• I Had No Choice But to Step Up: Talking to Representative Pramila Jayapal

    What does it look like to bring progressive politics “from the outside to the inside”? What happens when an activist organizer begins to think of elected office as the “biggest organizing platform” yet? When I want to ask such questions, I pose them to Representative Pramila Jayapal. This present conversation focuses on Jayapal’s book Use the Power You Have: A Brown Woman’s Guide to Politics and Political Change. Jayapal is the US Representative for Washington’s Seventh Congressional District, and Co-Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Prior to holding political office, Jayapal worked for decades as an advocate for women’s, immigrant, civil, and human rights. In 2016, she became the first Indian American woman elected to the US House, and the first person of color that the state of Washington has ever sent to Congress. In 2018, she received more votes than any other US House candidate nationwide. She lives in Seattle. 

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    ANDY FITCH: So you arrived in the US on your own, as a 16-year-old. You had the financial resources to call your parents once a year. You felt the need to apologize for spending some hard-won income on a pair of long underwear to help fend off that first winter. How did those foundational experiences help connect you to the hundreds of millions of people around the world who live “in the hyphen… in the space between the places we bring with us and the places we go, in that complex space of change”?

    PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Part of this you probably can only understand by having lived through a similar situation, by leaving a familiar place for somewhere completely unknown. You encounter a new culture. You need to absorb new norms. You feel hyper-aware, all the time, of how you do or don’t fit in. And I experienced all of that from a relatively privileged position. Over the years, I’ve worked with so many immigrants from such different backgrounds, facing much worse struggles.

    But for me, it has helped to draw on that personal experience, to better understand the difficult challenges other people face. And of course this kind of move also makes you more resilient. You strive to succeed. You just know that you need to work harder. You can just feel the hopes and dreams and aspirations of other people also coming to the United States. That sense of empathy always has undergirded my work — in part because I still remember those early days so vividly.

    You mention “developing” (not absorbing, or inheriting) your “women can do anything” attitude. So I too will focus on you actively cultivating this perspective for yourself. But what prompts or precedents do come directly out of your family life: from matrilineal traditions in Kerala, to the powerful examples of your mother and grandmother and great aunt, to progressive visions from male relatives?

    My whole family did instill values in me in these different ways. My father too, like you said, had a more forward-thinking gender perspective, at least when it came to his own kids. My great-aunt, a renowned public-health advocate, provided important inspiration. So did my grandmother in a more complicated way. She never received the respect she deserved from my grandfather. She ended up somewhat downtrodden, but also still so fierce, and so unconventional for somebody in her day and age. And as you know, I was born in Chennai, but to a family coming from Kerala. Kerala’s matrilineal traditions still shape its law. I heard about that all the time. My family had this foundation of strong and powerful women, and of cultural narratives about strong women. Our family goddess is Devi. Our prayers always went to a goddess, not to a god. All of that helped to create this sense that I could do a lot and achieve a lot.

    But it also did take time to figure out how I really wanted to be in the world, how to fight for myself and for gender and racial equality. I think you’re right to perceive a certain sense of learned obedience — which I don’t dwell on in the book, but which definitely also comes out of my upbringing. As a girl especially, you didn’t speak unless spoken to. You followed elders’ instructions. These opposite sets of values played out at the same time for me, in all these different cultural contexts: from India to Indonesia to the US.

    And just so readers can picture you in your “All who wander are not lost” T-shirt, could you give a couple quick examples of what it has meant at important moments in your life to listen to yourself, and sometimes hear from yourself that you have no choice but to go in a certain unexpected direction? How has this wandering taught you what your own core values are?

    Well, we often get taught to listen to our heads, not our hearts. But thankfully the concept of your vocation and avocation needing to match — that came pretty early for me, when I think about it. It was such an important piece of my development. And when I had to make that phone call in my sophomore year of college, to tell my dad I’d decided to major in English literature, maybe it helped not to face his wrath every single day that week [Laughter]. But those early moments of choosing for myself, choosing for my heart, choosing what I really wanted to do (versus what had been imbued in me through family and culture) became these crucial points of personal development.

    Then over time I started consciously thinking: “Oh okay, I can choose for myself. Wandering will work fine. I don’t need to have everything figured out in advance.” Later in life, I’d really come to appreciate how this wandering had led to so many different experiences, which all combined to make me who I am. I don’t have regrets about any of them, actually.

