the Vinod Khoslas and the techie crowd
among the mainstream community —
who’ve got plenty of bucks and who can keep
contributing by bundling this constituency —
and it’s not necessarily the message that has
been the catalyst but just that he’s got Silicon
Valley money behind him that has helped
him out-raise Honda’?
If you look at the FEC (Federal Election
Commission) filings, it’s much more broad-based — we have educators, we have artists,
we have working families, we have large numbers of people from the Asian-American
community from different backgrounds —
small business owners, entrepreneurs, folks
who are doing start-ups, working professionals. It’s a very, very diverse base.
The second thing I’ll say, is every person is
limited to giving $50 to $100 and I have personally pledged not to take the corporate
PAC money, not to take federal lobbyists money, so all the corporate PAC money is actually going to my opponent and we are raising
it one coffee at a time, one small meeting at
a time, on the strength of our message.
You have retained some of the most powerful hired guns to run your campaign — in
fact, virtually all of President Obama’s re-election campaign team, the A team. Was
this a strategic move to psyche Honda?
Jeremy Bird (Obama’s 2012 re-election
campaign team field director) has become a
good friend and calling him a hired gun is
doing him a huge disservice.
These people are visionaries. They supported Obama because of the belief — not
simply in Obama but a belief in community
organizing and grass-roots campaigns. In
saying that establishment endorsements
don’t matter and what matters is engaging
the local community.
We had a philosophical meeting of minds
on what type of campaign is necessary to
restore people’s confidence in American
There is a disconnect between people in
Congress and their communities and I was
committed to running a grass-roots campaign — to knocking on doors, to doing the
community organizing, to engaging people
digitally. Jeremy Bird had the same vision to
run that same type of campaign. We all
thought that this is the laboratory to do it in
Silicon Valley — that there could be no more
an exciting place and that really was the genesis of the collaboration.
How did it come about? Did you seek them
out? Did they put out feelers that they were
interested in running your campaign?
My campaign chair Steve Spinner, who
was the California chair and founder for
TechforObama and one of the top supporters of the President in the country, and I —
we had relationships with people in the
Obama world and as we started to meet and
think about the exciting nature of this new
district, there was a sense of excitement
among all of us and we started to pull the
team together. Steve and Jeremy took the
lead in pulling this team to together.
Is that team still intact?
Yes. In fact, Jeremy is the general consult-
ant and he just released a memo on the
polling you asked me about. He is the num-
bers guy and (David) Axelrod’s firm’s got
Larry Grisolana and John Kupper advising
us on how best to inspire people to believe in
the change message.
We have David Binder as the President’s
pollster also on our team, who by the way,
polled for our opponent the last cycle and is
now polling for us.
That whole team has stayed and that’s a
sign of a healthy campaign as you know. The
team will stay intact; we haven’t had one
When I interviewed Mike Honda, he
admitted he had sought out high-profile
endorsements, particularly from the White
House, because he alleged that you had been
misrepresenting yourself and misquoting
While it’s unlikely that President Obama
would come out to California to stump for
him, in the event that Honda, being an established and iconic Democratic lawmaker,
implores Obama to do so, how would you
deal with it?
How would the President campaigning for
Honda affect your campaign?
The President has never gone out to the
stump as far as I know for a member of Congress, other than for (Democratic incumbent) Tim Periello, which was in Virginia in a
Blue and Red district. So, it would be highly
Honda has attacked the President on a
number of issues — recently on sequestration — and he has criticized the administration on a number of other issues.
I respect the President and the President
can do whatever he wants, but it would be
But what if it happens? Won’t that be a
major boost for Honda, which could make
the difference in a tough primary?
In terms of our governing philosophy, I
believe mine is much closer to where the
President is than Honda’s… I know the
President was going to endorse Honda; he
has endorsed every sitting Democratic
But in terms of our worldview, objectively,
my views are much closer to the President’s
than Honda’s. He is much more critical on a
number of issues of the administration.
The story here is also the emergence of the
Silicon Valley and the South Asian Diaspora
nationally in a way that I don’t believe has
ever happened before.
