The South Asian American political action group ‘They See Blue’ will host a fundraiser Aug. 1 for Maine Senate candidate Sara Gideon, a Democrat who is challenging long-standing Republican incumbent Susan Collins.
Gideon, who is Indian American and Armenian, overwhelmingly won the Maine primary July 14 to take on Collins, who has represented Maine in the Senate since 1997. The moderate has come under fire in recent years for confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual assault; and voting to acquit President Donald Trump during his impeachment trial earlier this year.
A Colby College poll released July 18 saw Gideon leading Collins by 5 percentage points.
Rajiv Bhateja, co-founder of They See Blue, which was founded in 2018 by four Indian Americans, told India-West the group organizes events asking people to donate directly to the candidate. The organization has quickly built up from the initial group of four — which include co-founders Shashi Agarwal, Sunil Mehta, and Rajat Srivastava — to more than 2,000 members with 18 chapters.
The group’s goal for the 2020 election Nov. 3 is to retain the House, flip the Senate to a Democratic majority, and get Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden elected. They are targeting 18 swing states.
“We want to displace the Republican party from power. What's happened in the last four years has just made our skin crawl,” said Bhateja.
The group also hopes to attract 8,000 new members by Election Day to aggressively canvas South Asian Americans to register to vote and to vote the Democratic ticket.
Asian Americans are the fastest growing segment of eligible voters, and in 2018, emerged as the margin of victory in several local and state races. Approximately 11 million Asian Americans are registered to vote; 1.8 million Indian Americans are registered to vote, according to data from the Pew Research Center. In 2016, 80 percent of registered Indian Americans turned out to vote, and overwhelmingly voted for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to numbers from AAPI Data.
In 2018, They See Blue helped to flip two Republican seats to Democrats in California’s Central Valley by supporting the candidacy of Josh Harder, who was running against Republican incumbent Jeff Denham in California’s Central Valley, and TJ Cox, running against Republican incumbent David Valadao.
Bhateja said volunteers went door to door, handing out flyers, some in Gurmukhi to reach out to the large Punjabi American population in the Central Valley. Volunteers also phone banked, speaking to people in Punjabi and Hindi. Cox won with just a 862 vote lead over Valadao; Harder beat Denham by just under 10,000 votes.
This year, the group organized a fundraiser for former astronaut Mark Kelly – the husband of former congresswoman Gabby Giffords who was permanently disabled during random gun violence — a Democrat who is running against Republican Senator Martha McSally. The June fundraiser raised roughly $25,000. They See Blue also organized a fundraiser for Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Cal Cunningham, a Democrat who is running against incumbent North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis, a Republican. That fundraiser raised roughly $60,000.
Sangeeta Ramakrishnan, a volunteer who serves on They See Blue’s national core team, told India-West that she and her mother went to the Central Valley to canvas, reaching out to Sikh Americans, many of whom had never experienced outreach efforts before. “There was definitely a novelty factor,” she said. “We had many great conversations, and got invited in for chai and samosas, which we had to decline so that we could reach more people.”
Ramakrishnan, a software architect, has been involved in setting up chapters in swing states, and played a key role in establishing They See Blue’s Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New York/New Jersey chapters. “I’m doing my best to get (President Donald) Trump out and Biden in.”
“Trump has been very worrisome to me,” said Ramakrishnan, citing the president’s targeting of immigrants, his unabashed xenophobia which has led to a spike in hate crimes against the Indian American and Asian American community, and his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I want to return to facts, to science, to empathy and common sense. The lack of trust in science has led to 140,000 deaths,” she told India-West, noting Biden’s passion for health care and his efforts in getting the Affordable Care Act passed.
Sonya Mehta, director of the National Youth Leadership Council of They See Blue, told India-West that her father Sunil Mehta — co-founder of They See Blue — had never been politically active before 2016, but “was so disgusted with Trump and the direction of the country.”
The overwhelming majority of Indian Americans support Democrats but their voices have been drowned out by “a loud and vocal minority who support Trump,” said Mehta. “It’s important that those of us on the left are also heard,” she said, noting that Asian Americans historically have had low voter turnout.
“I want to wake up Nov. 4 and know that we did everything we could to restore our democracy,” said Mehta, who works in public education, and began politically organizing during President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008.