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Democracy was under siege in the last four years as the Trump administration took a wrecking ball to free and fair elections, human rights and the rule of law.
The divisive politics that polarized our country climaxed in the appalling spectacle of an enraged mob invading the Capitol to reclaim a ‘stolen election’, followed by the deaths of five people in the riot, and a group of lawmakers refusing ratify the electoral college results.
And yet, despite the chaos over the voting process that preceded the election in the middle of a pandemic, the nation flexed its collective democratic muscle in Election 2020, and set a record for the highest turnout in over a century.
Democracy prevailed. People asserted their will, and the results were historic, especially for multi-ethnic, multicultural America. High turnouts by voters of color proved decisive and gave Joe Biden the edge in this election,
More than 159 million Americans cast their vote. Among them, Asian Americans – the fastest growing ethnic group in the country according to a Pew study, who made up at least 5% of these eligible voters, with more than 1.8 registered Indian American voters nationally.
Kamala Harris, a woman of color with African American and Indian American heritage became the first ever woman elected to the office of Vice President of the United States
A record 51 women of color were elected to serve in the next 117th Congress.
People of color now represent 28% of the House, including 16 Asian Americans. Indian Americans had reason to celebrate as their ranks include Ami Bera and Ro Khanna (D) CA, Raja Krishnamoorthi (D) IL, and Pramila Jaypal (D) WA, all of whom were re-elected to the House of Representatives.
And, in a new record for the Indian American community, at least 20 Indian Americans, including 13 women, have been named to senior posts in the incoming Biden-Harris administration.
Click this LINK to see who they are!
Undoubtedly these numbers mirror the growing ethnic diversity within the Asian American electorate. And, even though Indian Americas constitute just over 1% of the US population, their inclusion in the new administration reflects the surge of Indian Americans informing the national dialogue as they participate in civic engagement, US politics, advocacy and community activism.
Indiaspora founder M R Rangaswami told PTI, “The dedication that the Indian-American community has shown to public service over the years has been recognized in a big way at the very start of this administration! I am particularly pleased that the overwhelming majority are women. Our community has truly arrived in serving the nation.”
In 2020, on Indian Independence Day, Joe Biden had told an Indian American audience,”As President, I’ll also continue to rely on the Indian-American diaspora, that keeps our two nations together, as I have throughout my career.”
And despite the hurdles imposed by voting in an election during the COVID19 lockdowns, this new administration more than reflects that promise.
“We pulled off an election in spite of incredibly powerful forces who wanted to stop brown and black voters from participating,” noted Myrna Perez, Director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program at an Ethnic Media Services briefing on January 8. “We did it in the face of a once in a century pandemic, we did in amidst an economic crisis, and we did it amidst politicians at all levels of government purposely trying to confuse, mislead and lie to voters.”
Civil rights advocates at the briefing cautioned that the insurrection at the Capitol on January 5 signaled a growing ‘whitelash’ against voters of color and that widespread misinformation will continue to undermine the rights of voters, especially from minority communities.
The riots were not an isolated incident warned Judith A. Browne Dianis, a civil rights attorney and co-director of the Advancement Project. The insurrection was about the rise the confederacy and the rise of white supremacy, “These riots were motivated by the same anti-democratic sentiment that inspired lawmakers to challenge November’s election results based on baseless conspiracies and lies and misinformation about voter fraud perpetrated specifically in communities of color, ” she explained.
Dianis also cautioned against restrictions on the right to vote. “In the wake of the 2020 elections, state lawmakers are already proposing additional restrictions,” such as the proposal to eliminate ‘no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia, the proposal to stiffen identification requirements in Pennsylvania and tighten standards for signature matches.” But what Dianis is most worried about is disinformation. “We don’t know what the truth is any longer, she said. “How do we make sure that people of color are getting the truth?”
“We need to take precautions to secure right to vote,” said Gabriela D. Lemus, board chair of Mi Familia Vota (MFV).
“As we become more and more successful (as voters), there are more repressive mechanisms.” She emphasized the need to address the lack of infrastructure in many states about educating voters on their rights and accessing ballots in their own language. Lemus pointed out that the media had a big responsibility to ensure that disinformation was held in check in order for ‘democracy to thrive’.
But we also need to invest more resources in the elections, added Perez. She called on the nation to increase preparedness for the next election to ensure that democracy can withstand future threats.
“We cannot be making this up as we go along. There should be protocols!”
Perez reiterated that people cannot take for granted “that we have to fight for the idea that all of our communities deserve a place at the table.” She urged Congress to pass legislation on the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act, to secure the future of the vote.
“We have to make the case every day for a robust, participatory and inclusive democracy.”
Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents