Tag Archives: #progressive

City Hall Socialists’ Indian Concerns

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

Ever since the Seattle City Council ran a campaign to pass a controversial resolution against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last year, there has been a flurry of similar anti-India resolutions in many other US cities. India enacted the CAA after both its Sansad (Parliament) houses passed it. The Act expedites the immigration process of the persecuted minorities of the Islamic republics of the Indian subcontinent to India. 

Leading some of these resolutions were leaders of Indian subcontinental background with radical socialist ideology. They oppose Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, the Indian People’s Party). Incidentally, Modi received a massive mandate in 2019 to win a second 5-year term in office. These socialist leaders also have overt and covert support from organizations with explicit anti-India and anti-Hindu agenda. 

India is the largest democracy and the fifth largest economy globally. It is least bothered by attempts at bullying by fringe groups. Beyond mere optics, these resolutions are as meaningless as they are useless. They remind me of the resolutions my leftist comrade friends in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) used to pass in their GBMs (General Body Meetings) and other gatherings frequently. The comrades, belonging to the students’ wings of some of the most radical and violent communist groups in India, would threaten the ‘capitalist Americans’ and the US President with dire consequences if they did not stop their ‘imperialist takeover.’

These city council resolutions, at one level, are a typical example of the ‘wag the dog’ syndrome and a PR stunt to stay in the news. In this case, these city leaders are making desperate attempts to hide their failures as city administrators by focusing on other countries’ issues over which they have no control. In the process, they waste tax-payer money, public time, and resources on things that are not in their jurisdiction.   

Most US cities are reeling under a deteriorating law-and-order situation. For example, Seattle has been the hub of Antifa-BLM violence since the tragic death of George Floyd. Besides frequent looting, rioting, and arson, the city also saw an increased level of homicide. The protestors laid siege to the state Capitol building for days and created Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), ran their parallel government with security, etc. There were riots about 200 miles south in Portland almost every night for months after the initial BLM protests. The rioters vandalized, damaged, and burnt businesses, government and private buildings, and homes. 

Minneapolis saw a sharp rise in the crime rate as police officers quit en masse due to looming funding cuts. “Day and night, the bullets zip through this predominantly Black neighborhood, hitting cars, and home, and people,” reported the Washington Post. In Chicago, the weekend shootings have become a common phenomenon. By November of last year, the city had recorded 3,033 shooting and 717 killings, a 50% increase from over a year ago.

Many of these city council members seem ‘concerned’ about human rights in other countries. However, they seem entirely comfortable with lockdowns, censorship, and curtailment of other civil liberties under one pretext or other in their communities. They also seem unperturbed with the rising homelessness and economic disparities in the cities they serve. They have also turned a blind eye to the persecution of religious minorities in the Islamic republics of the Indian subcontinent.

Protesters hold a banner for the San Francisco Democratic Socialists of America at a Patriot Prayer counter-protest in San Francisco. (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

One common thread that connects these anti-India resolutions, incidentally, is the rise of the socialist group, most notably the Democratic Socialists of America. With a clear socialist agenda, their focus seems to capture power seats at the ground level. These socialists do not shy away from criticizing even the liberals, progressives, and Democrats for being “insufficiently leftist.” In the past four years, several dozen socialist candidates have won electoral victories in cities like Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, etc. 

The style of functioning of these leaders, Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute calls them City Hall Socialists, is “disruptive… often ripped from the handbook of radical activists like Saul Alinski,” writes Malanga. These socialists are making significant inroads into the Democrat Party. In some cities, they have gained a reputation as “audacious outsiders crashing the Democratic Party.”

The Socialist movement has attracted many from the Indian subcontinent. Mostly from the younger second-generation immigrant background, these young leaders have experienced electoral successes. Some of them won the down-ballot races, and their accomplishments indicate a leftward-shift, including a transition from mere community activism to electoral politics. With their electoral and legislative successes at the lowest levels of democracy, these socialists create an ecosystem that will sustain them in the long run.


Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Featured image by SounderBruce under this license.

