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Block Walking in Texas

Updated: Oct 20, 2019

Some volunteers in Sri Kulkarni's campaign got together before blocking walking

Why do I help out in a Texas primary

As a self acclaimed environmentalist, I take flying seriously. Usually I need two or three reasons before seriously planning for a trip that requires flying. More often than not, I delay planning for so long that the reason for flying eventually goes away on its own (that's the real plan anyway!)

However, when Helen Shih called me on Thursday asking for my help in the Texas primary, I didn’t hesitate. I booked my flight within the hour (thank you SouthWest!) and flew to Houston on Friday night. I had only known Helen for a few weeks and had never met her in person. I had never been to Houston other than in transit. My kids had a busy weekend schedule and I had to cancel one of their events last minute.

So why did I drop everything to fly to Houston at Helen’s first call?

Reason #1: I just can't wait for the midterm election to start! It had been one long year and forty long days since Donald Trump took office. It had been 405 days of daily astonishments, turmoils and outrages. There’s a talk of a blue wave and I can’t wait to see it materialize in front of my eyes. Going to Texas is my opportunity to see the front of the wave since it's the first state to hold the primary.

Reason #2: I really like the candidate Sri Kulkarni. There are five candidates vying for the democratic party nomination for the congressional seat in TX-22. Sri is uniquely qualified for the position. He worked for the State Department for 14 years before resigning and returning to his native Texas. He has promised to use his diplomatic and conflict resolution skills to help overcome the impasses in Congress and move the country forward. We need enthusiastic and charismatic leaders like him to lead the country.

Reason #3: Asian Americans (and Latino Americans) are grossly underrepresented in Congress and in the upper level of the government. There are very few role models for bright and ambitious Asian American youths to follow in the political arena. Due to diverse cultural backgrounds, the Asian American community is often fragmented when it comes to support a candidate with an Asian heritage. Being a minority to begin with, it’s often a daunting task for an Asian American to rise in the political ranks. Sri, as a very well qualified and charismatic candidate with moderate policy stance, seems to possess the magic power to unite the community behind him. Perhaps, if I dare to say it out loud, he could be the next Obama, an Asian version?

Reason #4: Politics isn’t a personal sport, rather, it’s a group endeavor. My friend Helen has been devoted to Sri’s campaign from the very beginning. In fact, she lost more than a few pounds in the past few months, so devoted she was in running his campaign. Helen inspired me to join the effort by leading as an example. Also, my group of progressive Asian American friends in Colorado threw themselves behind Sri’s campaign. They had been phone banking, donating, and doing whatever they could to support Sri from Colorado. The dedication of Helen and the support of my group are the key reasons for me to believe that Sri’s campaign has momentum and the main motivation for me to help out.

How it is like to block walk in a red state

I had never canvassed in a place I didn’t know before. Block walking for Sri’s campaign in TX-22, a red district I had never been to before, had been an interesting experience.

More than half of the people I tried to reach were either not home or didn’t want to come to the door. Most of those who did come to the door hadn’t voted in the early primary yet. Among them, most said they would vote in the primary on Tuesday. Among those, most were still undecided as to who to vote for. Almost all of them listened to what we had to say about Sri and took the campaign brochures from us. That led me to believe that phone banking and block walking for the primary election are both necessary and effective.

The most interesting encounters happened by chance. We talked to people who happened to be out and about - quite a few of them since it was a sunny weekend - and had some most interesting conversations with them. This being a red district, it wasn’t a big surprise that we ran into many Republicans. Most of them were polite and just waved us off when we said we were volunteering for the democratic campaigns. However, we did run into a guy who claimed to be an Independent voter and demanded a conversation with us about politics. It didn't take long for us to realize that he was a diehard Republican and his fervent proclamations about the right to own assault weapons made us fear for our safety. We backed away and vowed to steer clear from debates and confrontations before we got pulled into one. That was really the only negative experience though - all the rest had been uneventful and some of them even heartwarming. For example, after we rang a door bell in Pearland and waited for a while, we were about to give up and leave when an elderly African American man opened the door slowly and told us that he was no longer engaged in the election because his wife just passed away. He said his wife had been a strong supporter of the Democratic party. He was clearly in deep grief and we gave him long hugs. Getting his vote couldn't be further off our minds when we took leave teary eyed.

One big takeaway for me was that block walking isn’t just about getting more votes for your candidate. It’s about getting to know your neighbors, to listen to each other, and to develop understandings and establish connections with each other - no matter where you fall on the broad political spectrum. Finding common grounds and working toward solutions that are acceptable to different groups of people, even if just in baby steps, is the path for real progress. It won’t be easy but it’s the only way to work out solutions that will have lasting impact.

This experience made me even more appreciative of Sri’s approach of building bridges and resolving conflicts instead of alienating and dividing that we are so accustomed to now.

What's next


A volunteer rally before the primary election day

The Texas primary election day is Tuesday March 6th. In the early primary voting, the democratic turnout has increased by 105% while the republican turnout has increased by only 15%, comparing with the early primary in 2014. Perhaps that’s the clearest indication yet of a blue wave. Unfortunately, the voter turnout for the Asian community is still pretty low. Let's go out and vote on Tuesday and then in November, make our voices heard and turn the blue wave into reality!

More Photos Taken in Sri Kulkarni's Campaign Events

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