Tag Archives: legislation

Dr. Sadaf Jaffer's swearing-in for her first term as Mayor (Image provided by Fatima Naqvi)

Dr. Sadaf Jaffer is the First Muslim Woman to Serve as Mayor in the US

Dr. Sadaf Jaffer became the first South Asian woman to serve as mayor of a municipality in New Jersey, and the first Muslim woman to serve as a mayor of a municipality in the United States. Jaffer is a Postdoctoral Research Associate of South Asian Studies at Princeton University where she teaches courses on South Asian, Islamic, and Asian American studies. She got her start in politics when she ran for local office in 2017 and won, becoming the first and only Democrat on the local government in Montgomery, NJ, in many years. In the following year, the Democratic Party won two more seats and Jaffer became the Mayor. She is now running for New Jersey State Assembly in Legislative District 16. 

Mayor Sadaf F. Jaffar (Image provided by Fatima Naqvi)

Can you tell me a little bit about your background: where you were born and raised? 

SJ: I was born and raised in Chicago. My parents had immigrated from Pakistan and Yemen. I went to college in Washington D.C. at Georgetown University, and then I lived in India for two years studying Urdu in Lucknow. I did a Ph.D. at Harvard University in South Asian Studies. Later, I moved to New Jersey after I met my husband and we both ended up getting a position at Princeton University. We have a 6-year-old daughter. 

As a South Asian Muslim woman in politics who belongs to an immigrant family, how do you define your identity? How has that translated into your work as Mayor so far? 

SJ: My goal is to try to make a positive change and be a caring member of my family and my community. I want to advocate for people to have the rights that they deserve. That drives me in all of the work that I do, whether it’s teaching my students about Islam in South Asia or South Asian American literature and film; leading my community during a pandemic; leading them by having conversations and discussions about racial injustice, and how we can address it; or by serving as a candidate and trying to learn about what people in my district want. I would definitely say that my South Asian identity is very important to me and it manifests itself in lots of different ways. A really important thing to me is that we see South Asian American culture as an integral part of American culture – that there isn’t necessarily a dichotomy. If I want to wear a Saari to my swearing-in – which is what I did for my second term as mayor – that should just be me representing a part of my identity that is important to me. 

You recently completed two terms as mayor of Montgomery Township, New Jersey. What was it that made you want to get into politics? 

SJ: I had considered myself an activist for many years and specifically as someone who cared deeply about human rights issues. Over time, I started to feel like advocacy was having its limits. I felt like ultimately the elected officials were making the decisions that they thought were the right ones. That’s when I started thinking that I should advocate for people who shared my values to be in those elected roles, or that I should eventually run myself.

I participated in a candidate training program for women from the Democratic Party who are interested in running for office, called Emerge New Jersey. It was through that program that I learned about the nitty-gritty of connecting with the State Party, County Party, and the Municipal Party. After that, I was campaigning for someone who was running for Congress when I was asked to run for office. In Emerge, I learned that the United States ranked 75th in the world in terms of women’s representation in politics and if I want other women to participate then I believed that I should also step up and do it myself. Ultimately, it was because I wanted to see the values that I hold dear reflected in the policies of my government. 

What has your experience as a representational figure in politics been like so far? Has it been what you expected it to be? 

SJ: I don’t think I really knew what to expect. Being thrust into a role as a representational figure, I definitely feel a sense of responsibility to speak to the broader community, and to be the example that there’s such a hunger to see political engagement from our communities. It mostly comes down to mentoring and advising people on how to get involved – that is also one of the reasons why I got into politics. I had never known anyone who had run for office before. I want to open up the process to more people. I want them to feel empowered, so I’m very happy to help encourage individuals from diverse communities to get involved in the political process. I see that as a responsibility that I am very proud to fulfill. 

You are now seeking a Democratic nomination for the NJ General Assembly. If elected, what are some key issues you plan to focus on as a legislator? 

SJ: My platform is basically focused on prosperity and justice for all. I believe that the government can be a source of good. The first thing that I would want to focus on is investing in green jobs and sustainable recovery. Our economy has shifted dramatically over the course of the pandemic and now we have an opportunity, as we get things restarted, to do so in a sustainable manner. 

The second would be civil and human rights which is a passion of mine and is really why I got involved in activism to begin with. There are a lot of things that can be put in place to ensure that we are diversifying our police department; that we’re acknowledging indigenous rights; that we are providing maternal healthcare. Those are some of the things that I would be very passionate about advocating for when I get into the State Assembly. 

