Tag Archives: Elections

Key South Asian Players in the New Administration

South Asians in the house! — my cousin cheers between mouthfuls of samosa and peanut chutney as Kamala Harris is sworn in as Vice President of the United States on screen. It’s a day as celebratory as it is surreal — especially for the ‘South Asians in the house’, who are scattered across the country watching one of the most unprecedented inaugurations in history. I knew I was going to see a female president or vice-president hold that Bible on camera during my lifetime. The world has seen female presidents and Prime Ministers from Golda Meir to Indira Gandhi to Angela Merkel; the world is growing up, and growing out of the trappings of a patriarchal society. Although we’re late, I knew I would have the honor of watching America catch up. 

But watching a South Asian-American woman help shatter America’s legislative glass ceiling was a wholly different honor altogether. 

According to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Indian-Americans make up less than 1 percent of the United States’ registered voter base. It’s a fact that’s difficult to forget, considering how under-studied and under-appreciated South Asian Americans are as a voter demographic. Civic engagement organizations have a history of not visiting South Asian American neighborhoods out of fear of ‘mispronouncing their names’. In the past, South Asian-American politicians at the local level have been questioned for their religious or ethnic identities, rather than their qualifications or political stances. Although the 2020 elections have marked a tremendous increase in political participation among our community, historically South Asian Americans have often been under-represented and overlooked at the polls. 

The new administration is a game-changer for our community — and not simply because of Kamala Harris. Here are some members of the wave of South Asian Americans introduced by the Biden-Harris administration. 

Garima Verma 

Formerly a content strategist for the Biden-Harris campaign, Garima Verma was named by First Lady Jill Biden as the Digital Director for the Office of the First Lady at the White House. Born in India, Garima grew up in Ohio and the Central Valley of California. Her journey in marketing and brand strategy shows her passion for both civic engagement and digital storytelling, as Garima has worked for major corporations like Universal Pictures Home Entertainment and nonprofits like the St. Joseph Center alike. Hopefully, Garima will bring her unique talent of telling compelling stories through the digital medium to the First Lady’s team. 

“While in the entertainment space at both Paramount Pictures and ABC, my passion has always been working on diverse and boundary-pushing content that allows more people to feel seen and heard, and to authentically engage and empower those communities through marketing campaigns,” Garima says. “My ultimate goal is to combine my love of marketing and storytelling with my passion for social impact and advocacy in a meaningful and impactful way.” 

Neera Tanden 

Massachusetts-native Neera Tanden has contributed to America’s political landscape for years, from advising Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary campaign to drafting the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration. For her work in founding the Center of American Progress (CAP), Tanden was named one of the 25 “Most Influential Women In Washington” by the National Journal in 2012. She has used her platforms to advocate for universal, multi-payer healthcare, and cites her childhood experiences living on welfare as a reason behind her passion for healthcare reform and economic empowerment. As Biden’s pick for budget chief, Tanden hopes to bring her years of political experience to the US Office of Management and Budget.

After my parents were divorced when I was young, my mother relied on public food and housing programs to get by,” Tanden said in a 2020 tweet. “Now, I’m being nominated to help ensure those programs are secure and ensure families like mine can live with dignity. I am beyond honored.”

Her nomination, however, did not come without controversy. Tanden has been often criticized by her Republican counterparts for her outspoken nature on Twitter, where she fired back at Lindsey Graham for calling her a ‘nut job’ and referred to Mitch McConnell as ‘Moscow Mitch’. Many Republicans criticize Tanden for her ‘partisan’ approach to politics — an ironic appraisal, considering how nearly every politician has contributed to the radioactive battlefield that is Twitter in recent years. 

Shanthi Kalathil 

Formerly a senior democracy fellow at the US Agency for International Development, Shanthi Kalathil has been named as the White House’s Coordinator for Democracy and Human Rights in the National Security Council. Kalathil’s years of dedication towards advocating for human rights and worldwide democracy demonstrate her preparedness for this role. She is known for her commitment towards addressing techno-authoritarians, or the role that modern technology plays in reinforcing the rigidity of authoritarianism. In fact, she addresses this phenomenon in her 2003 book, Open Networks, Closed Regimes: The Impact of the Internet on Authoritarian Rule. Within an increasingly digitized society, Kalathil’s careful attention towards the Internet in relation to human rights is certainly a step forward for the White House. She also carefully avoids implicit biases while addressing human rights abuses in other countries, discussing the importance of separating “the Chinese people from the Chinese party-state” in a podcast published by the National Democratic Institute. 

