The following post reflects the author’s own views and is not a representation or an official endorsement of any candidate by Brown Girl Magazine. We will not be endorsing any candidate running for the 2020 presidential election.
Progressives across the United States and the world faced disappointment as the last remaining progressive presidential candidate in the U.S., Senator Bernie Sanders, suspended his campaign on April 8. Arguably the father of the modern progressive movement, Sanders helped reinvigorate young voters, minority voters, and populations long disenfranchised by our current political system.
The culmination of his work has propelled the democratic party in a direction that many said was impossible, even idealist if you will. He has paved the way for many politicians including, U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, both younging, women of color to hold a seat of power. Sanders has held these values long before they were popular—and long before many of us Millennials and Gen-Zers were even alive. He was ahead of his time, unwavering in his beliefs and while his presidential campaign may be over, the fight is not. Let’s take a look back at and honor Sanders’s steadfast and progressive political career.
Prior to beginning a career in politics, Sanders was a member of several progressive-minded groups in college including the Congress of Racial Equality and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating. During this time he also attended the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech in August of 1963. In the same month, Sanders was arrested on the South Side of Chicago while protesting racial inequality. His college career and activism depict how has long been an ally to and an advocate for the marginalized community.
From the start Sanders has spoken on women’s rights, “It strikes me as incredible that politicians think that they have the right to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body. This is especially true in Vermont, where we have a legislature which is almost completely dominated by men,” he said in 1972.
In 2020, we are still fighting this battle.
In 1976, he campaigned outside of a prison where he stated: “It says a great deal about our country that the richer our country gets, the more of us there are behind prison bars and that an overwhelming number of those who are in jail are poor, nonwhites.”
Sanders was clearly ahead of his time.However, these were far from popular ideas in that era. From 1972 to 1976 he ran for governor and the U.S. Senate twice on the Liberty Union ticket and lost. In each election, he never received more than 7 percent of the vote.
Then in 1981, at 39-years-old, he won his first political election running as independent to become mayor of Burlington, Vermont. He won by 10 votes. This election highlights why voting in local elections is just as important as voting in the national general election where the president is elected indirectly by individuals in each state through the Electoral College.
“The real issue is not whether you’re black or white, whether you’re a woman or a man. In my view, a woman could be elected president of the United States. The real issue is whose side are you on? Are you on the side of workers and poor people, or are you on the side of big money and the corporations?” he said in 1988 with no fear despite the popular notion that electing a female or black president was unthinkable.
Sanders remained mayor for four terms until 1989 during which time he unsuccessfully ran for governor of Vermont in 1986 and for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1988. H lost by only 3.7 percentage points, Politico reported—but this would be the turning point in his political career.
In 1990, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives again as an independent and won 56 percent of the votes. Sanders remained in the House until he ran for U.S. Senate and won in 2006. He has served in the Senate since the beginning of his first term in 2007.
“My ears may have been playing a trick on me, but I thought I heard the gentleman a moment ago say something quote unquote about homos in the military. Was I right in hearing that expression? Was the gentleman referring to the thousands and thousands of gay people who have put their lives on the line in countless wars defending this country? Was that the groups of people that the gentleman was referring to? You have insulted thousands of men and women who have put their lives on the line. I think they are owed an apology,” Sanders said when defending people of the LGBTQ community in 1995.
He once again addressed universal healthcare in 1997: “I have always been a proponent of a national health care system. It just seemed eminently fair and right. How can we call this a civilized society when the children or parents of the rich get the medical attention they need in order to stay alive, while members of working-class families, who lack health insurance, have to die or needlessly suffer—or go hopelessly into debt to get the care they need? This is an outrageous injustice and it cannot be rationally defended.”
This brings us to Sanders’s first bid for president in 2016 when he ran against former first lady, Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary. While he was unable to secure the Democratic nomination, this marks the time when Sanders’s platform and relevant progressive policies could no longer be ignored.
At 78-years-old, Sanders’s 2020 presidential bid is likely to be his last. But what we have gained from him and his persistence over the past 50 years will not be forgotten. He is a true leader. At a time when many are suffering from unemployment and subsequent loss of insurance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sanders pledged to keep his campaign staffers on their healthcare plan through November. He doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks right beside us.
In a recent interview, world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author, Noam Chomsky stated: “It’s common to say now that the Sanders campaign failed. I think that’s a mistake. I think it was an extraordinary success, completely shifted the arena of debate and discussion. Issues that were unthinkable a couple of years ago are now right in the middle of attention.”
He added: “The worst crime he committed, in the eyes of the establishment, is not the policy he’s proposing; it’s the fact that he was able to inspire popular movements, which had already been developing — Occupy, Black Lives Matter, many others — and turn them into an activist movement, which doesn’t just show up every couple years to push a leader and then go home, but applies constant pressure, constant activism and so on. That could affect a Biden administration.”
To all of the disheartened progressives out there, we may have lost our candidate, but we have not lost hope. It is our turn to pick up the flaming torch Sanders has left for us and carry the movement forward.
