Who Speaks for Sikh Americans? (Part 1 of 2)

While Sikhs have lived in the U.S. for over 100 years, our numbers have grown tremendously after 1960s immigration reform. With this increase in numbers, we’re beginning to see the first long-term interactions between waves of immigrants and within generations of immigrants. These shifts in demographics, in concert with growth in the population of U.S.-born Sikhs, have created a space in which we are re-visioning and exploring advocacy and expression on behalf of the Sikh community.

Among many U.S.-born and 1.5-generation Sikhs, this advocacy and participation has happened through the creation of new institutions. Sidestepping the process of sangat-based decision-making, a slew of new “community-focused” advocacy organizations have popped up. Many of the organizations we now think of as household names (SALDEF – formerly SMART, Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs, Ensaaf) were founded in the last 15 years. While these same organizations provide important legal advocacy tools, a lack of coordination between organizations, paired with a hesitancy to engage Sikh spiritual organizations, at best leads to confusion around a cohesive, unified Sikh voice/message. At its worst, this failure to work together leads to the creation of campaigns that often either duplicate efforts or undermine each others’ work.

Interestingly, many of these organizations choose not to work through gurdwaras or sangats. When they do, it is often to extract community resources (signatures, funding, in-kind donations), not to work with sangats to define their own goals and service needs. Perhaps the latter goal (working with sangats) is beyond the mission or purview of these individual organizations. Sikh advocacy organizations tend to focus on translating the practice of Sikhi to non-Sikh communities as opposed to building capacity within the Sikh community itself. This isn’t inherently a bad thing; it’s necessary for us to work both within and without the Sikh faith community. As a U.S.-born Sikh from a sangat that grew exponentially over the course of my childhood, I can understand the frustrations around working through the gurdwara — the politics, generational divides, insularity, and language challenges can be disheartening and time-consuming.

In my opinion, these frustrations are insufficient reasons to avoid working directly with or through sangats. I believe that Sikhi has a stridently community-based organizational model (i.e., panth). This model dovetails nicely with the principles underlying grassroots community organizing. Now, I’m biased because I strongly believe that communities are the foundations for effective advocacy, even though the process of creating a cohesive message or unity is much more time-consuming (and sometimes unachievable) in the grassroots model.

Gurdwaras are the center of our faith community and will continue to serve an essential spiritual, service, and social function no matter how many organizations we found. Because none of the “big” national Sikh organizations are sangat-based or democratically elected, they remain completely unaccountable to the Sikh community.

This attempt to “get away from the gurdwara” creates a vacuum in which individuals often claim to speak for the community without the authority or right to do so. As a result, individuals and individual voices clamor for legitimacy and “right-ness” instead of working for collective voices and righteousness. This emphasis on the individual and the individual’s voice (without a democratic backing) is inherently opposed to the community-based focus of Sikhi. Even “small” interim decisions require a council of 5 (panj pyaare) to come together to take action when the sangat cannot, with the default that the sangat is the foundation for decision-making. This sangat-based approach prevents both grandstanding and human error; after all, how can an individual, without counsel, interpret the will or intent of the faith/faith community?

Where this undermines our (collective) goals the most is in issues around the full practice of the faith. In the U.S., this tends to cluster around hate violence and legal concerns regarding “accommodation” of the 5 kakkars. I respect the work being done by Sikh advocacy organizations, but I often question their messages and tactics. At the national level, it is essential that Sikhs have a a democratic, accountable, panth-based organization that can serve as “the final word” for coordinating advocacy efforts and initiatives for the faith. This doesn’t mean that other advocacy organizations should not exist or should not continue to do the work they’re doing — they should. However, a higher level of coordination, in which personal disagreements or misunderstandings could be clarified and settled, would only strengthen our overall advocacy and service efforts.


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42 Responses to “Who Speaks for Sikh Americans? (Part 1 of 2)”

  1. Mewa Singh says:

    Thank you Camille for this thought provoking commentary. In a previous thread, I posed a similar thought about such organizations:

    Most of our non-Gurdwara organizations are engaged with media watch and representation. Those that immediately come to mind are Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, SCORE, and I am sure there is a litany of others. (Obviously there are non-Gurdwara organizations not focused on this as well, Ensaaf has been highlighted on this blog, SRI also comes to mind, so do youth-oriented initiatives such as Jago, the Jakara Movement, or Surat.) However, where is the fine-line between media watch and legal/governmental advocacy, and claiming ‘representation’ of the community? We are a young community and our institutions are growing, but I do think this will become a critical issue. Can these media watch/legal advocacy groups, claim ‘representation’ of the Sikh community, when they have no democratic framework?

    PS: This should not be construed as a criticism of their wonderful work, but merely a structural question that the community should possibly ponder.

    Following this line of thought further, few of these organizations have any local standings. Even in my own small efforts with Sikh organizations, everyone is always quick to clamor to form 'national' or even 'international' organizations with little roots in any particular sangat. So long as our focus is short-term attempting immediate 'recognition' (Also recognition from who?), we will not be able to create forums for lasting change in a community.

    In conversations with some of the above mentioned groups, I have often asked leaders if they could even win a Gurdwara election in their local regions. While many are quick to begin decrying against Gurdwara elections (an argument that I do believe has some merit), it also speaks volume about their lack of any local constituency. Their is an arrogance in the youth (generations 1.5 and 2) that often believe we know BETTER than our parents and thus we can go above the Gurdwara level to create organizations with links to Washington. We believe that we know Sikhi better and thus are the 'true' representatives.

    Another problem is with often only a narrow focus on issues related to the 5 Kakkars (although this is EXTREMELY important work), these same organizations very narrowly define who the believe is a Sikh, despite the fact that when they speak to government organizations than they claim to speak for 500,000 Sikhs.

    Again, I hope that such commentary should not be seen as malicious, but rather a structural question that the community should begin talking about. I applaud you Camille for raising this pertinent issue.

  2. Mewa Singh says:

    Thank you Camille for this thought provoking commentary. In a previous thread, I posed a similar thought about such organizations:

    Most of our non-Gurdwara organizations are engaged with media watch and representation. Those that immediately come to mind are Sikh Coalition, SALDEF, SCORE, and I am sure there is a litany of others. (Obviously there are non-Gurdwara organizations not focused on this as well, Ensaaf has been highlighted on this blog, SRI also comes to mind, so do youth-oriented initiatives such as Jago, the Jakara Movement, or Surat.) However, where is the fine-line between media watch and legal/governmental advocacy, and claiming representation of the community? We are a young community and our institutions are growing, but I do think this will become a critical issue. Can these media watch/legal advocacy groups, claim representation of the Sikh community, when they have no democratic framework?

    PS: This should not be construed as a criticism of their wonderful work, but merely a structural question that the community should possibly ponder.

    Following this line of thought further, few of these organizations have any local standings. Even in my own small efforts with Sikh organizations, everyone is always quick to clamor to form ‘national’ or even ‘international’ organizations with little roots in any particular sangat. So long as our focus is short-term attempting immediate ‘recognition’ (Also recognition from who?), we will not be able to create forums for lasting change in a community.

    In conversations with some of the above mentioned groups, I have often asked leaders if they could even win a Gurdwara election in their local regions. While many are quick to begin decrying against Gurdwara elections (an argument that I do believe has some merit), it also speaks volume about their lack of any local constituency. Their is an arrogance in the youth (generations 1.5 and 2) that often believe we know BETTER than our parents and thus we can go above the Gurdwara level to create organizations with links to Washington. We believe that we know Sikhi better and thus are the ‘true’ representatives.

    Another problem is with often only a narrow focus on issues related to the 5 Kakkars (although this is EXTREMELY important work), these same organizations very narrowly define who the believe is a Sikh, despite the fact that when they speak to government organizations than they claim to speak for 500,000 Sikhs.

