Out activist looks back and forward in new book

Karine Jean-Pierre is a unique voice in the world of political analysis and activism — an openly gay woman of color and Haitian immigrant who started from humble beginnings and went on to serve as the deputy campaign manager for both Barack Obama’s and Martin O’Malley’s presidential campaigns. Jean-Pierre is also the chief public information officer for the progressive political advocacy group, Move On, and a regular contributor to CNN and MSNBC.

In her newly released book, “Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America,” Jean-Pierre describes how she inadvertently came out to her mother in high school, the life-affirming discovery of a mentor who was living out and working in politics and her relationship with her wife and adopted daughter. Along the way, she offers insights into the political and media machines, of which she witnessed the inner workings.

PGN talked to Karine Jean-Pierre about what gives her hope in these strange social and political times.

Is it a challenge for people to separate your personal story from your political insights about the mess that is America? 

It’s so funny. People have done a great job of talking about both components of the book. It’s a two-parter where I talk about a very personal story, my immigrant story and how I got into politics. And then also, people transition into the call for action in the book as well. You have some folks who, more than others, lean more into the personal. It’s been pretty good, especially when you are doing a book event and you have 45 minutes to talk a lot about the book in general and what’s in there and be more specific on the topics.

Given your experiences, are you more hopeful or fearful about the political landscape and the years ahead?

I think two things. I think that whoever the Democratic nominee is, they have a big job to do. They need to have a movement. They need to inspire and be able to get people out to vote, and that is not going to be easy. They have to make sure they get that done and get people engaged. But at the same time, I also feel like in the last three years, we’ve seen engagement from people I’ve never seen before, which makes me hopeful. For the Women’s March, thousands of women descended on D.C. to speak out after the inauguration and the ugly rhetoric that we’ve seen since day one of this administration. We saw the Muslim ban and what happened there. People were coming out organically to airports, and lawyers were offering their services for free. We saw the reaction to the transgender ban. We saw the reaction to and people coming out to stop the repeal of ACA. We saw the reaction to the Families Belong Together March. Women came out and made their voices heard against Brett Kavanaugh. The elections that we’ve seen recently — Louisiana, Virginia and Kentucky are now blue. The House was turned back to Democrats. There are many things that give me hope, but I do think that we can’t sit on our laurels. If Donald Trump gets reelected in 2020, I can’t even imagine what happens to this country. Our democracy is already being attacked. Our Constitution is being stepped on every day by this president. He does not respect the office that he holds. If we don’t come out, I fear for the direction this country is going to take.

Do you think new media bears any responsibility for what the political landscape has become?

Mainstream media has to be mindful that they have an important role in the narrative that is being put out there. We’re not living in normal times. This is incredibly abnormal. You can’t cover this president like he’s normal, because he’s not. What ends up happening in the media business, and I understand this, you respect the office of the presidency. I get that because that is something that has been done for decades upon decades. But now you have a president that disrespects the media and calls them fake news and controls that narrative all of the time. The fact the there are no more press briefings says something. In the past, whether it was Republican or Democratic president, the press secretary stood behind the podium and took hard questions and had to speak to the platform of the administration. With Trump, there are no press briefings. He stands on the south lawn controlling the narrative and calling things fake news, and you don’t really know what’s happening. This is the problem. Treating this presidency like it’s normal when you have a president that debases that office, that is a difficult place for mainstream media to be in. He puts journalists’ lives in danger every day.  

Do all the strides and gains Democrats, women, people of color, LGBTQ folks and others made in the last three years mean anything when the president and Republicans are trying to rewrite and change the rules in their favor?

It does make a difference. Can you imagine if we didn’t get the House in 2018 right now? The fact that Democrats and suburban moms and Independents came out and voted for Democrats — we’re now in an impeachment inquiry. And we do not know how this is going to turn out. If you have said to me in late May that in November, less than 100 days before the Iowa Caucus, that we would be in an impeachment inquiry, I would have said I don’t see that happening. And look where we are. We see poll numbers historically moving for support of impeachment. I’m not saying that’s going to happen. We’ll see how that’s going to play out. But I do believe he will be impeached in the House. The question is what happens in the Senate? We have to watch how this goes. Let the people continue to speak. I think Democrats in the House have to continue to do the business of the people and put the facts out and make it very clear that it’s their constitutional duty, and this not about politics. I think they’ve done a really good job of doing that. I think that everything that has happened that was hopeful and good in the last three years has helped us. The Republicans are changing the rules, but there’s a fight. There’s a resistance. People are stepping up. Next year the decision that has to be made is what direction do you want to take the country in.

How do you retain positivity in your personal life with the negativity of politics and the experiences you’ve had?

That’s a good question. I am very lucky to have an amazing partner and a really beautiful, wonderful and talented five-year-old. I lean in on my family. They are a pivotal part of me stepping away from the politics of the day, the ugly rhetoric and nastiness of the world that we live in right now. A big important part for me is family, just focusing on them and tuning everything out from time to time and raising this beautiful five-year-old. 

“Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America” is available in stores now. For more information, visit front.moveon.org.