(Headline USA) On March 11, in his first public address as president, Joe Biden issued an ominous warning—or clarion call, as it were—about an uptick in anti-Asian violence.
It came amid polling that more than 50% of people see China as one of the top threats against the US in the wake of the coronavirus, espionage, human-rights and economic abuses by the trans-Pacific rival superpower.
Much of the recent violence has occurred in the heavily blue Bay Area, and other areas heavily populated by Asians and Asian Americans, where radical leftist prosecutors have ceased to charge for low-level crimes including theft and assault.
Much of it also has been committed by black assailants, not the “white supremacists” Biden and fellow Democrats have sought to scapegoat for domestic ills.
Nonetheless, Biden attempted to assign blame on his predecessor, former president Donald Trump, for fomenting anti-Chinese sentiment.
As if on cue, five days later, a white assailant killed eight mostly Asian workers at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. No known political or racial motives are suspected, with the 21-year-old gunman citing his conflicted sexual impulses as the motive.
Even so, Biden’s prescient warning has inspired the long-neglected minority group, backed by Big Tech bucks and other lobbying influences, to finally make its voice heard.
Seeing the possibility for political leverage, Democrats are playing along, if not leading the way, in what some hope will come to resemble profound influence of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter activist movements.
Speaking on the floor of the Georgia state Senate last week, Michelle Au implored her colleagues to “stand up” to the hatred aimed at Asian Americans—a growing demographic in Georgia, which Democrats were able to swing blue in recent elections with support from the Asian community.
“People in our communities are hungry for representation that looks like them,” Au said in an interview. “I don’t think people can see problems if they haven’t lived it in the past.”
Many Asian Americans say feelings of being marginalized politically will take years to fully overcome.
Last week, an emotional congressional hearing cast a national spotlight on combating racism among the community—but major legislation addressing it isn’t likely forthcoming.
“I think symbolism and representation matters, but only up to a point,” said Aarti Kohli, executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice. “What’s more important is actually doing the work.”
More appear to be preparing campaigns for the future. Madalene Xuan-Trang Mielke, the group’s president and CEO, said her organization recently held a training for people interested in joining municipal and state legislative races and had about 30 attendees. She also encourages members of the community to join local boards and commissions.
“We are subject matter experts in a wide array of industries, and we should have that be a reflection of our democracy by having people like us and others be a part of any sort of public policy conversation,” Mielke said.
As grievance culture has dominated other activist movements, Asians continue to be stereotyped and discriminated against due to their success.
The Biden administration recently dropped lawsuits that sought to hold prestigious schools like Yale accountable for implementing quotas that were harmful to Asians.
But Democrats have intentionally sought to get out in front of the issue by supporting activists who seek solidarity with historically oppressed groups—a block that reliably votes blue.
In November’s election, 70% of Asian American voters supported Biden, according to AP VoteCast, a nationwide survey of the electorate. Asian Americans now represent the nation’s fastest-growing ethnic minority, accounting for nearly 5% of eligible voters in last year’s election, according to the Pew Research Center.
U.S. Census data showed that the community had one of the largest increases in voting rates of any group in the 2018 midterm elections as compared with the 2014 midterms, jumping from an estimated 27% of eligible voters who actually voted in 2014 to 40% in 2018.
But the largest Asian American communities are still mostly concentrated in non-swing presidential states, which means neither political party has focused significant resources on voter outreach.
“There’s not the same incentive for parties to mobilize them, and it’s much harder because it takes some resources, it takes some attention to outreach and language to understand Asian American issues as well,” said Janelle Wong, the director of the University of Maryland’s Asian American Studies Program.
“Those things all contribute to lower rates of political participation among Asian Americans, but people—mistakenly, I think—assume that Asian Americans are somehow less interested in U.S. civic life.”
That’s evolving. Wong points to statehouse races in Virginia this year, where Asian American voters in the Washington suburbs could have decisive influence.
“People are now much more invested, especially since people in positions of power have been constantly silencing our community,” said Michelle Chan, a Chinese Malaysian American voter in Alexandria, Virginia.
Kohli, of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said the community could also swing House districts in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Texas during the 2022 midterm elections.
Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York, first vice chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said many Asian Americans have reacted to the shootings by trying to better protect themselves, donating to civic groups and even forming brigades to walk with older people in majority Asian neighborhoods or distributing whistles to try to curb incidents of racism and violence. But she said greater political engagement was the next step.
“We are literally taught not to speak up and not to rock the boat,” Meng said. “And so, during this past year especially, it’s been such a challenge to say to our older generation Asian immigrants—Asian Americans who might even have been here for three decades—that now is the time to be invisible no more, that they have to speak up.”
Nabilah Islam, a Bangladeshi American Democratic strategist and organizer in Georgia, ran for Congress unsuccessfully last year.
She said she felt compelled to do so because, although she had lived in her district outside Atlanta her whole life, she “never saw anyone who looked like me” campaigning.
“What makes a real difference is having activists from within your own community show up,” Islam said. “For so long, we’ve had this top-down strategy where you typically, frankly, have these white consultants come in and tell you how you should organize your communities. But they’ve never actually visited these homes and talked to these families.”
The Asian American and Pacific Islander community encompasses people from an array of different heritages and cultures who often speak languages other than English.
Organizers say they are working to better unify those distinct heritages while teaming up with activists from other backgrounds, including African Americans and Latinos — and that the outpouring of public support following the shootings could make such efforts easier.
“Asian Americans didn’t necessarily grow up with that vocabulary of advocacy and how to fight for ourselves,” Meng said. That’s necessitated having “to learn that from other communities like the Black and Latino communities and walking alongside them, witnessing their struggles.”
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press