From the Frontlines - Talking to Swati Joshi in Texas
Swati with candidate Beto
There’s a saying that “if you want work done, ask a busy woman to do it!” Swati Joshi, a long-time TSB member and member of the TSB strategic committee, certainly exemplifies that adage. Based in Texas, Swati has been working both to support efforts to elect Beto O’Rourke into government as well as mobilize South Asian voters in Texas to get off the apathy fence and do their civic duty by voting.
In a free-flowing conversation, we discussed the peculiarities of Texan South Asians, the challenges of motivating Democrats, and what she sees as the future of Texas as an on-the-ground activist and volunteer.
Swati, who works in the semiconductor industry, joined TSB in 2019 right at the beginning and is responsible for starting both the TSB Texas and the TSB Arizona chapters. She got into politics as an early volunteer to get Democratic voter registrations in 2016 as she watched the impossible rise of Trump. Then she founded DFW for Beto, during his unsuccessful Senate run and is proud of creating a coalition of diverse voters – Hindu, Muslim, Black, White, and Hispanic – for the cause.
Gathering just before a block walk
She began her activism by knocking on friendly doors. “We went to the homes of known Democrats. It was a very good experience. I tried to make voter registration events fun and social; we would host them in coffee shops and bars.” She also began putting out small notes ahead of the elections that informed voters about different propositions on the ballot and also what the different electoral positions meant. “Not everyone knows what every office up for election does.”
When she started volunteering for TSB, she began to focus on getting the South Asian vote out and discovered that, “the experience of working with South Asian voters is not always good. We are a stubborn group and a difficult people to convince. It’s a tougher hill to climb.” Some of the challenges she has encountered are –
- The opinion that “My vote doesn’t count”
- Hesitation in bringing up politics with friends or family. (even as late as last week!)
- All talk and no action
“In India, politics is a four-letter-word (among the educated) and people bring that cultural hangover with them,” says Swati. She feels things are changing, especially with the younger generation, but much too slowly. “Politics is in every aspect of our lives. We can’t live in a bubble and hope that our lives will continue to be unaffected.”
What advice does she have for new volunteers?
“Texting is a great way to start. It’s easy and you rarely have unpleasant encounters. Phone-banking can be quite effective when your name shows up. Usually, the hit rate is about 10% but when an Indian name shows up on caller ID, like when I phone-banked in Arizona, I got an amazing hit rate of 25%.”
Candidate forum organized for South Asians
Swati has done it all – candidate forums, town halls, literature drops, meet and greets. “If I can get people to meet a candidate face to face, it is very effective to getting them engaged." According to her, the challenges we face in today’s political environment are many.
“We are fighting a very coordinated and strong misinformation battle,” says Swati, “and Democrats don’t help ourselves because we are unable to put up a united front. There are at least five different AAPI groups in North Texas right now and replicating each other’s work.”
“We are also very perfectionist about what we want from our leaders. You know the saying, ‘Republicans fall in line, Democrats fall in love!’ I have had volunteers lose interest because their specific candidate did not win.”
“We also don’t understand the importance of local elections. If we want to make a material difference in our lives, it usually happens at the local level, but Democrats sit out the midterms and that costs us a lot.”
I asked her if the current environment, with the repeal of Roe and the racist incident in Dallas was prompting more interest from South Asians in voting. “To be honest, I am seeing more engagement from Muslims than Hindus,” admits Swati. “Only 50% of South Asians are registered to vote. Imagine what a difference we could make if we were more involved. But yes, I am seeing more concern from women who are worried about the future for their daughters in the wake of Roe. To a certain extent it has had a galvanizing effect. But whether it translates to votes is another matter.”
How does she stay motivated as an activist in a red state? “I guess it’s my personality,” laughs Swati, “I find it very hard to give up. And my biggest motivation is my daughter. I want her life to be good. I want to the lives of her generation to be better than mine. And I want to be able to say, ‘I tried.’”