The Time is Right for the Desi Vote

While this year has seen record turnout in primary voting and unprecedented participation by youth voters, all good news, it is still important to keep in mind that national elections can drown out the significance of local, state, and municipal politics. For recently immigrated and recently nationalized communities in the metropolitan centers of this country, participation in local politics has more to do with achieving upward mobility and security than national campaigns. The South Asian community of New York City provides a compelling case for what a widespread and organized effort to register and mobilize voters could look like.

The scope and potential of the South Asian population's contribution to the governance of New York is best emphasized by its size. According to the Census Bureau and the Asian American Federation of New York, the population of Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis totaled 268,807 individuals in 2000. This constitutes just more than three percent of the total New York City population of about 8,000,000. This figure breaks down to 206,228 Indians, 34,310 Pakistanis, and 28,269 Bangladeshis. According to figures from the Queens College Department of Sociology, located in the borough that boasts the most populous and dense concentration of South Asians in the country, one out of every two South Asians over 18 is eligible to vote. However, the voter participation rate of South Asians has historically been rather low in comparison, with specific numbers still being calculated. A number of factors are likely to be responsible for this muted participation, including low levels of English fluency coupled with the unavailability of voter information in native languages, a lack of voter outreach by political candidates and parties in immigrant communities, and the absence of community-based organizations committed to political and civic engagement.

Lower voter turnout is unfortunate because participation in local politics presents immigrant communities with the opportunity to transform themselves into constituent communities. The business, immigration, security, and education interests of immigrant communities are often neglected. Recognition of these interests is only possible through organized political participation that can hold elected officials accountable to the community. Elected officials create policy and base decisions largely on the considerations of their constituents—specifically, the ones who vote and continue to engage with them. Low voter turnout translates into inadequate representation by elected officials of the needs of these communities.

A constituent community can also represent the interests of members lacking citizenship and even those lacking immigration status at all. If the citizen members take up progressive immigration causes on behalf of the non-voters, the community can influence elected officials to advocate for immigrant-friendly policies. A recent example of this strategy in action is the successful passage of Executive Order 41 in New York City. The Latino community with the support of many other immigrant neighborhoods in the city rallied around the proposal and pushed it through City Hall with concerted force. As a result, New York City has a "Don't ask, don't tell" policy towards immigration status that city employees and law enforcement must follow in doing their jobs. This initiative has allowed immigrants to utilize social services and maintain a livelihood without fear of prosecution or deportation and thereby adding to the overall security of the community.

The potential to contribute to legislative innovation similar to Executive Order 41 is substantial. An organized voting bloc in the city could have significant affect on issues such as bilingual education, South Asian language assistance in government services, racial profiling, hate crimes and racially motivated harassment, business opportunities with the state and city, and distribution of public resources. The South Asian community already has a vibrant activist and public interest community that can be called on to help refine the policy goals around these issues and implement effective strategies to help solve them. In cooperation with a large voting bloc these activists would become empowered advocates and the community members most in need would be served better.

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), in its report, "South Asians in the 2004 Election: A Preliminary Analysis of Trends, Patterns, and Attitudes," made an appeal for community leaders to strengthen, expand, and support voter registration and mobilizing efforts. Unfortunately, a consistent and widespread attempt to register and sustain participation on the local level has not occurred. Believing in the importance of this potential, a team of us have started Desis Vote, an organization focused on registering and mobilizing as many South Asian voters in New York City. At the moment, there is a unique opportunity to tap into the social momentum and hype created by the 2008 presidential election, as seen through the Democratic primaries, in order to create a South Asian American political voice. South Asians who are registered to vote could empower the entire community by flocking to polling stations in all upcoming elections and showing the importance of the South Asian ballot in the contest.

We plan to draw voters from the dense South Asian centers of Brooklyn and Queens. The dense concentrations and high numbers of South Asians in these boroughs is an untapped political force that has the ability to make their local elected officials more accountable to them. I want to reiterate that one out of two South Asians in Queens over 18 is eligible to vote; increased participation of these individuals could transform the South Asian community into political brokers and king-makers in several districts.

To further this effort, Desis Vote seeks to create a coalition of existing South Asian organizations and institutions in the New York area that can coordinate to pull together a substantial registration drive. Numerous religious, cultural, and other public interest organizations in the New York area have the capacity to continue to hold voter registration drives and workshops throughout the year and maintain active registration sites. To facilitate the breadth of this effort, Desis Vote would serve as a clearinghouse of resources and support to bolster existing efforts to register voters at established organizations as well as create new opportunities to expand the base of eligible voters through grassroots organizing. We envision a voters' movement that would be aimed towards reinvigorating the culture of civic participation and would sustain itself well after the presidential election hype. We have currently drafted several organizations to the coalition and secured seed money for outreach. We are actively fundraising in the community and a website (Desisvote.org) is under construction.

The moment is ripe to transform the South Asian community into a constituent community during the 2008 election cycle and beyond. The current climate of political participation in America provides the ideal momentum to launch such a campaign. It is time to find out whether the South Asian community is ready to join the electorate.

Comments

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http://www.accounting-and-bookkeeping-tips.com/ The South Asian association of New York City provides a acute case for what a boundless and organized accomplishment to annals and activate voters could attending like.

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