Feed Drop: Pramila Jayapal in conversation with Nick Licata

In this bonus listen, we're sharing a recording of a live event. Enjoy a conversation about political engagement with U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, author of Use the Power You Have. Jayapal was joined in conversation by former Seattle City Councilmember and author of the book Becoming a Citizen Activist, Nick Licata.

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Recommended Reading

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USE THE POWER YOU HAVE

Becoming A Citizen Activist

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If you'd like to get in touch, send an email to deskset@kcls.org.

Credit

The Desk Set is brought to you by the King County Library System. The show is hosted by librarians Britta Barrett and Emily Calkins, and produced by Britta Barrett. Our theme song is "I Know What I Want" by Math and Physics Club. Other music provided by Chad Crouch, from the Free Music Archive.

Transcript

Britta Barrett:
You're listening to the Desk Set, a bookish podcast for reading broadly. I'm one of your hosts Britta Barrett. Today, we've got another special feed drop. Please enjoy this conversation with US Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal.

Britta Barrett:
It's my privilege to introduce you to US Congresswoman and author Pramila Jayapal. Congresswoman Jayapal has been a champion for libraries and for KCLS, particularly supporting our programs and services for children, families and immigrants. She represents the seventh congressional district which includes Shoreline, Burien, Vashon Island and Lake Forest Park. All communities for KCLS patrons are highly supportive of their local libraries.

Britta Barrett:
Prior to being elected to Congress, the congresswoman helped launch our summer reading program while serving as a Washington State Senator. She understands the importance of literacy as well as digital acuity recently advocating for libraries to ensure our patrons have full and fair access to ebooks. In addition, she worked in her campus library in college so she understands the role of libraries for students at all levels.

Britta Barrett:
As you will hear in the discussion of her book, Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman's Guide to Politics and Political Change, she celebrates and embodies the positive role of immigrants in the American story. At KCLS, we're committed to diversity, equity and inclusion in our internal culture as well as in our public programs and services. Many new Americans arriving in the Puget Sound area have participated in our citizenship classes, ESL programs, conversational English talk time and world language story times.

Britta Barrett:
Our welcoming centers connect new arrivals with vocal ambassadors who have been through the immigration process themselves, who understand the challenges of finding support and accurate information. This fall, KCLS will host a series of author events highlighting writers of color who reflects the diversity of King County. For more information, please visit kcls.org/authorvoices. I'm so pleased that local activist author and former Seattle City Council Member Nick Licata has agreed to lead our discussion of use the power you have.

Britta Barrett:
His own book, Becoming A Citizen Activist touches on themes of discovering and harnessing personal power for positive change. We're fortunate to have him as moderator. Thank you for both being here and sharing your own powerful experiences with us.

Nick Licata:
You had a lot of different kinds of experiences. People sometimes are reticent to have a new experience. You said how you grow with each experience. I guess, in some ways, I'm saying where people are a little afraid to get involved in politics or that is a fear you overcome, but you also gain from it. I wanted to talk about your experience and how people who want to get involved, how they can view it as an adventure.

Pramila Jayapal:
I come over here as an immigrant. As you said, I came over when I was 16 years old by myself. It's sort of like, you've got to figure out how to make it. There is no option to fail, my parents had very little money in their bank account. They used all of it to send me here by myself. I knew that this was a massive sacrifice to send your kid across the ocean and know that they might never come back. I had to figure it out on my own.

Pramila Jayapal:
I think that I started to realize that this idea that you don't have to know everything was a survival technique. It also turned out to be a great organizing strategy in later life. My staff always used to say, "If you want to get Pramila to do something, just tell her it can't be done." The minute somebody says something can't be done, I've got to go figure out how to do it.

Pramila Jayapal:
I think that some of the work in organizing is to be able to move forward without having the full game plan. You do have to have a strategy. You need to know tactics. There's a lot of different pieces to good organizing and good political change. The main thing is you don't have to know everything. You can admit that you don't know everything. There are many times, even in this job when I say, that's an interesting idea. I've never really thought about that. I don't know the answer to that. Let me find out. Let me get back to you.

Pramila Jayapal:
I don't think we need to be superhuman as politicians. I think actually what people want to know is that we are human and that we also experience many of the same things that other people do. I think my experience of just having to make it and having to learn for myself and having to wake up and figure it out without really many people telling me what to do or how to do it ended up being really instructive for my organizing career in later life.

Pramila Jayapal:
Take a try at it. You don't have to be good at everything. You just need to have a few key things that you can contribute that you can put one foot in front of the other, and the path will make itself clear.

Nick Licata:
Good advice. You also described how you have successfully had some great examples. How you reach out to others who you are unfamiliar with, or who you didn't agree with. I mean, Republican cases, also those who cross the aisle and got things passed, like in Washington State, the Automatic Voter Registration Act. You say, I have never been afraid of talking to people who disagree with me, which I think that's a big fear to overcome. How can you apply that advice in this divisive environment that President Trump has created?

Pramila Jayapal:
I always, and maybe this comes from again, like being thrown ... I have had many different experiences in my life before becoming a nonprofit person and working in social justice and then before becoming coming to Congress. One of the experiences was selling defibrillators in eastern Indiana and western Ohio. I was the first woman and the first person of color in the district. The guys didn't like me, because they were like, "What is she doing here? She's going to bring down our sales number." I had to prove them right.

Pramila Jayapal:
More importantly, I had to go into these little towns across Eastern Indiana, where people really were nothing like me. I had to establish a relationship with them. I learned that there really are a lot of things that we have in common. If you can get to those places of just relating to each other as individuals and finding some of those commonalities, just one thing. I would go into an office and I would look around for one thing that made me feel like I was at home and then that would become the thing I would start the conversation with. It just helped.

Pramila Jayapal:
It doesn't fix everything, you're not going to come away agreeing on everything. I don't think that the idea ... I think we should differentiate between the idea of compromise and principled compromise. Sometimes people think about compromise as you both come into the middle, and you just meet there. If you're talking about the separation of families and you've separated thousands of families is a compromise that to say, well, we'll just seek equity for half of those families. Of course not.

