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Why Jayapal Skipped the Inauguration But Flew Across the Country for the Women’s March

January 22, 2017

Cosmopolitan: Why This Freshman Congresswoman Skipped the Inauguration But Flew Across the Country for the Women's March

by Rebecca Nelson

While Donald Trump was being sworn in as 45th president of the United States, Pramila Jayapal, the first Indian-American woman in the House of Representatives, was meeting with constituents in her Seattle, Washington, district — immigrants and refugees frightened that they will be persecuted under President Trump.

“This is not a normal time,” Jayapal, a Democrat backed early on by Sen. Bernie Sanders, said in a statement announcing that she would not attend the inauguration. “And we cannot pretend it is so.”

She did, however, fly to Washington, D.C., to march with 500,000 other women at the Women’s March on Saturday. After she spoke at an Emily’s List event encouraging women to run for office on Sunday, she sat down with Cosmopolitan.com to talk about why she marched and her role in the Trump era.

You were telling the women today to think about why they're running. Tell me about the moment that you first decided, "I need to run for office."

People had been asking me for some time, and I always felt like my voice was better utilized on the outside as an organizer. And I think I had separated those two things in my mind, that you were either an organizer on the outside or you were an elected official on the inside. The state Senate seat came open, and part of it was I realized that there was nobody — I felt like we needed to have somebody in the race who was going to bring some of the critical issues to the table, and I started thinking about how I had spent 15 years of my life trying to get people in elected office to do the things that we wanted them to do. And why didn't I just go in and try to use that as another platform for organizing?

I also realized how much I wanted to see more diversity in our elected officials. I remember being up and watching the Senate floor one day, the U.S. Senate floor, from the gallery, and realizing how different it looks from the rest of the United States, and that the perspectives that we bring as women of color, as immigrants, are so important and need to be at those tables.

Why was it important for you to march yesterday, and why was the actual act of marching important?

It was so important to be there and to see the power of women coming together for the broad agenda that we have. It's not just about our reproductive organs. It's about our wages. It's about our kids. It's about our friends whose kids might get deported. There are so many issues on the table. And women understand what it means to be intersectional. Because we know we can have babies, hold jobs, and lead communities all in the same breath. And so I think to show that the power of women — that we are the majority. And to have millions of people on the streets, more people in Washington, D.C. for the march than for the inauguration, sends a really strong message that we are not backing down. In community after community across the country, we are going to show that women cannot be silenced.

What was the most inspiring moment for you yesterday as you were marching?

I think it was going up on stage and looking out over the sea of people and pussy hats. Just the diversity of the crowd, and the energy of love and generosity, but also fierceness and determination to refuse to stand down.

What do you see as your role in Washington in the Trump era?

We're going to have to continue to help lead, inspire, and be part of a movement that demands equality and justice. Those are ideals that unfortunately this administration and this Congress don't look like they're going to push forward. So we're going to have to be ready to challenge that. And marching is an essential act of resistance. Storytelling is an essential act of resistance. It is part of connecting a policy to the ramifications for the broader movement. So that's going to be part of my role, to really fight back against things that I see coming forward that are unjust, trying to make them better, trying to stop them from happening. And at the same time, to put out a vision, and to hold a vision, of what we're really fighting for, because we can't afford to have people go home and go back to bed, or be depressed. Those things will happen, but we need everybody to stand back up and remind themselves that we need everybody in this movement if we're going to move America forward.

You've taken a hard line against Trump. Do you have any interest in working with him or his supporters in Congress to find common ground?

Absolutely. I mean, I have taken a hard line against the policies and the rhetoric that is divisive and moves us backwards. But if he and Republicans put forward an agenda that I think benefits the American people, then sure, I'll work with them. But there's not a lot of indications of that right now. So I think that's been the hard part about the last couple of months, is I thought maybe he would move from being a divisive candidate to being a unifying president. That's not what happened.

Is there any issue that you can see yourself working with Republicans on?

I think immigration, interestingly – in spite of all the divisive rhetoric, the reality is, and even the speaker, Speaker Ryan, has been for trying to resolve our immigration system. And so I think there is some ground there. [Trump] has talked about infrastructure and jobs, and I'd love to see that happen. But not by reducing taxes on the wealthiest and putting more burden on the poorest. We've got to make sure that we're funding that infrastructure package properly. He has talked about rewriting trade deals so they really benefit workers in the United States. Let's see what happens there.