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Desis 4 Democracy: South Asian grassroots activism takes centerstage in Georgia

BY VEENA RAO

Atlanta, GA, May 8, 2024: Former members of the Georgia chapter of They See Blue, a South Asian grassroots voter outreach organization, have rebranded themselves as Desis 4 Democracy (D4D) following ethical and ideological disagreements with their parent group. This shift was motivated by a desire for greater accountability from elected officials and a focus on progressive causes, according to its members.

A recent meet and greet event hosted by D4D and the anti-gun violence group Ahimsa provided a platform for Michelle Kang, a candidate for State House District 99, to share her vision. The event, held in the basement of Vaisheshi Jalajam’s residence, was an example of D4D’s commitment to grassroots organizing and community engagement, where invited guests met with Democratic candidates in a casual setting over snacks and chai.

Michelle Kang speaking at the Meet and Greet hosted in her honor.

Jalajam, a former member of They See Blue, GA and founding member of D4D, emphasized the organization’s dedication to accountability and inclusivity. “Our goal is to have our representatives be accountable, whether they are Democrats or Republicans. We support progressive causes,” she said.

Jalajam added that D4D has an informal structure and is committed to minimizing hierarchies within the organization.

Madhu Behera (center) and Vaisheshi Jalajam (right) with D4D member Gemini Kaushik.

Madhu Behera who is a founding member of D4D and serves on the leadership team, got involved in grassroots activism after Trump’s 2016 win. She was part of They See Blue GA when the group campaigned heavily to get Biden and Senators Warnock and Ossoff elected in 2020.

“Gun violence prevention, reproductive rights, healthcare, education, social justice issues are important to D4D,” she said.

The group, which numbers over 200 volunteers, plans to heavily engage in the upcoming elections, and help get Democrats elected.

“With the election season kicking off, we do text banking, phone banking, canvassing, meet the candidate events etc.,” Behera said. The events are county specific, where local leaders are invited to network with the local community.

“Our members are from multiple counties, and we have active members in each county that really take ownership of their district,” Behera added.

Michelle Kang, a candidate endorsed by D4D, articulated her motivations for running for office during her conversation with NRI Pulse. Kang’s platform prioritizes women’s rights, gun violence prevention, support for small businesses, vocational education, and transportation infrastructure improvement. Reflecting on her immigrant background and years of political involvement, Kang emphasized the importance of representation in government.

Gwinnett County commissioner Kirkland Carden, praised Michelle Kang at the event. “I actually really admire Michelle Kang. She calls herself a warrior. That’s what I like to think of myself and all these other young people like Ashwin Ramaswami coming out. We’re fighting something.” Carden highlighted the importance of representation at all levels of government and encouraged attendees to support candidates who reflect their values.

Ashwin Ramaswami speaking at the event.

Ashwin Ramaswami, a candidate for Georgia Senate District 48, showed up at the event. Speaking to NRI Pulse, the gen Z candidate said he was motivated to run because of his opponent Shawn Still’s involvement in election fraud.

“Shawn Still was a fake elector in 2020, which means that he signed false documents saying that Trump won Georgia,” he said. “So, he committed forgery and fraud by writing these false documents. And he’s currently been criminally indicted, along with Trump and 18 other folks, by Fulton County.”

“So he’s going to be sitting in a courtroom most of his summer, while I’ll be campaigning.”

Ramaswami also criticized the broader Republican Party’s failure to address critical issues. He emphasized the importance of upholding democratic principles and ensuring that elected officials prioritize the needs of their constituents.

Desis 4 Democracy’s emergence signals a shift in South Asian political organizing in Georgia, reflecting a commitment to progressive values and accountability within the Democratic Party. As the organization continues to grow and engage with the community, its impact on local and statewide politics is likely to be significant.

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