An Appeal to Progressive Fence Sitters

On social media and in real life, we all know friends and family members who complain with good reason that there is little sunlight between establishment Democrats and Republicans on many matters of policy such as race, immigration, and use of U.S. power in foreign affairs. They argue that in dealing with these challenges, the Democrats and Republicans are like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, peas of the same pod. They would, for example, argue that under President Obama, more people were deported than under any other President (including George W. Bush); that drones during his eight-year Presidency killed many innocent civilians; and that Obama sent 60,000 additional troops into Afghanistan.

Following this logic, some people might even propose that there is not a huge difference between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, and that Trump has been in fact a strong leader on trade and economy. 

At the same time, we need to recognize that politics is ultimately the art of the possible and the choice we make every four years does have consequences for the U.S. and for the rest of the world. More than ever before, we simply don’t have the ostrich-like option to sit out this election or vote for a third party candidate. Indeed, if we view Donald Trump as a serious danger to a fully functioning democracy in the U.S., we must seriously consider voting for Biden/Harris ticket. Not voting for Biden on November 3 is effectively another vote for Trump. 

None of our Presidents in the past would meet our highest standards in every imaginable way.

Thomas Jefferson played a major role in shaping our constitutional ideals of life, liberty, and happiness for one and all, but then there is the Sally Hemings story along with his contradictory views and actions on slavery.

With the partial exception of Abraham Lincoln (who grew in ethical stature while in office), no major U.S. President has been without blemish or has met our radical criteria or expectations.

Franklin Roosevelt created societal safety nets (including our hallowed Social Security system), brought us out of the Great Depression with compassion and empathy, and helped the Allies to rid us of the scourge of fascism in WWII, but he was also the one who placed 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps.

Lyndon B. Johnson would get an A-plus on Civil Rights (on par with Lincoln in many ways), but he would probably get a D-minus on the Vietnam War. But here is the reality check on our frequently limited choices: the country and the world would have definitely been better off under Albert Gore than under George W. Bush. At the very least, the Iraq War would NOT have happened and the trillion-plus dollars spent on that senseless war would likely have gone into building infrastructure and fighting climate change in the US. We need to learn not only what happened in the past, but also from the might-have-beens of history. 

We believe without a doubt that the U.S. and the world, our healthcare and environment, our civil rights, and civil liberties will be much better off under Biden than under the imperious, narcissistic Trump in his second term. Biden’s decency and sense of empathy can help to heal the divisions and wounds that have been inflicted upon us since 2016. Also, let us not forget Biden has evolved on many important issues surrounding race and law enforcement and has openly expressed regrets for some of his earlier regressive policies and views, in the process of embracing some of the more progressive positions on education and healthcare. 

This perspective is not without relevance to the current situation in India too. The BJP could not have won majorities in 2014 and 2019 with the support of hardcore RSS cadres alone. Indeed, voters who subscribe to “soft Hindutva” are largely responsible for the electoral success of BJP under Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Some academics and intellectuals in urban centers of India tend to rationalize their support for Modi by exclaiming: “Do you see anyone else we could have voted for? At least we voted for someone who is a strong leader.” Such a focus on a strong leader, away from democratic values and ideals, is eerily reminiscent of how Germans described their choice in the 1930s. 

In the U.S. context, we hope that the Biden/Harris team find a way of accepting the challenge of defanging the military-industrial complex that has insidiously kept almost all 20th Century Presidents from both parties in the grip of huge defense budgets and dispensable military adventures abroad. No one spoke more clearly and accurately on that foundational problem of “America” in relation to the world than an Army General, a Republican President named Dwight G. Eisenhower. No President in the past six decades has heeded the prescient warning Eisenhower had issued in 1961, at the end of his eight years in the White House:

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together. 

Of course, Eisenhower remained fully immersed in the logic of the Cold War. John F. Kennedy too could not shake that off. And even in 2020, we have still not weaned ourselves from the logic of competing superpowers. We hope the Biden/Harris team, when inaugurated on January 20, 2021, will pay heed to Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream of building a “beloved community” at both home and abroad, pursuing peace and prosperity for individuals and groups within the U.S. and between nations around the world. We will all need to work hard to keep them honest during the next four years.


