Tag Archives: Kamala Harris

Indian-Americans Make An IMPACT

This is a heady time for Indian Americans.  Our immigration story and our growing financial and political power are in the headlines every day, especially with the addition of Senator Kamala Harris to the Democratic Party ticket for President. So what can we do to capitalize on this unique moment in history?  

Many of us want to do something but are not sure what.  This is where The Indian American IMPACT Fund comes in. It’s a bold new initiative whose mission is “to help talented and patriotic Indian Americans who reflect our community’s values run, win, and lead.”  Their goal is to build a pipeline for leadership and to provide a voice for the Indian American community in public affairs. 

IMPACT will be raising $10 million to support candidates they endorse for this election cycle.

Just this week, the IMPACT Fund released their first round of endorsements for the 2020 General Election.  Twenty four candidates have been selected from the  70 Indian Americans running for office up and down the ballot across the country.  IMPACT will put their weight behind these candidates through contributions, volunteering and help with grass roots organization. 

“We are going to do all these things to help elect these 24 candidates and really build an inclusive democracy.” says Neil Makhija, the new Executive Director of the organization. “When you have Donald Trump campaigning on building walls, that is the antithesis of our values and we don’t think about partisan lines.  We value global partnerships to solve issues like climate change, we believe in facts, believe in science.”   

The IMPACT Fund goes through an arduous process to assess the candidates and analyze the competitiveness of the races and where IMPACT can make the most difference.    

What is incredible is that in 2012, there was only one Indian American member of Congress – Ami Bera of California.  But by 2016, that number increased five fold. Joining Bera in Congress were Ro Khanna from California, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois and Pramila Jayapal from Washington as well Kamala Harris in the Senate. IMPACT supports candidates for public office from Congress to state capitols, school boards and city councils, as well as public leaders like Ravi Sandill who became the first ever District Court Judge in Texas of South Asian descent and who is up for relection in the Texas 127th District Court. in November. The increasing numbers of candidates from the Indian American community running for local and state offices reflect our greater engagement in politics and public affairs.

One of the key endorsements this election cycle is Dr. Hiral Tipirneni, an ER physician who is running for Congress in Arizona in a district that has now become competitive but was unthinkable for a Democrat to win until recently.  Makhija believes that scientists or doctors like Dr. Tipirneni will provide different perspectives that will be valuable in helping shape what Congress. “We are excited about building a new generation that is formidable in public service.”

Another pivotal IMPACT-endorsed Senate candidate is Sara Gideon, the speaker of the house in Maine, trying to oust their 4-term Senator Susan CollinsMaine is one of the key races on the 2020 Senate map that will decide which party will have the majority.   This highly contested race is considered a “toss up” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report and has become the most expensive in Maine history. 

IMPACT has also endorsed Democratic VP nominee Kamala Harris because of her dual appeal to both the Black and Indian American communities.  “I think Kamala Harris is able to tie together our American stories like no other candidate has before in public, “ says Makhija.  “Her story in terms of growing up both Black and Indian and how she values both of those experiences in distinct ways but also in similar ways. – she can genuinely be a bridge and help us build a broad coalition that is needed to unite the country and get past this era of division with Donald Trump.”

IMPACT is working to make sure that the Indian American story is told. “We are seeing an immense desire to learn about (Kamala Harris) and that is not something that will disappear.  People are going to learn and better understand our community, our issues, our contributions and that will help build this bridge that we are talking about.  When a candidate is running in Texas or Arizona – because Kamala has run and been the first, it will be just a bit easier.  Because people will be more familiar and understand what it means to be Indian American.  So, I think that is one of the biggest impacts of the moment.” 

Neil Makhija, Executive Director             Indian American Impact Fund

Makhija’s own story represents how the Indian American community is coming into its own.  “I am the first person in three generations who has had this chance to come home and build a life where I grew up.” he says.  “My father was born a year and half after partition. My family were refugees from Sindh and then went to Ullas Nigar in Mumbai. My parents left everything and came to the United States. The joy that they feel when they go back and see their friends and family and connection is something I can appreciate. And it is easy to take for granted if you are in the town you grew up in and you have that. I have not left everything behind and gone across the world like many of them had to.  It’s really special and this rootedness gives you the platform to get involved in public affairs.” 

