless targeting.” After a halal grocery was raided at gunpoint by FBI agents who believed it was transmitting money to Al Qaeda, Jayapal organized protests. “There was actually no evidence,” she says, “that they were in bed with terrorists.”
Eventually, Hate Free Zone morphed into OneAmerica, which has become one of the leading civil and immigrant rights groups in the nation, and one that helped chart Rep. Jayapal’s eventual path to the House of Representatives, where she continues to fight for justice for our immigrant families, Muslim families, and other vulnerable communities.
”Sept. 11 was the fire that lit gasoline that has been spread over centuries,” Jayapal states on OneAmerica. “It provided a space for new and old fears to express themselves—fear of people who look different, fear of those perceived to be threatening jobs for Americans, fear of those perceived to be terrorists.”
“Does this mean that we should sit back and watch? Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Morality cannot be legislated but behavior can be regulated.’ This is our call to action.”