What quickly becomes clear about Houston writer, activist, and social-justice consultant Eesha Pandit is how busy she is—and always has been since her youth. She acknowledges the observation with a laugh and adds, “Yes, I am!”
Pandit is the co-founder of the Houston-based Center for Advancing Innovative Policy (CAIP), a think tank that helps grassroots groups of all sizes develop policies and strategies to achieve progressive goals. CAIP’s clients include national and international coalitions focused on issues of reproduction, policing and criminalization, gender and sexuality, racial justice, domestic violence, sexual assault, healthcare access, and immigration. Her writing appears in various national publications, and network television news outlets frequently solicit her expertise. She is also a co-founder of South Asian Youth in Houston Unite, a transnational feminist collective empowering that population, and a member of Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board.
Pandit has always felt like she was destined to become an activist. Even as a high school student in Houston, national and global justice issues would catch her attention. Her earliest activism focused on opposition to large American corporations using sweatshops in other countries for cheap labor. “I wanted to be a person who worked in accordance with my values,” the 40-year-old notes.
Pandit’s journey to the life she has today began in New Delhi, India, where she was born. At age 3, her family emigrated to New York City, and at age 16 they moved to Houston, where she finished high school. Houston was a bit of a culture shock at the time. “It felt really suburban after New York,” she recalls, admitting that she was expecting more of a “wild west” atmosphere. Her family still lives here today.
During her senior year of high school, Pandit applied for scholarships to colleges throughout the United States, and she finally settled on Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. From there, she moved to the University of Chicago for her graduate work. “I was really needing an adventure. I needed to go somewhere to do that.”
Originally, Pandit planned to study biology exclusively, but a college philosophy course she took intrigued her with its introduction to social justice and political theory. An internship with Amnesty International after her junior year hooked her as the organization immersed her in the most challenging social-justice issues in the world. “I found that really inspiring,” she recalls.
After finishing her education, Pandit worked in leadership roles at a number of nonprofit groups focusing on women’s reproductive and healthcare issues, as well as the violence against women in some areas of the country. The programs included the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program at Hampshire College, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, and Amnesty International USA’s women’s-rights program.
Seven years ago, Pandit returned to live in Houston. She co-founded CAIP four years ago, along with Veronica Bayetti Flores. Believing that policy agendas should be created by grassroots organizations, the two share information that empowers group leaders to lobby local, state, and federal officials to implement new laws and regulations.
As busy as she is, Pandit also manages to find the time for a personal life. At a party in Atlanta, she met Rachel Afi Quinn, her partner of eight years. Quinn is an assistant professor of women’s, gender & sexuality studies and comparative cultural studies at the University of Houston, and also the co-founder of South Asian Youth in Houston Unite, along with Pandit.
As for her goals for the future, Pandit hopes to do more writing “about political awakenings” and also develop and expand CAIP’s outreach and influence. “It feels like we are just getting started,” she adds.
For more information on Eesha Pandit, visit eeshapandit.com.
This article appears in the May 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.