A common thread to the immigrant story is that the first generation works hard to build a new life and does not always  engage in public life . But their commitment allows the second generation to step up and fully participate in the public and political sphere. 

The opportunity to do that is what has Neil Makhija working around the clock at IMPACT.

Other groups like LatinX, LGBTQ, African American “all have a serious presence in terms of organization and you need that if you are going to bring a community that has not traditionally or historically been in power, “ says Makhija “It does not happen automatically.”  

The IMPACT Fund will recruit, train, and then endorse and elect candidates who want to serve and fully represent  diverse communities.  “What we find is that Indian American as well as other immigrant communities are often welcomed when they play narrow roles but receive skepticism when they aspire to leadership.  That’s what we are up against and so, we as a community and organization want to come together to help our candidates get beyond that.”

The Indian American IMPACT Project is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization which helps with building awareness about the political process while the Indian American IMPACT Fund is a political action committee (PAC) that helps candidates get elected to local, state and federal offices.  The IMPACT Fund is committed to the core values of inclusion, civil rights and a belief in science, qualities they seek when vetting candidates they want to endorse.

Makhija explains that “anyone can give $20 to the presidential race and that is fine.  But there are some races where you raise $1000 from a group of people and give it to a Presidential or Senate candidate who is raising multi million dollars, or you can actually help elect a State Senator and that could be the difference between them losing and winning.  What our organization does is that it provides infrastructure to have a more sophisticated analysis and decision making process about where you would make a difference.”

The Indian American community can impact this election cycle by volunteering, contributing or even running for office. We have to come together to amplify our voices and represent our community. 

Find out more about IMPACT at the Indian American Impact Fund,

And always, VOTE.

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Is Kamala Devi Harris Desi Enough?

I just spent the last fifteen minutes enjoying a new TikTok cultural phenomenon. Wakhra Dougie.  It’s blowing up on TikTok.   Combining the Dougie with bhangra dance moves is certainly fun, but on a deeper level,  isn’t it a lot more? What could be a better way to express joy in the choice of Kamala Harris as the next VP candidate for the Democratic party?

Kamala Harris made history last week when she became Joe Biden’s running mate.  Immediately, every desi had an opinion on it.  While most were excited to see a person from their part of the world represented, it brought on the doubters. She is often described as the “first Black woman” every time she breaks another glass ceiling.  That irks the Indians.  Is Kamala Harris desi enough?  She’s only half Indian and why doesn’t she speak to it more often? She only comes to our community when she needs to raise money but not much else. How can she represent us?

I am sure there is a reason for that, part deeply personal and part, a commentary of our cultural expectations. 

Senator Harris was raised in the East Bay in the sixties, but it was not the Bay Area we know of now.  Her mother Shyamala Gopalan fell in love with a Jamaican economist, married him, and had two daughters. Raising two girls who were mixed brown and black was not that easy then, and not now either.  If we desis are honest with ourselves, we know that we are not the most open of cultures to “otherness”.  

My guess is that her mother recognized this and decided that she would raise her children in a culture that would be more accepting of them.   As Ms. Harris described in her memoir, “My mother understood very well that she was raising two Black daughters. She knew that her adopted homeland would see Maya and me as Black girls.” Going on to study at a HBCU (Historically Black College and Universities)  Howard University helped cement this identity.  

Then, there is the larger society as well.  Since they were racially half Black and appeared Black, they would always be identified as Black.  As research by the Pew Center says, “How you were raised, how you see yourself and how the world sees you have a profound effect in shaping multiracial identity.” 

I always found it very curious that President Obama, who was essentially raised by his white mother and grandparents, identified as a Black man.  

What does that say about our society’s cultural expectations?