“You know one area where I think all democracies have to be careful is in making sure that there is a clear distinction between referring to the Chinese party-state and the Chinese people. Whether it’s the Chinese people within China or people of ethnic Chinese descent all around the world, that would be one area in which I think there does need to be great care”, Kalathil said. “I think in all policy discussions, it’s important to use a scalpel rather than a sledgehammer, to really deal with very specific problems and specific issues that pose a challenge to democracy, but that we shouldn’t conflate broad-based backlash.” 

The United States government has a history of intervening in the human rights abuses committed by the other regimes of the world as an effort to maintain peace and justice. Kalathil’s balanced, nuanced approach towards democracy and human rights will certainly enrich her platform. 


Uzra Zeya 

American diplomat Uzra Zeya has been nominated by the Biden-Harris Administration to serve as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. Like Tanden, Zeya has years of political experience under her belt, as she was the acting assistant Secretary and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor during the Obama Administration. Before that, she worked in Paris’s Embassy of the United States. Her work in diplomacy has taken her all over the world, from New Delhi, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, and Kingston. Similar to Tanden’s experience, Zeya is also a contentious choice for this position. In 2018, Zeya quit her job in the state department, owing her resignation to the racism and gender bias promoted by the Trump administration. Calling the administration a ‘pale male’ club, Zeya advocated for the diversification of her department. 

“In the first five months of the Trump administration, the department’s three most senior African-American career officials and the top-ranking Latino career officer were removed or resigned abruptly from their positions, with white successors named in their place,” Zeya wrote in an article for Politico. “In the months that followed, I observed top-performing minority diplomats be disinvited from the secretary’s senior staff meeting, relegated to FOIA duty (well below their abilities), and passed over for bureau leadership roles and key ambassadorships.” 

If chosen as the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Zeya hopes to use her prior political experience to address key global issues such as peace in the Middle East, Russia’s increasing aggression in Europe, and climate change. 

In my 25+years as a diplomat, I learned that America’s greatest strength is the power of our example, diversity & democratic ideals,” Zeya said in a 2021 tweet. “I will uphold & defend these values, if confirmed, as Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.

Vidur Sharma

A former health policy advisor on the Domestic Policy Council, Vidur Sharma has been named by Biden as a testing advisor for the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team. Sharma played a key role in shaping health policy during the Obama administration, where he advocated for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A Harvard graduate, he also has years of experience working in the medical industry, as he has worked for Avalere Health, CareMore Health, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in the past. As a testing advisor at the White House, Sharma will promote equity in the healthcare space, as he was a Deputy Research Director for Protect Our Care, an organization dedicated to “increasing coverage, lowering health care costs, and addressing racial inequities in our..system.” 

Amid a global pandemic, equity will play a major role in the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine. As the coronavirus is reportedly 2.8 times more likely to kill people of color, implicit biases in our healthcare system can have potentially fatal consequences. The Biden-Harris administration, in fact, recently established a COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force to aid “medically and socially vulnerable communities.” Sharma’s emphasis on inclusivity and equity certainly fits the values of the administration and will help ensure that the vaccine and coronavirus treatment plans reach all Americans.

Closing Thoughts 

There are so many threads of commonality among the South Asian Americans introduced to the White House — all passionate about government reform, all aware of our nation’s existing inequalities, all incredibly qualified for their positions. As a South Asian American hoping to enter America’s legislative process later in life, our community’s representation at the national level is both empowering and inspiring — a fond reminder that America, after years of underrepresentation for minority groups — is finally catching up.

Kanchan Naik is a senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. She is the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton, as well as the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak. She is the founder and editor-in-chief of her school newspaper, The Roar, as well as the Global Student Editor for the summer edition of Stanford’s Newsroom by the Bay publication. 

How I Became a Political Activist

When our fresh-out-of-college son got his first job as a field organizer with the Democratic Party in Maryland, my husband and I privately began worrying about what kind of a future the son of two Indian immigrants could have in this unorthodox career. But in breaking out of the Asian parenting stereotype, we’d told our children we wouldn’t push them into medicine or engineering and instead would support their individual choices. I must confess this was easier said than done, for our children sure tested our resolve! 

First, our daughter went to music school to pursue her passion for opera, and then our son, Aman, declared that he was getting into politics. 

One day, Aman called me from work, “Mom, can I put you down for a two-hour shift for phone-banking or canvassing?” 

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, the organizer will give you a list of voters with whom you can either talk on the phone or you knock on their door. Either way, your job is to convince them to vote for Hillary.” 

