12 Things you should know about Bhairavi Desai, the Indian Origin woman who not only founded the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA), but also heads it.
1. Bhairavi Desai was born in Gujarat, and came to the US with her parents and her two brothers, at the age of 6. Her father was a lawyer and her mother a homemaker.
Photo: (PHOTO CREDIT MARTHA CAMARILLO -GAARTISTS) www.newyorker.com
2. She grew up in New Jersey and went on to obtain a degree in Women’s Studies from Rutgers University in 1994.
After college, she worked with Manavi, the South Asian Women’s organization in New Jersey. She also worked at a nonprofit, in 1996, called the Committee against Anti-Asian Violence where she was assigned to run a project with a group of South Asian Taxi-drivers.
3. Growing up, Desai wasn’t allowed to date or go to dances, but she didn’t care. “I was too busy dreaming of strikes and demonstrations,” she told Lizzie Widdicombe of the New Yorker.
4. In February1998, Desai who was just 23 was working in a beeper store, and, in her free time, trying to open a union office with the help of friends, including two Pakistani drivers, Javaid Tariq and Saeed Ahmed, and Biju Mathew, a Marxist associate professor at Rider University.
They eventually founded the Taxi Workers Alliance, whose initial membership was 700. It eventually metamorphosed into the New York Taxi Workers Alliance (NYTWA).
5. Bhairavi, is not a taxi driver herself nor does she have a driver’s license.
6. In May 1998, she organized the largest one-day taxi strike in the history of New York history, to protest against new rules by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the strike kept most of the city’s 12,000 yellow cabs off the street for a day.
7. She is founder and Executive Director of the New York Taxi Workers Association which today has a membership of over 18,000 that manages over 50,000 New York Taxi drivers.
8. In 2003, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund presented her with a ”Justice in Action” award.
9. In 2004 she was named the ”Top 5 Under 35” South Asians in the metropolitan area of New York.
10. Ford Foundation made her one of 17 people recognized in its 2005 Leadership for a Changing World awards, where she was among those cited for bringing ”not only concrete gains to their communities but a determination to stand for justice.”
11. She has been invited to the White House twice. President Obama once greeted her in the receiving line at a state dinner by exclaiming, “I was an organizer, too!” as reported in the New Yorker.
12. She currently resides in Bronx, New York with her husband Victor Salazar, also a union activist.
About New York’s Taxi Cabs:
More than ninety per cent of New York cabbies are immigrants, and the most common place of origin is South Asia—Bangladesh, Pakistan, India—followed by Haiti, Egypt, and the former Soviet Union. The typical driver is a thirty-four-year-old man (less than one per cent of drivers are women), who works ten-to-twelve-hour shifts, six days a week, and earn between twenty-five and twenty-eight thousand dollars a year.
New Yorkers take more than four hundred and eighty-five thousand taxi trips per day.
A bestseller book, ‘Taxi Driver Wisdom’, a collection of New York taxi driver quotes authored and compiled by Risa Mickenger is available.
“Through taxi drivers, I have learned the true meanings of honesty and humor, forgiveness and fairness, the maturity to handle difficulties with grace, and, at all times, the importance of dignity”, she told Anu Sharma of NRI Today.