16 August 2017

Me, Iran, and the Green Movement

Many of you may not be aware that the current wave of people standing up to struggle against the forces envincing to enslave them under absolute despotism and establish a system that serves the needs of the many rather than the greed of the few began not in the West, nor in North Africa, nor in the Levant, but in Iran. 

Before the rise of the Corbynistas, before the Berniecrats, before the Occupy movements, before the indignados, before the Israeli social justice movement, before the Arab Spring, there was the Green Movement of Iran, which at the time the Arab Spring began was still ongoing, though winding down, even as the people of countries from the western end of the Maghreb to the eastern borders of the Levant began to stir.  It was the movement which for a little while gave us the phrase “Going Iranian” to standing up to our oppressors and saying to them, “No more!”.

This is an abbreviated version of something I wrote back in December 2009 at the most intense period of the Green Movement.

At the time of the Iranian Revolution in 1979, I had been aware of events there on and off for the previous couple of years since I have always been an avid consumer of news.  I watched the events of the revolution and its aftermath unfold, then like all Americans found myself riveted to the Hostage Crisis.

During this time, I got my first job, at Ponderosa Steakhouse on Brainerd Road.  I was the dishwasher in the restaurant’s scullery, and was partnered with an Iranian college student from the city of Babol in the province of Mazandaran, who was the steak cook; every shift I worked he worked also.  Even though most Americans were gleefully singing “Bomb bomb bomb, Bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of “Barbara Ann”, I went out of my way to reach out to him.

Upon learning he was unable to return home due to the hostage crisis, I got him to teach me a few words of Farsi so that maybe hearing them would make him a little less homesick. Since we were working most of the time, the conversations were limited to just a few words but I always liked to see his face light up.

Of course, there were also the few occasions when he called me up drunk and depressed, speaking rapidly in Farsi.  It was somewhat amusing but mostly heartbeaking.  The friendship, by the way, was two-way; it was my first job and he went out of his way to make me feel welcome.

After he graduated from the community college in June, he moved away to continue his education and I never saw him again.  Seven months later, the hostages were released, and I hoped he got to go home at least for a visit to see his family.

In the years that followed, hearing news about the Iranian Cultural Revolution, the harsh repression of dissent, the crushing of the Left, the imposition of sharia, the Iran-Iraq War, the Iran-Contra Affair, and the student movement of 1999, I often worried about my friend and hoped that he had managed to remain in the States.

I kept up casually with news from Iran in those and later years, the mass murder of the Tudeh, the Mojahedin-e Khalq, and other leftists, the displacement of Ayatollah Montazeri, the rise of Ayatollah Rafsanjani, and other events.  But Iran did not really come back into focus for me until the events of 9/11.

Like many, I stayed glued to the TV for weeks.  One report that stood out vividly for me was about one million people holding a vigil in Tehran in support of the victims and their families.  I felt pride in the citizens of my friend’s homeland.

Then came Bush’s State of the Union address in January, and I was shocked and appalled to hear Iran named as one the the three members of the “axis of evil”.  That was the beginning of the belligerent propaganda coming out the neocon White House that helped put the final nails in the coffin of President Khatami’s reform program and bring to office Mahmoud Ahmadi Nejad with the illegal assistance of the Revolutionary Guard and the Basij in his first stolen election.

In 2006, I joined the now defunct Yahoo360.  After not doing much with it at all, I logged on one day to find a comment left by Sarah, a college student in Iran.  With an exchange of comments and mails on the Yahoo360 system, I’d made my first Iranian friend in over 25 years.  Through her, more followed, never more than 25 on Yahoo360, all Iranian except two.  With my new friends I discussed history, Iranian poetry, even facts about Shia Islam, but never politics.  All were reluctant to discuss their daily lives. I could sense, however, their frustration, their isolation, their loneliness.  It made me think of the words in the first stanza of Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A."--You end up like a dog that's been beat too much 'til you spend half your life just covering up.  A sentiment all the Daniel Blakes of the world can relate to.

In the spring of 2009, most of them began expressing optimism, many being involved with Mir Hossein Moussavi’s campaign for president.  I felt a sense of hope for change, a hope which they all expressed.  With them I eagerly anticipated the outcome.  

Watching the election be stolen on 12 June, I felt depressed and robbed.  When media commentators, unaware of the deep levels of discontent across all levels of society in Iran, expressed surprise at the enormous number of demonstrators pouring out into the streets across the country that evening, my reaction was to shrug my shoulders as if to say, “What did you expect?”.  Then came the harsh crackdowns on the night of 13 June and it was more like, “Holy shit…those are my friends! Oh my God…”.

For the next several weeks, my TV stayed tuned to CNN as I sat at the computer sending out messages of support to a growing number of connections and frantically searching out all across the internet for news and information.  In addition to activities on Yahoo360, I emailed all the information I could to every Iranian contact in my address book.  Upon learning that Yahoo360 would go ahead with its planned closure, I repeatedly warned and gave notice to all my friends on the network and told them to spread the word so that everyone could stay in contact with the outside world.  The rest of the summer, I followed events all day long on a variety of sources including Youtube and Twitter.  Once Yahoo360 shut down, I began posting to Facebook.

Regarding the nuclear issue, as much anti-nuke as I am, I couldn’t care less about it in the situation with Iran.  It is a chimera, a fa├žade, a St. Elmo’s Fire, shiny car keys jingled to distract the masses, the masses of every country involved.  How about we deal with huge stockpile of nukes possessed by the State of Israel first?  I don't care about Iran for the sake of the U.S., or for the sake of the world; I only care about Iran for the sake of Iran, for the sake of its people.

Seven and a half years ago, I wrote, “Iranians need to know that they are not alone, that the world is paying attention.  They need information about what is going on in their own country because they can’t get true information in their totalitarian regime.  They need to know that the rest of us humans support them.”  That goes for the Iranians then and now, and for the people in every country of the world suffering under plutocrats who look at them as if they are food and the oligarchs who enable their kleptocracy.

Since writing this back in December 2009, by the way, I discovered that my friend Mehdi, now using his first name Daniel, is alive and well, and living in the United States.

Why did I do it?  Why was I so involved in the Iranian Green Movement?  Because people should not be afraid of their governments; governments should be afraid of their people.  I did it because I am a Terran, a citizen of Earth, and Iran is part of my home, and all Iranians are my brothers, sisters, and cousins.


Esteghlal! Azadi!  Jomhuri-e Irani! Esteghlal! Azadi!  Edalat-e Ejtemae-e! Rooz-e ma khahad amad, omidvaram.  Our day will come, inshallah.  Keep the faith.  Peace out.

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