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Iranian-Americans for Obama Hold Gathering

Iranian.com, News Feature, Hamid Karimi Posted: Sep 15, 2008

On Sunday, September 7th, Bay Area Iranian American Democrats (BAIAD) held a special public event featuring Steve Westly, the former candidate for California governor and co-chair of Obamas campaign as the keynote speaker. The eloquent MC, Lily Sarafan, started the event by welcoming everyone and introducing the agenda for the evening which included a roster of speakers and grassroots community organizers. [photos]

The first speaker was Ira Ruskin, the California assemblyman from the 21st district who has led key efforts on environmental issues. Ira commended the Iranian American community for taking the lead in becoming one of the fastest politically active ethnic groups in America; according to him it took other immigrant minorities many generations to realize the value of activism and civic participation. Ira also shared his experience of living in Iran right before the revolution of 1979 when he witnessed a society ready to erupt. He shared two great hopes with the crowd, first to see Obama become president and second for Iran to return to its main threads as a great culture and civilization.

The second speaker was Jamie McLeod, a member of Santa Clara city council who is running for re-election this November. Jamies self-described political philosophy focuses on fostering open governance, safeguarding communities and protecting natural resources. Jamie noted that our strength comes from a common belief in democracy and not shared bloodline. That is why organizations such as BAIAD are critical to the construct of a civil society. She denounced war as an instrument of policy by saying in a war it is the civilians that ultimately suffer and not the politicians; Barak Obama understands that distinction.

The third speaker was Teresa Cox, the chair of economic development in the city of Fremont who is running for the Ohlones College Board seat. Ms. Cox has the distinction of being the first female African-American with the nuclear engineering degree in the United States. She has worked on establishing global colleges in strategic locations such as Shanghai, China. In her opinion the Iranian American community can use that example and extend the reach of global higher education system to people of Iran.

Mike Honda was unable to attend in person but sent a letter strongly supporting the grassroots efforts of BAIAD and wished that Iranian Americans would become more active in political affairs.

At half point, a 3-minute video clip that was shown at the recent GOP convention was broadcasted. In the video, there was a blatantly false claim linking Iran to Al-Qaeda and the events of September 11, 2001. Recognizable political figures such as Henry Kissinger were shown at the end of this clip expressing approval by a standing ovation while the crowd chanted USA, USA.

Following the video clip, Maryam Ghazvini of BAIADs board of directors took to the podium and engaged the crowd. She shared a few key statistics reflecting of Iranian Americans achievements as well as political apathy: More than 25% of Iranian Americans have a Masters or PHD degree which is the highest among 67 surveyed ethnic groups; they earn 20% more than the closest group; they also occupy more than 50 key positions at Fortune 500 companies and yet this is totally unmatched by this communitys political underrepresentation due to widespread apathy and callous indifference. According to MITs Iranian Studies Group (ISG), in many metropolitan areas, less than 10% of Iranian Americans vote in elections. Building on these statistics, Maryam invited the crowd to become active participants in the political process and reminded them that in the Bay Area alone, there are 10,000 registered Iranian American democrats whereas the number of paid members at BAIAD is under 50. In the end, Ms. Ghazvini closed her speech by quoting Abraham Lincoln: Lets have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

Steve Westly took to the stand as the keynote speaker next and shared history of his involvement with the Democratic Party; about 30 years ago, Steve became Californias youngest Democratic officer. He made his personal fortune working with Pierre Omidyar of eBay and has recognized the value of working with bright Iranian Americans. Steve passionately laid out the roadmap for the growth of Democratic Party and stated that organizations like BAIAD are the key for such growth by opening a new chapter in American political playbook. Steve acknowledged the achievements of Iranian Americans as the cause for envy and suggested that Americas greatness is precisely because of her embrace of productive, progressive immigrants. He went on to explain the differences between the two leading parties vis--vis policies towards Iran: while Bush says that Iran is a part of axis of evil due to disagreements with the leaders of that country, Obama advocates active diplomacy. To underline the stark philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans, he used John Kennedy famous quote, Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate. Dick Chaney exemplifies the darkest contrast compared to Obama by saber rattling and adopting the most bellicose postures and case in point is the recent crisis involving Russias conflict with Georgia.

Mr. Westly articulated the reason for his support of Barak Obama in some detail. According to him, Obama represents a higher order of what this nation can offer by appealing to large masses that have historically been disenfranchised a phenomenon that has not been since for at least 25 years. Steve described three distinct areas of policy differences, first Obama unequivocally condemned the Iraqi war from the start, second he unabashedly supports the rights of women and minorities and third he is determined to end Americas addiction to fossil fuels. In contrast, Republicans represent the interests of oil, gas and coal companies and as we all know, the coal industry sponsored the Republican convention this year. There are several counties in California alone that are turning blue simply because of Obamas outreach to these communities and their angst in the face of dire political and economic pictures. He then invited the audience to use this opportunity and widen the gap against McCain and the Republican Party through volunteerism and financial support.

Steve Preminger, chair of Santa Clara County Democratic Party was the last speaker of the evening. Since the inception of BAIAD in 2004, Steve has been an avid supporter of the organization and has helped it become a charter member of Democratic Party. Mr. Preminger expressed his gratitude to BAIAD for educating the county and state Democratic Party on issues related to Iran and expressed that a club is only as strong as its individual members and collective numbers.

During the Q&A session, the audience had a chance to ask candid questions of Steve Westly and Steve Preminger. In response to a question about Obamas Iran speech at the AIPAC gathering the day after he became the presumptive nominee, Steve Westly compared and contrasted the views of both parties and described Obamas language as a lot less hostile than McCains bomb Iran comment. Furthermore he invited Iranian Americans to emulate the success story of AIPAC and build relationships with key politicians. In Obamas recent visit to the Bay Area, Indian Americans who are a smaller group than Iranian Americans in California were the biggest fundraisers. It is important for the minority groups to have their voices heard because unlike the Republican bunch, Obama gets it; he has lived abroad and understands the international community. In a democracy, there is no concept of them but us; any other view equates abdication of responsibility as citizens.

In response to the hypothetical possibility of Iran as a nuclear weapon state, Steve Westly supported Obamas contention that active diplomacy is the only answer even of more states eventually follow that route.

imageIn the end, Steve Westly reminded the crowd that what they needed was building a movement not a club; Only Obama can put an end to encroaching and intrusive legislations like the Patriot Act; Obama has created such excitement that 2 million new democratic voters have been registered in this election cycle and 3 million pairs of feet on the street are spreading the word and creating momentum. Democrats are also out-raising Republicans and given all these factors, it will be difficult not to imagine president Obama.

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