My daughter, raised in America to a Sindhi dad and me, a Tamilian mom, says “Because I can’t speak any Indian language, my friends tell me I’m not actually Desi-American—that I’m just a coconut—brown on the outside and white on the inside.”  A friend of mine in San Diego was lamenting how her half desi-half Peruvian teenage daughter is not invited to the Indian parties of her peers because she is not “Indian enough”. 

What in the world does that even mean? If we are this quick to judge kids, who for the most part are proud of their biracial identities, imagine the Harris family in the 1960s.  

Kamala Harris has often admitted herself that she struggles to define herself for others. For me, she is a representation of our multicultural, blended, fluid society where everything is up for grabs.  Why not race?  She “is both”  Black and Indian.  

Why are we expecting her to be everything to both communities?

But as we are all learning through the stories of the BLM movement this year, our histories ( Black and Asian Americans) are intertwined.  Rev. Martin Luther King was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his Satyagraha movement which led to the Civil Rights movement here in America.  The passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 led to the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act which directly affected most of us Asians in this country.  It opened up the door for us to immigrate.  We would not be here if not for the thousands of Black Americans who took to the streets to fight for their rights.  

At a time in history now, where civil rights and immigration are at the center of our civil and political discourse, Senator Kamala Harris uniquely brings a viewpoint and life experience that could help us move forward.  

The fact is that both parties in the United States use racial identity to segment the voting blocs to their advantage.  Although the financial power of the Indians is increasing, statistically we do not make up a large part of the electorate yet.  Eleven million Asian Americans will vote this year but the number of Black voters is estimated at 30 million.  

But the funny thing is that the population of people who are two or more races is projected to be the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group over the next several decades, followed by Asians and Hispanics. So, does it really matter how Desi or how Black Kamala Harris is?  It should not. 

She is both and uniquely American at the end of the day.   Let our lack of imagination not box her into one identity.

Her story, her blended heritage will speak more to our children and grandchildren than we can imagine and inspire them to public service and politics.  There will come a time very soon, where people like her will be the norm, not the exception in this flat world. 

But it would behoove Senator Harris to reach out to our community in a more meaningful manner.  We would love to be a part of her journey and have our voices amplified.  

Vote for Harris and Biden if you think their policies will be good for America, not what Kamala looks like and which race she belongs to. 

We have come a long way, America!  I am excited by the journey ahead and I remain optimistic.  Maybe doing a Wakhra Dougie mashup TikTok video will be the most patriotic thing you will do today.  And Vote!

Anjana Nagarajan-Butaney is a Bay Area resident with experience in educational non-profits, community building, networking, and content development and was Community Director for an online platform. She is interested in how to strengthen communities by building connections to politics, science & technology, gender equality and public education.

Edited by Meera Kymal, contributing editor at India Currents

Kamala Harris Endorses Former Rival Joe Biden

“America needs a president who reflects the decency and dignity of the American people; a president who speaks the truth; and a president who fights for those whose voices are too often overlooked or ignored,” said Californian Senator Kamala Harris, adding her support to the Democratic contenders unifying behind Joe Biden’s campaign for President. “I am proud to announce I am endorsing my friend, Vice President Joe Biden, for President of the United States.”

Harris was the first Indian-American candidate to make a serious bid for the presidency in the most diverse field of presidential candidates in modern political history.

Despite a promising start to her presidential bid, Harris dropped out of the race in December 2019 after financial pressures and low poll numbers derailed her campaign. However, though she was no longer running for President, Harris vowed to stay in the fight for “Justice for the People” and “the future of our country.”

In a statement released on March 8, Harris remarked on Biden’s “strength of character, selfless courage, and commitment to public service,” qualities she said were reflected in his late son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, who first introduced Harris to his father. As attorneys general during the financial crisis, Harris had worked with Beau Biden to secure billions of dollars in relief for homeowners across the country, taking on some of the biggest banks in the country.

From her days on the campaign trail, Harris says she came to understand that Americans wanted a leader who “reflects the decency and dignity of the American people” and “fights for those whose voices are too often overlooked or ignored.”

