Iranians Show Solidarity In Philly, NYC And D.C. With The Oppressed In Their Homeland
By Olivia Braccio
The people of Iran have finally had enough.
It’s been 43 years since the horrific Islamic Regime took over Iran, and the desperately needed revolution that will hopefully topple the dictatorship is happening. Most of us, by now, are aware of the massive protests currently taking place in nearly all major cities not only here in the U.S., but around the world. We know that this uprising was set in motion by the senseless killing of Mahsa Amini on Sept. 16, when she was captured by the Iranian police force and subsequently beaten to death for “improper hijab,” meaning that her hair was partially visible beneath her headscarf. It is incomprehensible—a person was punished with murder for showing some hair.
I’ve been photographing these rallies in the three cities nearest to me—Philadelphia, New York, and Washington D.C.— and sharing the photos to social media as well as my own website in the hopes of raising awareness about and funds for the cause. Some have asked me why people on American soil are rallying on behalf of another country and how the situation in Iran concerns us at all. It’s a good question, one that deserves a thorough answer.
As per Middle Eastern news network Al Jazeera, “The Biden administration has announced a new round of sanctions against Iran, vowing to impose financial penalties on a ‘regular basis’ in an effort to ‘severely restrict’ Iranian oil and petrochemical exports. Since President Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, various sectors of the Iranian economy have been under heavy US sanctions. In response, Iran has been advancing its nuclear program, including uranium enrichment, well beyond the limits set by the agreement. Biden is seeking a return to the pact, which saw Iran scale back its nuclear program. On Sept. 29, 2022, the Biden administration said it will continue to rigorously enforce sanctions until Iran returns to the deal.
“This is all happening while Iran is witnessing nationwide protests sparked by the murder of Mahsa Amini. Washington has expressed vague support for the demonstrators but said it is still willing to restore the nuclear deal based on mutual compliance. The deal would put money in the pockets of the Islamic Republic only; not the pockets of the people of Iran. It would strengthen the government’s power and ability to further oppress those protesting the regime. Vague support and a continuation of nuclear talks with Iran is unacceptable while the country continues to protest and riot against countless murders, human rights violations, and the continued suppression of women in Iran.”
The Iranian-American community is imploring this administration to stop funding the terroristic regime for the sake of oil. We need to work towards energy independence in this country in order to keep money out of the hands of murderers. Pennsylvania’s Governor-elect Josh Shapiro’s adamant resistance to fracking is contributing to the problem, seeing as this state has the potential to be one of our nation’s top oil-producers. His refusal to tap into this supply keeps us dependent on imports and continues the cash flow to the Middle East. We, as the constituents, must hold him accountable and impress upon him the significance of this matter in the hopes that he’ll change his mind.
When it comes to fracking, we have to think not only of ourselves. Of course, it’s infuriating that Pennsylvanians are forced to pay more for gas than citizens of all the surrounding states, not to mention the skyrocketing costs of heating our homes for the winter. But these struggles seem insignificant compared to what Iranians are facing in their country. Women, gays, and the disabled community in Iran are treated as subhuman and have been for decades now. The long list of things women aren’t allowed to do includes but is not limited to entering stadiums, traveling abroad unaccompanied by their husbands, riding bicycles, and showing their hair—women in the country have routinely been subjected to dress code-related violence after wearing a hijab was deemed mandatory rather than optional in 1979 under Sharia law.
Protests and riots having been going on throughout Iran for more than two months now. The death toll rises daily as protestors are captured by police and then tortured, or simply shot during demonstrations. Nearly five hundred people have been killed in just the two months since Mahsa’s murder. More than sixty of them were children—those as young as seven have been shot while walking home from school, after they were overheard singing anti-regime chants.
In the beginning of November, 227 members of the 290-seat parliament in Iran have called on the Judiciary to issue death sentences for people arrested during the ongoing protests. The number of people arrested so far is estimated at roughly 15,000. The Islamic republic historically uses the death penalty as a tool of repression and intimidation. Nine people have been sentenced so far; their charges are “assembly and collusion against national security,” “corruption on earth,” and “confrontation with the Islamic republic.” Oct. 31 is when they stood trial and had a short hearing—with no legal counsel. They will be executed soon. The other 15,000 or so people are at high risk of the same fate given that this authoritarian regime has proven over the past 43 years that they are capable of massacring their own people on a whim. They are currently being held in jail as political prisoners where they are subjected to rape and other forms of torture.
It’s easy to mistakenly assume that Iranian citizens, being native to a country that was never a political ally of the U.S., are our enemies. Nothing could be further from the truth. The sad fact is, the main victims of any terroristic government are usually its own constituents. These individuals are no less deserving of the same rights and privileges afforded to those born in other nations. Those who have already immigrated to the U.S. from Iran are physically safe here, but the emotional toll it is taking on them to know mass death and destruction is occurring in their homeland is unimaginable. We can’t choose where we’re born. All humans are created equal and yet grow up in drastically dissimilar ways depending on arbitrary circumstances such as whose land we live on and how it is governed. When you get down to it, the only difference between myself and Mahsa Amini is that I had the good fortune of being born in the free world and she didn’t. The tremendous unfairness of this is not lost on me.
I’m in awe at the amount of people showing up to protest on behalf of Iran in Washington D.C. and other cities. The protest at the National Mall on Oct. 22 garnered an estimated 31,000 people. It was truly a phenomenal thing to witness and photograph as people waved the Iranian flag and chanted in both Farsi and English; some wept openly as they marched through the streets of our capitol city to stand on the White House lawn and let their voices be heard. They are warm and welcoming to their non-Iranian allies such as myself, seeing as support from other ethnicities is vital to the movement, and they thanked me for being there to document since the situation isn’t receiving much coverage from mainstream media.
Admittedly, I never thought a lot about Iranian people prior to the past several weeks. I didn’t even know there were this many of them living in the United States. Realizing this, I felt pretty ignorant. Forgive me. It is interesting to note how life shifts once you become aware of certain things. It’s a harrowing thought, but this is the reality of the world we live in: at any given time, while you’re eating breakfast, walking your dog, laughing with friends, or overspending at the store, someone is being brutally murdered by their own nation’s tyrannical government. Going about the business of daily life distracts you from this fact. Your own problems, which pale by comparison, almost shield your mind from having to acknowledge these types of things. But once you know, you can’t keep ignoring it. Those who have died and their suffering families will be in your thoughts even as you’re doing something unrelated to the matter. Attending to menial tasks will feel different as the gravity of other peoples’ crises weighs upon your soul.
I’ve read that energy, such as that which is found within a human being, cannot truly be lost. It can only be transformed. I hope this is the case, and that somehow, some way, in some other dimension, Mahsa and all the others who have been murdered at the hands of this horrific regime are witnessing the revolution their unjust and untimely deaths have spawned.
Anyone who wants to support the cause can purchase photographs of the protests at my website here: https://oliviabraccio.com/product-category/freedom-for-iran/
Proceeds will be donated to the Iranian-American community here in the Philly area in order to help them continue organizing events.