June 11, 2012 (Washington, DC) - Jakaras were heard in the White House this past Friday during a briefing on Sikh civil rights issues in the heart of the federal government. The briefing, a historic first, was organized in collaboration with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and the White House Office of Public Engagement at the request of the Sikh Coalition.
Approximately 50 activists from around the United States attended the briefing. Leaders from New York, California, New Jersey, Texas, Ohio, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Virginia, Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico, and even Canada traveled to Washington for the event. The assembled group included Advocates from the 2011 and 2012 classes of the Sikh Coalition's Sikh Advocate Academy.
They began their day with an early morning tour of the beautiful East Wing of the White House. In the East Wing, the assembled leaders had a chance to view celebrated spaces such as the room in which President Thomas Jefferson first held cabinet meetings and the Blue Room which remains the reception room of the White House.
The leaders and activists then proceeded to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building for a first-ever briefing on Sikh civil rights issues. Commissioner Chai Feldblum of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Kimberly Walton, Assistant Administrator of theTransportation Security Administration; and John DiPaulo of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education talked about the federal government's efforts to combat employment discrimination, airport profiling, and school bullying respectively. In addition, Karen Chaves, Policy Advisor to the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, spoke about the work of the Initiative to address Sikh and broader Asian American and Pacific Islander concerns.
The assembled community members enthusiastically questioned federal agency officials after each of their presentations. They shared critical feedback and ideas on how the federal government can better connect with and serve the Sikh community.
Feeling of Momentum
The genuine excitement and feeling of momentum among the attendees was electric. The assembled Sikhs were grateful to have toured the White House, shared their ideas with top-level officials, and participated in a historic event. The White House and assembled federal agency officials all expressed the hope that this historic briefing would be the first of many so that Sikhs can be better connected to the White House and their government.
The past two months have seen a string of game-changing successes for the Sikh community and the Sikh Coalition. From the $75,000 settlement in the Autozone case, to the victory after seven years of battle with the MTA, to the progress of the Workplace Religious Freedom Act in the California State Assembly (please prepare to lobby the California Senate to pass it there as well), to the national acclaim for the Sikh Coalition's FlyRights app, to the letter to the FBI from 94 Members of Congress, to last week's briefing, the community has enjoyed many victories on the path to protecting our rights.
We are truly thankful for Guru's Kirpa and your support. This work would not be possible without you and your partnership. We thank you and look forward to more victories for the community in the coming months and years.
As always, the Sikh Coalition calls on all Sikhs to fearlessly practice their faith.