July 25 was a “Global Day of Action for Iran” that saw demonstrations in 110 cities around the world. Thousands marched to express solidarity with the protests in Iran against the fraudulent presidential election June 12 and for basic human rights. The demands put forward July 25 were for the immediate release of all political prisoners, including journalists, students and activists; freedom of speech and assembly; an end to censorship and the exclusion of journalists from the country; an end to the government’s attempts to censor the internet; and a new election for president, to be supervised by the United Nations.
Scattered protests in Iran in apparent recognition of their international support on the 25th were quickly repressed. Iranians have largely stopped the mass protests of last month due to the arrests and beatings instituted by the government. Unknown numbers of people have been killed and disappeared since the protests began after the election. One speaker at the rally in N.Y. said the families who have been given their loved ones bodies are “the lucky ones” compared to those who cannot get any information about their disappeared relatives. But “the lucky ones” are forbidden to hold funerals for their loved ones.
Some 3,000 people have been arrested, not only during protests but also in night-time raids of activists’ and intellectuals’ homes. Many are still imprisoned under what are referred to as “harsh conditions”– such as those in notorious Evin prison, where people are tortured until they swear loyalty to the regime. They are not allowed to have visits from their families or lawyers. (For a list of those imprisoned, killed, injured, etc., see International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran.)
I marched in New York with more than 1,000 protesters (United for Iran has information about the protests around the world). Nearly everyone was Iranian or Iranian-American; there were many “three generations”: political refugees from the Islamic crackdown against the Left and others after the 1979 revolution, their children and grandchildren. They carried signs and chanted, “Give me my vote back,” “Release all political prisoners,” and “Down with the dictatorship.” Some linked struggles around the world: one sign read “Free all political prisoners from Attica to Evin to Abu Ghraib.” Young feminists carried signs that said “Say no to militarism” and “We stand with the struggle of our Iranian sisters.”
I met students who wanted to discuss how to avoid the mistakes of their parents’ generation and how to effectuate change that goes deeper than just putting in a new government, since none of the changes so far have brought freedom. I was carrying the Iranian edition of Dunayevskaya’s Maxism and Freedom, which elicited inquires from people curious about Marxist-Humanism. One woman, however, yelled at me because, she said, Pres. Ahmadinejad is a “Marxist-Islamist” and therefore Marxism is bad. There was also a small contingent of old-line Communists, and a counter-demonstration of Iranians who want to bring back the monarchy.
The U.S. Left was virtually absent, whether due to disinterest, or the line that to criticize the Iranian regime is to support U.S. foreign policy, or a belief that the Iranian protesters want nothing more than the opposition candidate for president – in spite of the fact that the protesters in Iran are chanting not only “I want my stolen vote back,” but also “death to the dictator.” The speakers at the N.Y. rally and people I talked with made clear that they oppose the entire “emerging military dictatorship” and are for a secular, democratic Iran with full women’s and human rights. In a video she made in support of the protests, Iranian human rights advocate and Nobel peace prize recipient Shirin Ebadi warns that Iran is in danger of becoming another Zimbabwe; a chant at the demonstration in N.Y. likened Ahmadinejad to former Chilean dictator Pinochet.
A frequent chant at the N.Y. rally was “What do we want?” “Freedom!” When do we want it?” “Now,” the cry of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Speakers at the rally in N.Y. included Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch, Hadi Ghaem of the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, and the son of an imprisoned publisher, who made fun of the regime’s charge that the deaths have been caused, not by its militias, but by American and British agents: “What kind of government allows foreigners to walk around with guns killing people?”
The protests both inside and outside Iran are by no means limited to support for the opposition presidential candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, whose positions differ little from the current regime’s in supporting “free market” economics and who was responsible for the death of many progressive people when he was prime minister in the 1980s. Nor can the corrupt capitalist cleric Rafsanjani be expected to bring change. Rather, his opposition to Pres. Ahmadinejad is an indication that the current leadership is split. Reports are that power increasingly resides with neither the elected officials nor the clergy, but with the Revolutionary Guard, an independent military unit that also runs areas of civil authority such as the airlines (one marcher told me that the Guard’s unchecked authority and incompetence was responsible for the two recent plane crashes in Iran).