South Asian Americans played a role in averting ‘red wave’: SAFA

Photo credit: Feras Ismail, American Bazaar

Grassroots group South Asians for America (SAFA) partnered with other organizations “on the ground” in 11 key states.

Unprecedented mobilization of South Asian Americans played a key role in Democrats keeping control of the U.S. Senate, said the national director of one of the groups that mobilized voters from the community during the midterm elections.

Neha Dewan of the South Asians for America (SAFA) said her organization worked toward increasing “voter engagement of the South Asian and the Asian American and Pacific Islands (AAPI) community through targeted outreach and broad coalition-building.”

In a press release, Dewan said that South Asian voters were reached “in a variety of ways, including canvasses, phonebanks, textbanks, postcard campaigns, GOTV rallies and house parties, and distributed voter outreach and education materials in nine South Asian languages.”

Volunteers from SAFA, according to her, “made 60,000 calls to voters, sent 20,000 texts, knocked on 7,000 doors, wrote 500 postcards, and attended 25 campaign events and rallies” in the 2022 election cycle.

SAFA hosts 101 virtual training series to mobilize South Asian community (April 16, 2022)

She said that SAFA partnered with other groups “on the ground” in 11 strategic states: Arizona, California, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

“[We] were able to reach and energize our community in a way that we have not seen before, and in the process, we paved the way for Democratic control in the U.S. Senate while averting the Red Wave that was largely predicted,” she said.

Early exit poll by Edison Research and AP VoteCast found that roughly 6 in 10 Asian Americans backed Democratic party candidates.

Citing data from the Democratic group Targetsmart, which found that early voting in the midterms increased 24 percent compared to 2018, she said SAFA played “a critical role in turning out this AAPI early vote.”

SAFA National Organizing Chair Harini Krishnan said the organization worked with a nonprofit groups such as VoteRiders to providing free voter ID information in Hindi, Bangla, Nepali, Tamil, Urdu, Telugu, Gujarati, Kannada and Pashto.

It allowed the group to to provide targeted materials to different South Asian communities while knocking on doors,” said.

READ: South Asians launch new group for community’s political awakening (April 20, 2021)

Launched in 2021, SAFA mobilizes voters through state chapters, driven by volunteers.

“In New Hampshire, through a campaign of phone banking, writing postcards and door knocking, we reached over a thousand AAPI voters in our ‘Get Out the AAPI Vote’ effort, which contributed to re-electing Senator Maggie Hassan by 9 points compared to her 1 point victory in 2016,” said Sumathi Madhure, SAFA’s New Hampshire State Director and Co-Chair of the New Hampshire AAPI Democrats. “We re-elected our federal delegation (Rep. Chris Pappas and Rep. Anne Kuster) and also increased the Democrats’ margin in the state House by reducing the Republicans’ lead to a mere three seats, 201-198.”

“Living in New Hampshire for over three decades, I have seen the demographics slowly changing, from a state that was 98% Caucasian in 1990, to 86% in 2020,” said Rep. Latha Mangipudi, a New Hampshire state legislator who serves on the SAFA Advisory Council. “This diversity in voters leads to a very critical voting bloc that could be the margin of victory. In a small state like New Hampshire, this diversity also reflects the nationally changing demographics.”

One such state is Virginia, where 7 percent of eligible voters Asian Americans. Only Hawaii, California, New York, New Jersey, Nevada and Washington have a higher percentage of eligible Asian American voters, according to 2020 Pew Research Center data released in October 2022.

“In 2022, voters voted under new congressional maps where we saw the growing South Asian and AAPI population play a critical role across the Commonwealth,” said Saddam Salim, Vice President of Fairfax Young Democrats, a member of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and Co-State Director of SAFA’s Virginia chapter. “I look forward to seeing what SAFA’s network of communities can do to reach voters for the special election in Virginia’s Fourth District this February and beyond, where every seat in the General Assembly to local offices is up for grabs.”

A state where SAFA mobilized South Asian and AAPI voters was Maryland, which elected its first South Asian American Lt-Gov. Aruna Miller. The state has 6 percent Asian American eligible voters.

“As the fastest-growing population in the nation as well as in Maryland, AAPIs represent a demographically and geographically diverse voting bloc who were energized at the prospect of making history in Maryland by electing Wes Moore as the first black governor and Aruna Miller as the first South Asian American lieutenant governor of Maryland, and the change that this diverse ticket represents,” said Shruti Bhatnagar, SAFA’s Maryland State Director. “SAFA Maryland organized a phone bank with Aruna Miller that engaged several South Asian volunteers, many of whom participated in GOTV activities for the first time.”

Bhatnagar, who is also a member of the Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee, said the state chapter partnered with a number of organizations, including Desis for Progress.

In the George Senate runoff, the organization operated more than a dozen phonebanks, calling more than 10,000 registered AAPI voters.

“In the bi-weekly phonebanks that we ran, the best part was interacting with so many phonebankers from around the country,” said Sonjui Kumar, SAFA Board Co-Chair and a Georgia-based AAPI leader. “We also worked with other stakeholders such as Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace who joined our postcard writing initiative to write and mail over 500 postcards. We made new friends in the process and found hosting a postcard writing party together to be an incredibly joyful occasion.”