I respect Honda’s many years of service,
but that’s not the real issue.
The story is for the first time, Silicon Valley
is mobilizing locally to have a voice in
American politics and the national Asian
American-South Asian Diaspora with the
Swadesh Chatterjees and Deepak Chopras
and Vinod Khoslas, and Romesh
Wadhwanis, and Arshad Zakarias and
Mahinder Taks are mobilizing in a way that’s
never happened before.
This is a moment of extraordinary pride
for the South Asian Diaspora and for me an
extraordinary moment of humbling.
I am humbled and awed by the responsibility of having to do a good job to represent
Silicon Valley and the South Asian Diaspora.
The faith they’ve put in me is something
that weighs on me everyday, and the extraordinary privilege for me to represent these
communities and what I can say is, I will
work so hard to be a good voice — someone
they can be proud of, someone who will
never be ashamed of their heritage, never be
ashamed of their faith, never be ashamed of
their roots, and yet will talk about not what
the community needs from Washington, but
what Silicon Valley and the Indian-American community can give to make this
That’s the aspiration of what I hope will be
a productive career in Congress. ;
THE CHALLENGER M10 THE MAGAZINE
India Abroad November 29, 2013
Ro Khanna, center, at an event hosted by entrepreneur and angel investor Eugene Zhang, left, to introduce
him to the Chinese-American community.
With his ideas for the economy and other aspects of governance, Khanna has won the support of the likes
of Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo!’s Marissa Mayer, Napster’s Sean Parker and Sales Force’s Mark
‘For me,politics is about
a currency of ideas'
Brooklyn over some delicious food that
reminded me of home, with a twist.
Others, like Rastafarians I often come
across, are eager to connect as well, even
though our ancestors don’t hail from the
same part of the world. Nearly every time
I cross paths with a man who appears to
be Rastafarian, without fail I get a shout
out: ‘Respect, brother,’ or ‘Blessings,
brother,’ usually accompanied by a hand
or fist on his heart. This is a breath of
fresh air in my day-to-day life, which
involves no shortage of street harassment,
dirty looks, and sometimes worse. I’m
grateful for this genuine, simple act of
human connection and solidarity.
It saddens me that I rarely hear stories of
desis from the Subcontinent reaching out,
welcoming in people from other communities, especially other immigrant or black
communities. Instead we distance ourselves,
literally and figuratively.
I don’t mean to imply that desis are the
only community who suffer from this insular, vertical assimilationist dynamic. To some
extent, all immigrant communities deal with
this tendency. Since this is a community I
am a part of and which I love, I want to see
us evolve. I think we can do better than this.
As we struggle with post-9/11 racism,
there is so much we can learn from communities who have faced similar forms of injustice in this country long before us. And so
many communities are facing similar forms
of injustice today. The internal work we’ve
done in our South Asian communities is
essential, but equally important is standing
up for and with others facing injustice.
Sixty years before Muslims, including
South Asians, were indefinitely detained and
tortured at Guantanamo, Japanese
Americans were rounded up and sent to
internment camps. Decades before the so-called ‘dotbusters’ attacked and beat up
Indian immigrants in New Jersey, hundreds
of white sailors in Los Angeles were attacking Mexican Americans wearing zoot suits.
Fifty years prior to six Sikhs being shot and
killed by a white supremacist at a gurdwara
in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, the Ku Klux Klan
bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in
Birmingham, Alabama, leaving four black
Indeed, our struggles are intertwined.
We are lucky to live in a city with people
who hail from every corner of the world and
are able to maintain many of their traditions.
While it’s clear that the pluralism of New
York City, and the United States, does not
erase racism, simple acts of human connection and solidarity, like the Rasta brother
who gave me blessings from across a busy
Brooklyn street, go a long way in bringing
our communities closer. The moment all the
different communities targeted by racism
join together in solidarity, breaking down
the walls of isolation and petty divisions,
racism won’t stand a chance. ;
Sonny Singh is a musician and social justice
educator living in Brooklyn, New York City.
in the city