Senator Kaine, Rep. Gerry Connolly, Congressional hopeful Jennifer Wexton add sparkle to the festival of lights
By Geeta Goindi
Annandale, Virginia, October 17, 2018 – Drawing an analogy between ‘Diwali’, the Indian festival of lights, and the political climate in America, Virginia’s junior Democratic senator Tim Kaine has asserted, “The battle is never over. There is always a battle between light and darkness. There is always a battle between good and evil. There is always a battle between wisdom and ignorance”.
Addressing a hall full of Asian-American activists at a Diwali celebration held some three weeks before the crucial midterm elections, Kaine, a former vice presidential candidate warned, “We can never be complacent because as soon as we are, something will happen: the 2016 election for example that will shock us and make us realize that we have more work to do”. The lawmaker was Hillary Clinton’s running mate in that hotly-contested election which saw Donald Trump pulling off the biggest upset in US history by occupying the White House.
This year, Diwali – the most popular Indian festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists – falls on November 7, a day after Election Day here in America.
Describing Diwali as a fascinating, religious celebration observed annually, Kaine noted that like many religious traditions, it expresses a truth about human nature. “And the Diwali truth about human nature is that the battle is never over”, he underscored.
“I’m a very religious person and I love the religious impulse of any person”, the Virginia senator told the gathering. “I love the spiritual impulse of any person. My Muslim friends help me be a better Catholic and I hope if I’m a good Catholic, I’m going to help my Jewish friends be better, my Hindu friends be better, my Sikh friends be better, my Buddhist friends be better. We all can influence each other”, he said adding, “Learning about each other’s spiritual traditions makes life so rich”.
The Diwali celebration was the third annual event of its kind co-hosted by Democratic Asian Americans of Virginia (DAAV) and Virginia’s 11th Congressional District Democratic Committee (CDDC). It drew a diverse crowd of some 150 supporters, on a Saturday evening, to the Ernst Community Cultural Center situated on the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA).
Thanking DAAV for organizing the event, Kaine affirmed that the organization “is really an important part of our state Democratic Party. Our Asian-American constituency is very vast geographically, religiously, in the number of languages that are spoken, and cultures”, he noted.
“The vastness, the richness, the diversity is so exciting. The Asian-American community is the fastest-growing community by percentage in the US, particularly in Virginia, and DAAV has done a wonderful job of bringing together this incredibly diverse community and harnessing energies, electing candidates, putting canvassers and voters and volunteers in positions of influence”, said the senator who has many Asian-Americans on his staff.
Kaine has represented Virginia for 24 years — from being a mayor and City Council member in Richmond to lieutenant Governor, Governor, and now United States senator. “Elections are about defining who we are; they are also about defining who we aren’t”, he believes.
On Saturday, he touted his campaign slogan, ‘A Virginia that Works for All’, while denouncing his Republican rival Corey Stewart’s theme of ‘Take Virginia Back’ as angry, divisive, hostile and bitter. “I want it to be about moving forward together for all, rather than taking something back”, he said.
Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly (VA-11) spoke of the importance of “integration and diversity in making America much more successful”. He pointed out that the Democratic Party embraces the notion of America as a multi-racial, multi-cultural, rich mosaic that will make the country “stronger, smarter, more entrepreneurial and more competitive”.
The lawmaker accused GOP members of making “common cause with those who are not subtle about their racist attitudes. Not all are racists”, but the Republican Party feeds on the fears and anxieties of people, he said.
“We need to fight racism and xenophobia and violence where we see it. And that is why this midterm (election) is so important”, Connolly told the gathering. “It is about the soul of America. Who are we going to be?” Alluding to President Trump without mentioning his name, he asked, “Will we put a check and balance on that other guy, or will we give him two more years of unfettered lack of accountability and ability to profoundly change the democratic nature of our country?”
“We are part of America’s future no matter where we came from and we have a right to save that future”, he said.
Among the eagerly-awaited guests at the Diwali celebration was Jennifer Wexton, 50, a state senator and former prosecutor, who is running against GOP incumbent Barbara Comstock, 59, in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District.
The district stretches from the banks of the Potomac river all the way to the West Virginia border, encompassing all of Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick counties and portions of Fairfax and Prince William counties.
Comstock is swimming against a Democratic tide in an area that boasts a wealthy, educated electorate which is increasingly diverse. Clinton won the district by 10 percentage points in 2016. It will be interesting to see if Wexton can flip a seat that has been held by Republicans for 36 long years. It will be quite a feat!
“People feel very strongly that Donald Trump and Barbara Comstock do not represent their values”, she told us at the DAAV event. “They are working very hard to flip this district and elect me — somebody who is going to truly represent all of the diversity of this district”.
Noting that “the Indian-American community is such a big part of Virginia’s 10th district”, she extolled such constituents for being “vibrant, small business owners. Members of the tech community have added so much to our community”, she said.
“In Congress, I hope to improve our immigration system, clear up the backlog — make it easier for people to get their green cards and their citizenship, ultimately, and make new lives here in the United States”, Wexton said.
Making a strong case for electing Wexton and other promising democrats on November 6, Shekar Narasimhan, Chairman of the AAPI Victory Fund, emphasized, “Our democracy is at stake. Every single thing we stand for, our values, are being attacked every single day”, he said about Trump’s policies.
Narasimhan dwelt on the new ‘Public Charge’ rule proposed by the Trump administration that would make it harder for immigrants who have received public benefits to become citizens. So, an individual using public assistance programs such as Medicaid, Medicare subsidies to reduce the cost of subscription drugs, housing support, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) could be denied a green card and citizenship. The ‘public charge’ rule labels such individuals a burden on the state.
According to a new report by the Fiscal Policy Institute, an estimated 24 million people and 9 million children would be affected by the proposal.
“Some of the things that are happening are very frightening”, Wexton noted at the DAAV event mentioning the ‘public charge’ rule. “It is not enough for the Trump administration to go after legal immigrants. They have formed a de-naturalization taskforce to go after naturalized United States citizens. That is not what this country stands for”, she said.
Imploring the gathering to vote on November 6, she stressed, “This is the most important election of our lifetime”, and it is necessary to elect Democrats up and down the ticket: “so every American has access to affordable, quality healthcare”; who are “finally willing to do something to end the scourge of gun violence in America”; who are “finally going to stand up to this President and his divisive rhetoric and actions”.
Virginia, a once reliably Republican state, has been trending Democratic in national elections.
Wexton cautioned, “We cannot take anything for granted. Polls look good, the numbers look good. But, there is only one poll that matters, and that is the poll on Election Day”, she said.
The Diwali celebration featured entertainment in the form of riveting Kathak and folk dances by talented artistes of Lasya Kathak Dance Academy founded by Purvi Bhatt. The Fairfax-based dance school offers rigorous training in Kathak to students of all age groups with the aim of sharing the beauty and complexity of this ancient Indian classical dance form. The program also featured songs by Vienna-based artiste Anjali Taneja who doubled up as emcee, and music by DJ Ali Ji.
Among the elected officials on hand were Delegates Mark Keam (District 35), Kathy Tran (District 42), John Bell (District 87), David Reid (District 32), and Kenneth Plum (District 36).
Kaine recognized Keam as “a superb public servant”, predicting that one day he will be introducing him as the occupant of a high-ranking, key position.
He reminded the gathering that “Virginia’s polls close first in the nation on November 6, at 7:00 pm, EST. If there is going to be a ‘blue wave’ in the United States, Virginia is going to send out the message first”, Kaine said to loud applause.