Pramila Jayapal:
The principled compromise, I think, is an important piece. If you can come at that discussion with a sense of both what you're trying to achieve and what the other person is trying to achieve, and really see if without making it personal, there's some way to come to agreement. I think that is important. That's something that I have learned to do as progressive as my ideas are, something like the Paycheck Recovery Act, I was able to get Republicans on that, and moderate Democrats and Conservative democrats and Progressive Democrats.

Pramila Jayapal:
I think that sometimes language gets in the way. Sometimes it's just ourselves we're like, "Oh, I can't possibly find anything in common with that person." Maybe I can just tell one quick anecdote that's in the book, where I got to Congress and I had a South Asian Heart Health bill, which is actually going to come, it's being marked up either today or tomorrow on the floor. It's going to hopefully go to a vote in the next couple of weeks.

Pramila Jayapal:
It's just to really invest in lifting up the issue of heart health for South Asians across the country. I was looking for a republican co-sponsor. I happened to go into the elevator when I was brand new, my first term. I see a guy there and it's Joe Wilson, who you might remember as the person who screamed, "You lied," to President Obama, when he was talking about the Affordable Care Act.

Pramila Jayapal:
He looks at me and he says, "Where are you from?" I said, "Here." He said, "No, no, I mean, what's your heritage?" I said, "I'm from India, originally born in India." He said, "Oh, I love India. I love India. My father served in the army in India. I've got a great big picture of the Taj Mahal in my office and you should come by. I'm really close to the South Asian community." Guess who ended up being my Republican co-sponsor on my South Asian Heart Health bill and it's going to go to the floor and hopefully pass with unanimous support.

Nick Licata:
I want to continue on this trend a little bit because there's always a balancing act, what we're talking about is reaching out, not to make unprincipled compromises, but find that hook where you can bring someone over to your side. Also, sometimes the hardest people to convince are people who are already on your side and they don't want to go that far. That is both of us experience, perhaps the most difficult kind of decisions we have to make.

Nick Licata:
Given your orientation similar to mine, which is talk to everyone and see where you can get. People who want to get involved in politics or organizing and things of that sort. What's your advice to them as far as how do you organize your base that sometimes some people in the base aren't willing to move further? You feel like there's need to do something further. That's a hard discussion to have. Accessible, so I think you got something wise and say about it.

Pramila Jayapal:
Yeah, absolutely. It is a hard discussion to have. You and I are both progressives. I'm the co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. We are one piece of the entire Democratic Party, 40%. I'm the lead sponsor of the Medicare-For-All bill. I'm a huge proponent of comprehensive immigration reform, generous, comprehensive immigration reform. There's any number of things we could talk about that... Fight for 15. I mean, Seattle was the first major city to pass a $15 minimum wage. You and I were both on that committee together. Now, it's become mainstream but for a long time it wasn't within the Democratic Party.

Pramila Jayapal:
I always say that being a progressive just means you're the first to the best and most just idea. We often come up with the ideas and then we have to build the movement to actually make it a reality. I say this in the book, if politics is the art of the possible, then it's up to us as organizers, wherever we sit, whether we're in Congress or outside of Congress, to move the boundaries of what is seen as possible. No change ever comes wholesale. There's almost nothing that we've gotten that has come as one giant gift wrapped package, that was exactly what the progressive left wanted. Everything was a fight.

Pramila Jayapal:
There were more substantial steps taken and less substantial steps taken. One of the things you have to do is you have to strategize about how much you can get and it's a judgment call. For me, the thing I look at is, is it going to harm anyone? Is the step I'm going to take going to harm anyone? Because if it's going to harm somebody, that's a whole different assessment, to push some people forward and other people back to me is not very acceptable. That's not going to be a place where I'm going to be likely to be able to compromise.

Pramila Jayapal:
If the question is, how far can I go, and it's not all the way to the end, but what are the ways in which I can push further change the boundaries of what's seen as possible, push as much as I can. At some point, there is a judgment call about what you're going to get. Joe Biden is not, for example, going to become Bernie Sanders. How far can we get on Medicare-For-All type proposals, as we're talking with Joe Biden?

Pramila Jayapal:
Then, what happens once you get to something that becomes the floor. It doesn't mean you stop pushing for what you can get but you continue, then to strategize. What are the things that happened that stopped us from being able to get even more? How do we build our movement so that it has the strength, so that we can actually get what we need?

Nick Licata:
Perfect. Again, I'm going to follow up on that, because in reading your book, the one thing that really screams out at me is, think like an organizer. People who get into office think that's it, I'm in office, they still have to continue to not just meet the needs of the constituents, they still need to organize them, and other politicians. You exactly pointed out in your book with how you reorganized, I think, it's the Progressive Caucus into a nonprofit organization. Initially, I think, there's just one, maybe one part-time person, 15 full time people, six fellowships on it working in insurance.

Nick Licata:
What is important? How were you able to do that, first of all, reach out and show we have to work together, we grew the Progressive Caucus? How can others learn? Why is it important to have organized research? Because that's what it comes down to, getting good information and then being able to influence others. A lot of people zip over that but you have succeeded in making a powerhouse.

Pramila Jayapal:
Yeah. I think people don't really think about infrastructure, they think about somebody going in and being able to change everything. You can't. I mean, you couldn't do it on your own. I can't do it on my own. We can't even do it with the squad in 15 or 20 people. It's like you need to have an infrastructure that deals with all of the different ways in which progressive ideas are attacked within the political system.

Pramila Jayapal:
When I went into Congress, Keith Ellison was the co-chair at the time of the Progressive Caucus along with Raul Grijalva. He had really started to build that infrastructure. He had started to think about, all right, how do we turn the Progressive Caucus within Congress, from sort of what was a social group started by Maxine Waters, Bernie Sanders and others way back in 1991, I think it was. How do we turn that from a social group into an entity that has real power? What does it take to have real power?

Pramila Jayapal:
What we realized is that there were all these lobbyists outside our door. I don't take any corporate PAC money. I just do not believe that we should get money out of politics, period. There are a lot of people who do take that corporate PAC money. There are a lot of lobbyists, like 500 lobbyists, for every member of Congress that are standing outside your door ready to give you all this information? What is our counter to that?