Amritjit Singh is Langston Hughes Professor Emeritus at Ohio University and lives in Austin, Texas.

Nidhi Trehan is a sociologist focusing on minority rights and political mobilization and is co-founder of TheySeeBlue’s Austin chapter, part of an all-volunteer network of South Asians across the US dedicated to getting out the vote for Democrats.

1776 Words From an American Immigrant

My earliest “memory” of America is of my father telling me about the moon landing. “John F Kennedy said we will put a man on the moon in 10 years and the Americans did it.” As a little girl growing up in India, I imagined a country called America whose presidents were visionaries, whose people believed in science, and whose spirit was ambitious.

My second “memory” of America is reading about WWII. “Roosevelt told the American people not to fear, and it was under his leadership that the Allies won the war”. I imagined this president who had suffered from Polio himself; his determination forged in the crucible of personal trials, and I imagined Americans as a courageous lot, willing to sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

My third “memory” of America is of watching the news about the first Gulf War. “The US president George H.W. Bush is a Navy pilot himself, who flew 58 missions in WWII”. By this time, I was fascinated by American leaders – full of enterprise, conviction, and personal courage. And my heart was full of respect and admiration for this far-off place.

That America; the country of my imagination is what I immigrated to as a young woman. I came to America because I thought it was the best country on the planet, and I came to offer it the best I had. I came to America because I believed in the ideals that I thought were seeped into the soil of this great country. I am not the only one who came for that reason. Many of us who grew up in countries around the world imagined America to be a receptacle for the best one has to offer, a place where dreams and ambitions came true, a shining city on the hill.

Living in America, I came to know more about its history. I learned that the truth was far more nuanced, the country far more complex, its policies and leaders far more flawed than the little girl had imagined. Yet with all its flaws and complexity, it was a country that, to my immigrant eyes, appeared to forever strive to become a more perfect union, a place where people hardly cared about where you came from but were always interested in where you were going, a place where mastery of craft was valued over superficial achievements, a place where what you knew was more important than who you knew. I felt at home in such a place.

I saw the twin towers fall on 9/11 and cried alongside hundreds of thousands of Americans – the gaping hole in the NYC skyline left a hole in my heart too. When yelled at by a bunch of white teenagers in a car next to me telling me to f*** off, and go back to my country, I was shocked at first, but quickly understood it to be misplaced anger of young Americans who also had a hole in their hearts. I was against the war in Iraq, and so I marched alongside thousands, participating in the finest American tradition of non-violent protest – the tradition that brought India its own independence from the mighty British Empire, the tradition that had made its way from Thoreau to Gandhi back to MLK Jr. in a karmic loop between my two homes. I felt dismayed at the cacophony of fake debate around climate change fueled by the fossil fuel industry and perpetuated by the likes of Fox News. Although I couldn’t vote yet, my heart swelled with pride when Americans elected their first black president, and when that president corralled every single country on the planet into the Paris Climate Agreement, in an effort to save the world from imminent climate disaster, I told friends and family back in India – this is what American leadership looks like, it’s still alive! They didn’t need to be told, they knew it too.

Nothing prepared me for the shock of Donald Trump. I remember when I first heard Donald Trump as a candidate – I was caught speechless at the parallels I saw and heard between what he said & how he behaved, and the politicians I had grown up listening to & watching in India. Nothing about him felt “American” to me – no vision, no courage, no brilliance, no statesmanship, no building of bridges. All I heard was hate-mongering, fear-mongering, and showmanship of the worst kind. Having grown up in a deeply sexist country, it was Donald Trump’s treatment of and rhetoric on women that told me that sexism is not only very much alive in America but is now acceptable in American leaders. 

I couldn’t believe what else I was learning about candidate Trump – the fraud his businesses indulged in, the thousands of lawsuits he was embroiled in – many of which he openly gloated as bullying tactics against people far less powerful than himself – when did fraud and bullying become something to gloat over in America? Unlike other presidents before him, Trump neither served in the military nor showed respect for others who did, calling John McCain a loser.  He rallied his followers into obscene chants to lock up his political opponents and brandished the possibility of an armed revolt if he happened to lose the election. I was awestruck – American democracy and its political landscape were devolving in front of my very eyes. 

