The shocking results of the November 2016 election jolted a nation, spurring millions of ordinary Americans to action. Not only had we, as a nation, failed to elect the first female president, we had chosen instead an insensitive, openly misogynistic divisive figure who has made no attempt to conceal his contempt for women.
The activism this has sparked for many people, but most especially women, has gone beyond the big rallies and expressive picket signs and into a kind of action necessary to arrest this backward slide of our Democracy.
Women across the country are seeking office in record numbers, according to Emily’s List, a political action committee that works to get pro-choice Democratic female candidates elected to public office. And a surprising number of these American women are of Indian American and South Asian descent, who see a need now to add their voices to this growing chorus for change. Several of them are right here in Washington state, where I live.
With the political winds in this country shifting to one that feels decidedly hostile toward women, immigrants and people of color, these women see a need for a more representative government, which in the past has not included South Asians in elected positions.
More than 4.3 million South Asian live in the United States. At a rate of 81 percent, it was the fastest growing major ethnic group in the country between 2000 and 2010. Washington is home to about 600,000 of them, many drawn to the state’s job-rich high-tech field. And about 50,000 live in King County.
But for so long all this diversity hasn’t been reflected in the political scene, not on the state level or locally. Now that has started to change. Among a record number of Asians elected to Congress in January were the first Indian American Senator, Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; and the first Indian American Congresswoman, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. For many progressives, their 2016 election victories were bright spots in the otherwise bleak end to a raucous, divisive and ugly campaign season. A trailblazer her entire life, Jayapal is a firebrand and former Washington State Senator, who rose to prominence organizing against anti-Muslim sentiment following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
She made history, not only for being the first Indian American woman elected to Congress and the first from her state, but also the first woman to serve her district, which represents the heart of Seattle. She has been a trailblazer her entire life, mentoring and inspired many to follow suit.
But even before Jayapal’s history-making win, one of the first South Asian women to gain wide recognition in Washington politics was Kshama Sawant, who currently serves on the Seattle City Council.
Now, in their wake, a wave of change-makers, South Asian women inspired and motivated, are pursuing a range of political offices across the state – from the state senate to school board.
Among the candidates in Washington:
Manka Dhingra: In one of the highest profile races in the state, Dhingra, a King County senior prosecuting attorney, is seeking a seat on the State Senate to represent the 45th District. It’s a contentious race as Dhingra’s victory would put the Senate in the hands of the Democrats, who now control the House and the governorship. Dhingra and her conservative opponent are both first-time candidates and Dhingra has drawn the endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Vandana Slatter: A biotech professional, Slatter is involved in one of several races for the state House of Representatives. She is defending the 48th District seat to which she was appointed earlier this year.
Rituja Indapure: In the city of Sammamish, an increasingly diverse community, Indapure, a lawyer-turned-technologist, is running for a council seat.
Tanika Padhye: A former civil rights attorney, Padhye is seeking re-election to the Redmond City Council. She was appointed to the position earlier this year.
Minal Ghassemieh: An immigration attorney, Ghassemieh also ran in the Sammamish city council race, but lost in the primary.
Satwindar Kaur: A longtime community leader, Kaur is seeking a city council position in the city of Kent, an intensely diverse and immigrant-rich community in South King County.
Uzma Butte: A Montessori teacher and business owner for over 30 years, Butte is running for a seat on Kirkland City Council.
Preeti Sridhar: A community leader and deputy public affairs administrator for the city of Renton, Sridhar is seeking a position on the Port of Seattle Commission.
Dr. Avanti Bergquist: A Seattle psychiatrist affiliated with Seattle’s Children’s Hospital, Bergquist is seeking a position on the Renton School Board. She received her medical degree from University of Louisville School of Medicine.
Mona Das: And the momentum continues to build. Looking ahead to 2018, the race to fill the District 8 seat of retiring Congressman Dave Reichert is already heating up. Das, a business woman who enjoyed a career in the tech industry before launching Moxy Mortgage in 2004, is among a long line of candidates.
South Asians are indoctrinated almost from birth with a sense of duty – to parents, family and community. And throughout life, that sense of duty drives them. These women are an asset to this state.
I believe their voices are urgently needed in today’s politics. It is why I’m in the process of creating a Political Action Committee myself, called the South Asian PAC, that would support such candidates run for office.
These women will help bring a voice of balance in these politically divisive times and as we as a nation continue to confront the kinds of challenges we’ve never seen before.
Besides, a look at the demographics suggests it’s high time.
(The author is an immigration attorney and founder of Watson Immigration Law in Seattle, Wash.)