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Why this McDermott backs Pramila Jayapal


(Nov. 1, 2016) — Forty-four years ago I was a poor, recent college graduate and antiwar activist. I moved from Chicago to Seattle to work on my brother Jim’s campaign for governor. He was opposed to the Vietnam war, and he was fighting for universal health care, mass transit and a more just world.

mcdermott-jimHe ran hard but lost. For the next 44 years, Jim and I continued to fight for economic, racial and social justice, peace and much more. Brother Jim chose the path of serving in elected office; my path was as a lifelong labor and community activist and appointed official for three governors and four Seattle mayors.

In 1988, Jim was elected to Congress. I worked as his labor liaison as he won the endorsement of virtually all of organized labor. Twenty-eight years later, he announced his retirement. I was thrilled for him but deeply saddened for our beloved 7th District, because Jim’s strong voice and advocacy has been so essential for reflecting the values of this very special progressive district. We have come to expect that our House member from the 7th is not just a good vote, but is a strong, courageous fighter willing to battle long odds and stay strong despite relentless unjust attacks.

That is why, when Pramila Jayapal announced that she was running, I was elated.


Pramila is a leader who comes from the fire of movements, a person who has fought for some of the most complex issues of our time. She will be a great champion in the House, carrying on the legacy of my brother but also forging her own path and bringing in the energy and power of new movements to bring about results in Congress.

Three fights in my brother Jim’s life epitomize the value of having a person of deep principle in office.

1. Jim took on Newt Gingrich at the height of his power and was instrumental in Gingrich’s resignation as House Speaker.

2. Jim worked closely with Pramila in launching Hate Free Zone (later OneAmerica) after the 9/11 attacks as they championed a people’s movement to defend our immigrant brothers and sisters who were under unjust racist, anti-Muslim, and immigrant-bashing attacks and threats.

3. In 2002, Jim stood almost alone and dared to tell the world that George W. Bush was misleading the American people about the situation in Iraq. He became “Baghdad Jim.” Months later, Jim and Pramila would share the stage at one of the largest demonstrations in Seattle history opposing the Iraq War. We were not able to stop that war, but brother Jim and Pramila were our champions in that fight.

With Donald Trump as the Republican nominee for President, the attacks post-9/11 on civil liberties of Arabs, Muslims and South Asians hardly seem far away. Pramila and Jim together stood up against those attacks then, when President Bush said “Either you are with us… or you are with the terrorists” — words that struck fear into many who would disagree with Bush’s policies and the roundups of Muslims and Arab Americans. In opposing these policies publicly, Jim had the protection of being a member of Congress. Pramila, a recently naturalized citizen, did not. She showed us what courage looks like when somebody is needed to step forward and lead strongly for our ideals.

Photo by Joe Mabel (from Wikimedia Commons)When the mosque near Northgate was targeted by hate crimes and when Muslim women were attacked in Seattle for wearing the hijab, Pramila led the fight to protect them. When the immigrant grocers in the Rainier Valley were unjustly accused of being supporters of terrorism, brother Jim, Pramila, and Hate Free Zone stood with them. Months later, the grocers were fully exonerated. Pramila also led the successful class-action lawsuit against the Bush administration’s planned mass deportation of thousands of Somali men, preventing those deportations of thousands across the country.

Pramila’s work did not end there. She went on to build from scratch the largest immigrant advocacy organization in the state, at a time when immigration reform was still not part of the progressive movement’s consciousness. By bringing together labor, faith, diverse immigrant and civil rights communities and elected officials and using tactics from policy advocacy and negotiation to voter registration to civil disobedience, Pramila built something that simply did not exist before — and has since paved the way for numerous victories for our entire city, region, state and country.

While the details of what happened are important — both in my brother’s courageous efforts as well as Pramila’s — it is really the quality of leadership that my brother Jim and Pramila share that I most want to emphasize.

With Donald Trump calling for a wall, mass deportations, punishing women and so much more, we need a strong, tough and proven fighter. And while Trump, and so many voices he has awakened, call for exclusion, Pramila’s life has been about inclusion — bringing voices to the table and to our democracy that have never been there before.

Without question, we will face emerging crises and unanticipated decision points that will once again demand strong leadership. We will again need someone to step forward before there is agreement, to help create that new consensus even as many work to divide us. A Congressmember who is merely a “good vote” is not enough to replace Jim’s big shoes. Only a proven leader with strong values and a track record of standing tall for our 7th District values will do.

In this time where coalitions across sectors for a broad progressive agenda are essential for any movement forward, only Pramila has the respect and legitimacy to negotiate and bring all our movements together. That is why, in my opinion, Pramila has been able to pull off the very difficult task of getting almost every single major endorsement made in the race so far, from labor unions to women’s organizations to environmental leaders. And only Pramila has actually worked directly with Congress for more than a decade, as well as serving in a Republican-majority legislative body, understanding what it takes to get things done.

We cannot take this seat for granted. We have an obligation to this district and to our country to understand the privilege of a seat like this to put a stake in the ground for what we as a country represent. In my mind, only Pramila fits the bill for what this district needs.

I hope we all will thank my brother Jim for his years of strong representation and courageous leadership. And then, I hope we all do what we must do to continue to build on that legacy — by electing Pramila to step into Jim’s shoes and lead our state and our country forward.


mcdermott-markMark McDermott is an economic justice educator and writer who has been a political activist for many years working on economic, racial and social justice.

EDITOR’S NOTE — This column was originally posted at The Stand on July 13, but it was too good not to post again. The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO has also endorsed Pramila Jayapal for election in the 7th Congressional District race. See the full list of WSLC endorsements here.

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