The idealist part of me couldn’t believe that Trump could possibly win the hallowed office of the American presidency. But another part dreaded what it innately knew from having a lived experience of a far more corrupt, dog-eat-dog political system – people like Trump win, and often, not despite their hateful rhetoric but because of it. There are leaders who call for us to be guided by the better angels of our nature and not give into fear – great visionaries like Lincoln and FDR. And then there are those who give permission to act out our worst inclinations, goad us to fall for the lowest common denominator. I saw many such politicians win elections over and over in India. I thought it wasn’t possible in America – my shining city on the hill. I was wrong.

November 9, 2016 – I knew in my bones that American democracy had been dealt a severe blow, I felt in my heart that the American promise of democracy – with malice towards none and charity for all had been ripped asunder, I saw the promise of America fade for friends & family abroad, almost overnight. I could only hope that President Trump would be a better man than candidate Trump.

Four years of his presidency proved that hope false. Every day I see a president, who refuses to rise to the stature of his office, lies ad nauseam, insults the military, denies science and disrespects scientists, surrounds himself with criminals and when they are convicted pardons them, keeps petty scores & tweets against ordinary Americans and American businesses. A president, who brazenly indulges in nepotism; his appointment of family members to cherished positions in his administration acutely reminds me of the nepotism rife in Indian politics. A president who had promised to “drain the swamp” but has instead turned the government into a cesspool of corruption like never before, with every department headed by industry lobbyists, pillaging people’s money for private profit. 

Friends and family around the world marvel at what my fellow Americans bought into but I have no answer to them. I am not sure if ordinary Americans are able to see how much this country has changed in the span of 4 years. If the old adage, “united we stand, divided we fall” is something to learn from, we have fallen very far indeed. I see signs on lawns around where I live saying “make liberals cry again”; emblematic of a country full of hate and division, and I wonder how it came to pass, that happiness to some is to make their fellow Americans cry. I see signs at white supremacist rallies saying “Diversity = White Genocide” and I realize I am being told that my very existence as a brown person is a threat to theirs, that this country belongs to white people & white immigrants – meaning my white immigrant husband is welcome but I am not. I remember those kids in the car after 9/11, telling me to go back to my country. Except that this time, it is the American President himself saying those words, for that is what he tells me when he calls those white supremacists “very fine people”. 

For 4 long years, Donald Trump simply refused to be my President. He refused to be my President when he refused to govern with any manner of decency or grace. He refused to be my President because he refused to inspire Americans to come together in a common purpose, instead pitting them against one another, so they are more divided than ever before since the civil war. He refused to be my President when he put immigrants – asylum-seekers & their children; the proverbial “tired, poor and hungry” in cages – is this how America treats its immigrants? He refuses to be my President when he undermines the work of medical professionals, scientists, and state governors, even as 200,000+ Americans have died under his watch. He refuses to be my President when he refuses to acknowledge the enormity of Climate Chaos, squandering what could have been another “moon-shot” moment for America, willfully pushing Americans and the world closer to the edge of disaster. He refused to be my President because he could not ascend to the stature his office behooves, warranting a spirit of humility, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. Instead, he has turned the country I was proud of, into an object of pity around the world. So much for the promise of making it great.

Despite his self-proclaimed greatness, comparing himself to Lincoln and asking for his face to be added to Mount Rushmore, Trump has left the American spirit and its moral ascendancy around the world in tatters. He is already ranked by historians & scholars, and seen by much of the world, as one of the worst American presidents ever. In its nearly 250-year-old history, America has had 45 presidents, all of them powerful for a brief period, yet most of them forgotten soon after. That’s the nature of history; it turns the once-mighty into nothing but dust, it is poised to do the same to this one. 

But from the eyes of this immigrant, Donald Trump would forever be seen and remembered as the President of the Divided States of America.


Swati Srivastava is a film-maker, an environmentalist, and a first generation immigrant in the USA. She can be reached via Linkedin and [email protected]