This was an alien concept for me. Growing up in India, elections had merely meant seeing billboards with smiling faces of random politicians or seeing truckloads of party-workers with loud-speakers chanting names that I’d paid scant attention to. My experience in American politics had been equally limited. Although I’d been here two decades, I’d only chosen to become a citizen in 2008, because I wanted to cast a vote for America’s first Black President. 

I hesitated before replying, “I don’t know if I can do that. I have an accent, I look different…” 

He interrupted me, “That’s nonsense, Mom. You’re American, that is all that matters. As a lawyer, you don’t need me to tell you that if a female President is to be elected, people like you must become politically active – you are a woman of color, an immigrant. I’m putting you down for two hours on Friday morning.” 

He hung up. 

So there I was. For two months every Friday morning, I showed up at the Party Headquarters to talk to random strangers on the phone about which local or national issues were important to them, and then probe whom they intended to vote for in the Presidential election. 

Despite some rude hang-ups and nasty comments, with each phone call, my trepidation decreased and I began to feel more comfortable in this role. Soon I discovered some kindred spirits among the other volunteers and made a few friends. 

A while back I had rolled my eyes when my son said to me, “Mom, “this whole campaign-business is addictive,” but now I was discovering how right he was. I too had gotten sucked in, so much so that – now as a “regular” at the office, I often ran into our Congressman and the two Senators from Maryland and chatted them up like we were old friends. 

In July, when Donald Trump won the nomination at the Republican National Convention, panic began to set in among the volunteers at the office. I too felt my blood pressure rising. My family, like most others who weren’t working at the Party office, were dismissive of this mounting anxiety because they were sure that America would never send  “a xenophobic, race-baiting, sexist, anti-Muslim and Mexican-hating man to the White House.” 

Yet, on my calls each Friday, I sensed the tide turning and my fear increased. My calling-list comprised of only Democrats in Maryland, a very Blue state; even then, every session resulted in responses that left me in shock. 

Several people said that they were willing to vote for the entire Democratic ticket except for Hillary. One man even yelled at me when I tried to question what he had against Hillary. “She is the devil,”  he said, “and Donald Trump is our lord and savior!”

By the time October rolled around, I was in a state of frenzy. I phone-banked three times a week, went out canvassing, and constantly tried recruiting people to volunteer. But despite my overwhelming sense of urgency, others seemed to be blasé about the election. Most were sure it was a slam dunk for Hillary, and they dismissed my response as a mere overreaction. 

I will never forget the evening of the 6th of November 2016.  As the results from each state began to roll in, I watched in shock as all my past premonitions came to fruition. But this time my own sense of growing horror was reflected in the faces around me. My whole family watched with tears in their eyes as Hillary gave her speech late that night. 

Over the following weeks, analyses of voting patterns revealed that several minority voters in key swing seats had sat out the election. Even though I had worked very hard for months, it was only now that I fully understood what my son had meant when he’d said that more people like ME needed to become active participants in our democracy. 

 So, after giving myself a few weeks of rest, I set to work. Using Facebook, I contacted other like-minded people in my area, and we began to organize a local chapter of the Indivisible movement and our little grassroots group of “resistors” was born. 

On a protest march

The day after Donald Trump was sworn into office, we collected on the National Mall for the Women’s March. Following this, we met on a monthly basis and continued to grow our ranks. In April, we joined other groups with homemade placards to attend the Tax March, followed by the Climate March. 

Soon, the newspapers started reporting about how grassroots groups such as ours were mushrooming all over the country. The Resistance became a household term and our homemade signs got featured on magazine covers. 

With speaker Nancy Pelosi

The last three and a half years have seemed almost Sisyphean to the members of political grassroots groups. Through our advocacy, networking, boycotting, and protesting, we’ve won some battles and lost some.  The two feel-good highlights were lobbying to save the Affordable Care Act with just one vote in the Senate and then flipping forty-one House seats in the Blue Wave in 2018 (which handed Speaker Pelosi the gavel once more). Unfortunately, the failure to secure the release of immigrant children held in the detention camps created by the Department of Homeland Security or to secure support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) were difficult setbacks. 

Through other ups and downs of this political roller coaster, such as the regretful withdrawal of the US from the Paris Accord, the reneging of the Iran Accord by America, the non-consequential findings of the Mueller report, and even the failed impeachment trial, the grassroots groups have continued their work –  increasing voter registration (especially among immigrant communities), phone-banking and letter-writing to prospective voters for either regular elections or special elections. 

We’ve helped gather support for progressive legislation at the state, local and federal levels. Now with the upcoming 2020 election, the groundswell of activism is beginning to gather force once more. 