    Again, I hope that such commentary should not be seen as malicious, but rather a structural question that the community should begin talking about. I applaud you Camille for raising this pertinent issue.

  3. sizzle says:

    while i do agree that the lack of coordination among organizations is somewhat curious and problematic, i don't agree that gurudwaras should be any more involved. SALDEF and Sikh Coalition have made concerted efforts to work through gurudwaras, but i don't think they necessarily need the support of a gurudwara to lend legitimacy. why? because of the very reasons that you have articulated – "the politics, generational divides, insularity, and language challenges can be disheartening and time-consuming."

    these organizations are run by lawyers, administrators and generally, people who now how to operate in a realm that would confuse most members of any sangaat. i mean – just look at the massive disagreement between the youngsters (relatively speaking) at this website. if these organizations needed some sort of consensus to espouse an opinion, they'd be far more inefficient and would be bogged down in the same way that gurudwaras are. further, as the diaspora grows, with varying levels of educations or interpretations of sikhi, most gurudwaras form as offshoots to accommodate the collective beliefs of different groups of people and to avoid the disagreements and infighting which often plague the gurudwaras in smaller cities and towns where the population is not big enough to sustain several gurudwaras. trying to gain a consensus across various gurudwaras would be even more difficult.

    but this is all abstract hypothesizing. i am especially curious of this para:

    This attempt to “get away from the gurdwara” creates a vacuum in which individuals often claim to speak for the community without the authority or right to do so. As a result, individuals and individual voices clamor for legitimacy and “right-ness” instead of working for collective voices and righteousness. This emphasis on the individual and the individual’s voice (without a democratic backing) is inherently opposed to the community-based focus of Sikhi. Even “small” interim decisions require a council of 5 (panj pyaare) to come together to take action when the sangat cannot, with the default that the sangat is the foundation for decision-making. This sangat-based approach prevents both grandstanding and human error; after all, how can an individual, without counsel, interpret the will or intent of the faith/faith community?

    is there a particular instance you have in mind? i am struggling to think of a position one of these organizations has taken that would be inapposite of sikh interests. further, i don't know that i agree with such a proposition. ever day i represent myself as a sikh, and speak to countless people about sikhi – sometimes in mass forums. i don't attend gurudwara regularly. am i preempted from doing so because i don't have the support of a sangat that might struggle to even comprehend what i'm trying to convey?

    again, i reiterate the fact that most people, sikh or otherwise, are not adept at dealing with the public relation and political nuances that these organizations engage every day. while they should actively gain the support of gurdwaras and sangats, they should not be limited in their capacities because they havent vetted every position. indeed, if they were to advocate a position that most of us thought was wrong or disagreed with, they'd lose they very funding and support upon which they rely. thus, i'm sure they are very cognizant of what sentiments are even if they don't actively engage or solicit them.

  4. sizzle says:

    while i do agree that the lack of coordination among organizations is somewhat curious and problematic, i don’t agree that gurudwaras should be any more involved. SALDEF and Sikh Coalition have made concerted efforts to work through gurudwaras, but i don’t think they necessarily need the support of a gurudwara to lend legitimacy. why? because of the very reasons that you have articulated – “the politics, generational divides, insularity, and language challenges can be disheartening and time-consuming.”

    these organizations are run by lawyers, administrators and generally, people who now how to operate in a realm that would confuse most members of any sangaat. i mean – just look at the massive disagreement between the youngsters (relatively speaking) at this website. if these organizations needed some sort of consensus to espouse an opinion, they’d be far more inefficient and would be bogged down in the same way that gurudwaras are. further, as the diaspora grows, with varying levels of educations or interpretations of sikhi, most gurudwaras form as offshoots to accommodate the collective beliefs of different groups of people and to avoid the disagreements and infighting which often plague the gurudwaras in smaller cities and towns where the population is not big enough to sustain several gurudwaras. trying to gain a consensus across various gurudwaras would be even more difficult.

    but this is all abstract hypothesizing. i am especially curious of this para:

    This attempt to get away from the gurdwara creates a vacuum in which individuals often claim to speak for the community without the authority or right to do so. As a result, individuals and individual voices clamor for legitimacy and right-ness instead of working for collective voices and righteousness. This emphasis on the individual and the individuals voice (without a democratic backing) is inherently opposed to the community-based focus of Sikhi. Even small interim decisions require a council of 5 (panj pyaare) to come together to take action when the sangat cannot, with the default that the sangat is the foundation for decision-making. This sangat-based approach prevents both grandstanding and human error; after all, how can an individual, without counsel, interpret the will or intent of the faith/faith community?

    is there a particular instance you have in mind? i am struggling to think of a position one of these organizations has taken that would be inapposite of sikh interests. further, i don’t know that i agree with such a proposition. ever day i represent myself as a sikh, and speak to countless people about sikhi – sometimes in mass forums. i don’t attend gurudwara regularly. am i preempted from doing so because i don’t have the support of a sangat that might struggle to even comprehend what i’m trying to convey?

    again, i reiterate the fact that most people, sikh or otherwise, are not adept at dealing with the public relation and political nuances that these organizations engage every day. while they should actively gain the support of gurdwaras and sangats, they should not be limited in their capacities because they havent vetted every position. indeed, if they were to advocate a position that most of us thought was wrong or disagreed with, they’d lose they very funding and support upon which they rely. thus, i’m sure they are very cognizant of what sentiments are even if they don’t actively engage or solicit them.

  5. sizzle says:

    something else just occurred to me:

    2 years ago, the wiki page on sikhi underwent massive editing. i thought the original page was excellent – it conveyed all the essential elements and teachings of sikhi, but…how do i put this…was written in a very western and academic perspective…highlighting elements in a way that could make a secular person, or someone who didn't understand dharmic faiths, understand the tenents of sikhi. but then, it underwent the massive edits to what it is now. i had constantly referred american and white friends to the original page…and stopped after the edits. i even voiced my disapproval on the site. while the "new page" expresses the very same elements, its in the tone that is geared to a "believer," without fully explaining or rationalizing, in the previously logical way, the underpinnings of the faith.

    here are the links – compare for yourself.

    OLD, May 2006 – http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sikhism

    NOW – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikhism

    (disclaimer: the new page has changed a lot since the original edits and has more details than the new page…but, the tone is the same.)

    i think that perfectly highlights the difference in an approach. on the one hand, you want to represent sikhi to the outside world. but, on the other hand, you want to do it in a way in which outsiders would most clearly understand and appreciate the faith from their perspective. at the time, i commented on the wiki page heavily about the edits…but the editor and i were coming from different perspectives. and that is the very nuance of which i speak. we must represent the faith honestly, but these organizations are also tasked with representing the faith pragmatically in a way to gain acceptance.

    of course i could be all wrong…but, eh, let me know if you disagree.

  6. sizzle says:

    something else just occurred to me:

    2 years ago, the wiki page on sikhi underwent massive editing. i thought the original page was excellent – it conveyed all the essential elements and teachings of sikhi, but…how do i put this…was written in a very western and academic perspective…highlighting elements in a way that could make a secular person, or someone who didn’t understand dharmic faiths, understand the tenents of sikhi. but then, it underwent the massive edits to what it is now. i had constantly referred american and white friends to the original page…and stopped after the edits. i even voiced my disapproval on the site. while the “new page” expresses the very same elements, its in the tone that is geared to a “believer,” without fully explaining or rationalizing, in the previously logical way, the underpinnings of the faith.

    here are the links – compare for yourself.

