U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal returned to Edmonds on Thursday, March 29, to host a town hall meeting at the Edmonds Senior Center for her 7th District constituents.
“The Edmonds Senior Center is such an important place. It’s such an important community, location and center, and I’m so blessed to have this in my district,” she began.
For the first half hour, Jayapal talked about a few topics for which she is fighting and she believes the 7th District cares about before answering constituents’ questions.
“The first thing is for you to know how grateful I am to you for electing me and giving me this honor and privilege of representing you in D.C.,” she said. “It really means so much to me. And it means so much to me because this is such a consequential time in our country’s history.”
Jayapal came as an immigrant to America alone with nothing in her pockets at age 16. Today, she is in the U.S. Congress as the first Indian-America woman ever elected to the House of Representatives and the first person of color ever in the Democratic delegation for our state.
Jayapal shared that the 7th District is the most engaged congressional district in the country. This means that her D.C. office gets the most mail, email and phone calls of any district in the country, adding up to almost 300,000 in the 15 months since Jayapal has been elected. Jayapal said she also likes hearing from her constituents in person. This is her 15th town hall, one for every month she has been in office, and her second in Edmonds since being elected.
After introducing her team members who were present, she reminded the crowd about her case work.
“You can always contact us if you have any issues with a federal agency,” she said. “This is what we do, and we’re really, really good at it.”
Her team has closed over 500 constituent cases so far, and has been able to get $581,259 back for 7th District constituents. This statement received a round of applause.
“As a minority party, as Democrats (this statement was interrupted by a cry of ‘Not for long!’ from the crowd) we do have to be an opposition party,” she began. “But we also have to be a proposition party. We have to propose the vision of what we stand for.”
Jayapal said she wants to bring hope to people who have felt traumatized around the country since the presidential election and let them know people are fighting.
The first issue she talked about was expanding Medicare for all. With hopes of Democrats taking back control of Congress in November, she is starting a Healthcare for All caucus, which would move health care to a single payer system. The Affordable Care Act has influenced the majority of Americans to believe health care is a human right, she said, but there are still issues related to people getting quality affordable health care. Jayapal said she believes the best way to achieve this is to have a government-funded system that takes the profits out of the health care system.
“No one should be one health care crisis away from bankruptcy,” she said. “That’s just not right.”
Second, she talked about expanding and protecting Social Security. Jayapal said she views Social Security as a collective program where everyone’s dollars are going toward taking care of each other.
“It is not an entitlement program, it is an earned benefit program,” she said.
Third, she wants to tackle student debt. She has introduced a bill called College for All, which Sen. Bernie Sanders also introduced in the Senate. They want to push college as an affordable option for anyone.
“Nobody should worry about being $40,000 in debt if they go and get a higher education,” she began. “A tiny tax on Wall Street could pay for all of our kids to be able to go to college without debt.”
Additionally, she said she’s been working diligently on immigration issues, something with which she’s very familiar. She also worked on a bill related to reforming the U.S. detention system and stopping the use of private detention facilities.
The last topic she wanted to briefly share was democracy reform.
“I do not take any corporate PAC money. I do not believe people should take corporate PAC money,” she said. “We need to end Citizens United.”
The crowd responded with a round of applause. Jayapal said she wants a public financing system for elections and has created a set of five bills all around election reform.
“We do have to fight against a lot of things that are happening right now in our country that we are pushing back on,” she continued. “We have a president who likes to be the star of his own reality TV show and likes to govern in chaos. Likes to operate in chaos — I can’t call it governing . . . My biggest concern is we don’t get numb to what’s happening, that we don’t allow the unacceptable to become acceptable” she said.
Jayapal talked about her meeting with students affected by the Parkland school shooting and encouraged her constituents to recognize the fight young people are making. She said she was in Washington, D.C. for the rally, where more than half a million people came to march. The Parkland students came to see her the day before the rally to talk about gun reform. All were high school freshmen.
“They are doing this because they know what is right and it is our job to follow and to support and to make sure that we ban assault rifles,” she said. “They are an inspiration, and so we have tremendous hope in front of us.”
The remainder of the meeting covered topics such as tax reform and the Omnibus budget before Jayapal answered constituents’ questions. Attendees expressed concerns about pharmaceutical drug prices, access to health care, immigration, subsidies on meat, gun violence and the housing crisis.
A 12-year-old student activist for gun reform and school walkouts asked what the biggest issue is for young people. Jayapal returned the question to him to answer, and he responded that it was gun violence.
“I think it is violence in all forms.” Jayapal added. “Gun violence is a big piece of that but I also think it is violence of the soul.”
— Story and photo by Hannah Horiatis
Hannah Horiatis is a media and communications student at University of Washington-Bothell. She lives in Edmonds.