Pramila Jayapal:
We didn't have it. We didn't have a research entity. There was no coordination of progressive think tanks. There was no coordination really of the outside movement at that time or very little. We had one staff person within the Progressive Caucus for 100 members. I realized, okay, there are multiple places where we need infrastructure. First of all, within Congress, we needed to build the capacity of our staff within Congress, so we increased our dues.

Pramila Jayapal:
This year, going into the next term, we're actually going to put more restrictions in place about what it means to be a Progressive Caucus member, that's not going to necessarily be super popular with some people. That's something that I feel very strongly about. That was sort of the internal piece, we hired more staff so that we actually have a policy director, a comms director, et cetera, raise the dues, put in more restrictions.

Pramila Jayapal:
Then, we also needed to build this outside entity, this 501(c)(3) that is called the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center. That now coordinates the organizing with labor with community organizations with progressive groups with think tanks. That has brought a whole new set of capacity. That's the 15 staff that you mentioned. We built that from the ground up. Then, we built the PAC operation for progressives, because we also know that we've got to get involved in primary elections and general elections, electing more progressive members.

Pramila Jayapal:
We need to be able to have money and organizing capacity to put to those members. Mondaire Jones was elected, he was our first independent expenditure that we ran out of the Progressive Caucus PAC. Now, we have Mondaire Jones, Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Marie Newman in Chicago. We're supporting Beth Doglio in Washington 10. We're supporting Kara Eastman in Nebraska. We have a whole slate of progressive candidates that we are trying to help win because the more members we get in, that are running on progressive ideas and really willing to stand up for those progressive ideas, the more powerful we will be.

Pramila Jayapal:
Three different pieces of infrastructure that we had to build. I'm really proud to have done that as co-chair with Mark Pocan, my current co-chair, and we're going to continue. We've got more to do. We're not done. It takes a while to build this infrastructure. Without that, you're just sort of working on your own. It's not reasonable to think you're going to transform health policy or criminal justice reform or anything else that we care about, climate change, with just a couple of people.

Pramila Jayapal:
You actually need a coordinated strategy and you need the infrastructure to support it.

Nick Licata:
I really appreciate that. Just one little historical note. We do not give enough attention, whether it's politics like this and organized infrastructure, but it was the basis for building the Roman Empire. They built around the Delta aqueducts. It wasn't just armies fighting, they had to build infrastructure. The changes that you made was possible, I think, somewhat due to you're new. You made an interesting statement. You said that you've seen too many people hold power for too long, and I know about that, I quit.

Nick Licata:
We need new energy to come in. Someone once said, there are three ways to lead elected office. You either die, you're voted out or you step aside. The latter is exceedingly rare. It's not just a throwaway or we need new blood. What does having new leadership, having new people come in, how does that reinvigorate and why does that open up new doors?

Pramila Jayapal:
Politics, the way it's structured right now and certainly in Congress is a very entrenched system. It's a system of hierarchy. I'm not totally against hierarchy. I think that the way it's structured, you sort of have to stick around for 25 years if you want to be a chairman, because nobody's ever leaving. All of the chairs are done through seniority. I always believe that when I left OneAmerica when it was at the height of its success, I would say, I spent almost 12 years as executive founder and executive director.

Pramila Jayapal:
I decided I needed to step aside because one of the things that progressive politics and power should be about is developing new leadership. You did that as well at the City Council. I know that was hard. I do think it's very important because you have to build a bench, you have to allow people to come in and you have to allow the system to not become so entrenched. I will say that the republicans have much more turnover of people leaving, not just people getting voted out, but people actually leaving, because they have limits, term limits, on chairmanships.

Pramila Jayapal:
You can only be a chairman for certain amount of time and then you got to step down. You can move to another committee and be a chairman there. It's quite difficult to do that. When people step down as chair, they're sort of like, okay, I think I've done my chair role now. Maybe I'll leave. You do have people stepping back in different ways a new leadership coming forward in better ways, I think, than we in the Democratic Party have been able to do.

Pramila Jayapal:
When somebody new comes in, I'm not dismissing experience at all. I mean, Elijah Cummings, John Lewis, I mean, some of our real stars, Barbara Lee, these are people who have had tremendous experience. It's not like everybody who has experience needs to go after a certain amount of time. You do allow for new people to come in and to bring ideas about how you can do things a little bit differently to bear. That is really useful. I think when I came in, Keith Ellison really welcomed me. He was the one who said, "I want you to run for first vice chair of the Progressive Caucus." I was like, "I just got here. I don't really know anything." He said, "Yes, you do. You're an organizer. You know how to do this. I want you to do this."

Pramila Jayapal:
Of course, we did that with a number of new members as well. Ilhan Omar is our whip for the Progressive Caucus and Rashida is on our executive board. IANA and AOC, of course, are very involved. We've been able to incorporate a lot of our new members. That's a newer thing. I think it is one of the things that, really, we're going to have to change if we want to have the kind of representation that we should have. Otherwise, you're going to be stuck with representation that looks much more leadership that looks much more like it was from 30 years ago, versus responding to the current moment.

Nick Licata:
Would it be sacrilege to borrow the idea from the Republicans and actually have limits on chairman, chairwomanships for the committees? Is that something that going gingerly about it, that might happen?

Pramila Jayapal:
I definitely think that it is starting to happen. You saw it happen with the some of the runs for some of the elections for leadership in the house. You had Hakeem Jeffries running against Barbara Lee. Technically, Barbara Lee would be more senior. I supported Barbara in that case, actually. Hakeem has been a great chair. I think that there's important things that he has brought with his presence.

Pramila Jayapal:
In the past, there was a narrative. I don't know if it was true, but it was a narrative that a lot of black caucus members wanted to stick to the seniority system, because they had waited so long. There had been so few of them, that they really didn't want that to change. I think that has shifted, because there are many new, younger black members that have come in now. There is sort of a band of time where you've got the Elijahs and John Lewis and others, and then there weren't a lot of folks of color that were being elected.

Pramila Jayapal:
I just think it's important to constantly sort of look at how we can bring about those reforms. I think they're starting to happen, slow, slow, but I think they're starting to happen.

