Building Long Term Power with Syeda Bano
She wants to create a world where social justice isn’t something people negotiate on.
Meet our South Asian Community Organizer & Field Coordinator
Location: Cumming, GA
Finds joy in: Family, Food, and Candles
Frequently used emojis: 😂. 🥰. 👀.🖤
Inspired by: Zainab bint Ali because of her persistent commitment to justice and truth despite facing unrelenting oppression. She reminds me that we must be relentless in pursuing a more just and equitable society.
My name is Syeda Bano and I use she/her pronouns. I graduated from Oglethorpe University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Politics and Sociology. I was born in Pakistan and raised in Georgia, living my life between two cultures sparked a passion for exploring identity development and engaging in advocacy work. My identity as a Shia Muslim-American immigrant influences my passion to fight for social justice and center marginalized communities.
Syeda, in conversation with the Asian American Advocacy Fund. This Q&A has been edited for grammar and clarity. Photographs are from Syeda’s personal collection.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to find your self identity?
I was born in Pakistan and moved to Georgia when I was three. This is the only place I know as home. Being raised in the South in predominantly white neighborhoods was very tolling on me because I never really knew where I was supposed to be.
My plan was to get out of the South but I realized that my problem with Georgia was the way that people made me feel on a personal level, and not necessarily the state itself.
This past May, I graduated (class of coronavirus); majoring in Politics AND Sociology helped me center my own experiences and my own identities, in the midst of everything. I’ve learned to embrace both sides of myself, whether it is being Muslim in a non-Muslim space, or being Brown in a white space.
Comfort looks different to me now, I can go into different spaces because I know who I am. I know who I am is because I’ve forced myself into different spaces. The way I occupy a space is what makes that space mine.
Where are you most comfortable and who do you organize with?
I’m most comfortable in activist and organizing circles; it’s where I can openly share my frustrations and accomplishments because all of us are on a similar wavelength. I was introduced to AAAF through Asian Americans Advancing Justice — Atlanta, where I did an internship. These were the first two non-Muslim Asian spaces I have ever been a part of. And the people I’ve met through Communities Over Capitalism are phenomenal.
Finding community, where you can be your authentic self, is very important. For a long time, I thought that as a Pakistani that my community could only exist in spaces with other Pakistanis; and then I realized that that is not true. My communities are with people that understand me on all aspects of my identity.
What are some ways you practice community building?
It’s a lot of person-to-person conversations. I began community building in informal spaces with people I knew as friends; we’d meet once a week, or however often we wanted, and we would build each other up. It’s about actively listening and engaging with a person and understanding what the needs are, where they’re coming from and what stems those needs.
I’m not here to offer you a seat at the table. I know that you have your own table, your table doesn’t need to be my table; it’s more about how I can provide for you. That’s very powerful to me and leading from the back to empower people seems to be effective, at least to the capacity that I’ve been able to do it.
Can you share an example of how you’ve met a community’s needs?
People want to be engaged, but everyone has their limitations and unless we start extending hands to one another, we can’t accomplish anything. I try to extend whatever resources I have to people in the community. For example, I’m running the AAAF Urdu/Hindi voter hotline and I technically have a schedule, but I can’t tell you the last time I worked within the realm of those hours!
When I started telling some of my friends that I was doing this work, that opened a door; sometimes my friends’ parents or members of my mosque community call me on my personal number. Even though I tell myself I’m going to let all the hotline calls go to voicemail, I can’t really let an uncle I know really well go to my voicemail. I keep picking up because I know how badly people want to make sure their voices are heard.
And it’s amazing what people are able to do when you are intentionally including them.
What do you think will be the impact of multiracial coalition building?
I definitely think that the work of multiracial coalitions will have long lasting impressions on everyone. One of my favorite quotes is by Hussain ibn Ali: “Those who are silent when others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves.” We recognize we need to work with one another and build each other up. Silence is complacency and oppressors rely on that.
We’re breaking this pattern of having to wait patiently as bystanders for other people to receive their rights first. We can ask to be seen as humans on every single level regardless of what our single identity is.
People are really feeling empowered once again, and that is a threat to the existing structure because it wasn’t meant to hold communities. I think that communities can sustain power for a long time, as long as communal interest is there. When one of us is hurt, all of us are hurt; and unless all of us are making our way to the top, none of us can reach the top.
How would you like community care to grow?
Communities need to continue to serve one another. A community needs to be working with another community to make sure that all the local communities’ interests are secured and protected.
If there was one thing I could get across to everybody, is how important the mutual aids are. At the start of the pandemic, I was able to receive mutual aid from an org that was raising money for members of a community and that money got me through a month.
I firsthand know how important mutual aid is, and working for progress is self care. Our needs shift day to day and recognizing our capacity is a necessary foundation for making sure that we are able to continue to work for progress, even while our communities are facing extreme oppression. It’s in the comfort of communities that we’re able to get through it together.
I’d like to make sure that there is a habitable planet for future generations to live in. I want to create a world where social justice isn’t something people negotiate on, where people are given inherent, universal human rights.
The Asian American Advocacy Fund is a grassroots 501(c)4 social welfare organization dedicated to building a politically-conscious, engaged, and progressive Asian American base in Georgia.
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#GeorgiaOnMyMind gives voice to diverse perspectives, life experiences, and viewpoints. With a vision for a thriving future, we share this series to shift and shape public narratives about Georgians who organize for and with their communities.