No one is better prepared to take on that role than Joe Biden, says Harris, because he has “served our country with dignity, and has a proven track record of getting things done. We need him now more than ever.”

Harris endorsed Biden in a tweet from Selma, Alabama, where the Democratic establishment had gathered to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday march, “I really believe in him and I have known him for a long time. One of the things that we need right now is we need a leader who really cares about the people and who can therefore unify the people. And I believe Joe can do that.”

Biden thanked Harris a tweet that read, “Kamala — You’ve spent your whole career fighting for folks who’ve been written off and left behind — and no small part of that alongside Beau. From our family: thank you.”

Harris joins former rivals Pete Butigieg, Michael Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar, as well as Beto O’Rourke, who’ve lined up behind the VP.

Harris said she will campaign with Biden in the upcoming Michigan primary.

In a video clip shared to Twitter Harris reiterated her support saying,“ I believe in Joe Biden and will do everything in my power to help elect him the next president of the United States.”

Kamala Harris’ Amma, an Unlikely Soulmate

Until recently, American elections used to evoke in me, not angst, but wonder.  When Bill Clinton ran for president, I watched The Man from Hope, a documentary about his life, over and over again, feeling inspired by the story of a boy who rose from an abusive childhood to reach the highest office in the world.

Through the summer of 2008, as the world teetered on the edge of a financial meltdown and my mother lay dying in our house in Nagpur, I sat by her bedside, reading Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams from my Father, and marveling at the miracle of America.

Even today, as a criminal occupies the White House and I dread the demise of the American promise, I come across the story of Shymala Gopalan and feel I’ve met my soulmate.

I am talking of Kamala Harris’ mother, who, until recently, I did not know was Indian.  Why, as Harris rose through the political ranks, she never spoke of her mother, remains a mystery, but I find Shyamala to be a fascinating figure.  I can’t imagine a young woman from Madras – now Chennai – venturing into the University of California, Berkeley, at a time when few Indians had even heard of the place.

I recall when I was a school kid in the 1960s and America was just entering into my consciousness.  The Kennedys had appeared on the world scene and Jackie Kennedy was visiting India.

I imagine the young Shyamala leaving Madras, a place of Hindu orthodoxy and spicy food, and arriving alone in Berkeley just as the ‘60s were in the offing.  I can envision her being thrown into the tumult of Vietnam War protests and civil rights movements.

Nearly two decades later, I arrived in Berkeley to find myself just as exotic as Shyamala once was.  In the ‘70s, there were still very few Indian women on campus and even fewer role models to follow.

How had Shyamala navigated this terrain nearly twenty years earlier?  What were her guiding principles?  Did she find Berkeley’s liberal politics and culture just as invigorating as I found it?  Did the Americans of Berkeley, a breed unto themselves, wrap their arms around her just as they had done around me?  Did she relish this place where she could live without restrictions or fear of judgment, just as I had done?  Did she welcome the absence of expectations?

I am convinced that she did.  Why else would she fall in love with a black man from Jamaica?  Why, when it became imperative, would she divorce him and strike out on her own as a single mother?

But the question that haunts me is this: how did Shyamala have the courage of her conviction that I’ve had to struggle to maintain?

Arriving in the US decades after Shyamala, I experienced the stigma of divorce out of my arranged marriage. I was ostracized, not by the Americans, but by the Indian community, which had just begun forming in the Silicon Valley.  Later, I felt the taboo of my marriage to a white Englishman.

I felt I had been wronged.

But Shyamala overcame so much more.  When Kamala mentions that her grandparents had no telephone and had to rely on writing flimsy aerograms that took two weeks to arrive in Berkeley, I tear up.  Decades after I arrived in the US, my parents too did not have a phone.  For them, calling me involved an expedition at a prearranged time to my cousin’s house in another suburb.

I imagine that the lack of communication made it easier for Shyamala to break away, to assimilate into North American society; to eventually take the professorship in medical research at McGill University in Montreal and move her two daughters there.

Just as it had enabled me to strike on my own path.

