“We wanted to be seen not just as a funding machine,” says Jack Hession of IARC.
IARC works to develop chapter affiliates throughout the nation and assist them in their own grassroots organization which in turn encourages Indian-Americans to become politically active within the Republican Party at the local and national levels. Although the main headquarters is in Washington D.C., there are chapters in Georgia, Florida, Missouri, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Southern California.
IARC is domestically focused. Hession says that some first and second generation Indian-Americans lean toward Republican beliefs. He says many Indian-Americans believe in conservative politics and family values—hallmarks of the Republican Party, adding that many are entrepreneurs whose beliefs also jive with Republican philosophies.
Former president Bill Clinton’s party has not been neglected, though. Democrats have a South Asian following as well. South Asians for John Kerry in 2004 (SAKI) raises funds and campaigns for the Massachusetts senator. The group raised almost $30,000 at a fundraiser at Mantra, an Indian restaurant in Boston, Anwar says.
On July 10, SAKI held a breakfast fundraiser for the Kerry/Edwards campaign at Pier 92 in Manhattan in conjunction with Kerry Victory 2004. Both John Kerry and John Edwards were present, and the group raised close to $1 million.
In between Democrats and Republicans lie non-partisan South Asians. USINPAC, a group recognized by the Federal Election Commission, tries to fill this void. The funds it generates are distributed according to issues found to be most important to Indian-Americans through grassroots surveys. USINPAC gives to both Republicans and Democrats, and Chokshi says they give fairly equally between both parties.
“Any candidate who supports our issues in the community is who we work with,” Chokshi said.
Baber Ali’s organization, The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), also does not endorse either presidential candidate. Rather, it is an issue-based group that provides information on both candidates. The group holds informational meetings in the community and addresses issues with Congress. Recently, MPAC gave testimony to the 9/11 Commission on behalf of Muslim Americans.
The Future: Looking Past November 2nd
The true test of South Asian political clout will be the maintenance of political engagement and momentum once the election is over.
“You only become active in something if you think it’s important,” Pandya says, adding that people need to realize that political involvement is always important. “That comes from realizing that all things are affecting us.”
South Asians are not always involved in local politics. Ali personally believes that local politics are the best place to begin civic engagement.
“Find an issue that you’re passionate about,” Ali says. “A lot of the issues we’re concerned about are local. All politics are local, and [politicians] have to respond to the local politics eventually.”
Chokshi echoes that sentiment: “Be more involved with the issues that you think are important to you and voice those issues.” She adds that if you have contributed to a political campaign and do not see action, you should follow up.
While many South Asians came to America in search of the American dream, “a lot of South Asians are concerned about their children growing up and being able to find a good job,” Anwar says. “A lot of them want an even better dream for the next generation.
While it was Mahatma Gandhi, of the last generation who said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” decades later, with the empowerment of money and numbers, many South Asians of the next generation have taken that message to a different continent and made it their creed.