Nick Licata:
I'm glad you point that out. I appreciate that. The chapter you're on immigration, which I know is a major concern, along with Affordable Care Act and minimum wage that you write about in your book. You raised a really good point, a number of good points, obviously. A majority of people that who are immigrants are actually, not illegal, they're legally protected seeking political asylum and that 40% of them have children and their families have been broken. It's just outrageous.

Nick Licata:
I love your quote from, I'm blacking out, Graham, Billy Graham, opposed to Trump's policies. You say that we allow anti-immigrant attitudes to latch on to deep fears most of us have about the other. I love this, "At the core of this fear are two basic concepts. The first is what about me," and I've heard that so often. "The second is the concept of fear that yet the other, what it means if my culture, my way of life is compromised, and theirs isn't."

Nick Licata:
Could you extrapolate and go, because I think there's a powerful concept. If we understand how they work that may open doors to talk to people.

Pramila Jayapal:
Yeah. I think that immigrants have been a political football for a long time. America has this very mixed and checkered history with immigrants, even going back to our founding, we have an identity as a nation of immigrants. Of course, many people were brought over on slave ships not in chains and not out of choice, to build our bridges and our roads and to be the slaves across the United States, a legacy that we still haven't dealt with. We're just seeing now a slight awakening, but all the resistance that's created around that.

Pramila Jayapal:
Then, of course, immigrants, even the Polish, the Irish, they all faced, many of them, faced waves of anti-immigrant sentiment in different ways. This is a very complicated history that America has with immigrants. We are a nation of immigrants, but we don't always embrace it. Whoever the generation is that came seems to always be afraid of the next generation that's coming or the next wave that's coming.

Pramila Jayapal:
I think that when you deal with issues of immigrants and immigration, it is important to recognize that fear. There is this fear that these people are going to come over, and they're going to take things that you and I should have and that we worked hard for, and therefore we deserve and they don't deserve. That narrative just has to be completely exploded. COVID has shown us that. What part of this country and the essential workers that put food on our tables and pick the food supply and everything else, what part of our country would survive without the labor of immigrants?

Pramila Jayapal:
That's always been true, by the way, but COVID I think, showed it in a whole new way. Tearing apart that fear by getting to know immigrants as societies and communities got more immigrants in. People started to get to know them. Maybe there were some intermarriages. It's all about recognizing that you and I, even though I was born in India and you were born, where? I don't know. That we are not that different in terms of what we're really seeking. I think that is a very important piece.

Pramila Jayapal:
The other is this basic premise, right, that we're all better off when we're all better off, that you and I are inextricably linked. Your liberation is tied up with mine. There is nothing that will allow you to be truly free until I am truly free. That is, again, something that I think COVID has brought to the forefront. It's an approach of love and generosity that we haven't seen in this country for many years now. Certainly, when we talk about immigrants, the dehumanization, the criminalization of migration, and all of the ways in which immigrants have been used to further the worst fears, the most racist, xenophobic fears within us is something very difficult to counter.

Pramila Jayapal:
Yet, Nick, in spite of everything over the last four years and beyond that, the attitudes towards immigration and immigrants are higher in the United States than they've ever been before. Americans still believe in immigration. They are afraid. Some are afraid and some feel like, uh-oh, maybe we can't take any more. That is where if you had good leadership, making the arguments about how immigrants lift us all up and that this country would not survive without the labor of immigrants, and oh, by the way, the immigration system has never been adapted in decades.

Pramila Jayapal:
There is no line for people to get into. Those are some of the facts of the way the system works. The brain and the heart have to understand what we're really driving towards and that you don't lose anything by me coming to America.

Nick Licata:
Thank you. You are also showing the necessity for doing research and you point out in your book. I don't have the numbers in front of me. Immigrants who are not citizens contribute so much money to taxes that they do pay. People forget that. That they actually almost float a good portion of the social security system that people use who they don't have access to use.

Nick Licata:
I mean, those kinds of numbers are important. Let me ask one last question, then we'll see if we have some from the public. This has to do in the last chapter you have, the three supremacies. I like that sort of topology, white supremacy, corporate supremacy and individual supremacy, which I think is the basis of so much of what I would say is reactionary libertarianism. How can you respond to that the best way so that those supremacies don't corrupt our democracy?

Pramila Jayapal:
Yeah. What's interesting is I wrote that chapter before COVID ever hit. I mean, the book manuscript was finished back in the fall. Those three premises came out of a town hall that I did with former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich at Town Hall, Seattle, on Labor Day. This time last year on Labor Day. Robert asked me, Bob asked me, "What do you think the biggest problems are facing America?"

Pramila Jayapal:
In that moment, I hadn't thought about this before. I said, "I think it's we have to take on these three intertwined supremacies." I listed them out corporate supremacy, individual supremacy, and white supremacy and anti-blackness. This is pre George Floyd, this is pre COVID. It's become clear to me that these are the big barriers.

Pramila Jayapal:
There are other ways to look at this. Of course, you've got gender, you've got many other isms that are out there. The idea that corporations should have free speech rights, or should have the ability to affect elections, or even that there aren't any limits on corporate behavior as it relates to the common good. If a company creates a bunch of jobs but many of those jobs are so low paid that those people actually depend on the state for state funded health care, as is the case with many of the large corporations. They don't provide benefits, and they don't provide high enough wages, that people can actually make it.

Pramila Jayapal:
Then, the taxpayer is subsidizing the corporation and the corporation is putting the majority of those profits into the highest management levels. You get this idea where corporations are controlling so much of our political process, but also now liberties, what people have access to, and then of course, you come into anti-monopoly behavior and all kinds of other things. That whole idea of what is the role of corporations? Why isn't it that anymore this was the case, when charters were first developed? That you had to show what the common good was that you were contributing to as a corporation in order to get your corporate charter.

Pramila Jayapal:
By the way, you couldn't own as much land as you wanted, there was a limit on what you could own. Those regulations have all gone by the wayside. It's hurt us tremendously, because there's too much wealth that's controlled by a very small group of people in those largest corporations. Second, around individual supremacy. It's, again, this idea, we're very proud of being individualistic in America. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, anybody can make it, that kind of thing.