Recently, I came across a picture of Shyamala walking her daughters to an elementary school in Berkeley.  In the photo, she is wearing black stockings, a short plaid skirt, matching vest, and a black blouse.  With her strong Indian features, curly hair, and beaded earrings, she looks like a woman who is working hard to assimilate.  The picture reminds me of the first skirt and vest outfit I had purchased nearly forty years ago for attending job interviews.  With my knee-length hair and off-the-boat expression, I’d perhaps looked just as out of place in it as Shyamala had done.

The thought fills me with a kinship that I haven’t experienced with any other immigrant female. I marvel at the miracle of our nation which, every four years, presents us with unique stories of the American journey.

Sarita Sarvate (www.saritasarvate.com) has published commentaries for New America Media, KQED FM, San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many nationwide publications.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of India Currents and India Currents does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

RaajneeTEEN: A Chat with Deepa Mahesh

The 2020 presidential election is not a race. It is a battlefield. Scattered across its rugged landscape is an onslaught of tweets and hashtags, opinions hurled from every edge of the American demography. From our broken healthcare system to our toxic immigration legislation, it is clear that America has everything to gain – and much to lose. 

2020 Presidential Candidate Sen. Kamala Devi Harris, knows what is at stake. Since her emergence in mainstream American politics during the controversial Brett Kavanaugh questioning, Harris has captured public interest with her visceral speeches.. As a South Asian woman, she is a pioneer in political territory that has long been foreign to Indian-Americans. To discuss her representation of our community, we spoke with fifteen-year old Deepa Mahesh, a member of Kamala Harris’s South Asians For The People initiative. 

“My group is all about uniting people in this community who want to fight for Kamala”, explains Deepa. “Unity gives us a lot more power, and makes our stances a lot more clear and more well-known in this sphere of politics… we’re fighting for her so she can fight for us.” 

Deepa’s role in this initiative includes maintaining a consistent social media presence, spreading the news among students, and communicating with voters and supporters. As a young person in this unique political climate, she is molded by the flame of America’s polarizing past . 

“I was first drawn to politics in seventh or eighth grade, when the 2016 elections were drawing to a close. And from then on, politics became really intriguing. It affected everything around me, from people I’ve seen… to people in Washington..and then this 2020 election started. I looked at the candidates, and I was instantly attracted to Kamala … As a South Asian, I was..happy to see someone like me … She is an amazing speaker. She’s the kind of person to command an audience and she has experiences that I don’t think..that other candidates can toss into the ring…I really share her social views and her beliefs, and I was just..drawn to her.” 

Unfortunately, the same heated social climate that drew Deepa into politics drove other teenagers her age further into indifference and apathy. Social media and the other casualties of an internet age serve as prime distractions from pressing societal issues. Deepa offers advice for other alienated or indifferent students, “ teenagers should know that just because we don’t see people exactly like ourselves in politics, doesn’t mean that we are invalid. Don’t let that be a roadblock in your path…if you have a stance, always remember to fight for it and act on it. It’s one of the greatest things in our country that we are allowed to do..”

On the surface, Deepa Mahesh is just your average San Jose teenager. “I really enjoy playing video games online in my spare time,” she laughs. “I know it’s not the most productive hobby.” But her voice exudes a sense of social awareness, and her commitment towards the Kamala Harris campaign is reflective of the immense potential of the South Asian youth community. 

Politics, in a sense, is the larger-than-life, funhouse reflection of another video game, from its unspoken rules to its spiraling conflicts. And young people really do have the power to navigate these challenges – as long as we give them the chance to play. 

*Raajneeti is the Hindi word for politics. The title is a play on words, as this article is about teenagers’ contributions to American politics today.

Kanchan Naik is a rising junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California.

Edited by contributing editor, Meera Kymal.

The Growing Political Power of Indian Americans

Indian Americans are a growing political force who are being wooed as potential donors by Election 2020 presidential hopefuls  – though they represent just over 1% of the US population, Indian Americans have donated more than $3 million so far towards the 2020 presidential campaigns.