Even with the advent of this unprecedented pandemic, our enthusiasm hasn’t waned. Circumstances have taught us to adapt and almost all our efforts from fundraising to phone-banking to letter-writing are being organized through virtual meetings and zoom calls. A month ago, a virtual fundraiser organized by the Biden campaign was attended by a hundred and seventy-five thousand supporters. It raised over $11 million.

I often tell my friends that in the last few years I have morphed into a new me. Despite the decline in America’s standing on the world stage, I now stand taller as an American than ever before; not because I agree with the turn our country has taken, but because I now understand how much behind-the-scenes work goes into bringing about real change and how much is at stake for not just our generation but also the next. 

The next generation of Indian-Americans is coming of age and for their sake, I hope that our community begins to be more active in political engagement. Many of us came to the US to make better lives for ourselves but now is the time for us to step out of the immigrants’ cocoon and fulfill our civic duty to a country that welcomed us all. 

This is a time like none other in American history, a time when the very foundation of its democracy has been shaken and this time calls on all of us to become political activists. 

Shabnam Arora Afsah is a writer, lawyer, and short story writer who is working on her first novel based on the Partition of India. She is a committed political activist and also runs a food blog for fun!


Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Should the Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? No!

Should the Presidential Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? No!

by Mani Subramani

There is absolutely no need to postpone the November 2020 elections on account of the Coronavirus.

Firstly the COVID-19 pandemic is roughly 2 times as virulent in its spread as the common flu and about 20 times more fatal among the elderly and most vulnerable.  So as long as the risk of transmission can be reduced 100 fold, voting should be at least as safe as voting during a normal flu season.  This is not achievable if we do everything business as usual. However, with sufficient social distancing (6 feet) and sanitizing, the transmission rate can be reduced sufficiently to make elections safe.  To avoid long lines at the polling places states can keep voting open early for a full week or encourage mail in ballots or both. Federal government should allocate funds as part of a stimulus or supplemental to cover the additional costs. 

At the time of this writing, we are number three in terms of total number of infections behind China and Italy.  Unfortunately, it would not be surprising if we are number one when you read this.  However, based on the experience of other nations the viral spread should peak in three months or less. In spite of the bungling and scattered response and utter lack of leadership by this administration, thankfully many state governors are acting in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the outbreak.  This should ensure a peak of infections sometime this summer hopefully with a minimal fatality rate like that of Germany or Switzerland.  

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry.  He enjoys following politics and economics.

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

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Should the Presidential Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? Yes!

by Rameysh Ramdas

In light of the Coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic meltdown, President Trump and Congress must postpone the November 2020 election. Yes, Democrats would loathe giving the President a few more months, but it is the right thing to do in these circumstances. The Constitution does not prohibit this action but says it should come from the states. Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island have postponed their primaries.

While the logistics of conducting campaign rallies will be a challenge, given the restriction of the number of people who can gather, more importantly, this will allow the President, his administration and state leaders to focus on containing the virus and in reviving the economy.

Yes, a postponement is only possible with great difficulty and cannot be done by an executive order. All the states must agree and their legislatures approve the measure. But the cost of the effort is well worth the benefits it brings to the nation and the world at large. And, this has to be done now as in many states, voting starts months earlier. 

Yes, this would have been unthinkable and deplorable in a normal time, but this is a pandemic of epic propositions. A prudent approach would be to have the elected officials on combating this calamity and start reviving the economy and the stock market. I urge the Administration and state legislatures to think outside the box and focus on the epidemic now.

Rameysh Ramdas, a resident of the SF Bay Area, has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.


Image license can be found here.

Should the Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? Yes!

Should the Presidential Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? Yes!

by Rameysh Ramdas

In light of the Coronavirus pandemic and the associated economic meltdown, President Trump and Congress must postpone the November 2020 election. Yes, Democrats would loathe giving the President a few more months, but it is the right thing to do in these circumstances. The Constitution does not prohibit this action but says it should come from the states. Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Ohio, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island have postponed their primaries.

While the logistics of conducting campaign rallies will be a challenge, given the restriction of the number of people who can gather, more importantly, this will allow the President, his administration and state leaders to focus on containing the virus and in reviving the economy.

Yes, a postponement is only possible with great difficulty and cannot be done by an executive order. All the states must agree and their legislatures approve the measure. But the cost of the effort is well worth the benefits it brings to the nation and the world at large. And, this has to be done now as in many states, voting starts months earlier. 

