South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) is a national movement strategy and advocacy organization committed to racial justice through structural change, which means we focus on transforming institutions while leveraging incremental change as a means to shift conditions and power.
We do this through federal policy and advocacy, local and national partnerships, coalition building (i.e. NCSO) and strategic communications. We convene dedicated spaces for South Asian organizations across the country to engage in political education leading to strategies and narratives to realize our vision.
SAALT’s vision is to help build a South Asian American community with shared values that uplift all people of color, and will cross lines of race, caste, gender, sexuality, and religion to abolish systems of oppression and achieve collective liberation. South Asians will come together around the belief that none of us is free until all of us are free, understanding that we can only reach this collective liberation by centering and prioritizing the demands of those most marginalized. South Asians in the U.S. will work in unity to combat policies, rhetoric, and action stemming from systemic racism, Islamophobia, and white supremacy; acknowledging the transnational connections to this violence and its impact on the U.S. Diaspora.
Widespread political education will bring people with varying experiences and backgrounds of political engagement together to continuously learn from each other, heal with each other, and reflect on each other’s shared histories to better organize for collective liberation. There will be enduring infrastructure to mobilize quickly and effectively when threats or needs emerge that impact any one of us, prioritizing those most marginalized.
Nearly 5.4 million South Asians live in the United States, a 40 percent increase in population size from the Census count in 2010. Our growing and diverse communities trace their roots to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Kashmir, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and the diaspora, including but not limited to Trinidad/Tobago, Guyana, Fiji, Tanzania, and Kenya. South Asian Americans Leading Together was originally conceived of as a South Asian leadership organization, to increase representation of our communities, in all their diversity.
In SAALT’s first year, 20 years ago, 9/11 and the subsequent Islamophobic targeting of our communities through state and interpersonal violence shook South Asians across the U.S. In the midst of that crisis, SAALT rose both to meet the needs of the moment and to help build community infrastructure for South Asians so that the next time a crisis struck, we would have a network in place to come together and organize, act, and advocate for ourselves and our rights.
Twenty years later, the world looks different, yet so many of the underlying, structural injustices remain. The COVID-19 pandemic is raging, devastating people’s lives across the U.S., and disproportionately impacting Black and brown working-class communities. Climate change is no longer a distant theory, but a lived reality that transcends borders, which themselves are already witnessing unprecedented militarization, surveillance, and occupation. We recognize the need to resist institutionalized power that continues to threaten the livelihoods and rights of people across the world, including Islamophobia and Hindu nationalism, xenophobic political rhetoric, and white supremacist hate violence, which all continue to endanger the lives of South Asians both in the U.S. and globally.
- Center People Equitably – We center and prioritize the most historically and systemically marginalized populations within the South Asian American community. This means religious minorities; caste-oppressed populations; individuals with disabilities; queer/trans/non-binary communities; those with vulnerable immigration status; working class individuals; and those with limited English proficiency understanding. We believe that we all benefit from this approach. The leadership, experiences, analysis, demands of those most directly impacted by existing oppressive systems guide SAALT’s priorities and strategies. We believe the survivors of abusive power should not be tasked with educating those who have caused the harm and SAALT will intentionally work to provide this education.
- Think Transformationally – Our advocacy, while often situated within existing government structures, is oriented toward abolishing systems of oppression and achieving collective liberation. We only support reforms to this end and will use our power in existing national coalitions to push for the same.
- Share Power Collaboratively – We believe the pathway to collective liberation can only be achieved through partnerships, trust, shared vision, and non-negotiable commitments among values-aligned South Asian organizations. We believe that a constellation of organizations must inform and co-create this pathway, which will require political education for South Asian organizations and constituencies who are seeking to be connected to values aligned efforts. Our measure of alignment is also informed by and supportive of movements outside the South Asian American community to build power and create transformational change.
- Engage Intergenerationally – To build the foundation we need to shift power in a transformational way, we believe in the engagement and leadership of values-aligned people of all ages, generations and experiences understanding this allows various perspectives to inform strategy.
- Work Intersectionally – We are committed to proactively and emergently responding to and aligning with multiple domestic and transnational movements for liberation that exist in the U.S. and beyond. SAALT will ensure staff and partners are in tune to the immediate and long-term demands being made by these movements and remain informed by this context and landscape analysis.
- Reflect Continuously – We are committed to recognizing our role and privilege as a well-funded and staffed national organization. We seek to disrupt the ways in which we may perpetuate oppression, given this privilege, and toward that end, we will exercise self-awareness and accountability in this role.