Pramila Jayapal:
The reality is, not everybody has shoes and not everybody has a pair of bootstraps that are decent to start with. That lack of equity, it contributes to a lie about what you have achieved as an individual without the help of a government or a society or community or a family. If we could think about the interrelationships between each of us and our communities, and the love that it takes to really build a beautiful society. That, again, is the idea of the common good, that we're all better off when we're all better off.

Pramila Jayapal:
Then, the final one around white supremacy and anti-blackness, I'm just heartsick at the way in which we have allowed racism, anti-blackness and white supremacy to continue to thrive through Republican and Democratic administrations and to refuse to accept that the United States cannot move forward unless we deal with our legacy of slavery. I was just listening to James Baldwin on audio book, I've read him, of course, but I was re-listening to it again on a long drive.

Pramila Jayapal:
I think that everyone should read James Baldwin and really think about the ways in which your privilege has contributed to the oppression of black people in America. That's true for brown people. It's true for white people. We have to deal with this or we will not be able to move forward.

Nick Licata:
Yeah, I think, one of the conditions is perhaps extend the argument to or the perception to the say, the white community, the non-black community, is that democracy, going back to Lincoln, nation cannot be divided and still stand. That if we continue not treating everyone as a citizen, even no matter what kind of paper they're waving, we are basically knocking the pillars under ourselves so that we cannot still understand.

Nick Licata:
I do want to see if there's anyone out there who's provided questions, I can see the list, but I don't know. Britta has been monitoring it. Do we have any questions? Because I have some others to ask, but I want to make sure that we do allow the opportunity. Also, if there's something particular you want to bring up that I haven't touched on yet too.

Britta Barrett:
Nick, I can speak to if you'd like to view the questions, so you can click the ask a question, they'll all be there. You both are welcome to choose which ones you'd like to speak to together. Feel free to just sort of look through those. Looks like we have about eight that have come in throughout ...

Nick Licata:
Let's see, where are those questions on? I see the tab on the side. Are they there?

Britta Barrett:
Where it says ask a question, if you hit that button, it will come up.

Nick Licata:
Okay.

Britta Barrett:
At the top you actually see, like, the first question has four votes. That means that not only did someone in the audience ask the question, but more people wanted to hear the answer too. That's how they're sort of ranked.

Nick Licata:
Oh I see. Okay, there we go. Take a look. Okay. Pramila can see this too, right? We can all see? Okay. Why don't you choose because ...

Pramila Jayapal:
All right. We'll take the first one that is at the top of the list, which is, "What's the most effective way to have my voice heard by my senators and representatives?" It is to talk to us. It's to call. It's to come and visit. It's to write a letter. I will tell you that we ... I'm so proud of this. Our district, the seventh district of Washington state gets the most calls, letters and emails of any district in the country. We do our very best. I have a phenomenal team that really works hard to try to get a response back to everyone.

Pramila Jayapal:
It is most powerful when you write a personal letter, when you tell me a personal story. I know that there's a lot of great tools and technology that allow you to just copy and paste something, we see that. We see. My staff will say, we got 200 emails from X&Y campaign. When I get a letter that's from you that tells me what happened when your mother went into a nursing home and she couldn't get the long term care that she needed and what that meant for you when you had to sell your home.

Pramila Jayapal:
Whatever it is, sometimes it's beautiful stories. It's not always stories of pain. Whatever it is, those stories are what resonate with me. They're the stories I tell on the floor. They're the stories I pick to tell in a hearing. I try to pick a few that I can write personal handwritten letters to, because nobody does that anymore. I really liked doing that. Maybe you'll get one of those handwritten letters. That's what's really effective is to put yourself into it and to take a little bit more time to tell me specifically why you care about that issue and what your own personal experience is.

Nick Licata:
The number two question also had a couple people. "What inspired you to raise your voice and continue to raise your voice in the House?"

Pramila Jayapal:
I've been an activist and an organizer for 20 years before coming to Congress. I talk about this in the book. I was supposed to be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer. If you're an Indian parent and you use your last dollars to send your kid across the ocean and know that they might never come back, you're supposed to make money and do one of those professions that's acceptable. Politician was not one of them. Nonprofit organizer was not one of them.

Pramila Jayapal:
After kind of doing work in the private sector, I just realized that I had to follow my own heart. I had to follow a path that felt real for me. That initially was working around the world on public health issues and villages and meeting these amazing women, these amazing village women who were organizing to save their forests and get equality for them and to run for office as a woman themselves.

Pramila Jayapal:
It was so inspiring. I just realized that was really what I wanted to do. Then of course, I came back to the US and 9/11 happened. I ended up starting this organization. I never thought I was going to start an organization. I tell that story in the book. I realized that my voice and my actions could make a difference. That organizing could make a difference. Building a movement could make a difference. The urgency was so important.

Pramila Jayapal:
Yu and I know, Nick, that strength emerges in the greatest times of crisis. That's what organizing is about. That's what I found out of 9/11, these incredible, resilient, courageous people who were fighting so hard that there was nothing I could say that would match, really, the effort that they were putting in. It was what I had to do to preserve our democracy in the months and years after 9/11?

Nick Licata:
Great. Did you want to add anything that we haven't touched on yet? I want to make ...

Pramila Jayapal:
I guess the thing I would say going back to your question about how do you know when enough is enough, I guess, I just want to say that we are in this really dire time in our country. I mean, I've never been so scared for our country, and for our future, as I am today. I've seen a lot. I've lived through 9/11. I've seen a lot of really horrible things, family separation. I've been in all these different places.

Pramila Jayapal:
I really do think that we have to think about what's at stake right now. The road to fascism is littered with moments when people could have stood up and done something voted, acted, made a difference in some way, defended someone in some way and they didn't. That's what led to fascism in many, many cases. We can't let that be the case in the United States. Really thinking about how we use the next couple of months to raise our voice to vote, even if you aren't thrilled with the choice that's before you.

Pramila Jayapal:
The reality is, we have got to take on Donald Trump. We have to get him out of the White House. We have to be able to at least have somebody with whom we can begin to make progress towards the ideals that we strive for. We are turning our whole campaign towards making sure that we elect Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and also these progressives across the country and then we continue our fight. This is really, really important.

