Pakistani-American Community Mobilizes in Support of Obama
A Pakistan Link Report
Senator Obama speaks at the South Asian Fundraiser in San Francisco
Newport Beach, CA: Pakistani American and the South Asian American community stepped up its efforts to raise funds and mobilize votes in support of the Democratic Party and Senator Obama.
The Democratic Party recently institutionalized these efforts by forming the South Asian American Leadership Council (SAALC). Chairman DNC Gov. Howard Dean launched SAALC and appointed Parag Saxena, Romita Shetty, Dilawar Syed and Kashif Zafar as National Co-Chairs at a launch event in New York City in early August.
Pakistan Link recently sat down with the four national co-chairs for an exclusive Q&A. These leaders share with us the objectives of this South Asian platform in the DNC, Obama's policy on Pakistan and domestic issues of interest to our community. They outline the initiatives the group undertook at the recently concluded DNC Convention in Denver, and various events the community has hosted across the country.
Q 1.Tell us about the South Asian Leadership Council in the Democratic National Committee; and your role as National Co-chairs.
A. The DNC’s South Asian American Leadership Council will lead the Party's efforts to recognize the loyalty, dedication, and generous contributions of the South Asian American community to the Democratic Party, and to provide a platform for political engagement and a forum for the exchange of ideas for South Asian American Democrats. South Asian American Leadership Council and its leadership was appointed by Gov. Howard Dean, Chairman DNC in early August.
The Democratic Party is the oldest political party in the world. As South Asian Americans we know that this is OUR Party. We have had not only a seat at the table, but a place on the ballot in the Party since the election of Dalip Singh Saund to Congress in 1958. Over the next nine weeks, the SAALC will reach out to our rapidly growing and diverse communities to make sure they understand what is at stake for us in this historic election and why we must support Senators Barack Obama and Joe Biden with our time, our resources and our votes. Our country must move forward and embrace real and meaningful change in policies that affect the state of the economy, education, immigration, healthcare and a sensible foreign policy.
Q.2. What role the South Asian Community, and specifically, the Pakistani American community can play in the political process in this presidential campaign?
A. With our population in the US surpassing 3 million, the South Asian American community can be the deciding vote in this year’s elections in key states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Florida and even Georgia. Senator Obama’s decision to campaign in all 50 states opens the door for our community to be a part of this campaign no matter where they live.
Elections are about engaging, mobilizing and energizing communities. The DNC and the Obama campaign spent much of this summer engaging our communities through finance events, policy briefings, and platform discussions. Through this outreach, we have raised unprecedented funds from the community, articulated our message of change and made clear the positions of our Party. That leaves mobilization. South Asian – and, specifically Pakistani Americans – can play a critical role by registering to vote, educating their friends, family and neighbors about the elections and, by volunteering to help with the campaign and, of course, by voting for Democrats up and down the ballot on Tuesday, November 4th.
Senator Obama is introduced by Dilawar Syed and Kamil Hasan
Q 3. What led you to become involved in the political process, and support Senator Obama's candidacy?
A. We have learned over time that in order to have our voices heard when it comes to issues that are important to our community, we must engage politically. There is no alternative to active political engagement if we are to constructively influence the outcome of the ongoing debates on civil rights, immigration, education, healthcare, trade and foreign policy. Senator Obama has energized a large number of South Asian Americans to get involved in the political process through his message of hope and change. We share his views about the changes that are needed in our country's domestic and foreign policy to move us forward as a nation
Q 4. How would you describe Senator Obama's position on Pakistan?
A. Senators Obama and Biden want to build a broad-based and lasting relationship with the people of Pakistan — not just temporary and fleeting alliances with individuals. Senator Obama holds consistent and long-standing positions in support of a constitutional democracy, independent judiciary and the rule of law in Pakistan. While the U.S. and Pakistan must continue to work together to combat terrorism that has claimed innocent lives in both countries, Senator Obama will make helping Pakistan in areas such as education, poverty alleviation, and healthcare a key priority by significantly increasing non-military aid in these areas. We have also seen Senator Biden’s commitment to this relationship as Chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee. Earlier this summer, Senator Biden led his committee to pass - by a unanimous vote – the landmark Biden-Lugar bill which will triple non-military aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion. Senator Obama is a proud co-sponsor of this legislation.