    OLD, May 2006 – http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sikhism&oldid=52473656

    NOW – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sikhism

    (disclaimer: the new page has changed a lot since the original edits and has more details than the new page…but, the tone is the same.)

    i think that perfectly highlights the difference in an approach. on the one hand, you want to represent sikhi to the outside world. but, on the other hand, you want to do it in a way in which outsiders would most clearly understand and appreciate the faith from their perspective. at the time, i commented on the wiki page heavily about the edits…but the editor and i were coming from different perspectives. and that is the very nuance of which i speak. we must represent the faith honestly, but these organizations are also tasked with representing the faith pragmatically in a way to gain acceptance.

    of course i could be all wrong…but, eh, let me know if you disagree.

  7. sizzle says:

    One last comment:

    At the national level, it is essential that Sikhs have a a democratic, accountable, panth-based organization that can serve as “the final word” for coordinating advocacy efforts and initiatives for the faith.

    I appreciate your sentiment – but this is a total pipe dream. And i wanted to say that explicitely. it is also incredibly ANTI-DEMOCRATIC. the very essence of america, as practiced with the other major religious groups (look to the jews for guidance) is to lobby what THEY believe. you wish to create a governing body that somehow dictates what is Sikhi even though so many gurudwaras and Sikhs don't agree?

    I point you to the SGPC…which is essentially what you're proposing. I lost respect for the SGPC because of their position on gays…claiming to speak for the entire Sikh diaspora. Now imagine that happening again.

    if you disagree with a columnist – write a column and call that person out. if you disagree with an organization, point out their flaws on websites like this and their support is undermined if people agree. proposing some sort of marxian authoritarian body that approves what individuals can and can't say is in complete OPPOSITE of sikhi.

  8. sizzle says:

    One last comment:

    At the national level, it is essential that Sikhs have a a democratic, accountable, panth-based organization that can serve as the final word for coordinating advocacy efforts and initiatives for the faith.

    I appreciate your sentiment – but this is a total pipe dream. And i wanted to say that explicitely. it is also incredibly ANTI-DEMOCRATIC. the very essence of america, as practiced with the other major religious groups (look to the jews for guidance) is to lobby what THEY believe. you wish to create a governing body that somehow dictates what is Sikhi even though so many gurudwaras and Sikhs don’t agree?

    I point you to the SGPC…which is essentially what you’re proposing. I lost respect for the SGPC because of their position on gays…claiming to speak for the entire Sikh diaspora. Now imagine that happening again.

    if you disagree with a columnist – write a column and call that person out. if you disagree with an organization, point out their flaws on websites like this and their support is undermined if people agree. proposing some sort of marxian authoritarian body that approves what individuals can and can’t say is in complete OPPOSITE of sikhi.

  9. Camille says:

    Hi sizzle,

    I'll take your comments one by one, if that's ok. I'm going to "summarize" how I'm interpreting them, and if you feel that my characterization is inappropriate, please correct me.

    Sizzle Argument #1: Individual sangats lack the capacity to advocate effectively for Sikhs and to non-Sikhs

    I think this is exactly the kind of hubris that undermines Sikh advocacy efforts. My argument was that sangats should have a participatory role in shaping what and how advocacy works and in building a grassroots base. How often have you met someone — perhaps someone who lacks the communication skills you mention — who gets a "good idea" for Sikh advocacy and goes ahead and acts on their good idea, Lone Ranger style, without fully understanding how it could effect other Sikhs? I meet individuals like this everyday.

    While legal and public relations expertise is important, this over-reliance on the "rule of experts" implies that a) our community is inherently unskilled, and b)that people with JDs are somehow better trained from a spiritual perspective to advocate for the Sikh community. Both of these arguments are dangerous, and the latter is rooted in ideas that are classist, elitist, skewed towards the 1.5/second-generation, and incredibly undemocratic. While individuals within Sikh organizations may believe that their educational achievement or position as U.S.-acculturated/born Sikhs privileges their efforts, their work can be just as problematic as the "Lone Ranger" people you [sizzle] describe as unfit to defend Sikhi and Sikh interests.

    Each Sikh is encouraged in her life to engage in "good acts" and to defend the faith, so why is there resistance towards ensuring that the action you take is a) correct from a religious/spiritual perspective, and b) supported by the community for whom you claim to speak? My argument is that no one Sikh (regardless of how you classify yourself — mona, kesdari, amritdari) is capable of making a decision for, or speaking on behalf of, the group without counsel and input from that constituency.

    ::

    Sizzle Argument #2: Sikh organizations should not work with gurdwaras because there is disagreement and collective decision-making is inefficient.

    From what I understand, you're describing "grasstops" advocacy. As I wrote in my post — I think these efforts are important. I think it's also important for these organizations to be more mindful about how they "represent" themselves to the outside world. If you don't want to work with sangats or with actual Sikh communities, then who do you really represent?

    When SALDEF or Sikh Coalition tells people that they are the "official representative of Sikhs on issue X", isn't that an attempt to speak for the whole? If you're going to speak for the whole, or if you're going to use impact legislation to build a judicial record for later advocacy, then your actions affect ALL Sikhs. As such, your organization should be accountable to ALL Sikhs. I'm not saying you should ask every individual at every sangat for approval to move forward, nor did I even argue for consensus-based decision models. My point is that currently there is no model of accountability.

    There's a strategy in deciding to work with predominantly non-Sikh audiences, and part of that strategy (again, this may not be the intent of organizers, but it is the outcome) is to avoid critical review and feedback from the actual community. Because we know that our community faces barriers in effective advocacy/communication, what your description says to me is that "appropriately educated" Sikhs should use these same barriers (and methods of oppression) to shut out their own community. How is that not oligarchic or autocratic?

    Your comment re: the segregation of sangats is salient. I understand that people get heated and solve disagreements in different ways (sometimes by creating a different physical gurdwara). I understand that it is factually true that many sangats, especially in California, are divided by politics, beliefs, generational status, class, etc. Does that mean that we are not required to work with one another, even if we come from different sangats? Doesn't such a failure to engage in dialogue (unless a sangat is anti-Panthic) imply that these divisions are preferable and that everyone should stay isolated in their own corner of the world?

    You're right, working both with gurdwaras and putting in the effort to do grassroots capacity-building and networking is tiring, much slower than working alone, and sometimes unproductive. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to engage in building an interconnected community instead of reinforcing divisive practices that tear apart the Panth. I don't even think the onus to build a networked (and stronger) Sikh community rests with current national Sikh organizations. However, if something were to grow and develop, I would hope that they would support these efforts.

    ::

    Sizzle Argument #3: Democracy is Autocratic

    Let me see if I understand your point — democratic participation and engagement in the governance of our faith and advocacy efforts is somehow authoritarian and anti-Sikh? I'll try to clarify what I meant by this recommendation (which I'll also do in a follow up post — Part 2), and hopefully that will make my argument clearer.

    I recommended the creation of an organization in which some kind of democratically elected sangat representatives (note: not strictly gurdwara-based, although I think it's important to work with and through gurdwaras when possible) or subsection thereof would work together to coordinate advocacy and offer guidance on spiritual questions. If you are not in a gurdwara sangat, as you mentioned, perhaps you're active in a Sikh organization. Isn't that Sikh organization a sangat, per se? When I was very young (before we moved to CA) there was no gurdwara where we lived, but there certainly was a sangat. That's the kind of coordination I'm talking about.

    In Sikhi, there are explicit guidelines for settling spiritual discussions, questions, and disagreements. The bare minimum is to engage a group of panj pyaare to make immediate, emergency, interim decisions. Of course that's not always possible However, the default (as described in my post) is to elicit the opinion and participation of the Khalsa Panth. Perhaps you're imagining the SGPC because that is the closest (and most familiar) institution we can readily think of in our own faith community. You're right, the SGPC is deeply flawed. That doesn't mean we can't learn from that model — both the good and the bad — to think of creating a more conscionable and appropriate model in the U.S. for coordination.

