We’ve asked a handful of local leaders that had big showings in 2016 to reflect on the year ahead.
OneAmerica founder, outgoing Southeast Seattle state senator Pramila Jayapal won Seattle's highest profile election this fall, the race to replace local liberal icon, retiring U.S. representative Jim McDermott (D-WA, 7).
Only two years into her first term, Jayapal was already having an outsized influence in the state senate as a progressive leader, specifically playing a key role improving 2015's giant transportation package and passing pro-choice Medicaid reform despite GOP control. She also stood up for Seattle's political values, making the case for a statewide minimum wage increase and police body cameras while speaking out against a rollback on payday lending guidelines.
Of course, the highest profile election in 2016 was Donald Trump's ascendance to president—which simultaneously diminished and elevated Jayapal's November 8 win. Prior to representing Seattle in the state senate, Jayapal, as the leader of the state's premier civil rights group OneAmerica, represented the very people Trump demonized all year, immigrants and people of color. In that sense, by electing Jayapal, Seattle doubled down on its position as a progressive alternative to Trump's reactionary vision, not only sending a clear message to D.C. that Seattle supported an inclusive version of populism and economic justice, but also sending a fierce messenger.
As Jayapal gets ready to head to D.C. in 2017, she outlined the core values of that alternative message. (Yesterday, King County Council member Claudia Balducci and Seattle City Council member Lisa Herbold, two other 2016 standouts, looked ahead to 2017 as well.)
“We are going to have to fight like our lives depend on it.” This is what I told a heartbroken and fearful crowd at Seattle City Hall just days after Donald Trump’s election. We were still in shock, trying to wrap our heads around what Trump’s victory meant about our country and our place in it.
Since the election, Trump’s Cabinet appointments underscore the grave threat to the country that his Presidency represents. The appointments of people such as Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Andrew Pudzer and Betsy DeVos are terrifying both for the ideologies these individuals bring and the history they have of curtailing the rights of immigrants, people of color, and women. So far, his Cabinet picks have a combined wealth of approximately $15 billion—a far cry from the supposedly populist agenda on which candidate Trump ran.
It has never been clearer what our primary task will be: to stand together to prevent the rollback of decades of progress in this country. This is no time to hide in the shadows. We will have to protect Medicare, and fight for health care. We will have to remind our country that taking away a woman’s right to choose would lead us back to the days of dark back alley deaths. As Washingtonians, we celebrate our rich diversity and our civil liberties and civil rights. Now, we will defend them, fiercely.
Since the election, so many have said to me that our state and our district were bright spots in an otherwise dark time, a clear sign that voters are ready for candidates and measures that advance strong progressive policies and opportunity for all of us.
In my campaign, over 1,100 people volunteered—many of them young people and those who have never been involved in a campaign before—because the ideas of debt-free college, climate change, expanded social security and economic equality were front and center.
Seattle voted overwhelmingly to approve new measures protecting hotel workers from sexual assault and providing secure scheduling by employers. We passed a statewide increase in the minimum wage, and raised billions for mass transit expansion. We knew exactly what was at stake, and we responded strongly that we all do better when we take care of each other.
So, as Trump’s inauguration inches closer, these must be our priorities:
First, we must protect. This means standing side-by-side, behind and in front of those who need our protection—just as we did when we declared Washington a Hate Free Zone and recommitted ourselves to fighting hate and racism in our communities. It means protecting the most vulnerable among us who are scapegoats—Muslims, immigrants, women, LGBTQ and those with disabilities. It means fighting for black lives and against incarceration. It means putting ourselves in the way of attacks on others.
Second, we must organize. It would be a mistake to read this election as white working class people against people of color. People turn on each other when they themselves are hurting. We need to answer the cry of working people, white and of color, who can’t make ends meet and simply don’t see a path forward for themselves anymore. Simultaneously, we need to fight racism and sexism even as they rear their ugly heads in what feels like a last gasp. We cannot let ourselves be baited into fighting each other. Now, more than ever, our movement needs all of us, together.
Third, and perhaps most important, we must act with love and generosity. Love is what gives meaning to our lives, whether in politics or at home. For many, these coming months and years will be terrifying, even life-threatening for some. Let’s fill ourselves up so that we can take on these challenges but finding joy in any form we can. Hug the ones you love, raise conscious children who make you laugh and think, go dancing, and never think you can’t make a difference. In my mind, being truly human is the single most courageous act we can take on.
Let’s not forget that a majority of Americans rejected Donald Trump. We’ve fought and won before, and we can do it again. Our resilience, courage and creativity will continue to be a model for people across the country.
U.S. representative-elect Pramila Jayapal is Seattle's brand new member of congress.