By Shabnam Sahandy, National Iranian American Council (NIAC)
Note: The event discussed below was not sponsored by NIAC or any other Iranian-American organization. It was organized independently and was open to all members of the public.
NIAC member Shiva Sarram has been following the political career of Barack Obama for years. "When I saw him speaking at the 2004 convention, I remember immediately picking up the phone, calling my brother, and asking 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?'" But it was hearing Obama's victory speech after the Iowa caucuses that really sealed the deal for her. "I felt like he was special, different. Someone well-educated and genuine. When I heard him in Iowa, I knew he was going to go all the way, and I knew I wanted to help him do that."
In 2003 Sarram, who now lives in Connecticut, left a lucrative position on Wall Street to devote time to raising her two young children, and to working on her non-profit projects right here in the United States and around the globe.
And in the past year, Sarram also devoted a significant portion of her time to helping out the candidate she believes in.
On Saturday September 20, Sarram hosted a fundraising luncheon at her New Canaan home that raised over $375,000 for the Obama campaign. With help from her cousin Sima Sarrafan (a classmate of Obama's from Harvard Law), Sarram organized and executed an event that even political veterans described as one of the best they had ever been to. Over 250 people (mostly women) attended the event. Caroline Kennedy (daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy) headlined at the event, as did Obama domestic policy advisor Neera Tanden (formerly an advisor to Hillary Rodham Clinton).
Sarram says she has always voted in major elections, but it wasn't until recently that she really began to get involved in politics. She decided to get involved not only because she was inspired by Senator Obama, but also because she wanted to move beyond the political apathy at times common in her own community.
"Many members of the previous generation were content to just sit on the sidelines and watch. Many of us (including myself) have been complaining for the last eight years. But I finally realized that if you're unhappy, you need to do something about it. We live in a democracy."
Sarram says there are a hundred reasons she's supporting Barack Obama, but there is one that stands out in her mind. In her introductory remarks at the luncheon, Sarram said "even as a young Senator, Barack Obama had the vision, judgment, and maturity to say 'no' to the Iraq war." Sarram said she is inspired by Senator Obama, who is in her opinion, the first candidate in a long time who really believes in diplomacy, and who truly sees war as a last resort .
Sarram, born and raised in Iran, was only eight years old at the start of the Iran-Iraq war. She remembers doing homework by candlelight to avoid being bombed by planes above. "Now, every time I sit on a soccer field with my own kids on a beautiful autumn day, I think about the children halfway across the world living in fear of being bombed every day." This year she helped raise $30,000 to send wheelchairs to injured children in Iraq.
Sarram says you don't have to be a big-ticket campaign fundraiser to make a difference. There are little things you can do every day to get involved. Make phone calls from the comfort of your own home, knock on doors in your neighborhood, send informative articles to your email contact list, wear a "vote" T-shirt while running errands, and ask people if they're going to vote. "I wear a Barack Obama button every day. Sometimes I get a thumbs up, and other times I get the evil eye, but the important thing is that I always engage people in conversation. I tell people I'm anti-war, pro-planet, and pro-choice, and that sparks a discussion."
Sarram's message to Iranian Americans? "Politics is not a dirty word - It's your values system. You don't want to look back on November 5 and say 'I could have done something.'"
To learn more about getting involved in the Presidential campaigns visit www.barackobama.com or www.johnmccain.com. If you are an Iranian American who has done work in support of the McCain campaign and you would like to be profiled for this series, please contact Shabnam Sahandy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This feature is the inaugural piece in NIAC's "Iranian Americans in Politics" series. In this series, NIAC seeks to share the stories of Iranian Americans who have changed the world around them by getting involved in American civic life.
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