Civic Engagement

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Civic Engagement and Participation through Art

Greater Houston is home to major Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Nepali, and Bhutanese populations. We champion community organizing through the arts to empower and unite the BIPOC community, particularly South Asian Americans. We leverage issue-based songs as a tool to increase civic participation and counter reductive narratives that have stereotyped our community. Through our efforts, we forge an inclusive space for cultural and linguistic expression, inspiring active engagement in democratic processes. Our work in this arena started many years ago and became a priority area in 2018.

History Our of Civic Engagement Efforts

South Asian Americans and young voters are the primary audience of our efforts. Riyaaz Qawwali, a collective of musicians residing across the Greater Houston area, has spearheaded this initiative since the spring of 2014, employing music and movement art to breathe life into civic engagement. This approach harmoniously blends the cultural richness of Qawwali music with modern community engagement techniques. Our approach is multifaceted, encompassing both traditional outreach methods and cutting-edge strategies to connect with our audience where they are. This includes a diverse array of initiatives, from live arts and culture events and music videos to issue-based community dialogues and interfaith gatherings.

Our Theory of Change

Change is the shift towards inclusivity, understanding, and collective empowerment.We must consider the historical and ongoing events in South Asian politics, some where factors like nationalism and religious dictatorship are on the rise, others where huge debt is being burdened because of political corruption. This has led to the erosion of trust with many South Asians and South Asian Americans, resulting in disengagement from traditional organizing methods. In order to engage them in the United States and increase their electoral participation, we harness the sacred power of the arts within our community—particularly through the medium of traditional and folk genres. 

Current Strategies to Encourage Electoral Participation

Through the initiatives and activities listed below, we have touched over 400,000 individuals in the last 3 election cycles. Additionally, we have successfully mobilized and organized a community of over 90,000 individuals, contributing to the advancement of civic participation within the South Asian or Desi community.

  • Digital organizing: Addressing issues such as abortion, public education, women’s rights, and LGBTQI+ concerns, we employ a mix of traditional and new media targeting the South Asian community. We have released over 15 issue-based music videos, and 17 community and artist dialogues that have garnered significant community and press attention, and even been showcased on local TV news channels. We disseminate election updates, highlight important ballot issues, and share creative infographics through WhatsApp, Facebook forums, and targeted email marketing.
  • Music Concerts with a Purpose: Our concerts serve to initiate political dialogue among South Asian Americans. Through music, we parlay important contemporary issues including reproductive rights,  public health, education, and immigration.
  • Creative Placemaking and Place-keeping through collaborations: With members from diverse backgrounds and a rich tapestry of cultures, we create a safe space for everyone to create. We encourage the community to inform the art and music that is created. We collaborate with other organizations such as IAA, MECA, ICC, eMgage, OCA, JACL to reach a wider audience and involve more diverse perspectives.
  • Workshops:  We focus on encouraging participation among young voters and adults aged 18-45. Over the recent years, we have led skill-building workshops, where our creatives are trained and work with various BIPOC experts. These community workshops are conducted in person and online (Zoom, Youtube).
  • Text banking and Phone Banking: Traditional organizing techniques such as phone and text banking are also used to increase the voter turnout among South Asian Americans. Leveraging these tools, we directly connect with the community, providing crucial information on elections and candidate positions.

Our aim is to transcend traditional boundaries and foster a profound sense of unity and purpose among Houston’s South Asian American population. Starting in 2023, rigorous data collection efforts have been put in place to measure the impact of these approaches and gauge how effectively they drive our target demographic to the polls.

Group of South Asian people are using computer laptop and talking about politics and elections

Potential Impacts and Outcomes:

  1. Increased civic participation – more of our community comes out to vote
  2. Enhanced community cohesion – our community is stronger together and for our city
  3. Economic growth – our local businesses are positively impacted
  4. Enhanced community identity – our community better aligns with what they are and what they stand for
  5. Cultural expression – art and culture representing our community is more prevalent
  6. Innovative problem solving – our community solves community problems along with creatives

Riyaaz Qawwali