Indian Americans joined hands with the larger community in New York to raise funds for Washington State Senator Pramila Jayapal (37th District in Seattle, Washington) who is running for the seat being vacated by long term Congressman Jim McDermott in Washington state’s 7th Congressional District. The event was hosted by socialite Claire White in Manhattan. There was a good presence of Indian Americans for the fundraiser.
Jayapal moved from India to the United States as student when she was sixteen. Jayapal founded Hate Free Zone after the September 11 attacks in 2001 as an advocacy group for Arab, Muslim, and South Asian Americans targeted in the wake of the attacks. The group went on to become a political force in the state of Washington, registering new American citizens to vote and lobbying lawmakers on immigration reform and related issues. It changed its name to OneAmerica in 2008.Jayapal stepped down from leadership in the group in May 2012. A year later, she was recognized by the White House as a “Champion of Change” for her work on behalf of the immigrant community.
Jayapal, a resident of Columbia City, Wash., near Seattle, was able to get her feet wet in politics with the Senate, but feels her voice is better served on a national level. “Many of the challenges working-class and middle-class Americans face, require a national solution,” the Chennai native said. “I believe our system of government is rigged to favor big corporations and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.”
Included in her accomplishments were passing two bills, helping fund a new Southeast Economic Opportunity Center that will bring higher education to the Rainier Valley for the first time, putting $5.25 million in pre-apprenticeship support for women and people of color, and fighting against payday lending. Additionally, she has fought for gun law reform, sponsoring two bills on the matter, and pushed a measure to increase minimum wage to $12 an hour.
Despite all her successes and efforts, the Democrat has faced a number of challenges in the Republican-dominated state Senate. “As a member of the minority (party), you are constantly being creative and strategic about how to get things done. Relationships and power are relative to your position in the minority,” she explained.
“I’m both the only woman of color and the first ever South Asian American member of the Legislature. That makes a big difference,” she added. “My background as an activist and a woman of color means I bring with me the perspective that race touches almost every single issue. There are, sadly, not nearly enough elected officials at any level of American government willing to acknowledge and respond to this simple truth.”
“I had long believed, as many advocates do, that it was only after a process of organizing and activism on the outside that we could demand change from our elected officials on the inside,” she told India-West, adding that the process proved frustrating as seat holders – Democrats and Republicans alike – were fearful of confronting uncomfortable social issues. I came to recognize that we don’t get a more representative government unless we run for office and create it from the inside,” Jayapal added.
The Indian American earned her bachelor’s in English language and literature/letters at Georgetown University and her M.B.A. from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. She moved to Seattle in 1991 and began working for an international public health nonprofit, PATH. Additionally, while working for an organization she founded called OneAmerica, she got to know the people of the district and understand their values – which she shares, also as a member of the community.
Among Jayapal’s challengers in the Democratic primary are state Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, King County councilman Joe McDermott, and Donovan Rivers Jayapal’s primary is on August 2nd. The fundraiser event in New York was supported by community veteran leader Dr. Thomas Abraham, Attorney Appen Menon, SaberCloud principal Saji George and Comedian Dan Nainan.