    September 11th stands out as a pivotal moment in this book. You describe feeling frightened in the US for the first time. Over the past few years, I’ve heard many liberal thinkers point back wistfully to George W. Bush at least paying lip-service, in September 11th’s aftermath, to an inclusive American credo. But could you offer your own sense of how the Bush administration’s division of the world (and of the nation) by skin color, religious beliefs, and ethnic origins here “lay the groundwork for very similar policies from the Trump administration… targeting particular populations”? And what did your own personal response of founding Hate Free Zone start revealing about how “You don’t know what is possible until you are tested”?

    I do think of Trump’s racism and xenophobia today as connecting back to decades of conservative ideology. I’d point to something similar around austerity spending. Where did these politics come from? Of course certain tipping-point moments do stand out, but we also need to question and analyze everything that led up to these politics. For me, that means seeing Trump as both a symptom and a cause — and you could say the same about the Bush Administration’s response to 9/11.

    That whole period still brings up such a strange mix of feelings for me. I had just become an American citizen. I’d like to think I would have responded the same whether or not I’d gained citizenship. But I probably wouldn’t have. It had been this formative moment, after 18 years in the US. And now, in terms of defending this country to which I’d just sworn allegiance, living out its own beliefs and ideals would actually mean taking on the government.

    I’d already done nonprofit work for years, and some grassroots organizing, and some taking on of the government or the status quo. But still this felt completely new. I mean, we soon were directly head-to-head with John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice and the US Federal Attorney. We were fighting for people who at the time felt almost overwhelming fear. That combination of so-called patriotism on one side and of fear on the other can have a very chilling effect on dissent.

    Nobody wanted to speak out, because as soon as you did others would call you a traitor. The folks who understood that whole dynamic best came from our Japanese American community, and had gone through their own version of this suppression of dissent with the World War Two internment. They informed my own immediate response to what I saw as this blanket violation of everything I’d just sworn allegiance to. And with all of those various pressures in the moment, I had no choice but to step up.

    Who by then had started shaping your sense of what real leadership looks like? And how might they also have embodied your definition of a progressive: as basically the first person to advocate for an emerging (or long-marginalized) just cause?

    I had my people I’d always paid attention to, Gandhi and other historical figures. But then I noticed Representative Barbara Lee standing up against the war. And certain local leaders, mostly folks of color, started standing out, willing to speak up. Larry Gossett, a King County Councilmember, spoke out. Again the Nisei, from the Japanese American internment camps, provided this powerful moral force. At one of the first meetings I’d convened in response to what our community was experiencing, one man probably in his eighties stood up and said something like: “Those of us who have already lived through this can’t be quiet now.” Or Larry would connect his response back to the Civil Rights movement.

    All of that gave me inspiration. I took it all in, and thought: Okay, we’ve seen this throughout our history. We’ve learned that you can’t just sit back quietly, no matter how much fear you have. I’ve always sensed that courage is a muscle you need to exercise — that courage doesn’t mean acting right because you feel no fear, but acting right despite the fear you feel.

    Though again, I’m describing this all in retrospect. In the moment, I mostly just felt moved by what I saw happening. I sensed this duty to do something and say something. I’d have thoughts like: Oh my god, I’ve just sworn allegiance to this country, but according to what the government said today, I’m part of the “them” who doesn’t belong here. But I’d also read too much about all these moments throughout human history when people needed to stand up, and didn’t stand up. I just couldn’t be one of those people.

    So as an activist who spent years turning up her nose at elected representatives, how did you then start finding your way to a new theory of change, premised perhaps on the background assumption that democracy “takes work all the time,” and fueled by questions such as: “What if we began to think about running for office as a way to organize more people, to connect people to the government, to bring organizing from the outside to the inside?” What did it feel like to suddenly think of elected office as the “biggest organizing platform” of them all?

    Well first I did develop this gradual frustration over my inability to make as much change as I wanted to see happen. Part of the frustration came from having to explain over and over which issues we needed to address, and how to fight effectively for them. Think, for example, about what it takes to really reach communities where many residents speak English as a second language. Too many elected officials never could grasp what “English as a second language” meant. They assumed people had fluency in multiple languages — not that you spoke another language fluently, but then also had to learn English, sometimes as an adult.

    So just basic, repetitive discussions about tactical points like that really got to me. Or seeing how so much of our politics gets shaped by people not paying attention, by people not voting, or why they don’t vote, or how they get prevented from voting, or all the ways that money influences all of this — that just frustrated me. It really frustrated me, and made me start to sense that maybe direct personal engagement in politics would offer a better way to drive change.

