Walk the Walk 2020: From the Streets to the Ballot Box

By Mishi Faruqee and Anoka Faruqee

Mary Jobaida in Jackson Heights DANIEL LEHRKAUPT

When we were 12 and 11 years old, our parents took us and our older brother to the National Mall to participate in the 20th anniversary of the historic March on Washington. Participating in a Black-led mass demonstration for racial justice was not the norm amongst our circle of comfortable Bangladeshi immigrant families in suburban Maryland. Yet, there we were, marching and chanting in a sea of people of all races and backgrounds honoring the words of Dr. Martin Luther King: “No one is free until we are all free.”

Was it our parents’ memory of large scale violence and overwhelming refugee crises that brought them to the march that day? In 1947, after former British India had been brutally divided along religious lines, our paternal grandfather was on a train going from East Pakistan through India to West Pakistan. He was miraculously saved by a stranger who persuaded him to leave the train during a stop — a train in which all Muslim passengers were killed by the time it had reached the next station. Our grandfather took shelter in a refugee camp, while our then 11-year-old father walked several miles every day for over a month to the post office, hoping for a letter. Our father says that the day the letter arrived from our grandfather may have been the most significant day of his life.

As parents, we have been witness to horrific extra-judicial police murders of Black people and the separation and caging of refugee children. Currently, we are in the midst of a willfully neglected pandemic that deepens racial and economic disparities, and deaths. We tell our own children, ages 5, 10, and 15, that we are working for justice. Racial and economic oppression have been a part of American democracy since its inception and sporadic gains in justice have continued to devastatingly regress since the 2016 election. There are structural intersections in American plutocracy between unregulated capitalism, environmental collapse, gerrymandering, voter suppression, mass incarceration, endless privatization, and the armed intimidation that supports racist, misogynistic, homophobic and classist agendas and concentrates money and power into the hands of fewer and fewer. We are angry, but we refuse to give into cynicism, or to hate: to do so would be surrender.

Over the past weeks, we have seen heartening moments of solidarity and resistance grow into a multi-racial, multi-generational movement to dismantle America’s racist systems. A Bangladeshi man whose Minneapolis shop was burned down in the initial uprisings after police murdered George Floyd, responded, “We can rebuild a building, but we cannot rebuild a human. The community is still here and we can work together to rebuild.” In Washington DC, a man sheltered nearly 70 protesters fleeing arrest overnight after military police had teargassed and dispersed a peaceful protest in front of the White House. There have been protests in all 50 states from small rural towns, to suburbs to large cities. The movement has already started to topple confederate monuments and racist policing practices in several states. We are excited about the eight progressive Bangladeshi New Yorkers who are currently running in local, state and congressional races.

We know that given the Democratic Party’s current standard bearers — to many, electoral politics may seem less vital and even divorced from the powerful uprising happening on the streets, but with the right investments in grassroots organizations, we will not only defeat Donald Trump and his GOP enablers but also strengthen the long term movement to dismantle America’s deep-rooted racist policies and systems. We believe this burgeoning movement for transformative racial justice can spar a massive effort to mobilize voters of color in key swing states.

Join us in supporting Walk the Walk 2020, a fundraising initiative to resource grassroots community organizations who are building electoral power in Black and Latinx communities in eight battleground states — Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida, and now Arizona, Ohio and Texas. The initiative’s approach of relational voter turnout has consistently proven to be the single most effective intervention to increase participation particularly in previously disenfranchised communities. These groups are working in specific districts in battleground states where there are “nested” elections up and down the ballot that will greatly affect our democracy (Senate, House, and State legislatures). Thus, these specific constituents will have an outsized impact on election day. In this way, we can ethically, strategically and effectively begin dismantling the corruption of our current government, and especially of the party in power.

Walk the Walk 2020 is more effective than donating to electoral campaigns that are obligated to spend large sums of money on consultants and television ads. Instead, Walk the Walk 2020 supports organizations that are:

  • Investing in community relationships and personal connections to turn out voters. These community organizations use peer-to-peer connections to engage voters and work year round on building electoral power in communities of color. For example, one of the beneficiary organizations, Advance Carolina, is a Black-led organization with a mission to build the political and economic power in Black communities and institutions in North Carolina. In 2016, Advance Carolina helped elect a Black NC Supreme Court Justice, flipped a house seat by 3000 votes and won at county school tax measure by 1200 votes. In 2017, the organization helped elect two Black mayors and three Black women in Wake County. Significantly, organizations like Advance Carolina put money directly in the pockets of people who live in the communities where they work and organize. (Update: Walk the Walk helped close the funding gap for Advance Carolina, Carolina Federation, and Durham for All.)
  • Advocating for legislative and policy changes to improve the lives of Latinx and Black communities. The beneficiary organizations have C4 status so they can take political positions and advocate for passage of legislation and policy changes on the local and state level. For example, Voces de la Frontera in Wisconsin has led successful campaigns to defeat two state anti-sanctuary bills and the 287g program that turns local law enforcement into immigration agents. As groups like Voces de la Frontera have led campaigns affecting Latinx communities, they have built leadership in these communities and helped earn the trust and credibility needed to engage community members in the electoral process.
  • Working to dismantle racist laws and policies to help achieve racial and economic justice. Another of the five beneficiary organizations is the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. Prior to 2018, Florida permanently barred anyone with a felony conviction from voting, effectively disenfranchising 20 percent of the state’s African-American voters. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition led the effort to pass Amendment 4 to restore voting rights to 1.4 million people who have felony convictions in Florida. The grassroots organization has also challenged the Florida legislature’s attempt to restrict voting rights by requiring that people with felony convictions must pay all court fines and restitution before voting. The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is now working on educating, registering and protecting these new voters. (Update: we helped close the C4 funding gap of Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, so Walk the Walk supported the New Florida Majority.)

Structural forces have decimated our public institutions of education, healthcare, and democracy itself, so now is our chance to utilize all of the democratic pathways that are still available to us. Be part of a broad coalition of conscientious and active citizens throughout this country that includes BIPOC, the LGBTQIA community, women, immigrants, and the economically oppressed, a coalition that is enacting its heartbreak, outrage, anger and hope.

Please donate here and share this donation link. For every donation above $15, we are matching with $15 each ourselves. So if you donate $15, we will donate $30. (Update: we did throughout Phase 1 and Phase 2 of Walk the Walk 2020.)

Mishi Faruqee is the National Field Director of the Youth First Initiative, where she works to end youth incarceration.

Anoka Faruqee is an artist and educator living in New Haven, CT.

(Postscript on 11/6/20: Walk the Walk 2020 has been an all volunteer effort started by about a dozen friends, who thought in June 2020, when this article was originally published that we could raise $200,000. We have since been joined by many more co-leaders, and a donor base of over 4,000 people. Together, we have raised close to 3 million dollars and closed the funding gaps of 12 grass-roots voter organizations. For most of these organizations, Walk the Walk 2020 was their largest source of individual donations ever. In October 2020, Walk the Walk 2020 launched Phase 3, which supported 12 state legislature candidates of color in key swing districts, and coordinated volunteer opportunities for these candidates. In the final days before and after the election, we have been supporting protect the vote efforts, and encouraging people to volunteer to cure ballots. As we watch the vote counting in AZ, PA, and GA, we remain humble, resolute and in awe of our partners for their absolutely critical work in building short and long term power and realizing democracy, all of which are clearly works in progress.)