August 1, 2018

A New Chapter for NIAC

Today is my first day as President of the National Iranian American Council. I could not be more proud to take the helm of this organization that my friend and mentor Trita founded and developed into a powerhouse with influence throughout Washington, a dynamic staff in D.C. and California, and tens of thousands of members and supporters across the country. But at this critical juncture, we have a lot of work ahead of us to fight for the priorities of the Iranian-American community.

I joined NIAC’s team in 2009 as Policy Director, became the founding Executive Director of NIAC Action to ensure our voices were heard at the ballot box, and most recently served as NIAC’s Vice President. Over that time, we have been through it all – from the hopes of the 2009 Iranian elections to human rights crackdowns and crippling sanctions. From a historic diplomatic opening and the promise of building bridges between Americans and Iranians, to a ban that divides us from our families.

Through the highs and the lows, NIAC’s mission has been consistent: to build power for Iranian Americans and our allies so that we shape our own political destiny. That means engaging our community in civic life, providing the tools and information to influence our government and elected officials, and building a platform for our community to find and speak with a powerful, unified voice.

We are in a moment now when our voice is needed more than ever before. Our community’s rights – the rights that are supposed to be a fabric of America and which were fundamental to the very existence of Iranian Americans – are in question. The country of our heritage, meanwhile, is in the crosshairs of newly empowered interests who see the years since the invasion of Iraq as a mere intermission delaying their second act in Iran. But the biggest threat to our community is giving in to those who tell us we do not have power to decide what happens next. 

We are not historians, we are activists. We are not bound to a fate decided as part of some opaque and unknown process, we are active participants in a democracy that is being tested. If we are convinced we lack agency over our political destiny, we resort to apathy and conspiracy theories. We accede to the forces of despotism and, instead of building power by working together, we turn on each other to the delight of outside influences who want to keep us disorganized and weak.

At NIAC, we know the rules of the political game and how to win. We know that influence is not only good ideas and access, it is about building power through organizing our community so that, instead of a formless cacophony of disparate voices turned against themselves, we form a powerful, unified voice that resonates in the halls of government.

We have much work to do on our community’s journey to building the political power we are capable of. This transition is a critical moment in that journey – the passage of any organization from its founder to their successor is when a startup becomes an institution. And while building an institution in the midst of what feels like a perilous moment in America’s political history may feel like a tall order, I relish the opportunity. In fact, I think this is precisely the challenge we as a country and we as a community must face head-on in order to meet our potential.

NIAC’s strength and influence comes from the community we serve. My top priority is to build our organization through our members. Over the weeks and months ahead, we will be rolling out new initiatives to deepen our connections with our members – and the level of input you have in shaping our organization – and to expand our membership and build our community.

In Farid Ud-din Attar’s Conference of the Birds, a flock embarks to find the leader who will save them. In the end, it is revealed that the “Simorgh” was not a single exalted leader but rather it was the flock itself, working together, who was the leader they had been seeking. It is a lesson that our community and its forebears have struggled to learn for generations. I am so proud to be a part of an organization that is committed to building this community that is unified, strategic and working together to build real power and leadership. I hope to help guide that process so that we realize our community’s true potential and become the masters of our own political destinies.

Much more to come.

Jamal Abdi

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