Dissent, Health Care and Immigrants: Pramila Jayapal’s Town Hall at SCC

Pramila Jayapal, the U.S. Representative for Washington’s 7th congressional district and the first Indian-American woman to serve in the House of Representatives, held a town hall at SCC on April 18 in the PUB. After an introduction by SCC President Cheryl Roberts — during which the #YouAreWelcomeHere video was played — students, teachers, citizens and Trump supporters all lined up together around the crowd, waiting for their turn with the mic.

Despite several anti-immigrant questions, Jayapal seemed right at home at SCC. At any mention of Bernie Sanders, the crowd cheered. When Jeff Sessions was brought up, a jarring hiss rolled through the audience.

The opening question in the congresswoman’s forum voiced a frustration a large portion of the audience shared: the audience member wanted to know how many bills had been introduced in the House to impeach Trump. Jayapal had to pause after the audience member’s question, as the crowd cheered in response.

Jayapal was unsurprised by this, with good reason. Her offices have received over 65,000 phone calls and emails on Trump resistance since he’s been elected.

To which Jayapal remarked, “Keep them coming!”

No bills have been introduced to impeach the president.

According to Jayapal, “This is going to take a little bit of work.”

She, like the majority of the audience judging by the cheers the question received, has not given up on holding Trump accountable for his actions. He still has not released his tax returns, as every other president in modern history has done, Jayapal lamented.

This is not an issue the American people are apathetic about — on April 15, about 25,000 people marched in Washington DC in protest of Trump’s secrecy involving his tax returns. They were joined by tens of thousands of others across the country, according to The Atlantic.

As for Trump resistance, Jayapal said, “Our dissent is the most patriotic thing we can do.”

Trump was a popular topic for the audience’s questions. One individual asked Jayapal why allegations of Russian interference in the election were “passed off as fact.”

To that, Jayapal said, “If we have nothing to fear, let’s have Trump cooperate with an in-depth investigation.”

To this, the crowd exploded with cheers.

Jayapal said that while she was unable to stop the appointment of Betsy DeVos to Secretary of Education, she wants to continue investing in the public education system, putting special emphasis on “public.” Jayapal said she considers her biggest victory to be her part in the defeat of the republican healthcare plan.

“I don’t see how you can call something a healthcare plan when it strips healthcare from 24 million people,” she stated.

Looking out to the audience, Jayapal requested that the veterans of the crowd stand. Several did so, while Jayapal and the crowd clapped. The congresswoman thanked them for their service and noted that Trump’s so-called “skinny budget” — which Jayapal refers to as the “billionaire budget” — would make cuts to the VA. Jayapal said she doesn’t think Democrats alone oppose the budget: “This is not just a budget that affects blue America.”

Audience members who lined up in front of the microphones in time to ask their questions varied in many aspects of their background — one young group of questioners asked their question together. The group of girls, armed with sloganed T-shirts, who call themselves the DC Bully Busters, had made a pledge and convinced about 28 members of Congress to sign it. The DC Bully Buster pledge reads simply,

“I will represent the people of the United States of America without engaging in bullying or being a bystander to bullying tactics.”

The girls’ question for Jayapal was, “Have you witnessed a decrease in bullying in politics?”

Jayapal thanked the girls, especially the 16 members of their group that were able to travel to Washington DC to meet their representatives and share their pledge. The congresswoman stated that what the president does goes against the values the girls learn in their own homes and at their schools.

“I can’t tell you I’ve seen a definitive decrease in bullying,” she said.

The Bully Busters, all listening intently, did not look disheartened.

“You’ve studied this,” the congresswoman added. “The Civil Rights movement took a long time.”

One audience member shared many SCC students’ concerns about the environment — they stated that without a healthy planet, nothing else matters. The xenophobic non sequitur that followed was the audience member’s concern about overpopulation — particularly, the overpopulation of immigrants. In this audience member’s opinion, “The best thing for the environment is to shut down immigration.”

Jayapal said she believes it is wrong to blame immigrants for not fixing the broken immigration system. The congresswoman, an immigrant herself, said she knows that America, a land of immigrants, was not built by one type of person — and everyone benefits from the immigrants’ work in our country.

“Everybody uses immigrant labor. Unless you don’t eat fruits or vegetables, stay in hotels, use public roads … you use immigrant labor,” she said.

A young lawyer wanted the congresswoman’s advice on whether she should run for public office, how Democrats could reach out to millennials, and what else millennials could be doing for the Democratic Party.

Jayapal encouraged the young woman to run and added, looking not just at the young, immigrant lawyer, but at the SCC audience, “It’s really important that millennials understand their power. … You’re our hope not just for the future, but for the present.”

-Nellie Ferguson and Charlie Easton
Photo by Martin Musialczyk

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