Lately, as an Iranian American, many things make me angry. I realize the mere mention of the term “anger,” particularly in the context of discussions on the Middle East, raises red flags among Americans, Iranians, and Iranian Americans alike. But I believe we need to reclaim this oft-misunderstood, stigmatized emotion – after all, emotional indifference to oppression or tyranny is no virtue. The origin of the word anger – ang, the Greek word for grief or loss – reminds us that anger stems from that which we have lost. It’s no wonder, then, that Iranian Americans are so angry lately. Our community lost the homeland they knew due to a revolution and the tumultuous political and economic situation that followed. Since then, Iranian Americans have also started to lose hope about possibilities for having a real voice, both here and in Iran.
I am angry that my own representatives in the US government have not eliminated the possibility of launching an unnecessary, costly, and regionally destabilizing war with Iran, even as broad sanctions increasingly hurt ordinary Iranians by restricting access to food and medicine. I am angry with the Iranian Regime for infringing on the rights of its citizens and instilling deep fear in Iranians and members of the Iranian diaspora. But more than anything, I am angry at myself, my family, my friends, and fellow members of the most highly educated and economically successful diaspora community in the United States for allowing ourselves to be voiceless in Washington for far too long.
But anger without the capacity for influence can turn into ineffective and destructive rage. Anger, when reflected upon and channeled effectively, can lead to positive and productive political influence. One organization has helped me transform my anger over my community’s many misgivings into positive civic action. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) does this in two ways: teaching Iranian Americans how to effectively engage in the civic process; and channeling that voice to influence meaningful and concrete changes on the issues that most matter to our community.
Their efforts are really working, and that’s why I volunteered to become a NIAC Ambassador. Last month, NIAC’s annual leadership conference had over 150 participants who gathered to begin to channel their pain, passion, and anger not into impotent rage, but into concrete, impactful political action. And the conference attendees did exactly that: one week after they met with over 30 members of Congress, a sanctions waiver allowing humanitarian relief to the earthquake victims in Iran was extended to November 19. Thinking about the possibilities that could stem from a united effort of not just 150 passionate and engaged Iranian-American voices, but tens of thousands, gives me tremendous hope.
But NIAC does more than just calling on its members to meet with their elected officials. NIAC also helps to educate and train Iranian Americans on how to engage in what French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville called the most essential part of democracy in America: participation in the volunteer associations that teach citizens the mores and habits of democratic life. Such civic engagement has brought numerous other diaspora communities to the center of the US political system. During a panel at the NIAC leadership conference focused on other diaspora communities’ organizing efforts, we were reminded that all communities disagree on countless issues. We also were reminded of how many issues divide our own heterogeneous community: religious practice, political affiliation, primary language, socioeconomic background, and more. However, even the most diverse communities need to identify areas of common ground if they want to translate their concerns into meaningful political action. The question is: what is the clearest issue that brings us together?
In times as urgent as these, as the United States discusses possibilities for a rash and useless war with Iran, I would say the answer is pretty clear. We just need to ask ourselves whether we have the courage and energy to learn how to channel our anger over the possibility of war into deliberate, focused political action. I, for one, am fed up with having others decide what is best for Iranian Americans on our behalf – and I’m glad that, at NIAC, I’ve found many other Iranian Americans who can agree. Now, we need to ensure that our community’s anger, good ideas, and hopeful plans evolve into the hard work it will take to effect change.
Yasmin Radjy is a San Francisco-based volunteer
Ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC). In 2008, she worked as a field organizer for the Obama campaign in Ohio. She also worked as a community organizer in Iowa and Texas for the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), the nation’s oldest community organizing group. Yasmin currently works as a management consultant in San Francisco.
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