Yes, this would have been unthinkable and deplorable in a normal time, but this is a pandemic of epic propositions. A prudent approach would be to have the elected officials on combating this calamity and start reviving the economy and the stock market. I urge the Administration and state legislatures to think outside the box and focus on the epidemic now.

Rameysh Ramdas, a resident of the SF Bay Area, has a keen interest in Politics and Current Events. 

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

**************************

Should the Presidential Election Be Postponed in Light of a Pandemic? No!

by Mani Subramani

There is absolutely no need to postpone the November 2020 elections on account of the Coronavirus.

Firstly the COVID-19 pandemic is roughly 2 times as virulent in its spread as the common flu and about 20 times more fatal among the elderly and most vulnerable.  So as long as the risk of transmission can be reduced 100 fold, voting should be at least as safe as voting during a normal flu season.  This is not achievable if we do everything business as usual. However, with sufficient social distancing (6 feet) and sanitizing, the transmission rate can be reduced sufficiently to make elections safe.  To avoid long lines at the polling places states can keep voting open early for a full week or encourage mail in ballots or both. Federal government should allocate funds as part of a stimulus or supplemental to cover the additional costs. 

At the time of this writing, we are number three in terms of total number of infections behind China and Italy.  Unfortunately, it would not be surprising if we are number one when you read this.  However, based on the experience of other nations the viral spread should peak in three months or less. In spite of the bungling and scattered response and utter lack of leadership by this administration, thankfully many state governors are acting in a manner that is appropriate to the seriousness of the outbreak.  This should ensure a peak of infections sometime this summer hopefully with a minimal fatality rate like that of Germany or Switzerland.  

Mani Subramani is a veteran of the semiconductor equipment industry.  He enjoys following politics and economics.

This article is part of the monthly Forum Series, where you get eyes on both sides of a hot button issue.

Why Do I Feel a Kinship With Ash Kalra?

Why do I feel a kinship with Ash Kalra, D-CA 27?

Maybe because we are both Indian, Canadian-born, Bay Area transplants? Though 20 years my senior, Ash Kalra speaks my language. He mirrors my experience, taking a non-traditional path of social justice. 

Not an engineer or a doctor? You are already a deviant. Let’s take it one step further, pursuing career paths that are not lucrative or linear, that of community-based work – perplexing, shameful. These pressures are not unbeknownst to Ash. A UCSB graduate in Communications, Public Defender turned Assemblyman, paying off his law degree takes a backseat to his passion for uplifting others. 

“My whole career has been about reducing suffering” – a poignant sentiment. Kalra has settled on this theme for his life’s work. Serving California’s 27th assembly district, Ash Kalra is the first Indian American to serve in California’s state legislature. 

In his three years in office, he has been prolific, having 27 bills signed. He has fought for affordable, low-income housing and against homelessness as a co-author of SB 50 and AB 330. He is also the Chair of the Labor and Employment Committee for the State Assembly and has championed for Union rights. Kalra takes action to protect the environment, co-sponsoring bills such as the Clean Air Act, Coyote Valley Conservation Program, Deforestation-Free Procurement Act. He has been honored by the ACLU of California as a Civil Liberties Champion- one of five legislators in the Assembly who received a ‘perfect score’ on championing civil liberties issues. 

But I wanted to know more than just his political platform. He is speaking for Indian-Americans on a large scale, does he feel representative of who I am – a San Jose raised, Indian-American, low-income woman? My shoes are small and hard to fill. Is Ash Kalra ready for this responsibility?

Books on a coffee table in Ash Kalra’s office.

After having met him, I would say yes. His work moves beyond just progressive bill measures; he educates Assembly Members and constituents on Indian heritage and history. What I’m finding is that Ash Kalra’s movements transcend just education and are his way of life. 

Ash articulates that growing up Hindu, the very ideals and morals that his parents ingrained in him when he was young, were antithetical to their views about his career pursuits when he was older. 

That hits home. 

Atithi Devo Bhava,” this translates to “Guest is God” and it is a phrase that is thrown around Indian households. Giving back to those around us and foregoing materialism is an inherent part of Hinduism. So why is this, that which becomes second nature, at odds with an inquiry for a career, lifelong happiness, and ultimately success?

Ash gets it. He gets the consistent struggle of being Indian AND American. He may be the role model I’ve been seeking for so long but had a lack of exposure to. He is genuine, well informed, engaged but most importantly, doesn’t shy away from his culture. He redefines the vision of an Indian-American. 

When I asked him about the political responsibility of the Indian-American in the Bay Area, Ash emphasized that “our responsibility is to our community” and that we must remember that as Americans. It can be confusing for immigrants, split between two cultures. We will never feel connected to this country if we don’t become engaged community members, yet, at times we feel disconnected due to the lack of representation. Ash reminds us that civic duty goes beyond being Indian American. And if we never start, we will not conceive the reality we seek. 

