Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Democratic Fermentation: NRN Style

Nepali architect - Arniko in Miaoying Temple
Nepali architect - Arniko in Miaoying Temple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
For the first time in its history, the Non Resident Nepali Association has become a mass based organization in America. This is a major milestone. Once the elections are over in a month, and people have the option to become members again, it is estimated the number might hit something like 10,000 to the current 4,000.

This makes the NRNA the largest Nepali organization in America, and now there is no more need for another umbrella organization. There must be a few hundred Nepali organizations across America, big and small. And that is all good. But there was a need to have one organization that brought everyone together from all parts of the country. That void has been filled.

Other than a large membership base, and perhaps more important, the basic democratic process seems to have taken root in the organization, starting from the election process itself. When an organization has 4,000 members spread across America, you have no choice as a candidate but to wage a decent campaign. You have to go out there and ask for votes, or go online.

I like to joke, which is the most socio-economically backward ethnic group in NYC? Is it the Nepalis, the Tibetans, or the Bhutanis? Considering Nepal is the poorest country outside of Africa, if Nepalis are not number one from the bottom in NYC, the crowd has got to be close to the bottom, there must be a pool of such ethnic groups.

How do you organize such people? Is it possible to buck the trend? As in, could Nepal continue to be the poorest country outside of Africa, but Nepalis in NYC organize themselves in such ways that the community makes major advances as a group over a period of something like 10 years?

I think that is possible. And turning the NRNA into a mass based organization is key to any such attempt. It is not just about dual citizenship. It is also about making socio-economic advances here itself, right here in New York City. Being better organized as a community helps, and that is to do with applying the basic democratic process.

For the longest time it felt like the minuscule ANTA had more members than the giant sounding NRNA. All that has changed. 2014 is proving to be a watershed year for the organization.

When you move from 200 members to 4,000 members, that is a move in the right direction. When members can register online, that is good. When members can vote directly for those running for office, that is swell. Online voting is a tremendous idea. A candidate creating a public Facebook page elevates the conversation.

The issue of dual citizenship remains the top item on the agenda, as yet the perennial unfulfilled goal. Politicians in Nepal are scared shitless that if they were to allow the NRNs dual citizenship, some of them might show up in Nepal to run for office, and then where are we? I remember one Holi in the 1980s when all planets in the solar system came to form one straight line, and that was supposed to be the end of the world. Nothing happened. At the end of the last century, all computers of the world were supposed to go haywire. Nothing happened. There is nothing to fear and everything to gain from the dual citizenship idea. In today’s globalized world Nepal has to think of all members of its diaspora as its ambassadors. Like I like to say, you can bring in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) or you can keep sending your workers out to Malaysia, Qatar, and where have you.

But then basic democracy is not enough. Recently I jotted down some ideas as to what a new Madhesi organization in the city might look like. Even with its recent love for basic democracy the NRNA will remain an organization where ordinary members have nothing much to do after they have paid their membership fee of 10 dollars and voted for somebody. Then all activity shifts to the few dozen active ones. I am not a big fan of that arrangement.

The basic building block of organizing Nepalis in the city has to be the Home Meeting, perhaps once a month, about 10 member strong. The emphasis has to be on helping more of the Nepalis who wish to come over to the US to come over, to help with the first phase of seeking lodging and a job. Most of that gets taken care of informally right now. Maybe there is room for something more organized. And then there has to be major emphasis on people making $10 per hour or less to help them get past that barrier. A lot of that might be to do with education and training, much of which can be done online for cheap these days. And there the social element can be a huge factor between someone moving upward, or staying stuck in third gear.

I think the same basic model of organizing can also work for Nepalis in the higher income brackets. In case you have not noticed, most of the top earners among Nepalis meet regularly, and compare notes, and help each other out.

The NRNA in NYC and in America should not just focus on the distant, seemingly abstract goal of dual citizenship, important as it is, but should primarily focus on helping its ordinary members advance socio-economically locally. Part of that also is about being efficient. Don’t get in the way of these Nepalis and the city itself and all that it has to offer. When you put together disorganized events that don’t have much focus or direction, you are basically inviting people to show up and waste their time. They work crazy hours for little pay. On their day off, they’d rather do laundry, or go visit Times Square, than show up for your event.

Can you blame them?
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