    From what I understand in your argument, you are anti-voting and anti-republican representation (in the Sikh community) because voting and participation are somehow autocratic? How is a participatory model inherently more autocratic or inferior to the current model, in which individuals or groups of individuals make unilateral decisions?

    Then you argued that if we ignore the "autocratic argument" that models of participatory representation in the Sikh community are a pipe dream. If we continually undermine grassroots efforts, draw funding away from good work, and fight for one another over which organization or position is more authentic, official, or authoritative, then yes, I don't think we'll create a good base model.

    I find it truly astounding that the language of democracy and participation has been inverted to mean autocratic, anti-Sikh, and oppressive. Who does that kind of language/framing benefit? I would argue individuals who do not want to be accountable to the Panth (i.e., many of the organizations I listed in this post). I'm not arguing that those organizations have some kind of insidious intent, or that they're even consciously trying to avoid public participation (except in the limited ways I described above), but in practice this is certainly the outcome.

    It's true that sangats disagree on different issues, but I think if you create appropriate mechanisms and criteria you could create a platform in which groups work towards a position.

  10. Camille says:

    Hi sizzle,

    I’ll take your comments one by one, if that’s ok. I’m going to “summarize” how I’m interpreting them, and if you feel that my characterization is inappropriate, please correct me.

    Sizzle Argument #1: Individual sangats lack the capacity to advocate effectively for Sikhs and to non-Sikhs

    I think this is exactly the kind of hubris that undermines Sikh advocacy efforts. My argument was that sangats should have a participatory role in shaping what and how advocacy works and in building a grassroots base. How often have you met someone — perhaps someone who lacks the communication skills you mention — who gets a “good idea” for Sikh advocacy and goes ahead and acts on their good idea, Lone Ranger style, without fully understanding how it could effect other Sikhs? I meet individuals like this everyday.

    While legal and public relations expertise is important, this over-reliance on the “rule of experts” implies that a) our community is inherently unskilled, and b)that people with JDs are somehow better trained from a spiritual perspective to advocate for the Sikh community. Both of these arguments are dangerous, and the latter is rooted in ideas that are classist, elitist, skewed towards the 1.5/second-generation, and incredibly undemocratic. While individuals within Sikh organizations may believe that their educational achievement or position as U.S.-acculturated/born Sikhs privileges their efforts, their work can be just as problematic as the “Lone Ranger” people you [sizzle] describe as unfit to defend Sikhi and Sikh interests.

    Each Sikh is encouraged in her life to engage in “good acts” and to defend the faith, so why is there resistance towards ensuring that the action you take is a) correct from a religious/spiritual perspective, and b) supported by the community for whom you claim to speak? My argument is that no one Sikh (regardless of how you classify yourself — mona, kesdari, amritdari) is capable of making a decision for, or speaking on behalf of, the group without counsel and input from that constituency.

    ::

    Sizzle Argument #2: Sikh organizations should not work with gurdwaras because there is disagreement and collective decision-making is inefficient.

    From what I understand, you’re describing “grasstops” advocacy. As I wrote in my post — I think these efforts are important. I think it’s also important for these organizations to be more mindful about how they “represent” themselves to the outside world. If you don’t want to work with sangats or with actual Sikh communities, then who do you really represent?

    When SALDEF or Sikh Coalition tells people that they are the “official representative of Sikhs on issue X”, isn’t that an attempt to speak for the whole? If you’re going to speak for the whole, or if you’re going to use impact legislation to build a judicial record for later advocacy, then your actions affect ALL Sikhs. As such, your organization should be accountable to ALL Sikhs. I’m not saying you should ask every individual at every sangat for approval to move forward, nor did I even argue for consensus-based decision models. My point is that currently there is no model of accountability.

    There’s a strategy in deciding to work with predominantly non-Sikh audiences, and part of that strategy (again, this may not be the intent of organizers, but it is the outcome) is to avoid critical review and feedback from the actual community. Because we know that our community faces barriers in effective advocacy/communication, what your description says to me is that “appropriately educated” Sikhs should use these same barriers (and methods of oppression) to shut out their own community. How is that not oligarchic or autocratic?

    Your comment re: the segregation of sangats is salient. I understand that people get heated and solve disagreements in different ways (sometimes by creating a different physical gurdwara). I understand that it is factually true that many sangats, especially in California, are divided by politics, beliefs, generational status, class, etc. Does that mean that we are not required to work with one another, even if we come from different sangats? Doesn’t such a failure to engage in dialogue (unless a sangat is anti-Panthic) imply that these divisions are preferable and that everyone should stay isolated in their own corner of the world?

    You’re right, working both with gurdwaras and putting in the effort to do grassroots capacity-building and networking is tiring, much slower than working alone, and sometimes unproductive. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to engage in building an interconnected community instead of reinforcing divisive practices that tear apart the Panth. I don’t even think the onus to build a networked (and stronger) Sikh community rests with current national Sikh organizations. However, if something were to grow and develop, I would hope that they would support these efforts.

    ::

    Sizzle Argument #3: Democracy is Autocratic

    Let me see if I understand your point — democratic participation and engagement in the governance of our faith and advocacy efforts is somehow authoritarian and anti-Sikh? I’ll try to clarify what I meant by this recommendation (which I’ll also do in a follow up post — Part 2), and hopefully that will make my argument clearer.

    I recommended the creation of an organization in which some kind of democratically elected sangat representatives (note: not strictly gurdwara-based, although I think it’s important to work with and through gurdwaras when possible) or subsection thereof would work together to coordinate advocacy and offer guidance on spiritual questions. If you are not in a gurdwara sangat, as you mentioned, perhaps you’re active in a Sikh organization. Isn’t that Sikh organization a sangat, per se? When I was very young (before we moved to CA) there was no gurdwara where we lived, but there certainly was a sangat. That’s the kind of coordination I’m talking about.

    In Sikhi, there are explicit guidelines for settling spiritual discussions, questions, and disagreements. The bare minimum is to engage a group of panj pyaare to make immediate, emergency, interim decisions. Of course that’s not always possible However, the default (as described in my post) is to elicit the opinion and participation of the Khalsa Panth. Perhaps you’re imagining the SGPC because that is the closest (and most familiar) institution we can readily think of in our own faith community. You’re right, the SGPC is deeply flawed. That doesn’t mean we can’t learn from that model — both the good and the bad — to think of creating a more conscionable and appropriate model in the U.S. for coordination.

    From what I understand in your argument, you are anti-voting and anti-republican representation (in the Sikh community) because voting and participation are somehow autocratic? How is a participatory model inherently more autocratic or inferior to the current model, in which individuals or groups of individuals make unilateral decisions?

    Then you argued that if we ignore the “autocratic argument” that models of participatory representation in the Sikh community are a pipe dream. If we continually undermine grassroots efforts, draw funding away from good work, and fight for one another over which organization or position is more authentic, official, or authoritative, then yes, I don’t think we’ll create a good base model.

    I find it truly astounding that the language of democracy and participation has been inverted to mean autocratic, anti-Sikh, and oppressive. Who does that kind of language/framing benefit? I would argue individuals who do not want to be accountable to the Panth (i.e., many of the organizations I listed in this post). I’m not arguing that those organizations have some kind of insidious intent, or that they’re even consciously trying to avoid public participation (except in the limited ways I described above), but in practice this is certainly the outcome.

    It’s true that sangats disagree on different issues, but I think if you create appropriate mechanisms and criteria you could create a platform in which groups work towards a position.