Being the first Indian-American in California State Legislature, there are many antiquated archetypes that are projected on him and people that look like him. When I ask him about this, he dispels the myths about Indian model minorities in one statement, “the myth erases those that are struggling”. Indian-Americans are working jobs in the labor sector and they are quickly becoming the highest growing undocumented population in the US. There are many Indians that need people that look like them, to give them a voice. To shed light on their misgivings. To create policy that is inclusive of them. 

I asked him one last question before I left, and this one is for my SVC- Palo Alto Youth and Government kids who were in Sacramento just a few weeks before, taking over the Capitol building, sitting in the very seat that Ash Kalra was in a day before: Is cereal a soup? 

Kalra gives me a hard NO. 

I disagree. 

Though we align on almost all things, I guess even we can have our differences. A gentle reminder and a sentiment Ash mentions earlier, we need to be inclusive of people that may seem unlike us. 

Ash Kalra is the now, forging the path for people like me. 

He keeps moving but not away from his community or upbringing. He can very easily be found eating at Loving Hut, listening to Iron Maiden, before heading to a walk for candidates supporting the Labor Council. 

Ash Kalra is up for re-election this Presidential Primaries cycle on March 3, 2020. He represents California’s 27th State Assembly district which encompasses Downtown San Jose, East San Jose, and parts of Southeast San Jose. Kalra has served one term of his two-term limit as State Assemblyman. To learn more about him and his platform, check out his site and his voting record.


Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Ballots…in Hindi?

In 2009, one year away from being able to vote, I worked the polls for the presidential election. I had no understanding of the election process but I was part of the excitement and I felt I had a hand in getting Barack Obama elected. 

March 3rd will be the last day to vote in the California Primaries but did you know that you could have voted starting February 3rd? Why should you care?

Election worker, Mary Kelly, working the E-Poll Book

Much like sports, in order to be engaged, you have to feel invested in the players, teams, rules, and locations of games. While I’ve never been interested in sports, Obama winning the presidency felt like a touchdown to me. A moment of realization – I care when I’m informed. Maybe I can get into sports. 

So let me help you feel like the Jimmy Garoppolo of the upcoming primary elections and acquaint you with how California has worked to ensure that anyone that wishes to be, can exercise their right in the democratic process. 

There have been no changes to the election process since 2003 and it has taken more than a decade to enforce voters’ rights. This is the first election using the Voter’s Choice Act model and California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, has done everything in his power to advocate for voters in disenfranchised communities. Santa Clara County is forward thinking and has adopted measures for all voices to be represented. 

Starting from before the election season

  • 16 and 17 year olds can pre-register to vote.
  • anyone that applies for a driver’s licence will be automatically registered to vote (Motor Voter Law).
  • everyone registered to vote receives a vote-by-mail ballot in a choice of over 25 languages. 

These changes are significant for the following reasons

  • Navigating an election process, that is riddled in legal/political jargon, creates hurdles.
  • Automatic voter registration and multilingual vote-by-mail ballots remove barriers. 
  • For our multiethnic community, you can choose from an array of languages to feel educated and comfortable about the voting process. 
  • For those that work jobs with no time off or pay compensation, they can cast their ballot without leaving their home or job (postage stamp is already paid). 

These steps help leading up to the last day of the elections but even more has been done for the last day of the election – for my procrastinators and indecisive voters here is your chance! 

On March 3rd:

  • There will be over 110 Vote Centers in Santa Clara County.
  • There will be diverse, second language speaking election workers at all the vote centers.
  • You can drop or fill out a ballot at any location in the county. 
  • Checking-in with the new E-Poll Book provides you with the option of choosing your party and language preference (Hindi, Khmer, Spanish, English, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Chinese, Japanese) on the spot.
  • Your district specific ballot can be printed out at any county center. 
  • Conditional and Provisional ballots will be available for non registered voters and voters from other counties.
  • In order to vote in the Presidential Primaries, you must pick a party. You may choose the Nonpartisan crossover option where you will be given the candidates from the Democratic, Republican, and American Independent ballot. 
  • There will be electronic ballot marking devices with adaptive disability equipment.
  • You will be submitting the ballot through a machine that instantly identifies if there’s an error that needs correction (for example, if someone overvotes for three candidates in a two-candidate contest).

