How Padma Lakshmi and Meena Harris Are Getting Out the South Asian Vote

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Padma Lakshmi, and Meena Harris canvassing on Sunday. Image Source: Getty Images/Daniel Zuchnik

It wasn’t sunny in Philadelphia on Sunday — in fact, it was overcast with occasional showers — but the weather didn’t stop more than 200 South Asian celebrities and changemakers from canvassing ahead of the midterm elections.

The event was organized by Indian American Impact, a nonprofit aimed at mobilizing, engaging, and electing South Asian Americans. And it was led by high-profile women — author, model, and TV host Padma Lakshmi, Phenomenal Media CEO Meena Harris, and Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat from Washington, all traveled to Pennsylvania to drum up enthusiasm among the group.

The main event on the agenda was door knocking to encourage members of the South Asian American community to show up to the polls, given that the midterm elections on Tuesday could be the most consequential in years. Voters will weigh in on every seat in the House of Representatives, as well as 35 US Senate seats and 36 governorships. Pennsylvania is an important battleground state, and both political parties made a big last-minute push there over the weekend: President Joe Biden and former presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama campaigned across the state to highlight the fact that Pennsylvania could determine which party controls the Senate.

Harris speaks with voters. Image Source: Getty Images/Daniel Zuchnik

Sunday’s event may have gotten less press coverage, but it was deeply important to the South Asian women who were in attendance. After the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the fight to protect access to reproductive healthcare remains one of the biggest motivating factors for voters this year. Women across the country are telling their stories about why they chose to have an abortion and what protecting bodily autonomy means to them. Sunday’s event spotlighted these issues — which stand to disproportionately impact women of color — and highlighted other factors important to the South Asian community, including economic stability and voting rights.

“This is the first time we’ve brought together this group of South Asian women leaders from all over the country to mobilize our community around civic engagement,” Meena Harris, the niece of Vice President Kamala Harris, said ahead of the event. “And the stakes are so high — right now we’re facing intersecting crises, including alarming new restrictions to abortion care and attacks on free and fair elections. We have to fight, and I’m proud that our community is showing up.”

To kick off the day of canvassing, Peloton instructor Aditi Shah led a grounding session; she told attendees that they belonged, both at the event itself and also in general as part of the election and voting process. Then, Lakshmi weighed in on why mobilizing is so important.

“I never considered myself a very political person, but 2016 happened. So anything we can do to lend a hand and to express our needs and also the needs of our fellow Americans is why I’m here,” Lakshmi said in an impassioned speech. “I don’t need to talk about the vilification of immigrants in this country. Immigrants built this country. We are not just the backbone, we built this — all of us, upon generations and generations.”

As these elections have shown, the personal is political. Before all the canvassers headed out on their own, Lakshmi echoed that message to them: “I want us to get out there, and I want us to do as much as we can to get our message across in a personal way.”

Among Sunday’s attendees were other South Asian leaders and allies in media and entertainment who vocalized why they decided to spend their Sunday afternoons knocking on an estimated of 4,000 doors through South Asian neighborhoods in Upper Darby, Center City, and Northeast Philadelphia.

“We are going door to door in predominantly South Asian neighborhoods to make sure they have a plan for Tuesday. For me personally, it’s Roe-vember, and reproductive rights are on the line,” TV personality and author Aparna Shewakramani, star of Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking,” told POPSUGAR. “I also think this is a community of immigrants, and a lot of immigrants today are being vilified. As an immigrant, I want to see this addressed through our vote.”

The fall of Roe was top of mind for author and podcast cohost Annika Sharma as well, who said that she had a miscarriage in May. Since the Dobbs decision, she said, “family members in different states weren’t able to access the same care for their own reproductive health crises in states that had trigger laws. I came today because I believe women in Pennsylvania deserve the right to make medical decisions for themselves and canvassing and subsequent voting provide a greater opportunity to foster that change.”

For others in attendance, exercising the right to vote reflects the responsibility every citizen has in upholding democracy. For business strategist and columnist Komal Minhas, this is so important that she flew down from Canada to attend the event.

“As a Canadian, I can attest to how we feel the fragile nature of democracy globally. America is the epicenter of where many political trends come from, and we need to respect the institution that democracy is,” she told POPSUGAR. “South Asians have historically been marginalized, but our voices do matter and voting is a privilege that we can’t take for granted regardless of what country we live in.”

The fight for protecting democracy would be incomplete without the support of South Asian men, many of whom said Sunday they understand the significance of how these issues impact not just them, but also their wives, daughters, sisters, and moms.

Actor Ritesh Rajan was there to highlight that point. As he told POPSUGAR: “I’m here to make sure that basic human rights are heard and that issues of food security, shelter, women’s reproductive rights, education, and more are recognized on the ballot.”

While the focus on abortion rights was palpable during canvassing on Sunday, ultimately, there was one main message: get out and vote on Nov. 8.

In her opening remarks, Jayapal made it clear why: “Every vote has power. South Asians and Indian Americans can turn the vote.”

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