Lastly, what is the one factor you feel is necessary for anyone to run and get elected to office? 

SJ: Go for it. Women and minorities win elections at the same rate as white men, but we just don’t run as often. So, you’ll just have to jump in and you’ll learn as you go. If you’re interested in politics, I would say the best thing for you to do is to connect with your party and start campaigning for candidates you believe in. Through their experience, you will learn. There is a hunger and a need for people with new perspectives, dynamics, ideas, and a strong work ethic. 


Fatima Naqvi is a Rutgers University graduate who currently works as a Legislative Liaison at the New Jersey Department of Education.


 

Congressman Ro Khanna’s South Bay Town Hall on 2021 Priorities

We currently live in a complex and uncertain world. In addition to this, content can now be created by anyone, anywhere, and published on multiple platforms – it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. However, the proper functioning of democracy and governance relies on citizens being aware of their representatives and issues that they support. Direct and transparent dialogue between the constituents and their representatives ensures the minimization of misinformation. 

It was great to see that Congressman Ro. Khanna (Congressional District 17) and Senator Dave Cortese (Senate District 15) recently hosted a town hall for the constituents of the Bay Area on April 8th, 2021. This was an opportunity for people to engage with their elected representatives and understand their focus on various critical topics like overcoming COVID-19, housing/homelessness, climate change, and more. 

Congressman Khanna mentioned that under the new administration, the federal government has allocated close to 2 billion dollars for infrastructure and development for the area which should help drive positive change within the region. This would help combat homelessness and make affordable housing more accessible. In the last few years, federal cuts in funding to redevelopment agencies had hurt the state’s ability to focus on development projects for the community.

The Bay Area tends to be one of the most diverse and tolerant areas in the US but despite that, it has been contaminated by the recent incidents of hate crimes against Asians. One such assault happened in March when an Asian woman was dragged by the hair and tossed around for over a minute by an assailant who kept cursing her for being Asian. What has been even more troubling is the targeting of the elderly Asian population. 

Both Senator Dave Cortese and Congressman Ro. Khanna expressed deep regret and disappointment at the recent escalation of hate incidents and crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander communities. They urged citizens to speak up when they see these incidents happening and also for citizens to be aware of the history of Asian immigrants in the USA. Some of this history is not taught in schools. 

On the topic of COVID vaccines, Senator Cortese mentioned that the state was currently receiving 1.8 Million vaccine doses per week and that was going to increase to 2.5 million doses per week and then to 3 million doses per week by the end of the month. This increase could help achieve herd immunity sooner if people choose to get vaccinated as they become eligible for vaccines. The senator also shared how he has pushed for recalculation of equity formula for vaccine allotment for Santa Clara county. You can read more on this topic here

It is critical that we keep ourselves well informed about the vaccine and encourage our communities to get vaccinated as the vaccines become available. The recent focus of public health messaging has clearly helped with awareness but we all have to play our part in debunking myths and concerns within the South Asian community to play our part.  

Curious for more information on issues backed by the Senator and Congressman? 

Recently Congressman Khanna was appointed chair of the Subcommittee on Environment. You can read more about the issues that Congressman Khanna is supporting here.

To read more about Senator Cortese’s work you can visit his website.


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.


 

Senate Should Pass Proposed Legislation Protecting Religious Institutions

Washington, DC (April 19, 2018) — With hate crimes motivated by religious bias on the rise, according to the latest FBI statistics, it’s vital that Congress pass legislation making threats against religious institutions a Federal crime and imposing criminal penalties for causing damage or destruction to religious property.

As such, the Hindu American Foundation strongly urges the Senate to pass S. 994, the Protecting Religiously-Affiliated Institutions Act of 2017.

This legislation amends the existing Church Arson Prevention Act to cover bomb threats and other credible threats of violence to community religious institutions and community centers.

The House version of this legislation, HR 1730, was passed last December with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Expressing support for this legislation, HAF leaders say: “Religious communities are feeling increasingly insecure, given the recent uptick in hate motivated incidents and threats, including the recent spate of bomb threats and vandalism against Jewish community institutions and cemeteries, the burning of a mosque in Texas, the vandalism against two Hindu temples in Washington, and the hate crime shooting of Hindu immigrants, Srinivas Kuchibotla and Alok Madasani in Kansas.”

HAF has sent a letter urging passage of S. 994 to Sen. Charles Grassley, Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary, and to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member, Committee of the Judiciary. Read the full letter here.

The bill is currently pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee.