By Behrouz Bahmani
June 28, 2004
we approach what may be one of the most important presidential
elections in modern memory, Iranian-Americans have been increasingly
concerned and opinionated as to the direction the US has taken.
But rather than continue to be camouflaged in fear, Iranian-Americans
have become surprisingly energized to participate rather than flee,
eager to shed their typical approach to politics, namely sitting
idly by and hoping no one notices them, as they reconcile their
love for Iran with their love for America, in favor of a kind of
participation that one can only call "Remarkably Enthusiastic".
SF Mayor Gavin Newsom
One example of this kind of participation is a
recent meeting which was held with the newly elected Mayor of San
Francisco, Gavin Newsom. Newsom as you may know recently shocked
the US political establishment of both parties, by literally exploding
onto the scene with his controversial, but high-time-it-happened
action, allowing gay marriage in San Francisco.
A bold move? Or crazy? This one has left a long
list of political analysts and pundits scratching their heads and
it will be a long time before it's impact can be fully understood.
One thing is for sure, it got the attention of the established
political system, that one can safely say, needed a long overdue
shock to the system, first just to check if there's any life, then
onto resuscitation. Look to Newsom for some interesting days ahead
indeed. But onto the meeting.
During the city's mayoral election, one of Newsom's
deputy directors of the campaign was a fellow Iranian-American,
Ahsha Ali Safai (see
Persian Politicos). Now as Deputy Director in the Mayor's Office
of Community Development, Ahsha is in a unique position to not
only deliver us right to the very doorstep of the dialog in SF
but more importantly to also to coach us through the active process
with his experience and familiarity with the system.
The Meeting -
On May 7, I received the invitation from Ahsha
to attend a May 17th meeting in room 201 of City Hall in San Francisco.
At first I couldn't believe it. Here was an actual invitation to
sit down with the mayor of one of the most famous cities in the
world. I immediately called Ahsha to confirm this wasn't some new
form of email virus or worse, a mean spirited hoax.
"No. it's true." He said.
"So what's the agenda of the meeting?" I
"Basically, the Mayor wants to extend an opening
dialog with all of the major communities in San Francisco, and
offer an opportunity for discussing issues. It was a cornerstone
of his campaign and he wants to follow through on it."
Wow! I thought. Did my ears deceive me? You mean
there is actually a politician who not only remembers, but follows
through on his campaign promises!
the 17th grew nearer a buzz began to build around the Bay Area
as Iranians of note began to catch wind of the meeting and even
though many do not live in San Francisco, needless to say, nothing
but nothing was going to stop some of the community's biggest and
brightest stars from taking advantage of this unique opportunity.
On the 17th, I knocked off from work around 3 so
I could get to the city from San Jose by 4:30 in time for the meeting
at 5. I figured I would walk around San Francisco if I got there
early. As is always the case in the Bay Area, when you plan for
traffic delays, there aren't any. I got there at 4 and as I had
hoped walked around the plaza. As I did, I noticed the Gucci and
Louis Vuitton bags, the smell of perfume and cologne, and the telltale
signs of the familiar "Cheshm-o-Abroo"s of fellow Iranians
milling about the plaza.
I must now take this opportunity and specifically
say that for once, when it counted most, we were actually ON TIME!!!!
4:45 everyone began drifting into room 201 in which there was a
very large board room table, the largest one I have ever seen.
About 30 people began to take their seats, the rest of us who were
observing, sat against the wall on chairs provided for the expected
At 5:05 a tall smilingly nervous Gavin Newsom ambled
in and his Irish-American raspy voice began booming hellos as he
walked past the length of the table and asking first, was ushered
to the far head of the table flanked on either side by Ahsha Safai
and Mike Farrah an Arab-American and good friend of the Iranian
community, and Newsom's Senior Advisor to the Mayor.
After a brief opening remark and a cordial welcome
by Newsom, the scheduled presentations began.
