By TONY OSUMI, Nikkei Progressives
Georgia is over 2,300 miles from Little Tokyo. But on Saturday, Dec. 19, it was clearly on the minds of Nikkei Progressives (NP) and its supporters.
The Little Tokyo organization held a fundraiser supporting voter turnout for the Georgia U.S. Senate runoff races on Jan. 5 and to patronize Little Tokyo restaurants hard hit by COVID-19.
An initial goal of selling 200 meals was set but, according to NP member Carrie Morita, “Before we knew it, the orders came flying in. People were so excited to find something concrete they could do to help GOTV (Get out the vote) in Georgia. An added bonus was supporting Little Tokyo restaurants.” In the end, 337 meals were sold and over $18,000 was raised.
With curbside pick-ups in Little Tokyo, Torrance, Monterey Park and Culver City, generous diners were treated to delicious meals from Azay, Kouraku, and Suehiro restaurants. Each meal included Mago’s Chashu Avocado Burger, Hiyashi Chuka Salad-Cold Ramen, and Suehiro’s House Special Stir-Fried Eggplant and Bell Pepper in Miso Sauce. Under the slogan “No Justice, No Peach,” dessert was available and 200 “Georgia” peach cobblers made by Azay were also purchased.
Supporting Little Tokyo restaurants is vital more than ever since indoor and outdoor dining are now banned. “The area is home to 400 businesses, over 60 of them legacy small businesses. The pandemic has had a catastrophic impact on small businesses — a core pillar of the historic neighborhood,” said Little Tokyo Community Council Managing Director Kristin Fukushima. “Most small businesses in Little Tokyo are struggling to stay afloat. Without the continuous support from the community, many would have closed already.” 60% of the fundraising profits went to the restaurants.
40% of the profits were split between the New Georgia Project and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta. Nikkei Progressives was honored to send each group $3,500. Both nonpartisan organizations are dedicated to voter registration, education, and increasing voter turnout for Georgia’s increasingly diverse population. NP appreciates how the groups have invested years of deep organizing with local communities.
Georgia is experiencing demographic changes with a growing Black, Latino and Asian Pacific Islander (API) population. The API community in Georgia has grown by 138% over the last 20 years and according to data firm Catalist, early voting for APIs tripled in 2020 over 2016 from 40,000 to 120,000.
With Joe Biden winning the state by only 12,000 votes, APIs will continue playing an important role in Georgia’s elections. With that in mind, NP members have been text- and phone-banking and writing letters to API and other Georgia voters encouraging them to vote in the Jan. 5 election.
Currently, the U.S. Senate has 50 Republicans and 48 Democrats. The Georgia runoff will determine who controls the Senate. This will influence the Biden Administration’s ability to pass legislation on healthcare, desperately needed COVID-19 relief funds, national infrastructure investments, climate change, voting rights, and taxing America’s billionaires. The runoff will also determine who controls the Supreme Court confirmation process.
For these issues and more, progressive change will take many fronts: rolling back corporate power, confronting the deep and ongoing terror of white nationalism, envisioning sustainable economies and relationships with nature, and more.
For the next four years, it includes pushing Biden leftward to stay in sync with national polls showing the majority of Americans support Medicare-for-All, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the Green New Deal, legalizing marijuana, and Black Lives Matter. The paradigm of voting every 2-4 years won’t be enough to do this. It’s going to take more, a new commitment to engage in social and political activism.
Nikkei Progressives is looking forward to positive changes for 2021. As NP member June Hibino said, “Even though Trump will thankfully be gone, we still need to support Little Tokyo, immigrant communities devastated by detention and family separation, Muslim Americans targeted with Islamophobia, and the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Nikkei Progressives would like to thank Azay, Kouraku and Suehiro for participating. Special thanks go to Philip Hirose of Azay. Over 40 volunteers helped plan the event, outreach, assemble and distribute meals. Over 160 individuals ordered meals and generous donors raised an additional $1,100.
Newer Nikkei Progressives member Alina Nakano, who spent the day packaging meals, said, “It was great seeing grassroots efforts in Little Tokyo support grassroots efforts in Georgia. Even in the midst of a pandemic, I was grateful for the opportunity to help reach Georgia in this important election.”
The fundraiser was a community effort. It combined a love for Little Tokyo and the Japanese American tradition of pooling resources to support one another. It’s also an example of interethnic solidarity and of how average people can take the responsibility to determine what happens in local and national politics.
The fundraiser points to the new, more active role we must play to make America better, for everyone. It’s going to take rolling up our sleeves and working together. We can do it.
Nikkei Progressives a grassroots, all-volunteer, multi-generational community organization. We care deeply about Little Tokyo and issues of justice and fairness within the Japanese American community and beyond. Visit us on Facebook, Instagram, and at www.nikkeiprogressives.org.