Pramila Jayapal:
If we allow another four years under this president, I really do worry that our country will not survive. I've seen the complete disrespect of the constitution. I just want people to understand that your power is your vote and your voice. If you decide not to use it, it's not just that you're deciding not to use it, you're actually giving it away, you're giving it up and you're allowing other people to essentially claim your voice and your vote. Vote early. Get engaged.

Pramila Jayapal:
We have a whole training this weekend. It's a 10-hour training for people. We're going to be working in Pennsylvania helping to get voters out as well as here in Washington State. We're training people on how to do that and how to get ready to take back our country.

Nick Licata:
That's great. Right. Your advice on zoning is critical. I once had an opportunity to talk to a fifth grade class. I didn't realize they're fifth graders, I speak at high schools a lot and this was a fifth grade class. I was talking politics with them. I decided to use the analogy of games. How many people enjoy playing games? Oh, yeah, we like games. I said, you like winning at games? They said, yes

Nick Licata:
I said, so if you're playing a game with someone and you walk away, who wins? The other person wins, right? Politics is like that. You got to be in the game to win. If you don't play the game, you're going to lose.

Nick Licata:
I don't know if we're running out of time here or not. We have time for one more question, Britta, or are we? You going to shift the lights on us and cut the juice? Okay. I'm going to ask one last question. I've been wanting to write about the concept of citizenship, it becomes so narrowly focused on a piece of paper. It's totally ignored the relevance of what this country was all about and what it is all about.

Nick Licata:
I want to revise it and revitalize it. I want to be able to use the concept of citizenship to literally create an arch between basically politics and culture so that this is something that it's more than just on the paper, it's a norm. Right? It's an expectation. I could hear your thoughts about that.

Pramila Jayapal:
Yeah. I think it's so, so important. It's important in a couple of ways. I mean, we think of citizenship. Eric Lewis has done some good work here in Seattle on redefining the concept of citizenship, right? It's not just that piece of paper that says, okay, I'm a citizen, it's how you are in your life. It's what you do for your community. It's what you do for your family. It's how you look at your responsibility to make the world a better place. That's what true citizenship is about.

Pramila Jayapal:
That's not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. That idea. I think that's one piece of it. The other piece of it is really around how we understand our responsibility to protect and preserve the democratic institutions. In the United States, there are so many people ... we're not taught civics the way we should be in school. We think that the vote is something that is ours to decide whether or not we're going to use it.

Pramila Jayapal:
No, I think it's a responsibility. There are many things we've done to suppress the vote or to tell voters that they're not important. One way to take back your power is to never give your vote away. That has to be taught. We need to do that work to invest in helping people to understand. Where do they get good information from? How do they find out about candidates? How do we make it not intimidating? How do we make this a central part even of naturalization when new citizens come in? That was the work we did at OneAmerica. We ran one of the largest voter registration drives in the history of the state.

Pramila Jayapal:
We registered 23,000 new immigrant citizens to vote. That work is so essential to everybody feeling like they are a true citizen. So are the rights that allow people to feel like they're they have dignity and they're being treated as human beings. Those are the policies that we have to pass, living wages, housing for all, college for all, health care for all. Those are the things that allow people to engage in a democracy and to feel like it's actually worthwhile.

Pramila Jayapal:
It's a complicated question, but I really love it, because to me, citizenship is the responsibility of the government to the people. It's the responsibility of the people to the government. It's the responsibility of each of us to each other in creating that more perfect union.

Nick Licata:
I think it was in your book that you pointed out, you realize stuff sometimes I'm not quite sure where I found it. If people believe that the folks that they put into office are not hearing them because they don't expect you to agree with them, but not hearing their concerns and responding to that. They then lose faith and then they don't vote and then they ultimately get hurt themselves. The vote took place, and I forget, was it in Michigan or Wisconsin, 100,000 people who had voted under Obama's election, did not vote for Hillary.

Nick Licata:
They were democrats, the voted down the ballot, they just didn't vote for the top person. To me that meant that they lost faith in the federal government, they lost faith in the president. That is a heavy responsibility, not just in the present, but people like yourself or anyone who's elected. That's why I like the idea that you continually have to organize. I think you've done a marvelous job on doing that. I would like to see classes of people, the classes for new politicians and how to remain as an organizer or be an organizer for your community.

Pramila Jayapal:
So great. We need to elect more organizers to Congress, people who have actually organized in the community. I just think that point you made is really important. It was Michigan that I quote in the book. Actually, this is true in Wisconsin too, the numbers are just different. In Michigan, we lost Michigan, Democrats lost Michigan in 2016 by 10,000 votes, 10,000 votes. There were 20,000 fewer people that came out to vote in 2016, than did in 2012. There were 100,000 people that came to the polls, but filled out every single election except for the President of the United States, left that one blank. That was the undercount.

Pramila Jayapal:
When we talk about these swing states, and we say, "Oh, we got to get the moderate voters. We got to get the moderate voters. We got to get those republicans and the independents." I always remind my Democratic colleagues that, "No, actually, you also need to get your base. You need to speak to the base and you need to get young people and folks of color and women and immigrants out, because that is ultimately, if you're not talking about a congressional district then you're talking about a state, every single vote matters."

Pramila Jayapal:
We have way too many people, young people, folks of color, who just feel like government is not relevant to them anymore, which is why I do so many town halls. I do so many events. I try to bring in young people all the time. Because I just think that part of what we have to do is really change the way that people have been treated by government in some cases and also change the way people see government in other cases, so that they see it as representing them and being a part of them versus something completely separate that doesn't have any relationship to me.

Nick Licata:
I want to toss out an idea that is based somewhat on fear and maybe a high probability. There's a lot of discussion about election night and we may not know who won the presidency for a couple days, maybe a week. Trump has repeatedly made noise and very definitely saying he wants to see what happens. One scenario, I think, the Bloomberg News came out with this scenario that it's conceivable he could win enough electoral votes on election night, and then declare himself a winner, and then create confusion and of course, raise this whole question of attacking the process, the democratic process of elections.

Nick Licata:
What is the probability or the possibility of getting Congress, both houses, across the aisles to pass a resolution or statements, saying that the results of the presidential election will be determined by either the secretary of states of the various states running elections? That the appropriate thing to do is wait until all of them have finalized and approved the vote, something like that, hopefully would not be seen as partisan. Is that pipe dreaming or is that something like that possible?

