A monthly political series by Rishi Kumar
SATYAGRAH SOULS is a monthly political series presented by Bay Area’s community leader Rishi Kumar in highlighting the community involvement and success of role-model Indian Americans. This series seeks to inspire each of us in giving back to our local community. Indian Americans are going through a transitional evolution while getting entrenched in a new world, exerting zealous work ethics, supporting the American economy as entrepreneurs, high tech geeks, doctors, lawyers and more.
We are definitely imposing the positive intentions and good citizen values upon this fantastic country. But can our involvement run a bit deeper with issues near and dear to our hearts, within our local city with the local public school that our children attend? Do we sometimes hear your conscience imploring us, “Am I doing enough?” Yes we can get involved just a bit more, push our comfort zone and enhance the learning and involvement.
Our involvement can simply start with developing a healthy curiosity in our local community, instead of being ‘busy’ bystanders. Once we get involved, we will quickly discover, how easy it is for us to make change happen and how receptive everyone around is to leverage our skills for the betterment. There are leaders waiting to be discovered, why not take that first step? More importantly, how freeing and energizing the experience is; personally rewarding and transformative at the same time. There are many who have made their mark in doing just that. With this monthly series, we want to highlight these SatyAgrah souls who are showing us the path. Here is a SatyaGrah soul, who has found the calling…
‘I want to inspire young folks to get involved’
Political engagement is your calling. You ran against Congressman Tom Lantos (CD12) back in 2004, against Congressman Mike Honda in 2014 and now again against Congressman Honda. How has your political outlook shifted over the years when you look back to Ro then and today.
When I ran against Rep. Lantos in 2004, it was in protest to the Iraq war. I was 27 years old and ran a three month campaign knowing I didn’t have a shot to win – but I was standing up for what I believed in. As I look back at my 27 year old self, I realize how silly that must have seemed (and been) for many. I learned a lot about politics and decided to invest myself more fully into local issues and community involvement.
Since the 2014 cycle, I have been involved in community organizations such as faith in action, working with Milpitas officials in finding comprehensible solutions to the odor issue, and working with Mayor Liccardo in San Jose on a manufacturing initiative that will bring jobs to the region.
Ro running for Congress in CD17, what is the unique opportunity you see for yourself and the voters in June and then in November?
The American political arena has become polarized and filled with anger. The type of conversations that are happening in the presidential election – the negativity, the anger and the blaming of immigrants and other groups – has created a hole in our democracy.
At the national level we have forgotten the basic ideals that have brought us together as Americans. Our district is the most diverse district in the United States and is the only Asian-American majority district in the continental United States.
It is that incredible diversity that must be celebrated. Our diversity gives our country an advantage over countries abroad. Yet the confidence in our government and rich diversity has sunk to an all time low. I see myself and the residents of our community standing up to the hostility and distrust on the national level.
You lost by only 4500 votes in the last election in 2014, when the margin of Congressman Honda’s victory to prior opponents was always much bigger. When you think back, what were the one or two things that could have helped you through the finish line victorious?
It is always difficult to oust a sitting incumbent the first time around – and it usually takes two or three times afterwards to do so. Looking back, I believe we ran a very successful campaign. We started out at 3% name recognition in the polls and managed to close the gap to come within three points.
Silicon Valley has not seen fundraising prowess such as yours. What is the secret sauce?
The needs of Silicon Valley are constantly changing with the growth of new technology and innovation. With the addition of companies such as Yahoo, Google, LinkedIn, Intel, and Tesla in the Valley, many of the workers and executives have become apathetic and disenchanted with the political process.
I do not believe there is a secret method to fundraising here in the Valley. Rather, it is important to understand the needs of the Valley and how a changing, yet, globalized economy fits to the needs of the district.
You were part of President Obama’s United States Department of Commerce team as deputy assistant secretary. How did that exposure into the White House work for you? What advice would you give to an Indian American seeking to find similar roles?
I would say get involved in campaigns and develop a skill that you can bring to public service. For me, it was the intersection of law and economics, but for others it might be something different. Working for the President was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
November 8th 2016 you get a congratulatory call “Congratulations Congressman Khanna”. What is your vision on achievements you will bring for your congressional district over the next two years?
I’m not idealistic about how challenging it is to accomplish things in Congress. I see myself as someone that refuses to demonize my opponents, on principle, and so I will do everything I can to work with folks on the other side. If the GOP controls the House, I’m not convinced I can do all that much but I am convinced I will try.
My vision is to be a leader and spokesman for my community and the issues that matter, to be active in legislative debates, to be active in voting and to be as ethical in my conduct as possible. I want to inspire young folks to get involved and make a difference in their government. I want to change the tone of D.C. by my conduct.
What I can accomplish is generally out of control, but my demeanor and my willingness to be active and ethical is in my hands.
What are the Indian American issues that you will seek to address during those two
Indian Americans generally don’t have much vocal support in general. I will proudly wear my heritage on my sleeve, and make sure that we have a leader that stands against the hate motivated racial attacks and discrimination transgressions at the airport. Many of these are issues that aren’t theoretical.
How do you foresee the evolution of our Indian American Diaspora over the years?
We are the nation’s highest education, highest earning income bracket, but we need to become the most active politically. This is important because folks should know that we aren’t just temporary high skilled immigrants. Indian Americans can be proud of their heritage and proud of their patriotism to America.
What advice do you have for the young Indian American kid who met you at the Cupertino or Fremont front door as you campaign, and is getting inspired to achieve political success to follow in your footsteps?
My advice to Indian American youth who want to follow my footsteps would be to tell them to start with their community. It all starts with connecting with people, and that begins with being a kind person who sincerely cares about folks. If you want the honor to represent people, you’ll have to earn it in a way that’s organic and true to yourself. Start by joining clubs that will enable civic engagement – campaigns are the best place to start. And then do all of the other stuff that you would do normally; stay in school and fall in love with your academics, make good friends and develop strong advisors in your teachers and professors. And read. Read as much as you can from as many people as you can. In the long run, you’ll be smarter, better and more fulfilled.
Ro thank you! We wish you success with all future endeavours.
Do you have a story to share? We invite you to introduce us to folks in your community who are making a difference – we would love to profile them. Are there similar stories you are familiar with locally. The ones who helped address a simple issue in the community to make life a bit better. Perhaps someone you know decided to make a run for school board, was appointed to the planning commission. Provide us your insights on Indian Americans locally and nationally who are making things happen. These perspectives will help construct roadmaps for our community to empower ourselves, to hopefully ignite a desire in all of us to represent our local communities as doers, leaders, establish and entrench ourselves in this glorious country of America and help make it a better place
ABOUT RISHI: Rishi is Silicon Valley’s community worker seeking to make a difference in his local community. As an elected city councilmember in Saratoga, CA and politically active in the state of California, he continues to follow his passion for community service, seeking to provide services to his citizens cheaper, faster and better. Rishi has community outreach and engagement a key focus for his political leadership. As Saratoga’s community organizer, Rishi is host of many community events in Saratoga, many of which are free and always inclusive usually addressing a need or a cause.
Rishi’s day job is as a Silicon Valley hi-tech executive but his zeal for community service effervescent. Rishi is also the President of the Bay Area Indian American Democratic Club (www.baiadc.org) whose charter is to further the interests and values of Indian Americans, work towards political empowerment and advance ethical standards in the political system. You can reach him via his website www.RishiKumar.com.