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‘We have a strong base, and we need to learn to exercise our power’

  • Published at 02:39 pm August 7th, 2020
Photos : Courtesy

A group of progressive Bangladeshi Americans, who first coalesced on a Whatsapp thread in support of Queens district attorney candidate Tiffany Cabán, formalized their organization with an official launch last year, in November. It was during that campaign that the group’s social media presence started attracting organizers, activists, and campaign strategists. Many of its members realized for the first time the demographic power they hold as a collective in Queens.

With its launch, Bangladeshis for Political Progress (BAPP) outlined its goals for developing a grassroots organization which represents the interests of working-class members of the community.

It aims to build a progressive political voting bloc among Bangladeshi communities by increasing voter participation, endorsing and organizing for educating Bangladeshis about the political process and creating coalitions with existing Bangladeshi political groups. 

Avenue T had the opportunity to speak to Thahitun Mariam, community organizer and activist based out of the Bronx in New York, and a co-founder of BAPP. 

Speaking about her work at the BAPP, Thahitun said: “We are a grassroots movement to create a Bangladeshi-American voting bloc in New York to elect political candidates and advocate for legislation that protects and advances the well-being of working-class and low-income communities. Most of my work is actually centering the Bangladeshi diaspora in New York and doing different sorts of organizing work with the community. So, that means getting Bangladeshis more politically aware, and involved, as well as organizing various workshops focusing on what people’s rights are, regarding housing, healthcare and a variety of other issues that affect the lives of working class Bangladeshis residing here.” 

“Bangla is definitely one of the top most spoken languages in NYC, amongst the top 10, so we have a really sizeable population of working class people from Bangladesh here. Moreover, there’s a lot of people living in communities across Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens, who want to be engaged, or are dealing with a number of issues that come up in the American governance. BAPP has been doing a lot of grassroots building work, in order to empower the Bangladeshi community here,” she added.

What Thahitun Mariam, and the other founding members of BAPP are trying to do is to re-imagine, and not  even re-create, but just create for the first time, a Bangladeshi voting bloc in New York. This means having a group of members who are working in different levels across the community and the government, making sure that they’re doing a lot of local education, teaching Bangladeshi New Yorkers what civic engagement means, and what the political structure looks like -- they are breaking down these things in Bangla, so that it’s accessible to the Bangladeshi community living there. 

During the Covid-19 situation in USA, BAPP members have been actively engaged in trying to help the community. Two of the other founding members of BAPP, Moumita Ahmed and Rima Begum, founded the Queens Mutual Aid Network, while Thahitun founded the Bronx Mutual Aid Network, in order to help support people from the Bangladeshi communities living across New York. These mutual aid networks have been working relentlessly to provide groceries and medicines to people for free during the pandemic -- in fact, they have delivered groceries to more than 200 Bangladeshi families living in the  Bronx during the Coronavirus situation. “It’s been really good to be able to provide some sort of relief to our people in this time of need. And not just the Bangladeshi community here, the Queens Mutual Aid Network has actually helped over 1,000 families, irrespective of whether they belong to the Bangladeshi community or not,” informed Thahitun. 

“We get to choose what our future looks like,” she said. “For older immigrants, that meant having a free Bangladesh. And for us, that means straying away from systems rooted in white supremacy. We have a strong base, and we need to learn to exercise our power.”

For more information, you can visit:

Bronx Mutual Aid Networkhttps://chuffed.org/project/bxmutualaid

BAPP NYC: https://twitter.com/bappnyc

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