    Then we had this approaching State Senate race, and various people had asked me to run. I kept telling them: “I’d rather operate from the outside. My own skills work best that way.” Though when I saw the whole host of candidates running for my Senate district, I couldn’t help thinking: Oh my gosh. Something else must be possible here. And then suddenly, this light bulb went off. I didn’t have to do politics the way I saw others doing politics. I could do it my own way. And what if I thought about this as just another organizing campaign? Organizing I knew. Politics I didn’t really know how to do. But I just had to switch around that mindset. I just had to ask myself: Well, wait a second. What if I make politics my new form of organizing? What if I think about it in that completely different way?

    That really excited me. At that point, I could think: Okay, this is completely new for me. But it’s not like this has never been done before. Of course it has. Incredible examples exist throughout history all over the world. From there, I could start asking myself: So what would this kind of organizing and this kind of politics look like? Which different pieces have to fall into place for me to do this? And here again the “All who wander are not lost” slogan kicked in for me — because I don’t believe that you’ll never get another chance to reinvent your life. Instead it was like: Let me try it. Let’s see if this theory of change works. If I like it I’ll stay. If I don’t, I’ll leave. In any case, it will be another experience important for my overall development, and I don’t need to commit to this idea forever. That helped me make the jump, because I didn’t know whether I’d like politics — to be totally frank.

    When you did arrive in the Washington State Senate, you experienced a different deep frustration, with the striking lack of diversity among officeholders. But somewhere along the way, you’d already formulated a subtle yet catalyzing sense of what it might mean (at least in your own life) “to be truly intersectional.” Could you describe coming to this outward-directed intersectional practice — as, yes, “challenging the way things were, redefining the importance of bringing the voices of affected communities to the table,” but also as “forcing our way into the rooms where we had not been before”?

    I think of intersectionality as how I (or anyone with multiple identities and priorities) actually live. So for me, intersectionality centers on diversity and representation concerns, but also on basic life concerns. Intersectionality also means economics, and how public health connects us, and how education connects us. Intersectionality means this kaleidoscope of perspectives all coming together simultaneously to expand your vision — and you pushing yourself to reach out in all of these different directions. You can’t possibly hope for perfection in this. But you can hold yourself to constantly listening to a diverse group of people and learning from them and thinking as broadly as possible.

    Then for one example of forcing your way into rooms: I don’t think the book mentions this, but in the State Senate I made up my mind to get placed on the Transportation Committee. Nobody from my district had ever served on this very white committee. I mean, everybody wanted to put me on the Human Services Committee [Laughter], right? Because that’s where you put a brown woman. But I was like: “No. Transportation oversees a huge amount of money. You can really make a difference on jobs there. You can make a difference on income inequality. You can make a difference on transit, housing.” Today I would put a lot of this in an environmental-justice framework. But back then, I basically just said: “You always put brown and black people on the Human Services Committee. I’d like to be put on Transportation.” And that appointment actually started a bit of a trend. Many folks of color who have arrived in the legislature since then have served on Transportation — a really important place to push for change.

    For criminal-justice issues too, I didn’t necessarily need to push to be in the room, but I did if I wanted to help drive the conversation. Our criminal-justice conversations rarely took up the hardest questions. Often in politics people gravitate to the lowest common denominator. And I understand why sometimes you need to do this, to build momentum and accumulate a certain number of votes. But that all might leave you unwittingly stuck in a shallow conversation, unable to get at root causes. So sometimes I felt the need to push in a different way, to try to reach some of those deeper questions.

    The conversation around body cameras stands out. Today, so many years later, in the midst of everything happening in relation to police violence, we’re still working hard to develop a more sophisticated conversation around police wearing body cameras. But back then, just raising these questions would bring serious pushback. People wanted a simple solution. They wanted body cameras to take care of every single concern about police violence once and for all. Though actually, since then, we’ve started to recognize the much more complicated reality — with footage from body cameras sometimes used to justify police actions. So here again I do want to emphasize pushing to be in the room for these discussions, and to have a seat at the table. But we also need more than that. We sometimes need to frame the whole conversation differently. And that doesn’t get much easier with just one or two people at the table calling for a new kind of conversation. You develop a reputation, you know? You can sense your colleagues thinking: There she goes again. Especially for folks of color, you can feel yourself sinking during those early waves, when you don’t hear a lot of other voices like yours.