The following open letter is written by Hindus for Human Rights, an organization advocating for pluralism, civil and human rights in South Asia and North America, rooted in the values of Hindu faith: shanti (peace), nyaya (justice) and satya (truth). They provide a Hindu voice of resistance to caste, Hindutva (Hindu nationalism), racism, and all forms of bigotry and oppression.
Dear President Biden,
As Indian-Americans, human rights organizations, and concerned allies, we are writing to urge you to engage publicly and meaningfully to push back against the Indian government’s escalating attacks on human rights and democracy, especially ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s state visit to the United States.
Despite objective evidence that India’s democracy is under critical attack, you have not spoken out about this crisis. In early 2023, Indian authorities conducted retaliatory raids on the BBC’s Delhi and Mumbai offices for releasing a documentary about Prime Minister Modi. The week before the Summit for Democracy, the Indian government made three successive attacks on Indian democracy. First, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party expelled Rahul Gandhi from Parliament. Second, the Indian government shut the internet down in Punjab, severely impacting the rights for Sikhs to peacefully organize and protest. And third, the Indian Supreme Court ruled that Indians can be found guilty by association for terrorism. And yet, not one representative from the Biden Administration said anything about even one of these developments. Instead, while Islamophobic violence gripped India in late March, you invited Prime Minister Modi to speak at the Summit for Democracy. Mr. Modi visits DC at a time when the state of Manipur has experienced heavy communal and anti-Christian violence after Modi’s ruling party pushed an initiative to undermine Indigenous rights in the state.
“As privileged members of the diaspora, it’s our duty to challenge the repressive practices of the current regime in India. We stand in solidarity with those … opposed to the government’s attempt to reshape the country into a Hindu nationalist state. https://t.co/RxU9wUy2Zy
Even when confronted with questions by Indian reporters about human rights in India, your administration has only had private two-way conversations about how both of our governments can always improve. Quite frankly, we find it unacceptable to see such equivocation on Indian democracy from an administration that has been strident in its defense of American democracy and the rule of law.
India is one of the fastest autocratizing nations in the world, mostly thanks to the current government. Freedom House has rated India as a “partly-free” country for the past three years, and has blamed Prime Minister Modi’s government for a rise in discriminatory policies, including persecution against Muslims and caste-based violence against Dalit and Adivasi communities; harassment of civil society, protestors, academia and the media, and the targeting of political opponents. It has also rated Indian-administered Kashmir as “not free,” citing violations of human, civil, and political rights after the Modi government revoked the territory’s autonomous status. In Reporters Without Borders‘ press freedom ranking, India has dropped to 161 out of 180 countries in 2023. India has appeared in the Committee to Protect Journalists’ Impunity Index — which examines accountability for unsolved journalists’ murders — every year for the past 15 years and currently ranks in 11th place worldwide. According to PEN America’s Freedom to Write Index, in 2022, India was one of the top 10 countries that jailed writers globally. The Varieties of Democracy Institute characterizes India as an “electoral autocracy” and blames India’s descent into autocracy on Prime Minister Modi. And the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has said India has been one of the top 15 countries at risk for a mass atrocity event every year since 2017, which reflects the toxicity of Indian politics under Modi.
“If the President meets with PM Modi, then the protection of the Muslim minority in a majority Hindu India is something worth mentioning…if you do not protect the rights of ethnic minorities, there’s a strong possibility India starts pulling apart.” Thank you @BarackObama! https://t.co/RhcMNfiqaR
Given the magnitude of this crisis, we ask you to engage directly with Indian-American and human rights civil society leaders to explore solutions to address India’s human rights crisis. We also ask you to employ the tools at your disposal to ensure that the Indian government cannot attack Indians’ human rights with impunity. As the 2022 Bureau for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor report details, several government individuals have committed human rights violations that, under U.S. law, would qualify them to be sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Act. Indian security forces that have engaged in human rights violations should have security assistance rescinded, under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.
Finally, we urge you to publicly call on the Indian government to honor its commitments to human rights, including calling on Prime Minister Modi and his cabinet to halt the use of anti-terror laws to arbitrarily detain political critics. You can publicly denounce the rising numbers of political prisoners and the weaponization of the rule of law in India to shut down criticism. Even if you are not willing to personally criticize the Prime Minister, you have ample opportunity to criticize the Indian government’s misuse of public trust and public institutions to consolidate power and undermine the will of the Indian people.
This morning in DC, on the lawn of The White House at the welcome reception for Modi.
As President of the United States of America, you hold a unique position to lead the fight against authoritarianism. Prime Minister Modi will listen to you when you speak. But he and his allies will only change if you take a stand publicly. We urge you to listen to those of us who care about India and ensure that one man cannot steal the futures and the rights of our loved ones in India.
— Signed by countless organizations and individuals leading the charge (linked here).
Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting.
In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance eventcentered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.
In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships.
Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality.SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.
While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.
Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular