Feb 14, 2007

Desi PACs: "Photographs And Checks"

Announcements from Presidential hopefuls have been titillating the media this month, and giving some hope to those who are sick of the comedy of errors that is our government. I thought I'd take a moment to review what has happened in the past, especially with South Asians and political fundraising/attempted king-making.

South Asians PACs have been around, with the first generation often focusing on nuclear treaties and H1-B workers (or India-Pakistan relations with the United States). There are quite a few of them, and they range from mildly annoying to downright nasty. The uncle generation has combined their preference for photo ops with their power of the purse to throw money at politicians who are happy to come out for a dinner or lunch, take a few pictures with the proud immigrants and walk away unmoved by the naive and generally unsophisticated (or unsavory) political suggestions that the PAC puts gently on the table next to the big checks. These folks have the money, but haven't usually used it strategically.

Fast forward to the second generation of desi Americans who have grown up here, and have spread out into political and policy positions. They're creating their own political fundraising organizations, PACs, and think tanks (at least in name). Everytime I turn around, there's a new PAC or think tank. And you'd think that these folks would be more nuanced about their approach towards the politicians. But it's more of the same, often with more flash but still some kind of deer-staring-at-the-headlights fixation with cameras and celebrity.

Perhaps they are vying for post-election jobs, notoriety, and sometimes the very photo ops that their parents were looking for before them, the name of the community is often raised without much substance. And where "civil rights" have become a safe bet to put softly on the table beside the big check, issues of pervasive poverty in segments of our community, or driving a harder line about moving the debate from "illegals" to fair treatment of immigrants regardless of status are not discussed. If we could just get the money and the consciousness about inequity together in the same room, we'd get somewhere.

But the problem is, to really have a true analysis about class and inequity, we can't think about just South Asians. These issues are not race specific - they affect our community also, as they affect many others. But in organizing by race group (or political coalition, if you will), are these folks basically making the discussion around broader inequity impossible?

If each group buys the time of the politician and lists 2-3 issues that it has identified as important to itself (such as the self-serving "more of XYZ group in your administration" ("...and here's my resume!"), are they all giving the politician an out to say "the issue of poverty/hate crimes/anti-immigrant sentiment is important, but your group is still a small percentage of the total population... and I have to work on issues that affect more people"? Rather than just ignoring the communities in need, are these PACs actually hurting the most vulnerable folks?


Anyway, so last election cycle, we had "SAKI" - South Asians for Kerry/Edwards (still not sure of where the "i" came from). They raised something like $2M, had a few gala events, made a splash, and the candidates didn't win. Not winning isn't the issue, to me. It's that the establishment, the DNC, wasn't pushed to think more critically about the way that it engages South Asian and other immigrant communities. So the conversation didn't move anywhere, and we're in the same position now as we were 4 years ago with the DNC and the parties as a whole. Pretty short-sighted, enit?

For more about desi PACs, here are a few articles (1, 2), but as usual, they don't seem to be very critical.

Now, we'll likely have groups rallying behind their favorite candidates again. My prediction is that we'll have a lot of good people give their money to X or Y candidate and trust that the people pulling the effort together will have their general interests, and "the community's interests" (whatever that could possibly mean) in mind. Without commenting on that until I see more, let's have some fun with acronyms:

South Asians for Clinton II (SACT). I like the sound of "sacked." I don't know why. I just like it.

South Asians for Barrack Obama (SAFBO). Well, they would be smart not to add his first name to the acronym, because the connotation is too uncomfortably close for everyone involved.

South Asians for Bill Richardson (SABR). Sabre? While I like it, there was once a group called South Asians Against Police Brutality that used a similar acronym, so I don't know.

South Asians for John Edwards (SAJE). Sage! Pretty cool.

South Asians for Arnold Schwarzenegger (SAAS). Sounds like a statistical software package. Heck, with some of his plans for Cali, including a move closer to universal health care and a strong push to cut greenhouse emissions, not to mention the effort he'd make to change the Constitutional native-born requirement for the Presidency, I might even write him a check. He'd move the conversation further than any of the other major candidates.

My favorite, of course, is South Asians for Al Gore (SAAG). I mean, come on. Tell me that's not too perfect? I can see the logo now, as well as the endless green buffets, long talks about how global warming could affect spinach farmers everywhere, and even some crazy crossover with the Screen Actors' Guild (isn't he a member now?).

Seriously though, if you think that Gore is not a viable candidate, read this article in Rolling Stone about their thoughts on the issue. I found it compelling, though unlikely.


Well, again, political season is upon us. And all I can say is that I hope someone real comes along to keep it fun. Like Randy of the Redwoods.

Of whom I can't find a single picture or link through Google. What a shame. I remember you, Randy. I think I would have voted for you, if I was of age at the time.

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