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Iranian-Americans do the Convention

August 27, 2008

Denver, CO – Denver is bustling with political activity this week, well beyond the walls of the Pepsi Center where the Democratic Party is holding its National Convention. Many organizations, advocacy groups and activists from around the country arrived here to take advantage of the spotlight to advance their causes and make their voices heard. Iranian-Americans are among them, although, as a sign of how little common political engagement the most affluent immigrant community in the United States still displays, only the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) has a presence, and an informal one at that.

NIAC Legislative Director Emily Blout and West Coast Director Sara Shokravi  met Tuesday night with a few members and a couple more people interested in hearing about the organization in an unofficial gathering organized at a café’ in downtown Denver. “It is the first time that we take on the initiative of coming to the national conventions,” Sara Shokravi  said, “and we’re still trying to figure things out.” Two other staffers from NIAC will be in Minneapolis next week during the Republican National Convention.

NIAC was created in 2002, primarily as a response to what happened in America after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, when people at all connected with the Middle East often suffered discrimination in the midst of the government crackdown on immigration and national security-related issues. NIAC is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that works with politicians, as well as other organizations, on both sides of the aisle. “We are equal opportunity and we work with both conservative and liberal groups,” Emily Blout explained. NoAttackonIran2

In Washington DC – where it is headquartered – NIAC talks to members of Congress about Iranian American issues, educates both the political class and regular citizens about the Iranian American community, while it strives to enhance Iranian Americans’ participation in civil life throughout the country. “We fly in relevant speakers from across the country and the world, we put out briefs and hold workshops for our members teaching them how to become more politically engaged,” Ms. Shokravil said.

In the ongoing Presidential Campaign, NIAC has made contact with both the Obama and the McCain campaigns and is focusing specifically on talking to Republican and Democratic candidates running for Senate and House seats. In Denver NIAC is also informally mingling with other organizations and meeting members and interested parties from Colorado or who might have traveled here for the DNC.

Born with the goal of giving better representation to the Iranian American community in politics like in business and society as a whole, during its first few years NIAC exclusively focused on domestic issues and primarily immigration. In 2006, after conducting a survey among its members – the main fashion in which NIAC establishes its official stances -, Foreign Policy was also included, with the mission of promoting diplomacy, negotiations and dialogue with Iran. “It is incredible how little Americans know about the Middle East,” Ms. Blout, an Irish Jewish American with no ethnic or cultural ties with Iran, said at the meeting. “And it’s incredible that such a successful community of immigrants is so poorly organized,” she noted. NIAC tries to bridge such gap.

Recently, another organization was created, with a similar aim of representing the domestic interests of the Iranian American community. PAAIA (The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans) is still at the initial stage of its activities and, to our knowledge, does not have a presence in Denver.

Good news for the Iranian American community came recently from the McCain camp, which announced the appointment of a full time staffer as a liaison with the Iranian American Community. Raymond Rahbar is the McCain’s Director of Iranian-American outreach and will conduct conference calls and meetings with Iranian Americans until Election Day. A similar move might be in the making within the Obama camp as well.

Originally reported and written for Washington Prism

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