The Democracy Project supports the underrepresented South Asian American community in Illinois through Census work, the redistricting process, non-partisan voting rights awareness, and civic engagement. This project is being implemented using a three-pronged approach – advocacy, education, and engagement, with the goal of creating lasting representation for South Asian Americans as well as establishing solid networks of communication and education between individuals and their governing bodies.
Chicago remains one of the largest hubs of the South Asian American population in the U.S. and yet it is less engaged and less likely to vote and thus often underrepresented in policymaking. As the South Asian American population continues to grow, we anticipate being a driving force for conversations around civic engagement/education in this community, especially so limited English proficient voters can overcome lower engagement, often due to their shift away from trusting the political process. Valerie Lemmie, Director of Exploratory Research at the Kettering Foundation, noted in a recent column titled The Civic Education of Youth: Creating Democratic Citizens that the “2020 elections raised questions about what citizens know about how our democracy works, especially its rules, procedures and practices” and that recent events have led many to reread civics textbooks. South Asian Americans are put at an even bigger disadvantage when trying to separate fact from fiction as misinformation reported in the media is often circulated among immigrant communities via Whatsapp, community leaders who mean well but do not understand the democratic process with all of its nuances, and otherwise trusted sources of information are misleading or erroneous.
Through this project, we intend to lead the charge towards creating a more civically educated and engaged South Asian American population. The project aims to treat civic engagement and education as a multi-year effort that builds each new phase of the engagement cycle on efforts made in the recent past. For example, instead of sitting on the successes of our 2020 Get Out the Count and Get Out the Vote campaigns, SAAPRI has continued this engagement and redirected it towards the 2021 non-partisan conversation around redistricting, hosting another round of education events for the South Asian American community. These in-person and virtual forums helped draw clear lines from why being counted was important to illuminating how that collected data will now impact the electoral power of the South Asian American community in Illinois. We will continue this conversation once redistricting efforts are completed and focus on non-partisan voter engagement while explaining how voting power is determined by the re-drawn districts. This multi-year approach ensures that SAAPRI is looping a thread between seemingly different topics and helping show that these are all a part of a singular effort to give community members the tools needed for successfully engaging in civic life. The project uses new and unique ways to engage, including in-person engagement, Whatsapp, Instagram, Clubhouse, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. to ensure we meet the community where they are. From participation in the 2020 Census to advocating for a non-partisan redistricting process in 2021-22, we have taken a leadership role in advocating for the voting power of South Asian Americans and will continue to do so in the coming years.
Recently, SAAPRI helped recruit South Asian American Commissioners to serve on Chicago’s Independent Redistricting Commission to ensure an independent and representative group of people create a Chicago Wards map devoid of efforts to gerrymander or give any candidate an advantage. We also hosted public hearings in partnership with CHANGE IL and educational events on redistricting in Chicago by inviting experts like Jay Young (Common Cause IL), Anita Banerji (the Leadership Conference Education Fund), and UIC professors like Drs. Kathleen Yang-Clayton & Chris Kanich. We joined a diverse coalition of advocates and academics to produce a people’s map that maximized community’s voting power, helped prepare educational materials in multiple South Asian languages for LEP voters, gave oral testimonies at public hearings and spoke at press conferences.
A few of SAAPRI’s notable collaborations with organizations with a similar mission and vision as The Democracy Project are noted below:
• SAAPRI is a Pan Asian Voter Empowerment (PAVE) Coalition member (a coalition of 17 Asian American Organizations), as well as the South Asian Civic Engagement Coalition
• SAAPRI is part of the Just Democracy Illinois Coalition, a broad-based non-partisan coalition of community groups like AAAJ-C, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, CHANGE IL, Chicago Votes, Common Cause – IL, IL PIRG & ICIRR striving to protect and promote the value of every vote
• SAAPRI is a part of the Illinois Redistricting Collaborative and works closely with CHANGE IL, Common Cause IL, Chicago Lawyers Committee, LWV, ILMCC, AAAJ-C, and CUE
Through the Democracy Project, SAAPRI hopes to create a more civically engaged and informed populace, continue to educate and inform this group of residents, and shape public policy by ensuring South Asian American voices are represented in the policymaking process.