One of the beautiful things about organizing is that it calls for us to bring our full selves, with all our experiences, interests, and identities, to the people we are marching alongside. Sometimes our life experience and talents outside of work can enrich our movement work.
For example, my experience growing up as a competitive swimmer taught me to keep my body moving forward as efficiently as possible as I controlled the pace of my breathing. This is a lesson I apply to the work I do when working in a sea of deadlines and breaking news. I remember my training, keep a regular heart rate, and maintain clarity for the sprint ahead. This breathing control also helps to keep steady hands behind a camera.
So when I heard a hip hop track about canvassing called “The Pitch”, written and recorded by Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition Political Director Pratik Dash, I just had to learn more about someone who has unexpected gifts to bring our revolution.
If you haven’t heard it, some of the lyrics go like this:
So it’s time to vote in people that might seem like us
Got some melanin in they skin and they beam like us
Because they proud of they culture, kings and queens like us
I just need some folks in office that might dream like us
Pratik Dash’s skills for spitting lyrics is only one part of his toolkit. His range is what drives his work to connect with voters and the families in his community. Like many of us, he is no stranger to holding multiple truths. He described himself as “putting the South in South Asian.” He loves chicken and waffles and samosas, embracing both identities of his upbringing. Still, through his life, these multitudes that existed in him meant a lot of code switching between the spaces he moved through.
A son of Indian parents, Dash’s family moved through the South every few years following engineering work at different power plants. Eventually his family landed in Tennessee where they purchased a gas station and liquor store so the family could put down roots. He was expected to pursue a career in STEM, following in his parents legacy. But unlike his parents, Dash also has a gift for music, and a teacher encouraged his parents to let Dash pursue singing. They couldn’t predict from that moment in the second grade that his voice would eventually have him performing at the Grammys — twice — in high school. He thought he might have a career in music.
But other experiences also had big impacts on steering Dash’s career. And while he thought he’d be holding a microphone, he eventually traded it in for a megaphone.
After September 11, Dash experienced the overt descrimination that came with the so-called ‘war on terror.’ At 13-years-old he was trying to donate money at his school to the surviving families, and the woman who was collecting money refused to take his $20 bill, saying “Sweetie, we don’t take money from terrorists” and pushed his hand away.
“I do this work because I never want anyone to feel the way I felt that day,” recalls Dash. He couldn’t bring himself to tell his parents, the same immigrants who gave up so much for their family to be Americans.
“My grandfather convinced me to write an op-ed,” explained Dash. “I got a lot of feedback. I got a lot of support. I got a lot of haters. But that was my first journey into activism and shaking things up.”
After a series of life events that included living in India with his grandfather and earning his computer science degrees, Dash was invited to a meeting at Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition in 2014. At the time, he didn’t have an interest in immigrant rights, he just wanted to impress the girl who invited him. He describes this event as world changing.
“I learned about undocumented communities, I learned about systemic racism. I knew that at that event, engineering was not what I wanted to do,” remembered Dash. “I wanted to do this.”
Dash shared that TIRRC is a place where he finally could bring all the parts of himself. No code switching needed.
“TIRRC was the first place that I could be my full 100-percent self — outside of being with my wife.”
Dash is beaming as he recalls that pivotal transition. Not only did TIRRC change the trajectory of his career, he also ended up marrying the girl who he was trying to impress. His experience being accepted for all his parts makes him want to continue the work, the work that includes having doors closed in your face, and staring down long lists of voters you aim to connect with.
And now, freestyling hip hop is a form of self-care.
“It’s opened up a gate for me to just really dive into my own identity, and discover myself a little bit too as I’ve grown in this work.”
“I’ve been doing this work and knocking on doors, and trying to get people to go out and vote,” said Dash. “I think people view this work as grinding and drudgery. I wanted to capture in ‘The Pitch’ the positive that happens when you do get someone to vote, right?”
Dash’s excited tone is contagious. It’s apparent he has a passion for reaching people. A self-described extrovert who wants to “go big” with everything he dedicates himself to, he says that sharing “The Pitch” has helped people relate to the joy in civic engagement.
And know what? I’m that canvasser who’s gonna show ya
I’ll do anything I can to make sure that you are a voter
“I think the goal is to just make voting fun,” said Dash. “Folks should be excited to be part of it and it shouldn’t be a chore to go vote.”