Following its grants to IAAB and IHF, and as a part of its Mehrgan 2010 Grant Cycle, PARSA Community Foundation is pleased to announce a series of strategic grants to Iranian-American organizations promoting civic engagement and civil liberties protection. These organizations have taken on the challenge of educating and representing the Iranian community on key issues that affect us all but are too easy to ignore until we encounter a serious problem. In order to facilitate integration, have our voices heard and protect our rights, our community must dramatically increase its civic participation through voter registration, advocacy, and taking positions on immigration reform, anti-discrimination and anti-defamation. To these ends, PARSA CF has awarded six grants, a total of $571,000, to four enterprising nonprofits: NIAC, IABA, NLSCA and BAIVOTER.
National Iranian American Council (NIAC), recipient of three grants totaling $446,000, is the largest Iranian-America grassroots organization and a well-known name on Capitol Hill. Among NIAC’s many accomplishments is the role they played in removing sanctions on vital online communication tools like MSN Messenger, Facebook, and Youtube to ensure the free flow of information in Iran, correcting the National Geographic Society’s 8th edition maps to read “Persian Gulf” instead of “Arabian Gulf,” and defeating a Congressional resolution that would have paved the way for a US-Iran war. NIAC has built a base of paying members whom it surveys regularly for public opinion as a basis of its communications with U.S. Government and U.S. media.
NIAC’s paid membership program demonstrates broad community support and has made its operation sustainable through the years, a rare achievement for an Iranian-American organization. NIAC has received two previous grants from PARSA for $70,000, supporting voter registration and community organizer training, and these three new grants will benefit its long-term civic integration efforts:
- The first grant of $182,000 was awarded in support of an initiative titled “Building Civic Participation and Leadership,” which will promote community civic engagement and the development of young leaders. The grant will allow NIAC to work on an enhanced series of democracy education workshops, voter registration drives, increased student fellowship offerings, and the development of student networks at college campuses nationwide. These efforts will empower Iranian Americans to take an increasingly active role in creating their own future.
- The award of $153,000 is for the “Cultural Heritage: Preserving and Protecting Our Rich Traditions” initiative, a comprehensive media and education campaign with presentations in major U.S. cities in the form of “museum nights.” Raising awareness about the Persepolis tablets, this initiative will build broader community support for NIAC’s efforts to keep the tablets in the academic domain rather than be auctioned off in a complicated legal battle. The goal of the initiative is to engage the Iranian American community and the broader American public in saving these tablets from falling into private hands and protecting a part of humanity’s ancient and treasured past. PARSA CF has been a long-time supporter of the Persepolis Fortification Archive and feels that increasing broader community awareness and support is a key to preserving this significant piece of our history and culture.
- Finally, PARSA awarded $111,000 to NIAC’s “Building a Strong Community” initiative which has received equal matching funds from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a prominent Jewish-American philanthropic organization. NIAC plans to build strong ties to organizations in the Jewish-American community for future action and collaboration. PARSA CF lauds NIAC for recognizing the importance of building broad coalitions to achieve common goals.
“We are extremely grateful that the PARSA Community Foundation has made such a significant contribution toward building the civic participation and engagement of the Iranian-American community through these grants. We are excited that the community will benefit and be advanced as a result of the Foundation’s leadership” said Dr. Trita Parsi, President of NIAC.
Anti-defamation is an example of an issue that is best addressed in coalition with other communities’ anti-defamation efforts and to this end PARSA CF has awarded a $50,000 grant to the Iranian American Bar Association (IABA) for a fellowship with the Asian Law Caucus (ALC) Korematsu Institute. The fellowship will address the negative stereotypes of communities post 9/11, focusing on identifying, addressing, and shifting such depictions through a range of policy, organizing and legal work, including, but not limited to, the defamation of these communities in the media. The program will do outreach to underserved communities affected by the post 9/11 climate, including the Iranian-American community.
The project allows IABA to leverage its existing nation-wide pro bono and clinic program. It also gives IABA the resources to identify and target national legislation which may have direct and indirect consequences for the Iranian-American community, and to address them accordingly and expeditiously.
“In the wake of 9/11 and current war on terror, many innocent, law abiding, and proud Americans of Iranian heritage have been subject to various forms of discrimination at school, in the workplace, and at the hands of different levels of government. Sometimes this discrimination and lack of equal access was purposeful, sometimes inherent in the system and without malice. While in the past IABA has attempted to guide its members and the community at large through these issues to the greatest extent possible, for a voluntary bar association to do so without a permanent and salaried attorney focused on such issues has been an extremely difficult task. With the PARSA grant towards establishing a permanent position at the Korematsu Institute at ALC, IABA can now finally reach its goal of establishing such a position under the auspices of the Asia Law Caucus” said Salman Elmi, board member, IABA.
PARSA CF has awarded a $25,000 grant to the National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement (NLSCA), the organization that has represented more than 3200 post-9/11 clients since 2001, with 68% of clients being of Iranian descent. NLSCA’s goal now, the first of its kind, is to directly address policy change by examining how post 9/11 policies may have medically/psychologically affected this targeted community. They will draw from, and be guided by, the successful Japanese-American redress movement that led to a Presidential apology and restitution for the grave violations of Japanese-American constitutional rights. In cooperation with Institute for the Study of Psychosocial Trauma (ISPT) and Institute for Redress and Recovery (IRR), NLSCA will continue to document ongoing cases, while determining the nexus between the medical/psychological impact and existing post 9/11 policy enforcement. This collaborative effort between human rights and legal services, coupled with scholarly and clinically-applied research, will expand NLSCA’s impact on a more comprehensive level for both the Iranian-American community, and broader community at large.
Lastly, in support of voter registration, a cause that PARSA CF believes to be vital to our community’s strength, we have awarded a $50,000 grant to the Bay Area Iranian-America Voter Association (BAIVOTER). The grant will be used to build a database of registered voters from the 20 most populous states, and to analyze the data to find the last names of registered voters whose place of birth is Iran. The result will be a very important list of distinct Iranian-American last names that can be used to extract registered voters of Iranian descent. This body of knowledge will be valuable in advancing Iranian-American influence in the political process.
PARSA CF applauds these ground breaking organizations and encourages every Iranian and Iranian-American living in the U.S. to use and promote the tools and resources provided by these groups for improving their civic engagement and defending their civil liberties within our community. In order to fight for one’s own rights, one has to be willing to fight for everyone’s rights. Our community has benefited from the long history of diverse communities fighting to protect the rights of all U.S. citizens, and we hope that the Iranian American community will contribute significantly to this legacy.