Both Democrat and Republican candidates are courting Indian American constituents not just because this second largest immigrant group in the US is growing wealthier, with median household incomes at $107,000,  but also because Indian Americans are successfully permeating the establishment in industry, academia, and other fields, and actively engaging in politics to make their voices heard.

As more Indian Americans from across the political spectrum participate in US politics to advocate for their community’s interests, several political action groups have been formed to promote issues that matter to their members, among them, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT),  the United States India Political Action Committee, and the Republican Hindu Coalition

A 2018 survey confirms that South Asian communities are steadily developing a civic and political network  of ‘voters, donors, elected officials, appointees and public policy advocates’, that is driving engagement in the political process.  The AAPI reports that as more individuals from Asian American communities run for office (over 80 in 2018),  “they engage their network of extended family and friends to become involved.” 

This infrastructure is pivotal in driving voter registration and voter engagement in primary and special elections. Indian Americans, one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States, register and vote at high rates, a fact not lost on political contenders trying to claim a portion of the vote share in the upcoming elections. 

In early September, Sen. Kamala Harris used a video tweet to launch her  “South Asians For The People” initiative, to muster support from Indian Americans for her election campaign. She expressed pride in her South Asian heritage and in her grandfather, a freedom fighter who believed that, “all people should be treated equally – regardless of the circumstances of their birth”. 

Maya Humes, a spokesperson for the Harris campaign told India Currents that several Indian American volunteers had revealed “how much Kamala’s run for president means to their community.” Harris’ campaign has set up a hub on its website to bring South Asian supporters across the country together to help them “get to know each other, host events, and spread the word about Harris’ plans to enact bold change within their communities.”

In another event on September 28, Dr. Jill Biden, wife of VP Joe Biden, sought support for her husband’s presidential bid at a fundraiser in Fremont, CA, hosted by tech executive, community leader, and philanthropist Ajay Bhutoria and his wife Vinita Bhutoria. 

Dr. Biden shared her thoughts about stories that “remind us that our differences are precious and that our similarities infinite— that our community, our country, is capable of beautiful and powerful things.” 

Although Indian Americans have traditionally voted Democrat,  (over 62% in an AAPI poll), President Trump has sought and received support from a cohort of Indian American community leaders.

Before the 2016 elections, a video ad sponsored by Chicago-based billionaire Shalabh Kumar, featured then candidate Trump exhorting Indian Americans to vote for him, “Ab ki baar Trump sarkar”. That refrain was repeated at the recent Howdy Modi event at Houston’s NRG stadium in September, which was attended by President Trump.

Adi Sathi, Chief of Staff at the Young Republican National Federation explained that many Indian American business leaders support President Trump’s commitment to tax reform and economic deregulation

At the Howdy Modi event, Trump, who has strategically appointed at least 22 Indian Americans to important government jobs, solicited Indian American support for his re-election bid by highlighting his 2017 tax cuts and business friendly agenda, “I want you to know my administration is fighting for you each and every day.”

In his speech Trump lauded his Indian American audience saying, “You enrich our culture. You uphold our values. You uplift our communities. You are proud to be Americans and we are truly proud to have you as Americans.”

With sentiments like these and the 2020 election in their sights, the quest by presidential candidates for Indian American support symbolizes the potential power and remarkable political influence of this ethnic community in the next US election.

Image source: biden-viks-photography-1835.jpg

Meera Kymal is a contributing editor at India Currents.


Kamala Harris takes on Trump

The ten contenders who faced off in the third Democratic Presidential debate hosted by ABC on August 12 sent a powerful message to voters – it was time to get rid of Donald Trump and each of them was ready and equipped to do it.

Senator Kamala Harris, looking directly into the camera in her opening statement, attacked first, “I have some words for Donald Trump, who we all know is watching.”

The president, said Harris, spent his first term sowing “hate and division among us”  and used fear, intimidation and over twelve thousand lies “to distract from failed policies and broken promises.” She argued that the only reason Trump escaped indictment is because a sitting President cannot be charged with a crime.