  11. Camille says:

    That was a super long comment, and here's a brief one :)

    I didn't use my post to call out specific organizations, but rather, to illustrate trends in organizational structure around Sikh advocacy efforts. I did this chiefly because:

    1) I don't think it's productive to use my semi-anonymous status as a blogger to tear down organizations that I'm sure are committed to serving their communities;

    2) As a matter of conflict resolution, I think it's important to engage in a dialogue with or confront the person you're going to "blast" before "blasting" them (and I have not done that); and

    3) I wanted to create a productive, not destructive, dialogue around representation and voice in the Sikh-American community.

    While I listed specific organizations, my intent was not to put them "on blast" but to refer to organizations that are familiar to many Sikh and non-Sikh readers. The organizations I listed are all pioneers in their own ways, and I don't want to take that away from them. However, our community is growing and changing. We would be foolish and short-sighted not to critically examine how to improve upon and work together to create new and possibly better advocacy models. Because our efforts are young, we also have time to really improve upon our models before they become too entrenched/reified to adjust.

  12. Camille says:

    That was a super long comment, and here’s a brief one :)

    I didn’t use my post to call out specific organizations, but rather, to illustrate trends in organizational structure around Sikh advocacy efforts. I did this chiefly because:

    1) I don’t think it’s productive to use my semi-anonymous status as a blogger to tear down organizations that I’m sure are committed to serving their communities;

    2) As a matter of conflict resolution, I think it’s important to engage in a dialogue with or confront the person you’re going to “blast” before “blasting” them (and I have not done that); and

    3) I wanted to create a productive, not destructive, dialogue around representation and voice in the Sikh-American community.

    While I listed specific organizations, my intent was not to put them “on blast” but to refer to organizations that are familiar to many Sikh and non-Sikh readers. The organizations I listed are all pioneers in their own ways, and I don’t want to take that away from them. However, our community is growing and changing. We would be foolish and short-sighted not to critically examine how to improve upon and work together to create new and possibly better advocacy models. Because our efforts are young, we also have time to really improve upon our models before they become too entrenched/reified to adjust.

  13. Camille says:

    Maybe I should have broken up my responses into even more posts =/ I also wanted to clarify on what follows:

    ever day i represent myself as a sikh, and speak to countless people about sikhi – sometimes in mass forums. i don’t attend gurudwara regularly. am i preempted from doing so because i don’t have the support of a sangat that might struggle to even comprehend what i’m trying to convey?

    I think it's important to understand that I am making a BIG distinction between representation of the individual vs. the group. The purpose of the sangat is to engage in a dialogue, to challenge one another, to grow, to serve. Thus, your description (re: presenting your view to sangats) would be totally appropriate, so long as you are speaking as an individual on behalf of the individual. Where I take issue is with Sikhs who speak as individuals from their individual viewpoint for the group and present this view as authoritative or correct, particularly to non-Sikhs.

  14. Camille says:

    Maybe I should have broken up my responses into even more posts =/ I also wanted to clarify on what follows:

    ever day i represent myself as a sikh, and speak to countless people about sikhi – sometimes in mass forums. i dont attend gurudwara regularly. am i preempted from doing so because i dont have the support of a sangat that might struggle to even comprehend what im trying to convey?

    I think it’s important to understand that I am making a BIG distinction between representation of the individual vs. the group. The purpose of the sangat is to engage in a dialogue, to challenge one another, to grow, to serve. Thus, your description (re: presenting your view to sangats) would be totally appropriate, so long as you are speaking as an individual on behalf of the individual. Where I take issue is with Sikhs who speak as individuals from their individual viewpoint for the group and present this view as authoritative or correct, particularly to non-Sikhs.

  15. Curious says:

    Despite all the comments, I'm still wondering which actions these organizations have taken that led you to believe they are holding themselves out as representatives of the entire Sikh faith. I'd also like an example of where their work has been at odds with the interest of any Sikhs. In addition, it would be helpful if you could point to some evidence of your assertion that these organizations focus solely on the 5 Kakkars to define who is a Sikh worthy of their assistance.

    I appreciate your thoughts, but much of what is written needs to be backed up with facts.

  16. Curious says:

    Despite all the comments, I’m still wondering which actions these organizations have taken that led you to believe they are holding themselves out as representatives of the entire Sikh faith. I’d also like an example of where their work has been at odds with the interest of any Sikhs. In addition, it would be helpful if you could point to some evidence of your assertion that these organizations focus solely on the 5 Kakkars to define who is a Sikh worthy of their assistance.

    I appreciate your thoughts, but much of what is written needs to be backed up with facts.

  17. Pablo says:

    Another problem is with often only a narrow focus on issues related to the 5 Kakkars (although this is EXTREMELY important work), these same organizations very narrowly define who the believe is a Sikh, despite the fact that when they speak to government organizations than they claim to speak for 500,000 Sikhs.

    My friend, that is an absolutely superb point, and something that needs to be read and considered by every Sikh in the diaspora with a mind of his or her own.

    The exact same thing is seen in the UK. Sikh organisations spend their entire life marginalising Sikhs who don't fit into their narrow categories, until the entire Sikh religion and community is narrowly defined as some kind of exclusivist cult, yet they demand notice on the basis of using statistics in which the majority have been banished from being what a Sikh is using their own definitions. They are such two faced hypocrites.

    Mark my words, they are the biggest reason why lots of Sikhs abandon or just shrug their shoulders and tacitly leave the religion in numbers. Why belong to something that persecutes and marginalises you?

  18. Pablo says:

    Another problem is with often only a narrow focus on issues related to the 5 Kakkars (although this is EXTREMELY important work), these same organizations very narrowly define who the believe is a Sikh, despite the fact that when they speak to government organizations than they claim to speak for 500,000 Sikhs.

    My friend, that is an absolutely superb point, and something that needs to be read and considered by every Sikh in the diaspora with a mind of his or her own.

    The exact same thing is seen in the UK. Sikh organisations spend their entire life marginalising Sikhs who don’t fit into their narrow categories, until the entire Sikh religion and community is narrowly defined as some kind of exclusivist cult, yet they demand notice on the basis of using statistics in which the majority have been banished from being what a Sikh is using their own definitions. They are such two faced hypocrites.

    Mark my words, they are the biggest reason why lots of Sikhs abandon or just shrug their shoulders and tacitly leave the religion in numbers. Why belong to something that persecutes and marginalises you?

  19. sonny says:

    interesting discussion. while i agree that our activism should have its base in sangats at gurdwaras, i see a real need to reclaim our gurdwaras from a lot of the hierarchical, conservative, and power hungry forces in our community and create spiritual spaces that are radically democratic without the corrupt and shady leadership that many of us are all too familiar with. additionally, i can't help but think that many of the national sikh organizations that have been mentioned here are more concerned with sikhs being integrated into "american society" (the status-quo) and being depicted positively in the media (which certainly isn't a bad thing) than sikhs joining with other oppressed people to challenge this inherently racist, exploitative system that we're living under at its roots. i received the below "sikh activist code" from the sikh activist network based in toronto a couple of days ago on a listserv and was really excited and inspired by its vision and approach. i thought i'd pass it along since it seems relevant to this discussion. check out the youtube link and add them on myspace!

    The Sikh Activist Network – One Love, One Struggle


    http://www.myspace.com/sikhactivistnetwork

    [primarly based in Toronto, the network is expanding and below is the

    evolving platform]

    ================

    THE SIKH ACTIVIST CODE

    ================

    All power to the people

    ——————————

    Recognize Vaheguru's (universal energy) light within all, and do not

    consider social class or status; there are no classes or castes in the

    world hereafter.

    –Sri Guru Granth Sahib

    INTRODUCTION

    ——————–

    The Sikh Activist Network will work to reignite the culture of social

    activism in the Sikh path. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) represents our manifesto and inspiration for social change. It advocates a message of love for all and the equality of all people regardless of their caste, color, creed, gender or sex. The SGGS promotes the pursuit of a society which embodies these principles.

