SAAPRI’s Civic Engagement Initiative
South Asian Americans are one of the fastest growing groups in Illinois and across the nation. However, the community’s influence on elections has not increased at the same rate as its population. South Asian Americans represent about 36% of Illinois’ Asian American population and 2% of the overall state population, with high concentrations in particular districts and regions. Over the last 16 years, Illinois’ South Asian population has grown by over 55%, but this growth has not been represented in the civic engagement process.
Throughout the nation, South Asian Americans are among the least represented in our democracy. The community has low voter registration and lower turnout rates than other ethnic groups. It is imperative that South Asian Americans increase their civic engagement in order to voice their views on specific issues and policies that will impact them.
South Asian Americans have the potential to speak collectively and effectively on issues that matter to our community. We have to leverage our collective power to realize our potential for transforming both our own communities as well as society at large.
SAAPRI’s May 19, 2016 Leadership Forum
On May 19, 2016, SAAPRI convened a Leadership Forum attended by South Asian-facing organizations, community leaders, and business persons to examine civic participation among the South Asian American community.
Shajan Kuriakose kicked off the event with opening remarks regarding his personal civic engagement journey.
SAAPRI’s Ann Kalayil presented “A Roadmap to Civic Engagement for South Asian Americans in Illinois,” reflecting on the importance of moving volunteers from service to civic engagement.
SAAPRI unveiled a profile of the community at the state and local level, drawn from census data and from SAAPRI’s original research on voter participation, throwing light on where South Asian Americans enjoy strength in numbers, what resources exist within the community, and which areas need to be targeted for action.
The Leadership Forum and other initiatives like it are powerful ways to leverage the potential of South Asian Americans to improve our civic engagement and make our views heard about political issues that affect both our communities and the larger society we live in.
SAAPRI Gets Out the Vote
SAAPRI has also been involved in nonpartisan Get out the Vote work in advance of the 2016 Primary Elections.
15 SAAPRI volunteers staffed 35 phone banking shifts over 3 weeks targeting a list of 7,656 infrequent South Asian voters. Over 2,500 inactive South Asians went on to vote in the primary elections.
SAAPRI recruited South Asian bilingual election judges and helped implement bilingual election judge training.
Partnering with other community organizations, SAAPRI led 6 voter education forums in the Chicagoland area. The goal of the forums was to increase voting rates among South Asians in Illinois. Speakers discussed with attendees the importance of registering to vote and casting a ballot and tried to hit home the point that every vote counts. Due to the work of community organizations including SAAPRI, the March 15, 2016 Illinois primary elections saw a record turnout of South Asian American voters.