Our 2018 midterm elections had the highest voter turnout for a midterm election at around 116 million people – only slightly more than the number of people watching Super Bowl XLIX with 41.8% of registered voters showing interest. Let’s take charge and increase the voter turnout this year – we have no excuse! For more information about voting in California, check here.

Srishti Prabha is the current Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for women and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Before The Waters Rise Again – Measure T Will Get San Jose Ready

Measure T, on the Nov. 6 ballot, would put $650 million into upgrading San Jose’s aging infrastructure that puts our communities at risk.  Many of our bridges and overpasses are old and deteriorating, and at risk of collapse in earthquake. Two of our City’s fire stations are falling apart and one of them is at risk of sliding into a nearby creek. Last year we saw how many of our neighborhoods were vulnerable to flooding. We can’t prevent natural disasters, but we can do more to protect ourselves by passing Measure T.

Measure T will make us all safer by:

*Replace deteriorating, earthquake-vulnerable bridges

*Upgrade 911 communications facilities to improve emergency response

*Upgrade emergency operations centers

*Reduce flooding by rebuilding parts of our 70-year-old stormwater system

*Preserve natural open space that protects against flooding during heavy rains

*Fix potholes and repave roads to prevent accidents

*Rebuild police training facilities and repair crumbling fire stations

 

 

 

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This Diwali, Remember to Vote

Next month’s mid-term elections represent a special challenge for Indian American groups trying to get their constituents to the polls: Election Day falls in the middle of Diwali celebrations.

With this in mind, the Hindu American Foundation (HAF) unveiled its #DharmaVotes campaign recently.

“The aim is to raise awareness in the Hindu American community about voter registration deadlines and to hopefully ensure robust voter participation,” said Samir Kalra, HAF’s managing director.

The print, television and social media effort’s goal is non-partisan “with the primary aim to increase voter turnout and democratic participation in its broadest sense,” said Kalra.

Indeed, the elections present an important opportunity for Indian Americans to encourage members to make their voices heard on a variety of issues.

“We’re not just a one-issue community,” said Aseem Chipalkatti, board president of South Asian Americans Together for (the state of) Washington (SAATWA). “Solving our nation’s healthcare and immigration dilemmas are important, but we also are worried about the increase of gun violence in our schools and women’s access to justice and reproductive care. SAATWA will endorse and support candidates – South Asian or not – who stand with our community on these issues.”

To that end, SAATWA recently held its first town hall style candidate’s forum in Issaquah, WA. While only 35 people showed up in person, Chipalkatti reports that 471 people tuned in to watch the action live on Facebook and over a 1,000 viewed replays of the debate online. In all, 3751 people have viewed all or part of the program.

Candidates answered questions on sustainable economic development, education, healthcare and immigration. SAATWA will use the candidates answers as the basis for making endorsements later this month.

Chipalkatti sees the turnout for the event, especially online, as clear evidence that “South Asian Americans in Washington State are ready to get engaged in the political process.”

Ankit Patel, SAATWA’s director of public policy and legislative affairs, said he hopes the town halls will make candidates realize that “people are paying attention and their participation in these events has wide ranging visibility beyond these forums — whether it’s the audience watching online or the conversations these attendees go on to have in the community.”

On a national level, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) has developed a voter guide detailing the policy positions of candidates in the 20 Congressional districts with the highest number of South East Asians in them. It also includes breakdowns on two additional races that feature a South Asian American candidate and a Congressperson who is a leader in the House of Representatives.

The race breakdowns show the Democratic and Republican candidates’ positions on immigration, civil rights, hate crimes, and the 2020 U.S. census. “These issues have been at the core of SAALT’s policy and advocacy strategy and have greatly impacted the South Asian American community both historically and in the last two years,” said Lakshmi Sridaran, SAALT’s Director of National Policy and Advocacy.

On SAALT’s online voter guide each of the four “big issues” facing the South Asian American community is broken down into bite-sized nuggets.

On immigration, SAALT reports, “With over 5 million South Asians in the United States, immigrant justice is a top priority. The community includes undocumented immigrants, family members and temporary workers on various visas, refugees and asylum-seekers, lawful permanent residents, and United States citizens. There are over 450,000 undocumented Indian-Americans alone.”

As for the upcoming 2020 US Census, SAALT warns that anything that threatens an accurate count of all people in the country “such as the proposed citizenship question on the forthcoming 2020 Census, must be avoided at all costs. Unnecessarily asking every household and every person in the country about their citizenship status in the current political environment will cause fear and a significant undercount of our communities.”