    We call upon all people to stand united against social injustice and

    oppression. We urge all people to join in the resistance against the

    forces of imperialism, capitalism, and neo colonialism, which subject our people to exploitation and degradation. In our struggle we recognize that racism and sexism are products of capitalism, classism and casteism.

    Inspired by Sikh spirituality we hold equality as our cornerstone. We will develop and work through non hierarchal grassroots initiatives with all communities to achieve our goals.

    OUR PLATFORM

    ——————–

    1. We want freedom for all people, and the ability to pursue this freedom.

    2. We demand food clothes shelter for all people and an end to the

    exploitation of the working class.

    3. We demand an end to the racist war on immigrants and refugees. We

    demand an end to the deportations and status for all. No human is illegal.

    4. We support the people’s right to self determination and community based decision making. We stand in solidarity, fist clenched, from Palestine to Punjab and support all struggles for freedom.

    5. We stand with our Indigenous sisters and brothers in their ongoing

    struggle against the theft of their land.

    6. We demand an end to state terrorism, an end to police brutality and

    racial profiling.

    7. We oppose the forces of patriarchy and the exploitation of our sisters and mothers. We oppose all forms of sexism and gender inequity.

    8. We struggle for a return to our original spiritual roots of “Sikh

    dharma” as a meditative, spiritual way of life as opposed to an

    institutionalized religion.

    9. We stand against the corruption, classism and monopoly that afflicts the vast majority of committees that govern our spiritual centres(Gurdwaras). We want the community to have the power in our social and spiritual spaces, and not the select few.

  20. sonny says:

    interesting discussion. while i agree that our activism should have its base in sangats at gurdwaras, i see a real need to reclaim our gurdwaras from a lot of the hierarchical, conservative, and power hungry forces in our community and create spiritual spaces that are radically democratic without the corrupt and shady leadership that many of us are all too familiar with. additionally, i can’t help but think that many of the national sikh organizations that have been mentioned here are more concerned with sikhs being integrated into “american society” (the status-quo) and being depicted positively in the media (which certainly isn’t a bad thing) than sikhs joining with other oppressed people to challenge this inherently racist, exploitative system that we’re living under at its roots. i received the below “sikh activist code” from the sikh activist network based in toronto a couple of days ago on a listserv and was really excited and inspired by its vision and approach. i thought i’d pass it along since it seems relevant to this discussion. check out the youtube link and add them on myspace!

    The Sikh Activist Network – One Love, One Struggle
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=CgFb-mG_GJY&feature=related
    http://www.myspace.com/sikhactivistnetwork

    [primarly based in Toronto, the network is expanding and below is the
    evolving platform]

    ================
    THE SIKH ACTIVIST CODE
    ================
    All power to the people
    ——————————

    Recognize Vaheguru’s (universal energy) light within all, and do not
    consider social class or status; there are no classes or castes in the
    world hereafter.
    –Sri Guru Granth Sahib

    INTRODUCTION
    ——————–
    The Sikh Activist Network will work to reignite the culture of social
    activism in the Sikh path. The Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) represents our manifesto and inspiration for social change. It advocates a message of love for all and the equality of all people regardless of their caste, color, creed, gender or sex. The SGGS promotes the pursuit of a society which embodies these principles.

    We call upon all people to stand united against social injustice and
    oppression. We urge all people to join in the resistance against the
    forces of imperialism, capitalism, and neo colonialism, which subject our people to exploitation and degradation. In our struggle we recognize that racism and sexism are products of capitalism, classism and casteism.

    Inspired by Sikh spirituality we hold equality as our cornerstone. We will develop and work through non hierarchal grassroots initiatives with all communities to achieve our goals.

    OUR PLATFORM
    ——————–
    1. We want freedom for all people, and the ability to pursue this freedom.

    2. We demand food clothes shelter for all people and an end to the
    exploitation of the working class.

    3. We demand an end to the racist war on immigrants and refugees. We
    demand an end to the deportations and status for all. No human is illegal.

    4. We support the peoples right to self determination and community based decision making. We stand in solidarity, fist clenched, from Palestine to Punjab and support all struggles for freedom.

    5. We stand with our Indigenous sisters and brothers in their ongoing
    struggle against the theft of their land.

    6. We demand an end to state terrorism, an end to police brutality and
    racial profiling.

    7. We oppose the forces of patriarchy and the exploitation of our sisters and mothers. We oppose all forms of sexism and gender inequity.

    8. We struggle for a return to our original spiritual roots of Sikh
    dharma as a meditative, spiritual way of life as opposed to an
    institutionalized religion.

    9. We stand against the corruption, classism and monopoly that afflicts the vast majority of committees that govern our spiritual centres(Gurdwaras). We want the community to have the power in our social and spiritual spaces, and not the select few.

  21. sizzle says:

    Camille – I appreciate the post, and most of all, I appreciate this discussion. That said, you have COMPLETELY misconstrued my arguments to the point that I don’t even know if you understand them. So, I’m going to hit your major points, since the rest of your arguments are premised upon them.

    #1: I never stated that individual sangats and Gurudwaras cannot effectively advocate for Sikhs or non-Sikhs. Such a suggestion is idiotic. Every day on a local level, individual sangats and Gurudwaras are advocating for Sikhi as they interpret it and as they react to local needs. This entire thread and post is about advocating on a MACRO level, a NATIONAL level – in a political realm and an pro-active public relations level. The over-reliance on experts you suggest on my part is precisely what YOU are advocating via your idea of a national organization that would speak for all Sikhs, gurudwaras and Sangats. My reliance on experts is not to define Sikhi and preach Sikhi to Sikhs – I’m simply pointing out that it takes experts to navigate politics and effective lobbying efforts on behalf of Sikhs. Further, you opened this discussion with a suggestion that “lone rangers,” via individuals or organizations must be vetted so that they represent the ideals of a sangat. And now, somehow you’ve suggested that this is my idea. HI-LARIOUS.

    #2: Sikh organizations absolutely should work with Gurudwaras. Again, did you even read what I wrote? I said that these organizations should work with Gurudwaras, work through Gurudwaras, and are implicitly tied to their needs and desires sangats through funding and support. What I’ve merely suggested, REPEATEDLY, is that there need not be the formalistic checks and idea vetting you’ve advocated. To call for such a thing is incredibly naïve – if most gurudwaras don’t have a consensus internally, and multiple gurudwaras exist as a result, how can you possibly believe that an organization would ever be able to vet their positions with multiple sangats and remain effective? Seriously.

    #3: Democracy is NOT autocratic. At the risk of sounding haughty and condescending, do yourself a favor and read a book on special interest politics in this nation. Then reflect upon how these organizations operate compared to what you’re suggesting. The current organizations exist as special interest groups, PACs, representatives of their supporters and funders, and have entered the general political realm to advocate and lobby on behalf of those people (read: interests). In essence, you are calling for a better system – one that is MORE democratic. That’s fine and dandy and great – if not completely naïve and outright silly. If you want to work for it – I commend you. If you want it to intertwine the political skillz and the religious authority, aspect – good for you. Maybe you can call it the SGPC Part Deux. If you think such an organization can exist democratically for more than 5 minutes, well, good luck trying to getting it off the ground.

    So, basically, to break this down for you, the current organizations are just that – organizations, interest groups. They don’t operate as democracies, nor do they don’t ever claim to. No such organization does. They claim to speak for Sikhs on legal/political matters and if Sikhs were to find their positions disdainful, the organization would fail via lack of support and funding. When I argue that they should not be compelled to become democratic organizations in of themselves, I state that not to condemn democracy, but to condemn the ineffectiveness such a strategy would bring about, mainly due to the lack of consensus that exists across sangats. Note: these organizations are not creating new religious standards that might require some authority or “panj piyaree,” they are simply advocating existing principles. You seem to want to inject a democratic step when it comes to HOW to advocate. That’s just preposterous and smacks of naiveté.

