Celebrating 5 Years! Take Four!

To continue our series celebrating five years since SAALT’s first staffed officed, today we feature Madhur Bansal, SAALT’s Americorps VISTA Development Assitant from 2006 to 2007:

“To me, SAALT represents a collective and progressive voice for South Asians in the US. SAALT offers community members a way to engage directly in civic life and public policy issues. In the next five years, I hope that SAALT continues building support across the country and that it can be the primary national advocate for the South Asian community in public affairs, particularly in the upcoming debate over immigration reform. I also hope that SAALT can expand by reaching even more community members and getting them involved in its work.”

..and from Imrana Khera, former SAALT staff member:

“I can’t believe it’s been five years already–Congratulations!  SAALT represents the very diverse South Asian community living in the United States, a challenging job for any organization.  SAALT pushes our community forward by advocating for change within a social justice framework.  SAALT’s strength is its respectful and effective collaboration with organizations that are working with South Asian community at a local level across the country.

My expectation is that SAALT will continue to grow over the next five years and continue to affect change on behalf of our community – through education, policy, and research – like the award-winning Raising Our Voices DVD, through SAALT townhalls/community forums, and reports like Washington DeSi: South Asians in the Nation’s Capital (July 2009).”

Celebrating 5 Years! Take five!

Another set of reflections about the 5 year anniversary of SAALT opening its first staffer office. Now we’re hearing from Imrana Khera, SAALT’s Program Manager from 2004-2005.

“SAALT represents the very diverse South Asian community living in the United States, a challenging job for any organization.  SAALT pushes our community forward by advocating for change within a social justice framework.  SAALT’s strength is its respectful and effective collaboration with organizations that are working with South Asian community at a local level across the country.

My expectation is that SAALT will continue to grow over the next five years and continue to effect change on behalf of our community – through education, policy, and research — like the award-winning Raising Our Voices DVD,  through SAALT townhalls/community forums, and reports like Washington DeSi: South Asians in the Nation’s Capital (July 2009) .”

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.3)

Third session of the day and it’s Who’s Being Left Out of Online Organizing. This panel was all about who’s not part of all these shiny, awesome online spaces we’ve been talking about all day at Netroots. The panel’s actually still going on, but I thought I’d put out some quick observations:

-What does it mean to be left out? Left out of what? If its “the discourse” or “democracy”, then the online organizing is simply a tactic. If its only about online political spaces, maybe we’re missing the point.

-We need to meet people where they are. It’s not just a matter of whether certain populations prefer MySpace or Facebook, its whether SMS or text messages are what people actually use. We’ve seen innovative ways that certain progressive campaigns have sought to integrate things like cell phones which is used in really interesting, subtly different ways by communities of color and women.

-Someone shared an anecdote that during the past election, a certain candidate’s campaign successfully used online organizing tools only when they were targeted towards offline actions (donating money, calling someone, etc). Can we have a conversation about online advocacy that isn’t missing the essential whole of what participation and organizing means.

-Cost and access came up over and over during the panel, whether its along racial, gender, geographic or age lines. Ultimately, if we want to break open the doors of the internet to those missing from the circles of power and agency, maybe philanthropic advocacy needs to be on our radar so that work gets funded.

Pres. Bill Clinton keynoting tonight!

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.2)

Second session of the day: Blogging the Economic Battles. It was a great session with panelists from OurFuture.org. The panelists broadly dealt with three issues: the current healthcare debate, the bogeyman of deficits and negative trigger words. There were a couple of really interesting observations that I took from the panel.

1. one of the msot negative aspects of the current polarized nature of the debate is that it shifts perceptions such that the centrist or just-left-of-center positions get cast as the far-left when the rhetoric of the far-right is so “wingnut”-y as some panelists and audience members noted.

2. as progressives, we have to reframe the debate from its currently defensive position. In reference to the bogeyman of budget deficits, one of the panelists, Digby, noted that when asked how deficits personally affect them, most people have no answer. Now ask them how healthcare affects them, they have a ready answer. We need to remind people that government does great things for them. Don’t believe it? Get off the interstate! We need to stop just fighting this notion that things like deficits are poison, we need to start from a place where people have to acknowledge that the government does certain things really well and we shouldn’t have to act like that isn’t a patent truth. Getting government out of one’s Medicaid would be hard, wouldn’t it?

3. Not reframing the debate and getting out of our defensive position keeps us back as a country from truly speaking and fighting for every person, especially those who are most disempowered by the current system’s inequities. We can’t figure out how to address Rust Belt workers in Pennsylvania when we’re trapped in a black-and-white paradigm where “trade” is good no matter what and “protectionism” is bad no matter what it actually refers to.

4. The ability to balance the debate is in our hands. The stories of how, say, the healthcare system is failing people is in our backyards. If we want to counter over-heated rhetoric that loses sight of the actual stakes, show them the real stories you know. I found a great example of exactly this in a story from the Christian Science Monitor from a professor in the town where I went to college (from the rival school, no less). Now its a mainstream media outlet, but technological advances have made it possible for us to get our voices out there in ways I couldn’t have imagined years ago, no one’s going to do it but us!

Anyways, just some thoughts, but I took away a real mandate to take up our own roles to counter the negativity we find in the discourse. Stay tuned for more sessions!

Getting in Touch with the Netroots (pt.1)

So I am at the Netroots Nation conference in gorgeous Pittsburgh (where its an incredibly pleasant 81 degrees which is a nice change from the swamp that DC has been for the last few days) . The conference brings together progressive activists and advocates, many of whom are particularly technologically-oriented. I thought since the conference is all about blogging and SAALT has a blog, what a natural fit!

After a short flight and a very long bus ride into the city, I barely made the Asian Pacific American Caucus session. There were about 10 people in the session and we spent most of the time identifying how we could work in issues like healthcare and Census 2010 in the Asian Pacific American community. I heard a lot of great ideas, from bringing Asian American causes to mainstream online spaces to critically analyzing how to use technology to reach audiences like school kids to get to non-technologically connected older Asians.

While it was great to be able to share the space with fellow Asian American activists and bloggers, I sometimes wonder whether these separate conversations sometimes hold us back from casting these actually mainstream, important issues as broadly as they could be. Anyways, I’ll keep posting as much as possible from beautiful Pittsburgh!