It may seem an odd fit to ask local elected leaders to take public positions on international issues.
To some, even a waste of time, given the volume of crowded municipal agendas each week at public meetings, choc full of vexing issues here at home that city leaders have to address.
Yet since last September, Orange County’s Iranian American community has mobilized to do just that.
Inspire local leaders to think globally, especially when it comes to human rights, getting them to understand that in Southern California lies the crossroads of many international family trees.
Now, Santa Ana City Council members are slated to consider condemning the repressive Iranian regime at their Tuesday meeting in what may seem like an international headline, but is oftentimes a local story to many households across Orange County and the broader region.
Consider that just under 30% of Orange County’s roughly 3.2 million residents were born outside of the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Since last September, Iranian American leaders have moved city leaders in places like Irvine and Anaheim, along with the OC Board of Supervisors to understand that the Iranian regime’s brutality against its citizens impacts residents here.
Their activism was fueled after 22-year old Mahsa Zina Amini died last September in custody after being detained by Iran’s religious police for not wearing a headdress properly.
Her experience is one that many Iranian women connected with, both across Iran and the world.
Amini’s death and the reactions to the protests highlighted the repressive nature of Iran’s ruling regime.
Protesters inside Iran – many identified through high tech means – have been met with visits from police and jailed in large numbers.
A stark trend that continues to gain momentum in places like Iran, China and Cuba.
It’s a trend free people can stem, just by speaking out.
This Tuesday, Iranian American community leaders are poised to convince City of Santa Ana elected leaders to speak out, with city council members considering a resolution condemning Iran.
“We hear their voices,” said Santa Ana Mayor Valerie Amezcua, acknowledging that it has taken awhile to agendize the resolution – something that brought out Iranian American leaders to comment publicly earlier this month.
“It’s important to me as a mayor and woman this stop,” she said in a phone interview, “And we’ll support them.”
Amezcua scheduled a resolution for this Tuesday night’s city council meeting declaring that the City of Santa Ana “stands with its Iranian American community members, particularly Iranian American women, as their relatives and associates are suffering through the current injustices in Iran.”
Click here to watch the 5:45 p.m. Santa Ana City Council meeting.
Her resolution also condemns the violence perpetrated against the Iranian people by government forces, calls for the government to reform its human rights record and encourages other local governments to go on record in opposition to the Iranian regime’s systemic violation of human rights.
“One person can make a huge difference,” said Hengameh Abraham, 36, a Costa Mesa resident and Iranian immigrant who has been spearheading an effort to get every city council in OC to adopt the resolution condemning Iran.
Orange County’s Iranian community has really rallied to ensure those voices are not squashed, organizing a series of protests across the county covered by Voice of OC and other media since September.
To this day, every first Sunday of the month, on the corner of Culver and Barranca in Irvine, you can still join mass protests of state sponsored violence against the people of Iran.
But Abraham, a homeschooling teacher who is also running for state assembly as a Republican, said she also wanted to go beyond street protests and actually get elected officials across OC on the record and drafted the base resolution that so many city councils across OC have been adopting.
“I get to live in a free country,” Abraham said. “If I wouldn’t have moved here, I’d be fighting the same battle these boys and girls are.”
The activism of Iranian American leaders follows a similar playbook employed by local veteran groups who got all 34 city councils across OC to support a veterans cemetery in Gypsum Canyon in the hills of Anaheim.
One city council at a time, the vets visited each city council until every Orange County city was on record supporting one site – something that really changed the nature of that debate in the county and offered legislators a real statement about where that community stood alongside local elected officials.
These kinds of grassroots efforts offer us all a lesson in the mechanics of freedom – fueled by clipboards, sign-up tables and spreadsheets!
It has been a great inspiration to see these residents organize and rally, raising consciousness about respect for human rights and the responsibilities of free people to stand up, be heard and resonate voices that are being squashed, especially when those voices are family members.
Most impressively, these residents have succeeded in opening local municipal leaders’ eyes to the importance of international human rights issues and the impact those conflicts have on many families here in OC.
To date, 14 OC cities have adopted similar resolutions to the one being considered on Tuesday in Santa Ana.
Abraham keeps up an Instagram page on the resolution’s progress.
So far, Abraham notes that Iranian American leaders have visited and spoken to the city councils of Buena Park, Cypress, Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, La Habra, La Palma, Placentia, Rancho Santa Margarita, Stanton and Villa Park without luck.
The toughest city leaders to reach, according to Abraham, are in Brea, Dana Point, Fountain Valley, Laguna Woods, Los Alamitos, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.
There’s an estimated 385,000 Iranian immigrants living in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
Southern California has become one of the largest Iranian communities outside of Iran with an estimated 32,000 living in Orange County with a majority of those living in Irvine, according to American Community Survey data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.
For anyone wondering why so many people would flock to protests and city council meetings, consider the Iranian regime’s brutal human rights record.
It’s quite the read regardless of what agency report one reviews, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.S. State Department annual report on Human Rights, or the U.N. Human Rights report on Iran.
Given Iran’s ongoing repression of peaceful protestors, I can understand why Iranian American leaders are working so hard to quickly send a strong message to the leaders in Tehran that the world is watching, taking note and will remember.
Timing is critical when it comes to fanning the flames of freedom.
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