In regard to hate crimes, SAALT reports it “has documented a precipitous rise in hate violence. In the year following the Presidential election, SAALT catalogued 213 incidents of hate violence aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab American communities — a 45 percent increase from the 2015-2016 pre-election period. It is increasingly clear we need to protect our communities from hate.”

The final hot-button issue for SAALT is civil rights, especially as they relate to Southeast Asian communities in the post 9-11 era. SAALT reports that since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the “communities have been unjustly targeted by government racial and religious profiling policies. More recently, government policies underscoring racial and religious profiling and surveillance have increasingly been aimed at our communities since the 2016 presidential election.”

Given the wide range of issues that face Indian-Americans in the current political climate, this Diwali season, make sure to VOTE!

Paul Kilduff is a freelance writer based in San Francisco, California. He has written for the East Bay Times, San Francisco Chronicle, East Bay Monthly and many other publications. He has also worked in radio as a reporter, host and producer and even finds time to draw cartoons.

Measure C – A City’s Shield to Protect its Lands: Will the Voters Let it Down?

Last week, San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo and his team spoke to the ethnic media about Measure C that is on the ballot for San Jose voters on June 5, 2018. They were flanked by a chain of people holding placards reading “Yes for C” and “No for B”. Gently, the mayor explained in English—followed by his fellow council members in Spanish and Vietnamese—why Measure B is for “Builders” and C for “Community,” and why it was imperative to defeat the former and pass the latter. In other words, NO on Measure B and YES on Measure C.

But first what are these measures that reportedly have both the local Democrats and Republicans united and a host of organizations, including environmental and veterans groups, joining hands with the city council, while pitting them against “billionaire” developers.

Measure B, or the Evergreen Senior Housing Initiative is an attempt to open up currently undeveloped “employment” land to senior housing projects, launched by real estate developers Carl Berg and Chop Keenan. Measure C is a complimentary measure proposed by Mayor Sam Liccardo and approved by the city council to counter Measure B and restrict residential development in those areas.

The area in contention is 200 acres of undeveloped land in the Evergreen hills at the city’s eastern edge.

Opponents of Measure B claim that almost everything is wrong and disingenuous about the seemingly benevolent project aimed to help senior citizens, starting with its deceptive name. On paper, it proposes the development of 910 residential units in the Evergreen Campus Industrial Area off of Aborn road. Yet, there is more to it than meets the eye. It casts a much wider net by placing a senior housing overlay over all underutilized employment lands in San Jose. In simple terms, it means that all the land currently reserved for job creation can be used for housing development.

Additionally, it exempts the developers from paying standard fees for the impact of increased vehicular traffic. By bringing in the proposal as a citizens’ initiative, the builders are bypassing the city’s environmental, affordable housing, traffic impact and services fee regulations that they would need to adhere to otherwise.

Measure C, aims to counter that and enforces these regulations on the land development projects proposed in the outlying areas.

But isn’t the city facing a housing crisis, and the proposed housing development for seniors and veterans would actually be a good thing? That is another myth that the mayor and the Council aim to bust. The proposed development does little to address affordable housing, or to ensure that even a single veteran would stay in the units. In fact it reduces the requirement of affordable units for families earning less than $100,000 a year to six percent from the currently required twenty percent.

The Council agrees that part of the land would eventually be developed in some form. But the development ought to be according to the city’s plan, prepared with community leaders and keeping the community’s needs in mind. Unfortunately for the developers, building another conclave of luxury houses in the foothills is not part of that. It will stretch already strained city resources, taking them away from the existing areas to an outlying new development, create traffic gridlocks and sprawl, and destroy the environment of San Jose’s Coyote valley.

Megan Medeiros, the Executive Director of the Committee for Green Foothills, was one of the placard-holding activists during the briefing. She and her team have been actively fighting and campaigning for Measure C, hosting precinct walks to go door-to-door, and urging likely voters to vote “No” to urban sprawl and wildlife habitat destruction. “The builders literally conned the unsuspecting citizens in malls and public places to get the signatures needed to put the Measure on the ballot, thus gaining a backdoor entry bypassing the city regulations” said Medeiros, a claim that Liccardo referred to in his speech,  “the developers should be made to play by the rules everybody else has to follow.”

In the end, it is up to voters to make an informed decision when voting on such measures. It is to be seen whether citizens will be taken in by the developers’ campaign against Measure C, or if they will read the “fine print” and vote against Measure B. At stake, as Mayor Liccardo puts it, is the future of our children and successive generations.

With less than two weeks to go for the June Primary and builder advertising in full swing, it appears to be an uphill battle for the city.

Jyoti Khera is a freelance writer based in San Jose. She writes on politics, food, and films.