Q 5. On domestic front what distinguishes Senator Obama from Senator McCain on issues important to our community such as immigration, civil rights and education?
A. Our immigration system is hopelessly broken. Senator Obama believes we have to fix our immigration system to increase the number of people we allow into the country legally to a level that unites families and meets the demand for workers. The South Asian American communities have been deeply concerned since the anti-immigrant debates on immigration in California in 1994 and nationally in 2006. An Obama administration would increase the number of immigration visas for family members of people living here and for immigrants who meet the demand for jobs that employers can not fill, as long as appropriate labor market protections and standards are in place. Senators Obama and Biden will fight discrimination against Americans who have always played by our immigration rules but are sometimes treated as if they had not. Finally, he supports a system that requires undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, pay taxes, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.
Senator Obama is a former professor of Constitutional law and the son of an immigrant father. He understands the rule of law must be upheld. He also understands that each wave of immigrants has made America stronger and better. That is why he has spent much of his career working on issues of civil rights by fighting to end racial profiling, expand hate crimes statutes, protect voting rights, promote religious freedom and restore habeas corpus and due process. In the wake of September 11th, many people in our communities found themselves the target of suspicion and discrimination. Senator Obama knows what it means to have one’s loyalty to this country challenged. That is why he will never allow anyone to question the patriotism of our communities.
Finally, on issues of education, Senator Obama wants to make science and math education a top priority in our schools. He wants to ensure competent and effective teachers in schools organized for success. The Obama-Biden education plan would expand service scholarships to underwrite high-quality preparation for teachers who commit to working in underserved districts, support ongoing improvements in teacher education, provide mentoring for beginning teachers and reward accomplished teachers for their expertise. Senator Obama’s Teaching Service Scholarship program will prioritize recruiting math, science and technology degree graduates, and his Teacher Residency Program will further supply teachers in these high-needs subject areas. Finally, for all the parents worried about the increasing cost of college tuition, Senators Obama and Biden will make college affordable for all Americans by creating a new American Opportunity Tax Credit. This fully refundable credit will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds the cost of tuition at the average public college or university.
Q. 6. Share with our readers some of the accomplishments of the South Asian community, especially the South Asian Leadership Council in this campaign so far?
A. Over the past few months we have had led the charge in both raising funds and mobilizing the community in support of Barack Obama’s candidacy. Pakistani and Indian-Americans came together in a significant way to help raise more than $2 Million in three very successful South Asian American events in New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C. In particular, our August 17th event with Senator Obama helped San Francisco fund-raiser net a record amount of $7.8 Million.
Last week at the Democratic Convention in Denver, we hosted a reception in which members of Congress, Gary Ackerman D-NY, Steve Israel D-NY, Nita Lowey D-NY and Kirsten Gillibrand D-NY attended. We were also joined by Steve Westly, former Controller, California and a top leader in the Obama Campaign in California. We used the occasion to share our strategy and plans for mobilizing our people and resources over the next nine weeks before the election.
Q. 7. How can someone get involved in Senator Obama's campaign and your efforts?
A. Join our efforts by signing-up at www.BarackObama.com where anyone can become a grassroots organizer in this historic campaign in any way you choose.
If you can contribute money – even young professionals who can give small amounts – consider joining more than 2 million Americans who are the funders of the Obama/Biden campaign. In order to track the support of South Asian American donors, we have setup our own web page where members of our community can contribute to this campaign at: https://donate.barackobama.com/page/contribute/saalc
If you can volunteer time in your local community, consider hosting a voter registration drive or Get Out the Vote (GOTV) efforts. Finally, make sure you register to vote and talk to everyone you know about how to participate in this election. Together, South Asian Americans can make the difference this year. By the power of our involvement and the force of our votes we will influence the future direction of this country, transform the political landscape and redeem the American dream of opportunity and justice for all.