    So, returning to your idea, what I find most troublesome is that you believe it should have a final say on the positions espoused for Sikhs to America, even being the final say above all other organizations and individuals. And this, my friend, YOUR position, is wholly autocratic and decidedly undemocratic. A democracy is filled with different ideas competing against one another. As I suggested earlier, if organizations disagree, they lobby harder to ensure THEIR position is the one that wins. This happens on an individual level too – disagree with a column or another Sikh’s position, call them out: competing ideas and the “better idea” wins. This, of course is not appropriate when it comes interpretations of actual religious dicta. But, again, these organizations aren't concerned with that.

    Naturally, we want to minimize the disagreements and try to build consensus. And your desire to do minimize divisiveness and build consensus his is the right position. However, your way of going about doing this – creating an autocratic body that definitely states a position – is ALL WRONG.

    I could go on and on…but, I’m sick of typing. But, by golly, I wasn’t going to let your complete and utter misrepresentations of my points stand.

  22. sizzle says:

    Camille I appreciate the post, and most of all, I appreciate this discussion. That said, you have COMPLETELY misconstrued my arguments to the point that I dont even know if you understand them. So, Im going to hit your major points, since the rest of your arguments are premised upon them.

    #1: I never stated that individual sangats and Gurudwaras cannot effectively advocate for Sikhs or non-Sikhs. Such a suggestion is idiotic. Every day on a local level, individual sangats and Gurudwaras are advocating for Sikhi as they interpret it and as they react to local needs. This entire thread and post is about advocating on a MACRO level, a NATIONAL level in a political realm and an pro-active public relations level. The over-reliance on experts you suggest on my part is precisely what YOU are advocating via your idea of a national organization that would speak for all Sikhs, gurudwaras and Sangats. My reliance on experts is not to define Sikhi and preach Sikhi to Sikhs Im simply pointing out that it takes experts to navigate politics and effective lobbying efforts on behalf of Sikhs. Further, you opened this discussion with a suggestion that lone rangers, via individuals or organizations must be vetted so that they represent the ideals of a sangat. And now, somehow youve suggested that this is my idea. HI-LARIOUS.

    #2: Sikh organizations absolutely should work with Gurudwaras. Again, did you even read what I wrote? I said that these organizations should work with Gurudwaras, work through Gurudwaras, and are implicitly tied to their needs and desires sangats through funding and support. What Ive merely suggested, REPEATEDLY, is that there need not be the formalistic checks and idea vetting youve advocated. To call for such a thing is incredibly nave if most gurudwaras dont have a consensus internally, and multiple gurudwaras exist as a result, how can you possibly believe that an organization would ever be able to vet their positions with multiple sangats and remain effective? Seriously.

    #3: Democracy is NOT autocratic. At the risk of sounding haughty and condescending, do yourself a favor and read a book on special interest politics in this nation. Then reflect upon how these organizations operate compared to what youre suggesting. The current organizations exist as special interest groups, PACs, representatives of their supporters and funders, and have entered the general political realm to advocate and lobby on behalf of those people (read: interests). In essence, you are calling for a better system one that is MORE democratic. Thats fine and dandy and great if not completely nave and outright silly. If you want to work for it I commend you. If you want it to intertwine the political skillz and the religious authority, aspect good for you. Maybe you can call it the SGPC Part Deux. If you think such an organization can exist democratically for more than 5 minutes, well, good luck trying to getting it off the ground.

    So, basically, to break this down for you, the current organizations are just that organizations, interest groups. They dont operate as democracies, nor do they dont ever claim to. No such organization does. They claim to speak for Sikhs on legal/political matters and if Sikhs were to find their positions disdainful, the organization would fail via lack of support and funding. When I argue that they should not be compelled to become democratic organizations in of themselves, I state that not to condemn democracy, but to condemn the ineffectiveness such a strategy would bring about, mainly due to the lack of consensus that exists across sangats. Note: these organizations are not creating new religious standards that might require some authority or panj piyaree, they are simply advocating existing principles. You seem to want to inject a democratic step when it comes to HOW to advocate. Thats just preposterous and smacks of naivet.

    So, returning to your idea, what I find most troublesome is that you believe it should have a final say on the positions espoused for Sikhs to America, even being the final say above all other organizations and individuals. And this, my friend, YOUR position, is wholly autocratic and decidedly undemocratic. A democracy is filled with different ideas competing against one another. As I suggested earlier, if organizations disagree, they lobby harder to ensure THEIR position is the one that wins. This happens on an individual level too disagree with a column or another Sikhs position, call them out: competing ideas and the better idea wins. This, of course is not appropriate when it comes interpretations of actual religious dicta. But, again, these organizations aren’t concerned with that.

    Naturally, we want to minimize the disagreements and try to build consensus. And your desire to do minimize divisiveness and build consensus his is the right position. However, your way of going about doing this – creating an autocratic body that definitely states a position – is ALL WRONG.

    I could go on and on…but, Im sick of typing. But, by golly, I wasnt going to let your complete and utter misrepresentations of my points stand.

  23. sizzle says:

    To correct one mistake – a premise for you and me – regards democracy.

    You want a purely democratic system, an organization that passes edicts and speaks for Sikhs. So….that's what, if 51% agree with a position, the other 49% are preempted for speaking of representing Sikhi as they see it to the outside world? In this way, and this way alone, yuour conception of democracy is autocratic or authoritarian.

    This very issues concerned the founding fathers of this nation – read the Federalist Papers and Democracy in America by de Toqueville. This is exactly why the Bill of Rights was introduced – even if the majority passes a position with which the minority disagrees, the minority can still lobby for and espouse their beliefs.

    So, lets say your organization, through some miracle, came to fruition. And some very divisive issue came up later down the road, and 60% of gurudwaras and sangats were on one side, and even though they meant well and wanted to create a consensus, were unable. You are proposing that those 40% be prevented from advocating their sincerely held position, via their preferred organization, to the rest of the world.

    Please, pretty please, explain how you'd reconcile such a position. Sure, its democratic – but guess what – its also pretty authoritarian.

    A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party.

    * James Madison, Federalist Paper #10

  24. sizzle says:

    To correct one mistake – a premise for you and me – regards democracy.

    You want a purely democratic system, an organization that passes edicts and speaks for Sikhs. So….that’s what, if 51% agree with a position, the other 49% are preempted for speaking of representing Sikhi as they see it to the outside world? In this way, and this way alone, yuour conception of democracy is autocratic or authoritarian.

    This very issues concerned the founding fathers of this nation – read the Federalist Papers and Democracy in America by de Toqueville. This is exactly why the Bill of Rights was introduced – even if the majority passes a position with which the minority disagrees, the minority can still lobby for and espouse their beliefs.

    So, lets say your organization, through some miracle, came to fruition. And some very divisive issue came up later down the road, and 60% of gurudwaras and sangats were on one side, and even though they meant well and wanted to create a consensus, were unable. You are proposing that those 40% be prevented from advocating their sincerely held position, via their preferred organization, to the rest of the world.

    Please, pretty please, explain how you’d reconcile such a position. Sure, its democratic – but guess what – its also pretty authoritarian.

    A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party.

    * James Madison, Federalist Paper #10

  25. Baldev says:

    Sizzle,

    On this point you are very wrong. Democracy does not mean 50.0000000000001%. This is one way to practice democracy, but surely is not the only way. An etymology of the word democracy defines it as such:

    1574, from M.Fr. democratie, from M.L. democratia (13c.), from Gk. demokratia, from demos "common people," originally "district" (see demotic), + kratos "rule, strength" (see -cracy).