    You also mention colleagues not bothering to speak up themselves, since they assumed you’d take care of it anyway.

    Exactly.

    How about the more personalized organizational networks of campaigns and elected office? How again have you sought to use these platforms to open space for others, especially for women of color, to find their own footing as political leaders?

    That’s been really important. That helps to make this whole project not about me. This office and this title just allow me to make sure important work gets done. And one critical task has to do with continually building leadership. I realized this during my time in nonprofits. People couldn’t believe that I stepped away from OneAmerica, after building it up for such a long time. But progressive change also requires that we constantly help to develop and mentor and create space for new leaders — just as we continue seeking mentorship ourselves.

    So even when I left the State Senate, I actively recruited and persuaded a really impressive organizer to replace me. I wanted to help a woman of color reach this new position of leadership, and I also wanted somebody pushing for a lot of the same values — for a real shift in power. At the end of the day, organizing means building power. And so much of politics means establishing or breaking up entrenched power. It takes real courage to stand up and take on that entrenched power in all its different forms, and overcome all of the resistance you face. So with the young people I mentor, I try to talk about the power aspects (and not just the demographic pieces) of identity. I talk about how identity often gets subsumed in these arrangements of power, and how we need to harness both.

    So then with an impressive Congressional victory, on the same night that Donald Trump won the presidency, this intersectional role took on a whole new depth. As a “movement elected,” as now a national leader with some of the strongest, most current grassroots connections, how did you find yourself tapping that previous organizing experience from the start — especially to keep the most vulnerable communities feeling engaged and empowered?

    Yeah, looking back, I couldn’t have planned a moment that would tap my organizing past in a more useful way. I mean, I’m definitely not celebrating this unfortunate outcome. But I did immediately rely on the relationships, the skills, the messages, the types of actions that had defined my work for 15 years now. First, from that Election Night party onwards, I could feel this palpable sense of victory from my supporters. Their campaign had succeeded. They had demonstrated their power, and they had won. Of course we all also experienced this increasing sense of shock and demoralization. But still I felt the responsibility to stand before them and say: “Well, we’re going to fight for what we’ve been fighting for. That doesn’t end with Donald Trump in the White House. Trump just makes our fight more real.”

    Then for the first rally (the next day at City Hall, it turned out), I knew we needed to recognize people’s pain — a central principle of organizing. Similarly, I knew we needed to give people the hope required to really tap their own power, and to move beyond this moment in which they at first felt so stunned and hopeless and helpless. Another central organizing principle teaches us that our greatest strength emerges from moments of crisis. So that City Hall event felt sort of like a redo of everything we’d done after September 11th. We also held a press conference at the Seattle Center, channeling that whole history of establishing this city and state as hate-free zones at the start of the century. We now had a vibrant immigrant organizer preparing to represent the district. We had Governor Jay Inslee and others again showing their support for our whole community.

    Soon we’d be taking this fight to the airport, with Trump’s travel ban. Here again my organizer background had taught me to go to places at the center of the conflict, because sometimes your most tremendous organizing happens right there. In those places where you need bravery and courage, you can find bravery and courage. So I quickly headed to the airport, and I also signed the amicus brief for an emergency legal challenge. Many of my fellow Congressmembers first consulted with their counsels, and brainstormed on a plan. But I knew the urgent importance of getting these amicus briefs in place, because I’d been a part of that process for years. I could sign on without hesitation, and then immediately put out the call to all my organizer friends to please show up at Sea-Tac airport, and bring thousands of people with you.

    Similarly, when I got to Congress, I could quickly weigh in on the Muslim ban, and carve out some space for progressives. I already knew all the national advocates. They knew me. They knew my history. They knew I hadn’t taken this up as a convenient topic of the moment, but had worked on it for most of my life. Even today, for most issues I focus on, that same relationship still holds true. Advocates can trust the past organizing I’ve done, and can gravitate to this new space where they know their voice will be respected — for all of their own good work.

    By extension, for a few noteworthy trends from the 2018 midterms, what lessons should Democrats take from, say, Stacey Abrams’ and Andrew Gillum’s successes at expanding the electorate by bringing in new voters — and from down-ballot candidates driving party victories in unprecedented fashion? And as the US House candidate who received the most votes nationwide, what lessons should Democrats draw from your own first term and reelection campaign?