Lotfi Mansouri -
Ms. Nazli Mohajer of the Persian Arts and Cultural
Society (PAC Society), started with what I think was the most exciting
project to announce. With famed former General Director of the
San Francisco Opera and a huge Iranian (not in size, but in stature), Lotfi
Mansouri in tow, she broke the news that for the first time
a new ballet depicting the epic Shahnameh, "Zal and Roodabeh" was
to be performed in San Francisco on January 7-8, 2005. With Mansouri's
heftiest seal of approval of the project, Newsom was invited to
be the official host. He accepted excitedly. Look for further info
from PAC Society.
Next, past president of the Iranian-American Chamber
of Commerce (IACC),
Javad Mirsaidi offered the pre-requisite statistics on the Iranian
community, but with a very smart and important twist, which I thought
was brilliant. As he rattled off the usual percentages and average
incomes, he did something different, he compared them to the same
averages of general Americans. The contrast was much more apparent
and you could see Newsom raise his eyebrows several times as he
noted the stark lead we have in income and education.
He then did something which I thought was especially
ingenious. He respectfully (he actually said "respectfully"),
asked the Mayor to consider Iranians for advisory areas of the
city, and to further put his money where his mouth was, Mirsaidi
promptly placed into the hand of Newsom, several resumes of those
who had offered to volunteer in this area. I don't know if Mirsaidi's
resume was in that pile, but I hope it was.
Next up was Iranian American Political Action Committee
represented by Susan Akbarpour publisher of Silicon
Iran, attending on behalf of her husband Faraj Alaie, a loyal
community supporter, and frequent financial sponsor. Alaie was
out of town. Alaie is one of those Iranians who would just as soon
share a slice of pizza with you (this is a real example) and just
plain "gets it". He knows what needs to be done and does
it. I wish more millionaires would take from his example and loosen
their wallets along with their ties once in a while.
Akbarpour clearly nervous, stated our concerns
with the Patriot Act and its implementation and effect, and outlined
the goals and objectives of IAPAC. For those of you unclear, IAPAC
is a much needed but basic PAC, something we have desperately needed
for a long time. Simply put, a PAC advocates the position of the
group of voters it represents, in this case the Iranian-American
position, to politicians and policy, by continually lobbying existing
policy makers, as well as the more important task of raising of
funds and financial support for politician's campaigns. IAPAC helps
politicians who are friendly and sensitive to our issues, to get
and stay elected. The idea is to count on and call in the reciprocal
political favor. Since politics is what makes policy, it ought
to make sense to you why we need IAPAC.
Next out of the blue, like an eagle, or a superhero,
from far down the table, in swooped Kayvan Tabari, one of the original
founders of IACC and a passionate Iranian. He raised his hand humbly,
stood up and began to eloquently thank the Mayor for the wonderful
opportunity and confirmed the excellence the Mayor was seeing.
Tabari is a lawyer in San Francisco and has honed his oratory skills
over many years of jurisprudence. It was wonderful to listen to
him speak. Tabari was the first advocate and acquired minority
status for Iranian-American owned businesses in San Francisco,
which has garnered favor and status for many Iranian owned businesses,
who owe their city contracts to his efforts. Again, an entirely
genuine and ultra nice guy.
|Mehran Kamkar of San Jose
Several other questions and comments were made,
although lesser, but nonetheless important and all well stated.
It was clear an incredibly positive impression was made. Newsom
was clearly impressed with the caliber.
And before you knew it, it was done. As a closing
surprise, as if he could out do his contribution, Ahsha announced
that this would begin as a regular bi-annual event or even a quarterly
one as needed!
That's right folks, this was not a token, post
election gift. Iranian-Americans have now achieved the once thought
impossible, an ongoing regular dialog and invitation to the Mayor's
I exited the hall and made my way out onto the steps down to the
sidewalk, with a few Iranians I did not know, we all felt that
even though nothing had changed in the space of 2 hours, but in
fact everything had changed.
As I dizzyingly contemplated everything, I looked
across the street and saw a Gay Marriage rally beginning. To the
wonderful sounds of techno dance music, I crossed the street and
walked through the colorful crowd of wildly dressed people and
seeing their fever for the fight, and their passion for their passion,
it all suddenly made sense and for the first time, I could see
our future in America. We just have to get our own party started!