The Bay Area Iranian-American Voter Association (BAIVOTER), an Iranian-American voter education and advocacy organization in the San Francisco Bay Area, on August 2, 2003 presented a talk on civic participation as part of a series of educational events at the Fourth Annual Iranian Festival organized by the Andisheh Center in Portland, Oregon.
The goal of the event entitled "Achieving Civic Visibility: Iranian-Americans in Post-9/11 America," was to inform the participants about the importance and mechanics of civic participation, and to impart BAIVOTER's own experience over the past year of ordinary Iranian-Americans coming together to build a community-based voter education and advocacy organization.
Opening the event, BAIVOTER founding member and Executive Director Niloufar Nouri presented a brief overview of how the group was born, and its achievements so far. She enumerated the steps involved in establishing a nonprofit corporation, and said that the group can help those in the area who might be interested to create their own local voter education and advocacy organization.
Stressing that Iranian-Americans must exercise their rights and fulfill their civic responsibilities as effective citizens, Nouri said that Iranian-Americans need to establish a stronger voice in the post-9/11 environment.
"If our government decides to keep my visiting 72 year old aunt in a room for 6 hours in order to fingerprint and process her as a potential security threat just because she is Iranian, and I, as a taxpayer and voter, do nothing about it, then I have not fulfilled my responsibility as a citizen," commented Nouri.
Discussing the mechanics of participating in the democratic process, Nouri dedicated the rest of her talk to a detailed description of how voters can influence the decisions made by their elected officials.
"While voting is the ultimate form of participation," Nouri stressed, "in addition to voting at election time, it is crucial that you build a relationship with your elected officials through the representatives' key staffers who have the ear of the officials and can influence their decisions."
Nouri explained that the most effective ways to communicate with elected officials are to set up meetings with the officials or their staffers, write personal letters, or make phone calls, saying that faxes, e-mails, and petitions are not as effective.
Nouri concluded her talk by suggesting to the participants to volunteer for a political campaign of their choice as an effective way to gain valuable insight into how the system works.
"If there is a candidate whose political views you agree with, why not volunteer in their campaign? It's a great opportunity to create a relationship, and if the candidate wins, you may well be able to exercise some influence," said Nouri.
Commenting on BAIVOTER's presentation, participant Targol Saedi said that the event inspired her to become more politically involved within her community and make a difference.
"It gave me a great insight into the political process by explaining the importance of civic participation and how to effectively engage in the democratic process," stated Saedi.
The chair of the festival organizing committee Goudarz Eghtedari commented that the participants found the presentation to be very informative, and are interested in pursuing the recommended paths in Oregon.
"We are glad that BAIVOTER accepted our invitation, and look forward to more collaboration with the group," said Eghtedari, who is a community activist.
The festival was organized with the help of Iranian-American Professional Society of Oregon, Iranian Women Association of Oregon, and the Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University, as well as volunteers and contributors.
Contact: Arash Alavi
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