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Congresswoman-Elect Pramila Jayapal: This Is No Time to Hide in the Shadows

The first Indian-American woman elected to Congress on the importance of standing together—and fighting back—against an administration that threatens to roll back decades of progress in this country.

by Pramila Jayapal
Nov 17 2016, 6:10pm

Photos courtesy Andrew Tat

Last Tuesday, I was honored to be elected as the first Indian-American woman in Congress. This victory, along with the election of several other historic "firsts"—the first Vietnamese-American woman in Congress, the first Somali-American woman in the Minnesota State Legislature, and the first Latina in the US Senate—are bright spots in an otherwise dark time.

Our election to office is important not just because we increase the diversity of a very white and very male Congress—it is important because we represent perspectives and experiences that are deeply necessary, especially because of the time we are in. With every hearing we chair, every piece of legislation we craft, every set of testimonies we listen to, we bring with us the deep understanding that comes from being women, immigrants, and people of color.

In particular, it is becoming more and more clear that we will need a strong line of defense against a Trump presidency that chooses to curtail our rights as immigrants, people of color, and women. We need to fight to protect the most fundamental right of a woman to make choices about her own body, but we need to do more as well. Muslim women simply should not have to worry about getting attacked on the way to the bus stop because Trump has unleashed a wave of anti-Muslim hate that has no place in this country. Undocumented mothers, who have given everything for their children (and who are often US citizens), continue to be shaken to their core by the idea that they will be targets in a political war on immigrants—a notion that makes absolutely no practical sense in a country that is fueled by the labor of immigrants.

Read more: 'We Mourn, We Fight, We Love': Moving Forward as a Trans Dad in Trump's America

There are some who say that Donald Trump has no real agenda and is malleable. But in continuing to voice that he intends to appoint a Supreme Court Justice for whom overturning Roe v. Wade will be a litmus test, the President-elect has abandoned the rights of millions of women across our country. By selecting white nationalist Steve Bannon as chief strategist and suggesting purveyors of racist policies like Joe Arpaio and Kris Kobach for top key positions in immigration and Homeland Security, Trump has made it clear that he will continue to prey on the fears of ordinary Americans instead of uniting us as a country, "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

But let us be clear: This is absolutely no time to hide in the shadows. We cannot let fear or the comfort of complacency prevent us from moving forward. We must stand together—not just to stop the disastrous rollback of decades of progress in this country but to protect the vision of a united country that celebrates its rich diversity and honors its immigrants, women, and people of color as a singular indication that we are, in fact, a truly civilized society.

So, as we move forward, let us make sure we do four critical things.

First, we must protect. This means standing side-by-side, behind, and, at times, in front of those who need our protection. I have already heard beautiful stories of women in hijabs proudly wearing their full selves out there even while afraid, and I have heard stories of men of privilege putting their bodies between a Muslim woman and someone who intended her harm. Thank you to both—let's be sensitive to what is needed, not assume, and give as generously as we can in whatever possible way.

Don't ever forget that being alive is the single most courageous act we can take on.

Second, we need to plan for all possibilities. It is time to show that we truly are more powerful together—that fighting the bigger obstacles builds progress for us all. That requires new structures, including ones that work both inside and outside our systems. As we elect more movement leaders into office, we need accountability that goes both ways. When we take over the spaces that allow us opportunity, let us use those levers of power to lift us all. We may have different roles, but each role is pivotal in the struggle for justice.

There is no time for hierarchy of oppression here. People will try to pull us apart because that is what always happens: a coordinated effort to pit LGBTQ against immigrants, labor against environment, white people against people of color. Let us anticipate their moves to separate us and stay ahead of the curve—we will need each other more than ever.

Read more: A Letter to Young Women: How We Will All Move Forward Together Now

Third, we need to heed the call to organize. Right now, we are looking at how to transition our incredible movement that built our campaign into ongoing organizing efforts for change. Labor, businesses, immigrant right organizations, environmental groups, faith leaders, white allies, and more all must help to bring the conversations around race, class, and gender to our constituencies. Especially for our white allies—we will need your leadership and voice to convince those who may see more in common with you than with others.

In addition, there is new, beautiful leadership ready to help drive even when others are tired. Let's give the younger generations space to do so, while at the same time respecting the wisdom and lessons of the past. As we have seen, history repeats itself.

In spite of everything, we will rise again.

Fourth, and perhaps most important, we must continue to love and experience joy. I'm proud to talk about love in politics. It's what gives meaning to the work and allows us to push through during exhaustion. It's what allows the best of us to overtake the tendencies to tear others down. Find that love and joy in whatever form you can. Hug those near to you, be with your children, go dancing, talk to people you don't know and see the humanity reflected in their eyes. Don't ever forget that being alive is the single most courageous act we can take on.

While many may have voted in tolerance of racism and misogyny, don't forget that a majority of Americans did reject Donald Trump. Don't forget that part of the reaction we are seeing is precisely because we have been successful in our movements and building power. Do not forget that we are a resilient community. In spite of everything, we will rise again.