On Election Day in November, we witnessed the Republicans keep a stronghold on the Senate and the Democrats take over the House. Many South Asians, Arabs and women ascended to office and we witnessed many “firsts.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest person elected to Congress. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib both became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Clearly, diverse people are gaining traction in Congress, but it left me wondering one thing: Who do young desis want running for president in 2020?
So once the excitement of Election Day settled down, I embarked on a journey to make a list of the most wanted candidates. I asked handfuls of young desis in my circles hailing from nearly all parts of the USA: the Midwest, the South, and the Northeast.
There are rumors floating around that we might see Hillary Clinton make a reappearance and that Donald Trump will run again as the incumbent Republican. Despite what’s in the news, young desis have a completely different vision for 2020.
Beto was by far the most mentioned political candidate. He has progressive ideas and would be a fresh face for the Democratic Party; moreover, he belongs to a younger generation and will have new ideas to solve old problems. And let’s not forget that this man almost flipped Texas from “red” to “blue” – a great feat in itself despite his loss. Beto for sure struck a chord with young Americans across the country, especially the ever-growing South Asian population in the Texas metro areas. One con sticks out about Beto, though. He lacks in experience at the national level and needs a stronger track record to win the trust of Americans.
A favorite of California Democrats, Harris has been a popular choice among desis. She is half-Indian, half-Black and has a long history as a government attorney. The ability to relate to someone’s background is just as important as having a good track record to young desis. Some even said they want to see Beto as Harris’s Vice President! Despite Harris’s years of experience, some young desis expressed disdain for her status as a prosecutor. For many, prison reform is important and having a prosecutor in a position of creating criminal justice policy nationally is concerning.
Booker is the former Mayor of Newark, the first black U.S. Senator from New Jersey, and apparently the most popular Senator in Silicon Valley where a concentration of young desis work and live. Booker has experience both in local and state politics making a descent on to the national stage a logical next step for him. On the other hand, Booker has often been painted as a voice for the rich and his stances on certain policy issues could be considered performative.
Ah yes, Uncle Joe. Everyone’s favorite Vice President with the best bromance of all time with former President Obama. Rumors say he may be considering a run, and quite frankly, he seems to be a popular contender for 2020. Many considered Biden to likable for both Democrats and Republicans. With experience as Vice President, there is hope that he would make a great president as well. Some even speculate borderline Republicans would vote Democrat just for him. Despite being considered a sweetheart of sorts by the masses, Biden does have a history of being “handsy” and creepy with women. In fact, here are some pictures for your viewing.
Young and accomplished, Gabbard appeals to many desis because she herself is a person of color who follows Hinduism. She established herself after being elected to the state legislature at just age 21. Her experience is vast and she gained followers during the 2016 election with her connection to Sanders. For those who value military service, she has served in both Iraq and Kuwait, winning her points with the defense industry enthusiasts.
Are you still feeling the Bern? Apparently many desis are. Bernie ran in the Democratic primary and lost to Clinton which sparked various scandals and disdain for the Democratic National Committee. Despite that, people are still hopeful and still argue that Bernie has what it takes to defeat Trump. Some are hopeful for his 2020 run but others think a less progressive and socialist candidate is necessary to strip away moderate and wavering voters from Trump’s base.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of candidates preferred by desi Americans, but it certainly is a starting point for us to consider what kind of change young South Asians want, what issues are important to us, and what we look for in our government representatives.
Is there someone else you’d want to have seen on this list? Who do YOU want in 2020? Let me know in the comments!
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