Making a Difference in Politics, One Progressive Candidate at a Time
Earlier this month, I publicly launched The Pluralism Project, a federal hybrid PAC that will focus on 1) supporting and offering training to candidates hailing from diverse backgrounds to run for office nationwide, and 2) produce and market several digital ads highlighting America's beautiful social tapestry of diversity and pluralism in the aims of promoting a more unified country in the face of Republican divisiveness and efforts to empower the Alt-Right and white nativists. But the idea wasn't originally mine, it was my Pakistani maternal grandfather's: S.M.K. Wasti.
The House of Wisdom & The House of Lancaster
My grandfather's proposed solution was based on the House of Wisdom found in the ancient Muslim capital of Baghdad, where scientists, clergymen and scholars of all faiths and races would form the world's first think-tank with the imperial mandate to create sound public policy for not just the major political and religious issues of the day, but also matters of education, mathematics, science, literature and the dissemination of what was decided and learned to the greater empire. In Baghdad, at the time one of the world's most pluralistic and diverse places to live, the House of Wisdom was focused on the principle of inclusion and embracing both diversity and pluralism in order to ensure all perspectives were heard and considered in order to make comprehensive policy decisions and scholarly discoveries.
As the son of a Shakespearean scholar, Grandfather Wasti was familiar with English history, and especially the War of the Roses. He saw Henry Tudor's unlikely rise to power, and the wisdom of Tudor in unifying of the Houses of Lancaster and York as exactly what he would his project would be doing in Pakistan, which is a former British colony. In Tudor's honor: he named his idea The House of Lancaster.
Empowering Democracy, A Continent Away
Grandfather Wasti was disturbed by the lack of political and public policy training of the winning candidates of Pakistan's first free elections in the 1970s. He noticed that while many talked a good game, they often played on religious populism and jingoist sentiments in Pakistan to alienate non-Muslims and other oppressed minorities to strong-arm an election result. Often these candidates were secular themselves, but played on the piety and heartfelt sentiments towards Islam of Pakistan's illiterate masses. Grandfather Wasti warned successive governments and ministers that the everyday concerns of Pakistan's massively rural and impoverished citizenry were being ignored, to the detriment of civil society, and democracy. This was the era of when Pakistan decided to invest billions in a clandestine nuclear program, and Pakistan's Prime Ministers famously stated that his people "would eat grass" if that's what it would to take in order to achieve the creation of an atomic weapon (his people would come close). Grandfather Wasti feared that Pakistan was nearing a tipping point where Islamist fanaticism would overcome Pakistan's civil society, and plunge Pakistan into a dangerous netherworld of extremism and political chaos. He was right.
The One Percent Crush My Grandather's Hopes
Sadly, Pakistan's elites judged my grandfather as a hopeless intellectual and academic. But they also went a step further, and considered him to be a dangerous man. Grantfather Wasti's sense of solidarity with Pakistan's working poor despite his social caste and economic class threatened to unleash Pakistan's diversity and pluralism to challenge the narrative of political Islamists who cared for only one thing: achieving power at all costs. Therefore, Pakistani power-brokers worked to sideline and marginalize Grandfather Wasti for his commitment to a Pakistan for all, even those he disagreed with. The House of Lancaster project would never come to be, and Pakistan would eventually become one of the world's least tolerant towards religious minorities, actively disenfranchise ethnic minorities, and especially harass and de-legitimize women in the public sphere. The power of his idea to educate and train candidates and elected officials on the issues facing everyday Pakistanis was terrifying to the rulers, so they crushed his hopes.
America & The Pluralism Project
Today, America is at a similar tipping point as Pakistan was in the 1970s. After 8 years of embracing America's pluralistic and multi-faceted identity as a land of hope delivered and change realized, a caustic and dangerous minority of Republicans have hijacked the American Dream for their own misanthropic designs. Pakistan too, had an election where a hope-based, left leaning campaign to bring socio-economic justice won the vast majority of the votes, but due to technicalities could not take power. Those who did take power belonged to a super-wealthy elite that made its fortune through being brutal landlords who gouged tenants and had a questionable track-record of never-ended legal problems and sex abuse accusations. One familiar enough with the contours of modern world history could be forgiven for being confused and mistaking what is happening today in capital of the free world to Pakistan's plight in the early 70s. Dark times lie ahead for the Resistance, and moreover for the more than 300 million souls who call America their home.
Yet, there are many key differences. For one, nearly all of Pakistan's elites were committed to continuing to oppress the wide majority of the population to enrich themselves. A few brave men and women including my grandfather were all that stood in their way. Moreover, in an age where landline phones were hard to find, computers, social media and the internet were non-existent, and where the federal government actively murdered democratic activists in broad-daylight: grassroots organizing could and did get many brave people killed without legal or political repercussions for the murderers.
Thankfully, the Donald hasn't gotten that much power yet.
Honor Thy Grandfather, Empower Grassroots Democracy.
Here in America, men and women like my father and mother can achieve untold heights both economically and socially. Our freedom is hardwired into the DNA of our country, and we take pride in it. Whereas my grandfather was politically ham-stringed by his own colleagues, friends and even relatives for dreaming to empower Pakistanis to educate themselves about what it would take to change their homeland for the better, my fellow Americans and I have no such inhibitions. That is why I decided to risk my personal political clout and found The Pluralism Project. To finish what Grandfather Wasti began in his homeland, in mine.
Our elected officials by and large do not reflect the breadth & variety of life narratives our our pluralistic America. Few are scientists, nearly none are social workers or union organizers. President Obama's decision to forego wealth and become a community organizer in South Chicago was mocked by Republican extremists in 2008 & 2012. Nearly no Muslims are elected in Maryland, a state whose massive Muslim population speaks over 80 languages. Native Americans, Inuit & Hawaiians struggle to win seats in the lands of their respective ancestors. Arab & Iranian Americans have become captains of industry and champions in business, yet they too are greatly underrepresented in office. Women are nowhere near 52% of our legislators. A man who casually jokes about sexual assault sits in the Oval Office. These facts, especially that last one, must be addressed.
Empowering remarkable public candidates from these diverse personal narratives is the overarching political mission of The Pluralism Project. The social mission is to help Americans from different communities, states and tribes to come to know one other, understand one another's public policy stances; to help those candidates work together towards an America that is not ruled by the populism of the vocal minority that elected a man of hate to the highest office in the land.
We plan to start by training candidates through the end of the year on how to be a candidate: how to fundraise, how to campaign in public, put together a field plan, and build a coalition around them of supporters and voters to carry them to the finish line. We'll also go over public speaking, political strategizing, and most importantly: brief the candidates continuously about public policy matters affecting their local communities and how they can help shape law and policy to serve their electorates and fellow Americans--regardless of the color of their passport.
My grandfather began a mission to change how politics worked against the everyday people of his country by hijacking their democracy. Today, I am finishing his work in my own country, insha'Allah.
Thank you, Naana Abu.