Writer: Misaal Irfan
Half of eligible Pakistani American voters did not vote in 2016. This statistic absolutely shocked me when I first read it this past May. I had recently joined the Get Out the Vote (GOTV) Initiative at the American Pakistan Foundation (APF) and was welcomed to a team of passionate and civically engaged Pakistanis across the United States. This initiative was rooted in the fact that though the American Pakistani population in the US is a significant one, our low numbers in voting have given us little representation on the local and national levels of government. Having been enamored by civic engagement, activism, political organization, and dismantling of a post colonized world and the systems it supports, I knew that I needed to join this initiative to help change this statistic.
For some context, APF was actually founded in 2009 by Pakistani Community leaders and members who wanted to take a significant step to initiate discourse and build relations between Pakistan and the United States. A list of notable Pakistani Americans and Hillary Clinton attended the launch in 2009. The non profit organization has a range of focuses from initiating cultural, professional, and intellectual exchanges, engaging with think tanks and businesses, promoting contributions and perspectives of the Pakistani community, and connecting people and institutions in Pakistan and the United States.
Mahmood Panjwani, one of APF’s Board members since its inception, is actually the founder of this GOTV initiative. He is very passionate about getting Pakistani Americans involved in civic engagement - one of his major issues and interests being climate change. He wanted to create something that would not only encourage voting, but hold our community accountable during this election year. That’s where the Pledge to Vote comes in. This simple Pledge to Vote asks if you are registered, where you live, and asks the signatory to promise they will vote in the 2020 Presidential Election. Our goal, starting in May, was to gather thousands of signatures from Pakistani Americans across the United States to use the number to show ourselves, other communities, and politicians that we are a community that needs to be recognized and properly represented! It is important to recognize that this initiative is the first of its kind for Pakistani Americans, there have been Muslim and South Asian efforts to engage voters, but none that specifically target Pakistanis.
Growing up in my Pakistani household, the extent of my family’s political engagement was the constant streaming of GEO news (a Pakistani news channel) and the passionate dialogue that ensued at family dinners between aunties and uncles. Now, ten years later with this highly debated, controversial, and emotional election, the mood has shifted. Family and friends are more seriously discussing the direct implications of electing a certain presidential candidate and administration and making their way to the polls. My parents, recognizing the importance of this election in addition to my constant nagging, have registered to vote and plan to vote in this election. They are just one example of how this initiative and the momentum behind it is mobilizing more and more Americans, especially those in BIPOC (Black,Indigenous, People of Color) or underrepresented communities to go vote and be civically engaged. It is important to remember that though this pledge was created with the intention to have an impact on the 2020 election, this initiative goes farther than November 3rd. This is an initiative to push for more engagement by Pakistani Americans for years to come and create a national community that is consistently recognized and known for getting involved in political discourse, voting, and representation.
Millennial Brown, being an organization that full heartedly supports BIPOC and wants to take part in new ways to engage a range of communities in discourse about important issues in politics, culture, and art. We actually recently partnered with APF to host Biweekly conversations to discuss voting with different Pakistani Americans across the United States and understand the issues they care about and community engagement. At times, the current discourse can seem overwhelming, complex, and even confusing, but we want to simply encourage everyone to open their mind to new perspectives, freely criticize and question the current politicians and potential ones, and never forget that no matter what you look like or believe your voice does indeed matter.
Some Other Information:
To Learn more about APF visit: https://www.americanpakistan.org/
Today at 5pm EST APF is having a live recording of a Dallas-based podcast The Viewpoint with Farheen where we will present a collaborative miniseries on why we vote. The first episode of "Putting PakAms on the Map" will feature special guests, APF Board Member Mahmood Panjwani and Misaal Irfan, the APF GOTV team's oldest and youngest organizers, on the subject of age and generational civic engagement in the Pakistani-American community.