    Thus, democracy refers only to rule of the people. Building consensus and other forms are ways that we can practice democracy in our community. We are not limited to majoritarianism as you suggest.

  26. Baldev says:

    Sizzle,

    On this point you are very wrong. Democracy does not mean 50.0000000000001%. This is one way to practice democracy, but surely is not the only way. An etymology of the word democracy defines it as such:

    1574, from M.Fr. democratie, from M.L. democratia (13c.), from Gk. demokratia, from demos “common people,” originally “district” (see demotic), + kratos “rule, strength” (see -cracy).

    Thus, democracy refers only to rule of the people. Building consensus and other forms are ways that we can practice democracy in our community. We are not limited to majoritarianism as you suggest.

  27. sizzle says:

    Ok, so, leaving aside the etymology which actually SUPPORTS my definition (i am not at all "very wrong"), lets move on to the practical and most common connotation of the word democracy…which just means majority.

    Your vague point of "rule of the people" is precisely the problem I am trying to highlight. At what point have we created the "rule of the people?" 51%? 60%? 66%? 99% And, as such, at what point does Camille's organization believe it have the power to stifle the comments or statements of that 1%?

    This is getting abstract, since no one would really listen to an organization that only garnered 1% support from the Sikh community. But, how about an organization that had the support of 25% of the Sikh community?

  28. sizzle says:

    Ok, so, leaving aside the etymology which actually SUPPORTS my definition (i am not at all “very wrong”), lets move on to the practical and most common connotation of the word democracy…which just means majority.

    Your vague point of “rule of the people” is precisely the problem I am trying to highlight. At what point have we created the “rule of the people?” 51%? 60%? 66%? 99% And, as such, at what point does Camille’s organization believe it have the power to stifle the comments or statements of that 1%?

    This is getting abstract, since no one would really listen to an organization that only garnered 1% support from the Sikh community. But, how about an organization that had the support of 25% of the Sikh community?

  29. Camille says:

    sizzle, I think our cross-posting indicates a fundamental lack of understanding on both sides. You're arguing that I misconstrued your points. I would argue the same about your interpretation of my points. I definitely was not advocating (in the post or in my comments) the arguments you attribute to me.

    But, I wanted to take a moment to apologize up front if my first comment was overly strident in its tone. While I stand by my argument, I personally find it challenging to convey my tone (which was intended to be calm) via comments/text. I'm new to this blogging thing, and I appreciate your patience with me.

    That said, I don't presume to know your background or experience, and I would appreciate if you didn't project your assumptions onto my life and experiences. Name-calling and condescension really aren't appropriate, nor do they further your argument. I'm going to ignore all the nasty jibes, assume good intent, and address your points, anyway.

    I think what you're thinking of as "vetting" and "democracy" differs from how I'm conceptualizing a national advocacy network. The core of my argument is that a lack of collective voice and organization, at the national level, often results in disorganized and mis-framed advocacy. It is simply untrue that current advocacy efforts of Sikh organizations 1) coalesce around a common message, or 2) happen in a way that actually conforms with the prevailing consensus. An important corollary to that is a critique of the many instances in which individuals claim to speak on behalf of the Sikh community as a whole. The heart of this post is about thinking through the current limitations/problems and future possibilities of what "representation" of the Sikh community would entail. I may not be explaining myself well (partly because I'm still working that out for the follow up post to this one), but I think it would really help to think of grassroots decision-making, direct action, and advocacy models to understand what I mean when I use the term "democratic." I'm not talking about plurality rule or some kind of insane Sikh online Diebold system.

    Re: your point on 'special interest groups" and Sikh advocacy organizations, I simply don't agree with the idea that if they weren't popularly supported by Sikhs they would somehow lose funding. That's another conversation for another day, though.

    While I do think there are key points upon which we agree and disagree, it doesn't seem like either of us is making a lot of headway. We may simply be limited by the media within which we're communicating.

  30. Camille says:

    sizzle, I think our cross-posting indicates a fundamental lack of understanding on both sides. You’re arguing that I misconstrued your points. I would argue the same about your interpretation of my points. I definitely was not advocating (in the post or in my comments) the arguments you attribute to me.

    But, I wanted to take a moment to apologize up front if my first comment was overly strident in its tone. While I stand by my argument, I personally find it challenging to convey my tone (which was intended to be calm) via comments/text. I’m new to this blogging thing, and I appreciate your patience with me.

    That said, I don’t presume to know your background or experience, and I would appreciate if you didn’t project your assumptions onto my life and experiences. Name-calling and condescension really aren’t appropriate, nor do they further your argument. I’m going to ignore all the nasty jibes, assume good intent, and address your points, anyway.

    I think what you’re thinking of as “vetting” and “democracy” differs from how I’m conceptualizing a national advocacy network. The core of my argument is that a lack of collective voice and organization, at the national level, often results in disorganized and mis-framed advocacy. It is simply untrue that current advocacy efforts of Sikh organizations 1) coalesce around a common message, or 2) happen in a way that actually conforms with the prevailing consensus. An important corollary to that is a critique of the many instances in which individuals claim to speak on behalf of the Sikh community as a whole. The heart of this post is about thinking through the current limitations/problems and future possibilities of what “representation” of the Sikh community would entail. I may not be explaining myself well (partly because I’m still working that out for the follow up post to this one), but I think it would really help to think of grassroots decision-making, direct action, and advocacy models to understand what I mean when I use the term “democratic.” I’m not talking about plurality rule or some kind of insane Sikh online Diebold system.

    Re: your point on ‘special interest groups” and Sikh advocacy organizations, I simply don’t agree with the idea that if they weren’t popularly supported by Sikhs they would somehow lose funding. That’s another conversation for another day, though.

    While I do think there are key points upon which we agree and disagree, it doesn’t seem like either of us is making a lot of headway. We may simply be limited by the media within which we’re communicating.

  31. sizzle says:

    Camille –

    I reread everything a few minutes ago, and we are coming from completely different perspectives.

    I too think this is the worst forum for such a discussion, as it requires far more give and take and clarifying points and positions frequently, far more frequently than long posts permit.

    I apologize for anything that may be interpreted as nasty, I can be a bit rough around the edges…especially when it comes to a good, rigorous debate on a topic i think is so important and I feel so passionately about. I also wrote everything stream-of-concious, without proofing, and looking back, there were some unnecessary jabs. As I said before, it's a very relevant post, and perhaps the most necessary discussion within our community. It got me all hot and bothered.

    So, agree to disagree….for now. High-five!

    sizzle.

  32. sizzle says:

    Camille –

    I reread everything a few minutes ago, and we are coming from completely different perspectives.

    I too think this is the worst forum for such a discussion, as it requires far more give and take and clarifying points and positions frequently, far more frequently than long posts permit.

    I apologize for anything that may be interpreted as nasty, I can be a bit rough around the edges…especially when it comes to a good, rigorous debate on a topic i think is so important and I feel so passionately about. I also wrote everything stream-of-concious, without proofing, and looking back, there were some unnecessary jabs. As I said before, it’s a very relevant post, and perhaps the most necessary discussion within our community. It got me all hot and bothered.

    So, agree to disagree….for now. High-five!

    sizzle.

  33. Camille says:

    Hey sizzle,

    No worries, I'm glad the topic got you passionate/excited (I think these kinds of debates/conversations are vital!). Agree to disagree :)

    High fives back,

    Camille

  34. Camille says:

    Hey sizzle,

    No worries, I’m glad the topic got you passionate/excited (I think these kinds of debates/conversations are vital!). Agree to disagree :)

    High fives back,
    Camille

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