    Well to take one step even further back, when I ran in 2016, I ran a ground campaign. You hear more about this approach today, though at that time it still seemed pretty unheard of for a Congressional campaign to knock on 160,000 doors and make 250,000 phone calls (and to do all of this at the right time of day, when you can actually reach people, rather than just check off a box). In 2016, most political operatives assumed that you ran a base campaign around TV ads and appearances. And of course candidates do need to focus sometimes on TV, and on direct mail — particularly for mail-in-ballot states like ours. But an organizing campaign not that long ago still just seemed so anathema.

    By 2018, a much broader range of candidates and campaigns recognized and appreciated the energy coming out of groups like Indivisible and a revitalized MoveOn. We also had more Americans themselves saying: “Okay, I need to make a difference. I need to do something. I’m going to show up and vote.” And actually I think of these voters as our base Democrats. For a long time, Democratic Party leaders have ignored their base. They just haven’t paid attention. They’ve tended to reach for some mythical middle voter, or for certain swing-district voters who might agree with us on a couple issues, though then desert us on a whole bunch of other issues.

    But Stacey’s and Andrew’s races made especially clear the central importance of this Democratic base for our future party success. Stacey spent a decade really building that electorate, and helping Georgians to understand that their vote mattered. Stacey gets it exactly right when she refers to these base voters as the true swing voters — because they won’t vote all the time, especially when they don’t see themselves and their priorities reflected, when their voices and perspectives get ignored. Of course the political analysis on 2018 still varies. Some people think we only won in traditional swing districts because of traditional swing voters. But much analysis I see would disagree. It would argue that we won in these places not by flipping voters, but by bringing out our own base voters.

    Similarly, as you mentioned, the conventional wisdom used to tell us that the top of the ticket drives what happens at the bottom. But when you can recruit exciting candidates to run for local offices, you again can turn out your base voters, and hopefully benefit your whole ticket. That’s another lesson to take from how 2018 departed from 2016. We need inspiring candidates at all levels. We can’t just rely on one single person carrying everybody else.

    Here as we start to focus more on your own place within the party, could you first give an example of progressives succeeding when they didn’t need coalition partners “to agree with us 100 percent on everything: not only the desired outcome, but also steps one through 10 of why we want the outcome and how to get there”? And could you then follow up with an example of progressives succeeding when they didn’t let resigned acceptance of the “good” deter them from impassioned pursuit of the much better, or of what’s right?

    Immigration reform gives a great example of the first. We built unlikely coalitions with private-sector allies, including conservative farmers and agricultural business owners, whose need for skilled workers outweighed their concerns about immigrant labor. While initially supporting only a work visa for immigrants, they soon realized the huge benefit of having these same skilled workers return the next year. They came around to supporting a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. They didn’t necessarily agree with us on the human-rights issues, or even the underlying values for allowing this crucial labor force to come out of the shadows. But they did agree with us on the end point. That allowed us to build a bigger, more effective coalition for immigration reform, while still pursuing our ultimate goals.

    Examples of progressives accepting policy measures that don’t take us as far forward as we need to go happen all the time. The key here is to find a principled “compromise” — one that doesn’t produce worse outcomes for some people, in order to bring benefits to others. It always remains a judgment call how far you can push and what you can get and which strategy might achieve the best results for working families. You also need to factor in how many Democratic backers a bill will need, whether it will have bipartisan support, and when it can only pass with progressives.

    In terms now of co-chairing the CPC, how did your work on founding the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center crystallize your commitment to building the policy and communications infrastructure and capacities so that “when that leverage opportunity arises,” your organization is “fully unified and prepared to pounce”?

    I think a lot about infrastructure, right? I’ve built an organization from scratch. I’ve supported a lot of smaller organizations through that work. I mean, we had a whole capacity-building program at OneAmerica, working with other organizations important to our activist ecosystem. And as soon as I got to Congress, I could see that Congressional progressives (some with impressive organizing backgrounds, of course) lacked the organizational infrastructure we needed. So building the CPCC with Mark Pocan quickly became a top priority, because you can’t just succeed on your own. Think of how well the right has done building up their think tanks, their research centers, their media voice. Until quite recently, we on the left have had little of that essential communications infrastructure, honestly. We still don’t have nearly enough from a monetary standpoint.

    Thankfully, Mark and our board of directors also recognized that if we wanted our legislators relying on somebody other than the 500 lobbyists circling outside their office door every minute of every day, then we would need to give them some trustworthy source to rely on. We didn’t yet have that. But through this very nuts-and-bolts process we’ve quickly developed a much more proactive approach to supporting and informing and organizing the Caucus. The Paycheck Recovery Act provides a perfect example of the CPCC jumping into action and coordinating with economists from around the country and around the world, and quickly putting policy to paper. We couldn’t have moved that effectively and efficiently without the CPCC.

