We finally achieved our goal: South Asians for Obama

By Lalit K. Jha, IANS,

New York : When a bunch of young Indian Americans huddled together at an Indian restaurant in downtown Manhattan one fine February evening in 2007 to establish South Asians for Obama (SAFO) to get Barack Obama elected as the next US president, well established community leaders were quick to dismiss it as a day dream.

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Those were the days when most of the entire Indian American community was supporting Hillary Clinton for presidency.

Twenty-one months later, during which SAFO evolved from a small group of Indian American youths to one of the largest nationwide grassroots movements of South Asians, Tuesday was the day when they realised their dream.

“We have finally achieved our goal! Tonight, America elected Barack Obama — the son of a Kenyan father and a Kansan mother — the 44th president of the United States,” SAFO said in an e-mail sent to thousands of its supporters minutes past midnight.

“When we started SAFO, our twin goals were to mobilise the South Asian community to support Barack Obama for president, and to change the nature of our community’s participation in the political process,” said Dave Kumar, SAFO co-founder.

“We wanted to get beyond the old model of simply giving candidates money in search of a photo-op and actually build a grassroots network of volunteers nationwide,” Kumar said, reflecting on the 21 months of hard work done by SAFO members, during which they fanned out to the length and breadth of the country canvassing for Obama.

During this period, the SAFO leadership not only expanded its base throughout the country, but also raised more than $250,000 from 1,750 donors. Its most important role was that of canvassing by its volunteers at the grassroots level.

“As a result of our grassroots efforts throughout the primary campaign, we were well-equipped to support the efforts of the campaign’s Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Vote Team in conducting outreach to the community,” said Hrishi Karthikeyan, SAFO co-founder and national coordinator.

“By assembling a national team of organisers and volunteers, we employed the very principles of community organising that Senator Obama has been espousing for the past 25 years,” Karthikeyan said in a statement after the results were declared late Tuesday night.

“In Senator Obama, we Indian American youths saw an opportunity to change not just the face of our policies, but the character of our politics. We thought it was critical for our community to participate actively in effecting such change,” Karthikeyan said, explaining the reasons for his support to Obama.

“This has been a truly amazing journey,” said Anhoni Patel, another young SAFO leader. For the last year or so, hundreds of SAFO organisers worked tirelessly on Obama’s campaign.

“We have not only forged lasting friendships and contributed to this historic moment, but we hope that the organisation that we have built across this country will have a lasting effect on our community and how it engages in the political process for years to come,” Patel said.