The crowd roared with approval when Harris suggested the President “go back to watching Fox News.”

The final ten candidates who qualified for the third round of debates met fundraising and polling requirements set by the DNC (at least 2% support in at least four polls and donations from at least 130,000 unique donors), presented a remarkably diverse group across the spectrum of age, gender and ethnicity. Harris is the only woman of color to make the cut.

As the first front runner of dual Indian-American and African-American heritage, Harris is uniquely positioned to represent both groups in her presidential campaign, so her platform and policies have come under close scrutiny from both communities.

So how did she do?

What the American people know, said Harris, is that “the vast majority have so much more in common than what separates us, regardless of race, where we live, or the party with which we are registered to vote.”

Her plan is to stay focused on “our common issues, common hopes and desires and in that way, unifying our country, winning this election and turning the page for America.”

During the three-hour long debate, Harris came under fire for her record on crime, compared Trump on trade policy to the ‘little guy’ in the Wizard of Oz, and laughingly offered V P Biden an awkward “Hey Joe, let’s just say we can,” when he queried her proposed executive order to ban assault weapons.

And yet, the debate on mass shootings allowed Harris to dig deep into her experience on handling gun violence, “I’ve seen more autopsy photos than I care to tell you,” she said, protesting the  trauma of young children forced to practice gun drills in primary school. It also gave her one of the best lines of the night when commenting on the El Paso’s mass shooting that claimed 29 lives, ‘Trump did not pull the trigger, but he’s certainly been tweeting out the ammunition.”

ABC moderator Linsey Davis confronted Harris with some tough questions on her prosecutorial record, calling her newly released plan for criminal justice reform contradictory to her prior positions. “When you had power why didn’t you try to affect change then?”

Harris disputed the challenge as distortions of her record which did not reflect reforms she had initiated, that required law enforcement to wear cameras and racial bias training for police officers. Her message about changing the system from the inside outlined future plans to end mass incarceration and solitary confinement, shut down for-profit prisons, and hold law enforcement, including prosecutors, accountable –  a plan that she said, activists called ‘bold’.

Harris also swung the healthcare discussion away from her opponents’ well-intentioned proposals for every American to have healthcare coverage, to focus instead on Donald Trump and the end goal. “Let’s talk about the fact that Donald Trump came into office….and spent almost the entire first year of his term trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.”

She drew applause from an appreciative audience with a reminder about the late Senator John McCain’s surprise 2 am vote, against a GOP-sponsored limited repeal of Obamacare. Harris’ cue to her sparring opponents who basically agree on healthcare coverage, was to frame the real threat to millions of Americans and the ACA, “Lets focus on the end goal. If we don’t get Donald Trump out of office, he’s going to get rid of all of it.”

Topher Spiro, from the Center for American Progress said, “Kamala Harris won the opening statement and the health care debate. Just sayin!”

Currently, Kamala Harris ranks among the top five candidates in a YouGov/FairVote of national Democratic voters. Will she be the one to stop Trump from taking away healthcare from 300 million Americans?  And will Democratic voters think Kamala Harris is the one who can get on stage in a debate with Donald Trump and take him down?



The Rising Relevance of Tulsi Gabbard

“As you know, I grew up in the beautiful state of Hawaii, which is the only state in the nation which has a majority and minority population. So, my upbringing is perhaps a little different than most other folks in the country,” said Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), speaking at an ethnic media tele-briefing organized by India Currents and Ethnic Media Services, quickly establishing herself as the outlier in an overcrowded field of democratic candidates for president in 2020.

With her well-timed punch at Senator Kamala Harris’ prosecutorial record during the second Detroit debate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) caught the imagination of the nation, leading her to become the most googled candidate after the debate; landing her on the front page of the New York Times; and being endorsed by conservative Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan.

Calling into significance her military record, the Times referred to Gabbard as “a singular figure in the 2020 race,” who cannot be boxed “neatly into any one established ideology or school of thought.” And Noonan lavished praise on Gabbard, calling her “an impressive underdog. You get the impression she’s out there on her own. Good for her, she’s got guts.”

