By Aminta Kilawan Narine, Esq.
On Wednesday, June 16th, Caribbean Equality Project (CEP) in partnership with South Queens Women’s March (SQWM) and APA VOICE, held the “Little Guyana Votes” Rally and Outreach in Richmond Hill, Queens. The action occurred at the intersection of Lefferts Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, next to Tropical Isle Roti Shop. The site is the location of the recent unveiling of the co-named “Little Guyana Avenue” street sign.
The event featured a short rally, tabling, street canvassing, voter registration outreach, PPE distribution, and free giveaways including hundreds of culturally responsive snacks such as doubles and pine-tarts made fresh by Tropical Isle, t-shirts, tote bags, and wristbands from Democracy NYC and cookies from Bedessee Imports. Little Guyana Votes was organized in collaboration with several organizations including Democracy NYC, Minkwon Center for Community Action and the Asian American Federation as well as many Indo-Caribbean and South Asian led Southeast Queens community-based organizations, including Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, United Madrassi Association, Kaurageous Love, and South Asian Council for Social Services. The event was one of many non-partisan get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts happening in the City during early voting for the June 22 primary election.
The election was among one of the most important in New York City’s recent memory, with a record high number of candidates running, and voters casting their ballots in a new way through ranked choice voting. According to The City, over 850,000 New Yorkers, including 191,000 who cast ballots during early voting, voted on the June 22 primary day and another nearly 130,000 returned absentee ballots as of Sunday, June 27. This contrasts with 700,000 New Yorkers casting their ballots during the most recently highly competitive citywide race in 2013.
Laura Wood, the city’s chief democracy officer, credits election reforms such as early voting, no-excuse absentee voting and ranked choice voting for the high turnout. Increased civic engagement efforts could have also contributed to the high turnout. “Democracy NYC is a proud partner of the APA Voice, a coalition of community-based organizations that have been on the ground for months ensuring Asian American New Yorkers, specifically immigrants, are prepared for Ranked Choice Voting this June,” said Wood in reference to the Little Guyana Votes event.
The event was likely the first of its kind in the area, organized not in advocacy of a particular candidate, but rather in advocacy of voting generally. Ramdat Singh, CEP’s Director of Civic Engagement and co-organizer of Little Guyana Votes said, “We must continue to show up at the polls, so our marginalized voices are heard. This is how we continue to build political power in New York City for LGBTQ+ people, Indo-Caribbeans, Afro-Caribbeans, South Asians, and for undocumented community members that are ineligible to vote due to their citizenship status. We are deserving of equitable funding for community-based organizations, immigration services, healthcare, employment, quality of life, and economic sustainability.”
During the rally, Vijah Ramjattan of the United Madrassi Association said: “Whenever we have an opportunity to vote, we are in a position of power: that is power to determine who we put in charge of our safety; power to determine who we put in charge to make choices for our children’s education so they are equipped with the right tools to reach their full potential; power to determine who will ensure that we are safe when the next pandemic comes; power to put someone in a position to end poverty in our marginalized, underserved and underrepresented communities.” Rohan Narine, co-founder of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, called community members to action: “Ranked choice voting changes the landscape of how we will be voting in the future. I encourage everyone on the streets, walking by, getting off the bus or train, to stop by and learn more about ranked choice voting. This is one of the most important election years in recent memory.”
Little Guyana Avenue (Liberty Avenue) runs parallel to Little Punjab Avenue (101 Avenue), with South Asians and Indo-Caribbeans comprising a sizable population in the South Richmond Hill and South Ozone Park area that Census data does not fully account for. This population has been referred to in conversation as a “sleeping dragon” which, once fully awaked, could be a consequential voting bloc. While the registration deadline for the June primary election had passed, volunteers at Little Guyana Votes registered community members for the general election in the fall. “We’re all built up of these small communities that don’t get enough representation so this is a great time to come out and register to vote. Let’s stand together and register our community so we can have our voices heard!” said Ravtej Kohli, member of Kaurageous Love. According to Rehan Mehmood, Director of Health Services, South Asian Council for Social Services (SACSS), “The Little Guyana Votes event highlighted the importance of civic awareness and voter engagement in this neighborhood.”
Other speakers at the rally included Bharati Kemraj of the Bharati Foundation, Ahmed Butt of Asian American Federation, and Marzan Noshin of APA VOICE. Noshin said, “For far too long, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) have been overlooked when it comes to political and civic engagement in New York City. It’s time for us to start making change as our population and involvement continues to grow. Seeing AAPI representation in voter turnouts is crucial to having a more balanced political system, as we continue to fight for a NYC that we aspire to be in.”
To learn more about the Caribbean Equality Project visit www.caribbeanequalityproject.org. To learn more about South Queens Women’s March, visit www.southqueenswomensmarch.org. To learn more about APA VOICE visit www.apavoice.org.