Asian American Power Network Gears Up for Midterm Elections: Interview with Nadia Nisha Belkin
By Eddie Wong. Posted Oct. 20, 2022
Introduction: The Asian American Power Network (AAPN) formed in 2022and consists of elevenstate-based Asian American C4 organizations in ten different states across the country; the map is ever expanding. These organizations, including groups such as the Asian American Advocacy Fund in Georgia, Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance in Pennsylvania, and North Carolina Asian Americans Together in Action (NCAAT) and others, endorse candidates and campaign on behalf of them,ballot measures, and progressive issues. All Anchor organizations conduct year-round advocacy work educating voters onpolicy issues that impact the AAPI community .
Before becoming AAPN’s founding Executive Director, Nadia Nisha Belkin served as National Deputy Field Director and Colorado State Director of America Votes. She is an Indian American Muslim woman who graduated from Smith College with a B.A. degree in government and international relations.
Nadia Belkin, Executive Director of AAPN.
Eddie Wong: Tell us how the Asian American Power Network formed.
Nadia Belkin: I think the impetus for AAPN is the fact that the Asian American community is a very important part of the electorate. We’re seeing our population grow in states, but we’re traditionally under-invested in when you think about the priorities of campaigns and candidates. Our 501C4 infrastructure (organizations that can campaign for candidates and ballot measures but do not coordinate with them directly) was born to figure out how to mobilize and engage AAPI voters throughout the year. We formed AAPN as a network of state-based AAPI groups. Up to this point, the AAPI 501 c(4) work was happening in silos; organizations were not talking to each other about their strategy, programs, or overall approach. What was happening in Georgia was happening in Georgia. Things were popping up in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin and North Carolina. The network came together to elevate strategies from the ground and bring them into a collective space where we can talk about best practices and gut check assumptions. We’re really trying to break down those silos so that as we’re tackling this work to mobilize and engage the AAPI community, we are in greater alignment. Year round organizing around base building is our focus, and when it comes time, the groups pivot to an electoral strategy. I think of AAPN as a clearinghouse for strategy and innovation for the 501C4 AAPI community.
Eddie Wong: AAPN is starting with 10 states. Do you see growing from there?
Nadia Belkin: Our network right now is 10 states with 11 organizations. We’re looking at where the infrastructure can grow. If the population is growing in the South, we will work with the groups on the ground to figure out what a 501C4 infrastructure would be. We are really the beneficiaries of strong and sustained investment on the 501C3 side (non-partisan organizations). Groups like APIA Vote have done a lot of work to help register voters and do the civic engagement work. The C4s are being birthed out of that work. We’re now in a position for the C4s to talk more granularly about policies, candidates and how the community fits in or doesn’t. What makes us unique from some of the other groups out there is that we’re working on finding voters where they are. So, it’s on the doors, on the phones, text messages and emails, on Facebook, even on YouTube.
AAPN Anchor organization Chinese Progressive Political Action out canvassing on Aug. 15, 2022.
Our groups are working in different languages. For example, in Pennsylvania, the program is being operated in 15 different languages; North Carolina is operating in 18 different languages. Groups are seeing where the community is and then helping develop their program to complement the needs of the community. Our groups are really the translators, the messengers, and frankly sometimes the ones that offer the voter an invitation to engage in the democratic process. If you look at data from the 2020 APIA voter survey, only 12% of Asian Americans polled had been contacted by the Democratic Party.
We are doing sustained engagement with the community. One APIA Nevada, in particular, is focused on youth with programming like Pokémon Go to the Polls. We’re trying to figure out culturally relevant organizing tactics.
Eddie Wong: Are there any key races where you might need more volunteer support?
Nadia Belkin: Right now, we (the AAPN Anchors) are running programs in Arizona, Nevada, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and California. The beauty of all of this is that our groups are working at all levels at the ballot. We know that Asian Americans could be the margin of victory in all these races. AZ AAHNPI Advocates in Arizona know the districts where the state house races were won by 1,000 votes last time. The work is really being concentrated in areas that we know will have a trickle up and a trickle down effect for the candidates on the ballot.
AAAF staff member Lilliana and ED Aisha showing off new Asians 4 Stacey Abrams, candidate for governor, sign in Atlanta, GA! Posted May 18, 2022 on Facebook.
Eddie Wong: Is there a way to involve volunteers from other states to help these battleground states?
Nadia Belkin: There are several different ways for people to get involved. If you feel comfortable knocking on doors, our groups are launching canvas programs all the time. There are phone banks that are happening at the same time. We know that the more we talk to the community and the more the time that we spend with them is really going to make the difference. Please visit our website to see our footprint and connect directly with the Anchor organizations. The map is interactive so you can see what is happening in each state: www.aapowernetwork.org.
Eddie Wong: As C4 organizations, you are prohibited from coordinating work with the Democratic Party and candidates, but you’re basically supporting moderate and progressives Democrats. But you’re also not saddled with a lot of the Democratic Party baggage. You can have a more independent point of view. How do you negotiate that relationship?
Nadia Belkin: The beauty of being on the C4 side is that we are looking at the political space holistically. Our groups are active throughout the year, they are doing education on the issues and are able to talk about what’s at stake. We are in a position to say why aren’t you doing more for our community?
We need more investment on the progressive side. The C4s have really been doing the work when it comes to education, advocacy, and translation. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee just this year had some ads that targeted Asian Americans and featured AAPIs. So, there are some changes that we’re seeing, but the fact is our groups have been on the ground and have been doing this for cycles now and are the trusted messengers speaks volumes.
I’ll also note that all the groups run their own endorsement processes. If you look on websites like North Carolina Asian Americans Together in Action (NCAAT), API PA, or the Asian American Advocacy Fund in Georgia, they have a whole slate of endorsements. Our groups are really looking for who are the candidates that are going to advocate for our issues.
Eddie Wong: When I interviewed Mohan Seshadri, he mentioned that API PA does candidate training. Do you see that as a growing part of AAPN’s work?
Nadia Belkin: The way we’ve been talking about it is wanting to build our bench. And so, one of the things that AAPN is really invested in is a campaign school. We’re building the next generation of leaders and practicians. Many of the groups have fellows and internship opportunities.
Looking at some of the data, 23% of API voters that voted in 2020 were first time voters. There is a real responsibility to help voters understand that voting is actually a muscle. It’s an exercise that you have to flex often. And so that’s also part of the engagement strategy that we have and we do want to start with the youth. We want to make sure that they’re engaged and that they have access to the information. And we do see them folding into the work that we do as they take on roles that help prime them for leadership/director positions .
Eddie Wong: Do you have any last comments you’d like to make it? How do you feel about the November election?
Nadia Belkin: I’m an optimist, but I think it’s going to be close. There are groups on the ground that are doing and have done phenomenal work to mobilize our community. And so, when we have high turnout rates, it’s not an accident. It’s because of a very strategic investment that our groups have been making to mobilize the voters. There’s the institutional knowledge, there’s the cultural knowledge and there’s a record of success that this network has and now we’re coming together to strengthen, refine and expand the strategies for the long-term power building for the community.
Interviewer’s Bio: Eddie Wong is the editor/publisher of East Wind ezine. He is a longtime activist in Asian American cultural work and politics.