Her debate performance helped Gabbard carve her place as the only democratic presidential candidate who cannot be pinned down, who is different, and who is likely to stay in people’s minds for speaking her mind.

Like any good strategist she tailors her narrative to the occasion. To the audience of reporters from minority communities, she talked about the word “aloha” and how it means hello and goodbye, but more than that it means “recognition that we are all connected regardless of our race, religion, ethnicity, orientation, where we come from or all of these things that make up this beautifully unique fabric that is America,” she said.

On the Bill Maher show, Gabbard was careful to be non-committal, refusing to respond to the provocations of the host. When Maher asked her about the Trump-Putin relationship and Putin’s election meddling, Gabbard’s response was a study in generalities: “We have to take seriously the security of our elections because of the vulnerabilities that exist, still, now, that really have the ability to undermine our democracy,” answered Gabbard.

And on the national stage, she was combative. “She put over 1,500 people in jail for marijuana violations and then laughed about it when she was asked if she ever smoked marijuana,” Gabbard said, referring to Senator Kamala Harris’s record as an Attorney General in California.

To be clear, the facts on the pot issue are murky. “There’s some context missing in this claim and its framed in a misleading way,” confirmed PolitiFact, a fact checking outfit, adding that the 1,500 number could not be independently verified and that “the attorney general’s office does not prosecute the vast majority of drug cases in the state.” It’s the county district attorneys who do so.

Absolute truth notwithstanding, Harris stumbled when she dismissed the debate throw down, and Gabbard quickly established herself as a credible contender and challenger in a race that’s more about confrontation than conversation.

Gabbard is jostling for position and has probably realized that she needs to challenge the candidate who poses the biggest threat to her campaign. That person happens to be Kamala Harris. While both women are remarkably well-spoken and self-assured, Harris is well-ahead of her in the race for the country’s leadership.

It’s ironic that both Gabbard and Harris are women of color with connections to India, Harris through her Indian American ancestry, and Gabbard through her Hindu affiliations.

Interestingly, when it comes to the Indian American community, Gabbard has a clear edge over Harris, indicating that Harris’ Indian American heritage doesn’t hold as much sway as Gabbard’s Hindu leanings for Indians in America. According to AAPI data from the FEC filings of the first quarter of 2019, 44% of Indian American contributions went to Tulsi Gabbard and a mere 14 percent to Kamala Harris. Further, a clear majority (60 percent) of Gabbard’s AAPI contributions came from Indian Americans, in contrast to 22 percent of the Harris AAPI campaign pie. And, as a sector, more Asian Americans have donated to Tulsi Gabbard than to Kamala Harris.

The Asian wave of support, however, has not offered much name recognition for Gabbard. A Morning Consult poll revealed that 71 percent of the respondents knew of Kamala Harris and viewed her favorably, while more than half had no idea who Tulsi Gabbard was or were not inclined to support her.

By chipping away at the vulnerabilities of another woman of color, Gabbard has captured the headlines of news cycles, making her visible, vocal and viable. In order to see the finish line, though, Tulsi Gabbard must be more than just a Harris challenger.

She is already articulating her positions on trade partnerships and nuclear proliferation treaties. And the canny politician that she is, Gabbard has realized that to be taken seriously she must deal with the elephant in the room: her 2017 visit with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. “This is why diplomacy is so important, because the only alternative to diplomacy is war. This is why it’s so critical to have a leader in this country with the courage to meet with adversaries or dictators or potential adversaries with the understanding that by doing so, we can achieve these historic agreements that will reduce the nuclear proliferations,” she remarked during the ethnic media briefing.

In the last few days, the Gabbard campaign has met its grassroots fundraising goals to qualify for the next Democratic debate in September, but the challenge is in meeting the polling threshold of 2% or more in four polls by the August 28 deadline.

Whether she makes it to the debate stage or not, Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has proven she’s a force to be reckoned with.

Jaya Padmanabhan was the editor of India Currents from 2012-16. She is the author of the collection of short stories, Transactions of Belonging.