    Then pivoting us back to the book, could you describe Use the Power You Have’s own three “moral visions” — as something like a literary genre or form? When did you realize that this book would include three moral visions? What would it look like for all House Representatives, or House Democrats, or CPC members to publish their three “moral visions”?

    I love that idea. I originally got a contract to write a book about immigration. But the focus kept changing. I’d end up in some new governmental position each year (from State Senator, to member of the US House’s minority party, to co-chair of the CPC and member of a House majority) with a slightly different perspective. Still I knew immigration had to be a central piece of this book. I knew that would in part mean telling my own story. But I also wanted to focus on policy. I felt the need to do both to show what we’re fighting for — to ask who we want to become as a country, and as part of a much bigger world. I could sense the central importance of immigration, healthcare, wages, racial justice. I really wanted to add a piece on environmental justice, but just couldn’t pull it together in time.

    Then for the moral vision as a genre: I felt the need to reframe progressives’ discussion of these topics from a perspective of morals and values — not only from a partisan or tactical perspective of electoral or legislative strategy. We don’t just need to push these issues. We need to articulate to voters why we fight for these issues, and who we’re fighting for. We also of course need to talk about specific policies in thorough detail, and I try to do some of that in these three chapters. But I also wanted to weave together this whole complex process of honing your moral vision, and then trying to legislate around that.

    The last of these “moral vision” chapters actually offers three separate moral visions — as you probably noticed, Andy [Laughter]. That idea of the “Three Supremacies” just felt so relevant today. The phrase actually came out of a question that former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich asked me during a town-hall we did last fall. He asked which three most pressing challenges the country needed to address. And I realized those weren’t legislative topics per se, right? I couldn’t just answer: “Healthcare, immigration, and a 15-dollar minimum wage.” I needed to discuss these broader ideas of corporate supremacy, individual supremacy, white supremacy (and anti-blackness). And of course these issues themselves overlapped. So even though that last chapter focuses on economics in many respects, I really wanted to argue that you can’t resolve any of our biggest national problems without taking on the Three Supremacies. The same point applies to healthcare. The same applies to immigration of course. The same applies to wealth and wage inequalities. So I did cheat a bit in trying to stick a lot into that final chapter. But how could I not, in this current quadruple pandemic of COVID-19, economic devastation, police brutality, and a racist xenophobic Constitution-destroyer of a president?

    To close then on that final moral vision: you’ve seen minimum-wage debates from so many different angles during your career. So again, how did the House’s vote to pass a $15 minimum wage make concrete your own theory of change — with the timing just right, because “the powerful, broad, and deep organizing coalition outside… had created the conditions to make organizing on the inside possible”?

    Many issues that progressives organize around, from sanctuary-city laws to the $15 minimum wage, start at the local level. To change federal policy, you often need to first organize on the ground, and fight your way up, and really build the political pressure. Winning the fight for a 15-dollar minimum in Seattle, and being the first large US city to overcome corporate opposition, felt monumental. But then on my first day in the State Senate, when I put forward a 12-dollar bill, nobody wanted to pick it up. My own party said: “That’s crazy. That’s just too much.” Business leaders also vigorously opposed this increase. I told them: “Believe me, that number will only increase if we go to the people through the ballot.” And that’s what we did. We got $13.50 state-wide.

    So now, in this current Congressional session, the House has passed its own $15 bill. We of course can’t just have workers in the state of Washington earn a livable wage. We need to keep harnessing widespread local pressure that then rises to the state and federal levels.

    We see the same on environmental efforts, on labor efforts, on healthcare, on immigration: you organize on the ground, you develop a movement, you continue organizing within government, build coalitions, and eventually make change happen yourself. Right now, for example, we have cities across America passing resolutions in support of Medicare for All. We have a deep red state like Oklahoma voting to expand Medicaid the other day. We have dedicated groups doing the necessary groundwork to push this movement for guaranteed healthcare forward all the way to Congress. And if we hadn’t first organized locally, we wouldn’t have sent so many progressive candidates to Congress. If we hadn’t established this coordinated progressive presence in Congress, we wouldn’t have gained the power to host the first ever Medicare for All hearings in Congress. Again all of that shows the power of first organizing on the ground, and then also channeling this momentum from the outside to the inside.

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