fbpx Meet the Queens Immigrant Advocates Calling on Voters to Leave It Blank in the New York Democratic Presidential Primary - Documented

Queens Immigrant Advocates Call on Voters to ‘Leave It Blank’ in the Democratic Presidential Primary

Organizers are pushing President Joe Biden to call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza through a grassroots campaign targeting the ballot box.

With the New York Democratic presidential primary here, a dedicated movement has been organizing across the state to convince voters to leave their ballots blank in opposition to the Biden administration’s support of Israel’s attacks in Gaza. Although President Biden is all but assured of his party’s nomination, the organizers hope that if enough ballots are left blank, it will send a powerful message to the president to support a lasting ceasefire in Gaza.

“The Abandon Biden campaign is a civil rights struggle that stands for the premise that life must be protected,” said Khaled Kansou, an organizer with National Abandon Biden, a nationwide campaign by Muslim Americans to leverage their votes for a ceasefire. “When you leave it blank, you stand for justice. When you leave it blank, you stand for life.” 

The movement to ‘leave it blank’ or vote ‘uncommitted’ in the primary has gained steam throughout the country after 13% of voters in the Michigan Democratic Primary voted ‘uncommitted.’ About 19% of voters in Minnesota also voted ‘uncommitted’ in their primary. Both states have significant Muslim populations

In New York, the state with the largest Muslim population in the country, the campaign has gained the support of several labor unions, such as UAW Local 2325 and Local 100 as well as politicians like Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, Councilmember Tiffany Cabán, and Councilmember Shahana Hanif. The campaign has won the endorsement of the state’s influential Working Families Party, which has urged New Yorkers to make their voices heard in the polls. 

Also Read: NYC Civil Rights Groups Demand Investigation of West Bank Home Sales

“We’re urging voters to use their voice at the ballot box to send a clear message to President Biden that he must correct course on the war on Gaza,” said New York Working Families Party co-directors Ana María Archila and Jasmine Gripper in a statement.

Activists are urging New Yorkers to leave their ballots blank because there are currently no uncommitted or write-in options in the New York Primary. Still, New Yorkers are allowed to submit blank ballots, and blank ballots are recorded and counted. The official number of blank ballots that are submitted will be available in the certified election results a few weeks after the election takes place.

Two days before the Primary, a diverse group of immigrant activists and community organizers gathered in Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza before Iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast during the month of Ramadan, to get the word out about the campaign. The group represented the vast mosaic of Queen’s vibrant immigrant diasporas. In addition to advocating for the Leave It Blank campaign, the organizers hoped to bridge the gaps between the various ethnic communities to build a movement based on mutual solidarity. Documented spoke to four of the organizers to understand what was motivating them.

Nesar Bhuyan, a Bangladeshi organizer with DRUM Beats.

Nesar Bhuyan, a Bangladeshi organizer with DRUM Beats, a sibling organization of DRUM. Photo: Amir Khafagy for Documented

Why are you organizing your community? 

First of all, we are here in solitary with our Palestinian brothers and sisters. We also have many issues in our community and politicians say they don’t have enough money but are sending money to Israel. They are sending our tax money for weapons. They can’t stop our voices and we will never stop doing what we can.

Why do you support the Leave It Blank movement?

They want only our votes, nothing else. I would say this is a very good strategy because every time we tell elected officials to support a ceasefire, they don’t listen to us. Now it’s our time because this is election time. When we talk to our community, they are angry and they are not going to vote. We are telling them to make their anger known by voting and leaving it blank. Your silence will speak loudly.

Why do you think organizing immigrant communities important?

The truth is this country is built up by the immigrant communities. When we talk to people, most of them don’t have voting power, but we ask people if they have no voting power, how many voters do they know? They say they have friends, they have family that can vote, so they have the power to explain the issue. So if one person explains, not convince, but explains the issue people could change their minds. It doesn’t mean that if you can’t vote you have no power. I would say if you can’t vote, you have even more power to change minds. 

Sarinya Srisakul, Organizer with Angry Asian Womxn and Asians 4 Palestine NYC. Srisakul was the first woman firefighter of Asian descent in the FDNY.

Sarisnya Srisakul, Organizer with Angry Asian Womxn and Asians 4 Palestine NYC. Photo: Amir Khafagy for Documented

How has the War in Gaza affected Queens immigrant communities?

This is a very Muslim neighborhood that we live in. Islamophobia doesn’t just affect Muslims but people who are perceived as Muslims. That’s a lot of people in Jackson Heights. So, Angry Asian Womxn started during the rise of the Stop Asian Hate movement, there was a lot of attention on that. There’s a big, huge rise in islamophobia, and not a lot of people are talking about it.

Why is cross-community solidarity important? 

It’s important for the Asian community to come together to show our politicians. Palestine is a part of Asia and the majority of us want a permanent and lasting ceasefire and an end to a genocide.

Karamvir Bhatti, Organizer with Angry Asian Womxn and Asians 4 Palestine NYC.

Karamuir Bhatti, Organizer with Angry Asian Womxn and Asians 4 Palestine NYC. Photo: Amir Khafagy for Documented

Why do you think it is important for Queens immigrant communities to “leave it blank”?

I grew up here and especially in my own community, we don’t talk about politics enough. Even for myself, I stayed away from this for a long time until I realized politics seeps into every factor of our lives, every day. I started to work on these things fairly recently and it just changed my perspective on the world and also led me to be able to talk to other people with confidence about what’s going on. Why even voting blank is so important because it leaves a message.

What kind of message will the campaign send?

We have more power than we think we do. Paying attention to this won’t take away from your livelihood. I spoke to a man yesterday, and he said as an immigrant all he wanted to do was to survive and make money because he felt safe in this country. I told him that I get that. I’m an immigrant. My parents are immigrants but pretending nothing is happening around us doesn’t help anybody or change the narrative. That is why wearing a keffiyeh and just being heard and chatting creates something. Even if they are turned off by it or ignore it, they will have to deal with it at some point.

John Choe, Executive Director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and the Flushing Interfaith Council.

John Choe, Executive Director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce and the Flushing Interfaith Council. Photo: Amir Khafagy for Documented

Why do you support the campaign?

It’s really important for people to know, especially during Ramadan, that people in our community are supporting Muslims who are being targeted and scapegoated by people blaming them for the war. The other reason we are here today is to put pressure on our local officials to support a ceasefire in Gaza.

Why the campaign’s strategy could be successful?

It looks like Biden has already secured the delegates to win the nomination so the whole goal behind this is to send a message to him saying that a lot of die-hard Democrats don’t support his policy and his count support for Israel and genocide. I already voted and I submitted a blank ballot. I’m hoping if we have enough people it will send Biden and his campaign team a very strong message that he can’t take our votes for granted. That he’s going to have to change his policy.

Why do you think immigrant communities throughout Queens should support the campaign? 

I’m actually fasting myself during Ramadan because I feel it’s very important to be in solidarity with people who are suffering. Right now many Muslims are suffering, they are seeing their families massacred. Nearly 40,000 have been killed and there’s an imminent threat of starvation being deliberately implemented by the Israeli military. So I just feel we should do everything we can.

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