My venture into activism or radical politics wasn’t/isn’t neat. Political issues have always interested me; coming to college, I knew I wanted to get involved. However, my interests early on focused on educating myself for the purpose of learning as such. I was simply curious and wanted to be in the know. But slowly, as political climates grew more tense and as I began to see the structural connections that link every day acts of violence or oppression to those happening on mass national and global levels, I became less interested in simply knowing and more concerned with what that knowledge could do. My academic interests began in STEM, and shifted towards the humanities and social sciences. I think this coincides with the political shift I mentioned above; I wanted to learn things that were not only interesting but that could be applied to change the longstanding wrongs and historical injustices that surround us.
Being Indian, I often get classed as a type of Asian. Being Muslim, I get cast as a type of Indian. Growing up in a post-9/11 United States endowed me with a sort of pessimism, especially when it came to my sense of national belonging. I never truly felt at home with many Indians, a lot of Muslims, and almost anyone who proudly calls themselves American. What I’ve found in my activist endeavors, primarily as an organizer with the Students for Justice in Palestine at UIUC, is that many of my comrades have similar feelings. Although we all come from different places, places too complex to cache out merely in terms of privilege or identity, I think a lot of us are linked through a feeling of alienation, discontent, fear, and anger.
I don’t want to frame this feature as a 'call' to get involved, because I feel that to be an entitled claim to make. I firmly believe, however, that if there will be any time to truly change the world and mend its twisted ways within our lifetimes, it is now. To me, having radical politics means looking beyond individuals and their actions to the larger historical trends and ideological systems influence what people do and how they do it. And let’s be clear, there’s a lot of fucked up shit going on right now. Let’s look just at the U.S.: the poisoning of Flint, Michigan (only one instance of the government disregarding black and poor lives); the grave injustices at Standing Rock (the result of continuing U.S. settler colonialism and capitalist greed which seeks to destroy the planet); a racist, misogynistic, xenophobic baffling oaf as 'the' nation’s leader (not an anomaly, but the purest concentration of the values which birthed the nation); and our complicity or explicit contribution to mass global violence in places like Palestine and Honduras, to name a few.
Activism should not be glamorized. It is not easy. It is not fun. There are many who do organizing work and receive little credit. Likewise, there are some who are unproductive, even toxic, yet garner all the attention. For many, political engagement is a necessity, not a privilege. And with each new repressive law or executive order that enables both state and interpersonal, vigilante violence, political engagement (non-violent and counter-violent) will become necessary for many more of us to survive. Political engagement is not just another way to fight back against a myth or a stereotype; for many, it’s a battle of life and death. Many Asians remain too comfortable with the current positions some of us inhabit. My only hope is that more of us will act preemptively, not (just) for our own sakes, but for the betterment of all who need it."