By JACK KELLY
For The Beachcomber
Murmurs began to echo through Vashon Island High School’s theater last Thursday night as the doors to Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s (D-Seattle) town hall meeting opened. Islanders greeted friends as they found seats in the quickly filling auditorium, eager to hear from their congresswoman.
As the 6:30 p.m. scheduled start time came and went, the volume of the crowd climbed in anticipation. Finally, out came islander Rita Brogan to explain the agenda of the night and introduce Jayapal.
Following a short video highlighting Jayapal’s work in Congress to date, the crowd erupted in applause as she stepped onto the stage. The congresswoman representing Washington’s 7th Congressional District began her speech by describing how she continues to push a progressive agenda. Her focus quickly turned to President Donald Trump’s recent ordered acts of violence in Syria and Afghanistan.
“I do not believe you can bomb your way to peace,” Jayapal said. “I have never believed that.”
Her speech also emphasized her efforts to prevent the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, respond to Trump’s proposed budget cuts and participate in the Congressional Progressive Caucus. She also talked about herself and how she came to become a U.S. representative. She first came to the U.S. by herself from India at the age of 16 to attend college at Georgetown University. She went on to receive an MBA from Northwestern University.
Jayapal began her experience in public service when she founded the organization Hate Free Zone, known now as OneAmerica, to combat rising islamophobia following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. She then spent two years as the representative for the 37th district in the Washington State Senate before being elected as the first Indian-American woman to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016. Throughout her political career, Jayapal has advocated for a plethora of progressive legislation, including a $15 minimum wage and a pre-apprenticeship program aimed towards women and people of color.
After her short speech, Jayapal opened the floor to questions, causing lines of locals to crowd around the microphones.
The first question was about America’s foreign policy regarding Syria.
“If you look at this administration, the problem is that there is no foreign policy,” Jayapal said, “An overnight missile strike is not a comprehensive plan.”
She went on to explain that it is critical to initiate negotiations in order to achieve peace.
A few questions later, an islander asked how progressives can prevent infighting in the face of Trump’s proposed budget, which could slash funding to a wide variety of programs. In her answer, Jayapal stressed the importance of unity, citing examples like the Women’s March on Washington.
“This is about all of us,” Jayapal said. “We are in this together, and we are not going to be divided.”
Another moment that stood out came about halfway through the night.
“If we are a nation of immigrants, why do we need more?” an islander asked.
As the crowd turned to each other and began to whisper, Jayapal thanked the speaker for the question.
“I am a proud immigrant,” Jayapal said. “When I think about immigration, I think of how unless you are a Native American … you are either an unwilling immigrant who was brought over … or you are an immigrant who came to escape persecution and devastation in some other place. Every one of us is an immigrant.”
The last tough question came at the end of the Q & A segment when another local called into question Jayapal’s optimism in accomplishing her goals given the current political landscape and the perceived failure of the Democratic Party to reach out to the working class throughout the 2016 presidential election.
In her response, Jayapal emphasized that her values are what guide her rather than an affiliation to a political party. She then moved on to address the comment about optimism.
“If anyone deserves to be not optimistic it’s probably me,” Jayapal said. “But here’s the thing: I am an eternal optimist. That’s why I am an organizer. And I believe that we can make a difference because the alternative to being optimistic is to be pessimistic. If you are pessimistic, you are going to stay home and we cannot afford to stay home. We’ve got to be out there fighting every single day to make this country what we want it to be.”
The night ended as it had began, with the crowd drowning the microphone out in applause. Jayapal thanked the crowd and quickly exited the stage to shake hands and meet audience members.
— Jack Kelly is the business and publishing editor of the Riptide, Vashon Island High School’s student newspaper.