Pramila Jayapal:
Trump is not going to let that happen. The Republican Party has ceded all control to Donald Trump. The Republicans have become the party of Donald Trump. You've seen the things he said even Bill Barr, the attorney general, casting doubt on the idea that you can only vote once. I'm not sure if it's illegal to vote twice. Can you imagine? Or casting doubt on the mail-in system when during the hearing with Bill Barr, which many of you may have seen me on questioning him. I pointed out that the MIT study has shown that over the past 20 years, 250 million mail-in ballots have been sent in and the fraud rate is point 0.00006%. That is just where we are.

Pramila Jayapal:
I would say to everybody who's concerned about this, and I think we might do a town hall around this very topic actually soon. That there are a couple things. One, vote as soon as you get your ballot, wherever you are in the country, vote as soon as you get your ballot. Put it in a ballot box or at the elections office if you possibly can. Of course if you need to mail it, do that, but do it as early as possible. Because what we don't want is a bunch of late ballots coming in and then Trump being able to say, well, that's the race is too close to call or he's winning, because Republicans have been turned off of mail-in voting. They go vote in person. Democrats vote by mail and so our votes take longer to count. There's all kinds of reasons to vote early.

Pramila Jayapal:
Secondly, I would say that we do need to start getting ourselves ready for massive civil disobedience, nonviolent civil disobedience in the streets, if Trump does attempt to steal the election in any number of ways. It isn't just the secretaries of states certifying the elections, there are actually a number of ways that legal scholars on the judiciary committee, we are looking at this. A number of different ways in which Republican state legislatures could flip the results in ways that are not appropriate to the election.

Pramila Jayapal:
I'm not trying to scare anyone, I'm just being realistic about what we need to be prepared for. Again, it may require some real training around what nonviolent civil disobedience looks like. What it looks like to stand up to somebody who tries to steal an election? We haven't had to do that in the United States of America, many other countries have had to deal with this. We have not. There is an effort by a number of groups, including Indivisible and MoveOn and others, to train up millions of people to nonviolent civil disobedience and to prepare ourselves for what might come.

Pramila Jayapal:
At a minimum, vote as early as you possibly can and get your ballot in to an elections office or to a ballot box, if possible or in the mail as soon as possible.

Nick Licata:
I'm going to ask some questions regarding that, one just popped up that's germane to what we just talked about. That is, why don't they put out more drop boxes, which is ... but the problem is Republican-run states suspect there would not be drop boxes. I don't know what's your thought about that.

Pramila Jayapal:
There is a great project that's being run, I think, it's called the Center for Technology and Civic Life. They've raised hundreds of millions of dollars for cities across the country to be able to apply for grants for cities and states to be able to apply for grants for technical assistance, for hiring election workers, for upgrading their technology systems, for putting in ballot boxes, more ballot boxes and any state, any city council can apply. There are enormous numbers of cities I know in Wisconsin that have applied, some in Pennsylvania, Florida, Texas.

Pramila Jayapal:
We, of course, are lucky in Washington State in that we have had mail-in voting for a long time. We're much better off than most states are. There's a lot of work that has to be done between now and election day and they're trying to help bridge that gap.

Nick Licata:
Is that information available? We can get it and disseminate it. That's a critical piece of the puzzle as they say. One question that got second highest number of votes was, "Do Washington State's elected Democrats strategize and support each other? Or is it every Democrat for themself?"

Pramila Jayapal:
Interesting question. We work together as a congressional delegation quite often and certainly during COVID. We have a weekly meeting, in addition to Democrats as an entire delegation, so Republicans and Democrats. We've been meeting with the governor once a week to get updates. There's been a lot of collegiality during COVID in our delegation here in Washington State. We do coordinate on a number of different things but it also depends on the committees that you're on. It depends on the values based caucuses that you're in.

Pramila Jayapal:
I'm the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, but Adam Smith is also a member of the Progressive Caucus, the rest of the Democrats in Washington State are members of the new dems, which is a more moderate caucus. You tend to interact with different folks, but there's a lot of collegiality for sure and a lot of supportiveness on issues that are important to the state.

Nick Licata:
Good. Good. Let's see here. What do you think is most effective action to get Biden and Harris elected outside of Seattle or Washington State?

Pramila Jayapal:
We're turning our campaign operation towards Pennsylvania. We're adopting Pennsylvania because I do think we need to focus on states across the country that are going to be really swing states. We've decided that it's very important for us to focus on young people, folks of color, progressives and turning those folks out. That's where I feel like my voice in particular can be very valuable. I'm also working with Senator Sanders with Senator Warren, with other progressive leaders across the country to really push that kind of voting.

Pramila Jayapal:
If people want to get involved, we'll train you. You can go to pramilaforcongress.com. There's a volunteer button there and you can press on that. There is a 10-hour training this weekend that people can sign up for if they want to. We'll have other trainings that are shorter and that allow people to make phone calls, to organize, to take up issues. Again, with a focus on Pennsylvania and also here in Washington, in this open seat in the 10th congressional district to replace Denny Heck. We're also going to be focusing some effort there.

Nick Licata:
Great. Couple of questions. I'll just [inaudible 01:01:16]. One is, what's your position on having term limits in Congress? Although, I don't know if that's constitutionally allowed?

Pramila Jayapal:
No, I mean, right now, it's not there. I wouldn't mind having term limits in Congress, as long as we also had term limits on chairmanships and things like that. Because I think you got to have both of them together. I don't think it has to be a super short period of time. I do think that the whole system takes a while. Even if it was 10 years, or 15 years, that would be really good because you wouldn't have necessarily people who were there for 30 or 40 years. You'd have some turnover.

Pramila Jayapal:
I don't think it's a bad thing. I have tended to leave. I would like to leave on my own terms, not because I die or because I'm voted out. I'm not sure everyone is in that same place. Power can sometimes be a heady thing. For me, it's never been about individual power. It's always about what can I accomplish in this role? If I don't feel like I'm accomplishing things anymore, then I think it'll be time for me to leave. Hopefully, it's not going to be anytime soon.

Nick Licata:
Right. Right. One of the questions that was asked was how to get involved with the Progressive Caucus, but I'm not sure that's for people outside Congress. It's for congressional people, isn't it?

