NIPOC and SIP have always promoted the participation of Iranian Americans in civic life, and the workshop was a great fit to guide these organizations effectively in those endeavors. NIAC's non-partisan approach, in which it only promotes the tools necessary for participation, but does not impose any agenda on the participants in the workshop, also made it match with NIPOC and SIP's missions.
The workshops served two purposes: to promote Iranian-American participation in American civic life and to show Iranian-Americans that their interests can be protected through strategic involvement with governmental leaders, both local and national. Also, this was an opportunity for NIAC to introduce itself, explain its mission/vision to Iranian-Americans in California and to demonstrate its successes thus far, most notably the Monster.com retraction.
The NIAC representatives pointed out that despite the Iranian-American community's extraordinary professional and economic successes, we are less successful in participating in US civil society. Although numerous factors contribute to this situation, the lack of knowledge about the mechanisms of the American political system is most prominent.
The "Demystifying Democracy" workshop delved into how Iranian-Americans can develop a voice in the United States and focused on the factors, or "ingredients," that make individuals influential in America, the factors that make communities influential, and how Iranian-Americans, as individuals and as a community can use this knowledge to translate their vast resources into influence, in order to, for instance, defend their civil rights.
The lively interactive session consisted of information sharing by both Parsi and Ehsassi peppered with questions from an engaged audience consisting of NIAC, SIP and NIPOC members and general public. Parsi covered the Seven Ingredients of Influence on both an Individual and Community level as well as Modes of Effective Communication.
The most eye-opening discovery for the group, perhaps, was that although money is important to exerting influence on an individual level, it is not enough in and of itself. It only becomes effective when coupled with some or all of the other ingredients: Knowledge of Issues, Voting, Activism, Diversity, Leadership and Volunteerism.
Ehsassi gave a demonstration of the NIAC website and described its functionality in great detail. Many workshop participants were impressed with the services offered particularly the pre-written letters (both pro and con) in the Actions section, and were grateful for the overview. A few people indicated that they have already used NIAC's website to contact their representative in California and found it very effective.
At the SIP event, Assemblywoman Elaine Ahlquist also made an appearance and spoke about how to communicate with lawmakers.
"NIAC's approach is a good one and I encourage you to use it," Mrs. Ahlquist explained. "Let candidates know you vote and are paying attention and that you expect them to reply." Participants gave glowing reviews of the workshop. "It was very informative... We are truly appreciative that after all these years an organization came up with a systematic plan to do positive action. It is commendable," said Babak Khatibloo a workshop attendee.
Another participant encouraged the audience to "use NIAC like you use your local library. They provide a lot of useful information on both sides of the coin. Which side of the coin you agree with is your decision. Check their website about once a week. It's refreshed frequently."
Another audience member, Fali Farizani, was quite impressed with Parsi's knowledge of the Congress "He (Parsi) is an effective communicator, his explanation of the inner working of congress and their staff was remarkable; I liked the fact that he emphasized the need for individual participation in other civic groups than just Iranian-American based groups," Fali said. "I think this kind of work needs to be greatly expanded in Southern California, I hope NIAC will do more workshops in this area. There is an estimated 650,000 Iranian-American living here and this is just the beginning" said, Farzaneh Horiat
Shapoor Hashami of Piedmont commented: "I was really surprised to learn that I didn't know how the society I live in works. I feel empowered. I hope I can get more involved and communicate the issues that are on my mind and impact in my life."
Although many of the participants are relatively active in the community, they still felt the need for and importance of a systematic approach to civic participation. They all agreed that NIAC is doing a wonderful thing and should do more of these educational workshops in Southern California. NIAC is planning to work with the California based members and other groups in the community to conduct more educational seminars and workshops in the future.
NIAC's web site: www.niacouncil.org
... Payvand News - 6/9/03 ... --