Denver, Colorado – Over 40 Iranian-American Coloradoans attended NIAC’s Demystifying Democracy workshop sponsored by the Parsa Foundation on March 8th. Participants of all ages were forced to question previously held beliefs about influence and power in the American political system.
Trita Parsi, NIAC’s President, and Michelle Moghtader, the Director of Community Outreach, spoke of the Iranian-American difficulties in gaining influence. The inability to translate the resources of the Iranian-American community into influence has been the greatest barrier to civic participation- until now that is. During the 2008 presidential elections, we witnessed Iranian-American apathy morph into genuine excitement. Coloradoan Iranian Americans have already experienced the thrills that come along with political influence as many witnessed the Democratic National Convention in August 2008 and were ready to take it to the next level.
NIAC explained both the individual and community based characteristics needed to gain a political voice. If Iranian Americans can combine political knowledge, voting, activism, money, and volunteerism they will have a greater influence in politics. As participants learned how to approach their elected officials, NIAC staff reminded them, “As an Iranian-American constituent with a unique perspective, you are a resource, not a burden.”
Not only did participants learn how to frame issues and how to meet with their elected officials, they also connected to a larger network of active Iranian Americans in Colorado. The group divided into two smaller groups in order to simulate a meeting with their Congressperson or the local media. Attendees learned how to formulate arguments in order to convince the media and Congress members of different view points.
The presentation dispelled the notion that to affect change one needs to go to the top of the political food chain. The NIAC team noted that Iranians generally believe that “the only people who matter are those on top” referring to Senators, Governors, and other officials in top leadership positions. But according to Parsi, who has served many years on Capitol Hill, this notion is not entirely true. “Staffers,” they explained, “are more accessible and make many of the decisions. Their views matter greatly and establishing good working relations with them is essential, and at the same time easier.” The message of the day was clear: connecting to people in the political process, such as political staffers or members of other organizations, is of utmost importance.
Participants left feeling empowered and equipped to implement change in their communities and we look forward to seeing greater involvement from the Iranian-American community in Colorado. If you’d like to have a civic participation workshop near you, please contact Michelle Moghtader, Director of Community Outreach at [email protected].