Pramila Jayapal:
No, actually, so there's the Progressive Caucus, which is inside Congress, then there's the Progressive Caucus PAC, which anyone can contribute to. You can get on our list. You can find out about all the things we do. You can be a part of helping to elect people like Mondaire Jones and other progressives across the country. For that, you can just google Progressive Caucus PAC. I don't actually remember what the website is. You can sign up to be a part of that entity.

Pramila Jayapal:
Then, there's the Progressive Caucus Center, which is a 501(c)(3). They of course, take donations, they hire, they have interns, there are different ways. They also put out really good documents on progressive ideas. They have briefs that they put out. Those are all available on the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center website. Congressional Progressive Caucus that's inside Congress. Congressional Progressive Caucus Center 501(c)(3) outside Congress, just like any nonprofit organization, and then Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC, which is involved in the political side.

Nick Licata:
I think you have a very productive staff. I see Chris Evans just added to the chat line that one could go to basically, weareprogressive.org and apparently get some good information there. One question which is the top most that the republicans are hitting hard on. Funny, I switch back and forth between CNN and MSNBC and Fox and it's like watching two different worlds. CNN primarily in the evening, it's COVID. Fox is primarily all the cities are burning down. They're very consistent.

Nick Licata:
I've been approached by folks who I would say are strong democrats, probably maybe they're self-describe progressive or moderate. It's hard to say. Disturbed by the looting, the fire and things of that sort and in discussing with him, I said, "There's good cause for why people are angry and this is expression of their anger. They also want to know, but can't we ..."

Nick Licata:
Those votes for Trump? In other words, you're giving good imagery for Fox. Is there any role, positive role? Not a negative role, but a positive way of addressing that as an action that's not probably helping get Trump out of office? I don't know. It's a difficult topic.

Pramila Jayapal:
Yeah. I posted an article that I would highly recommend everyone read. It's very challenging, I'm sure for some people to read. It's called The Inevitable Whitelash Against Racial Justice Has Started. It's an article in The Nation. It takes on this question, I think, in a very powerful and compelling way, but it's going to be hard for people to read. Because I'm not sure that there is a perfect way to take on white supremacy and anti-blackness and certainly not for black people. There seems to never be a perfect way.

Pramila Jayapal:
It's either not a good case. There's looting involved, there's arson, can't people be more productive, you're ruining businesses downtown. I'm not minimizing any of those concerns. What I am saying is that people have been dying, black people have been dying, at the hands of white people for a very long time in this country. It's still happening. It wasn't just George Floyd. Weeks before George Floyd was murdered. Daniel Prude had a bag put over his head and he was pressed to the ground for two minutes and he died by a police officer.

Pramila Jayapal:
Every day, there's a new shooting. If we are serious about taking on white supremacy, which 80% of the country said it was serious about it. Then, when these things start happening, whether it's looting, rioting, and again, I'm not condoning violence here. I am saying, let's not get distracted from what is in front of us. I think that there is a lot of fear when any system is transformed. People say, "Are you saying defund the police? Are you saying law enforcement doesn't matter?" I am kept safe by law enforcement. I don't want law enforcement to go away.

Pramila Jayapal:
I think when it starts to become about yourself again, if you can move it back outside and say, "I'm afraid right now, but let me imagine the fear of a black mother, who has to tell her child every day to make sure that they never ever approach a policeman no matter what is going on. To make sure that they never speak back, and that they don't wear their pants below a certain level." All of the ways in which people have been terrorized, black people, have been terrorized in this country.

Pramila Jayapal:
I think if we can start to just say, yes, I'm afraid. Something that I don't know, may be coming, but not allow ourselves to start to look for the perfect moment, the perfect case, the perfect protest, the perfect way to say what is wrong in this country and to express the anger and the pain and the hurt that's been built up over centuries now.

Pramila Jayapal:
I think that is the task that it that is in front of us. Do I think that if we're cutting 10% of police budget that that's a radical transformation? No. No. There are ways to argue about whether it's strategic and what you should do and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Recognize that if you want to transform a system, it means transform. That is going to require change and it's going to require people to think about their fears differently, and to put themselves in the shoes of another who has even greater fears of whether or not they're going to live every day.

Pramila Jayapal:
I would highly recommend that article, even though it's challenging. I would say to people, "Stay in this. Stay in this. Don't get distracted. Don't allow yourself to be distracted. Trump is going to do what Trump is going to do regardless of what happens. He's going to turn a peaceful protest into rioting and looters and we're all socialists and we all want to destroy the country. That's happening regardless of what anyone does.

Pramila Jayapal:
Let's come together and figure out how we actually transform the system so that it works for all of us.

Nick Licata:
Okay. Going forward, that argument, have you tried that on with Republicans at all? I mean, are they just totally Trumpites? I mean, it's sort of funny, because we talked about talking to people you disagree with it, but is there such a thick wall there that ...

Pramila Jayapal:
There are small things that we do together. In fact, we're working on a couple of things right now with some Republicans that will happen. We agree on some civil liberties issues. I work with the Freedom Caucus all the time. On this issue, things around race, immigration, very, very difficult to make any headway, even if they might say to me privately, "I agree with you, but there's no way I can do that because of Trump or because of Trump supporters in my district."

Pramila Jayapal:
I think that's pretty tough. Those are elected officials. I do think that having these conversations with each other is important. It's like when you have a fear about something and you sort of felt this way anyway but then you see something and you're like, aha, that thing validates my fear. I'm now going to use that and say, "See, I'm in support of your general premise, but the way you did it was not right."

Pramila Jayapal:
That's kind of a bogus argument in my mind, but we just have to call that out and do it gently and with love for each other because these are difficult times, and everyone has fears and everyone is hurting. There are real debts, D-E-B-T-S, debts deaths that we have to pay to African Americans, to black people and indigenous people in this country.

Pramila Jayapal:
We have to start paying those debts. Maybe some of that can be paid when we also recognize the fear that we might have, but we refuse to allow it to stop us from actually making the change that we know is needed. Being human is a courageous act, but it is actually the only act that can ever save us and provide the kind of justice that I think we would all want for each of us.