Nearly 100 protestors held signs saying “I am Neda,” “Free Political Prisoners,” and “We Stand with the People in Iran” outside the Hennepin County Government Center at noon on Wednesday. They chanted in both English and Persian, while people in cars honked their horns in solidarity as they drove by. An Iranian poet, who asked to remain nameless, delivered “Being Ready,” a poem in Persian that addressed the hope for freedom in Iran one day.
The protestors, organized by an ad-hoc committee of local Iranian-Americans, showed up to support the Iranian protesters in Tehran. Protests have erupted in Iran in response to alleged voting fraud in last week’s presidential election in which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad beat Mir-hossein Mousavi and other challengers with a suspiciously high margin. Since the protests in Iran began, the Iranian regime has violently squelched voices of opposition. This has led to injuries and the deaths of at least twenty Iranians, including Neda Agha-Soltan, whose death was caught on camera and broadcast throughout the world via the Internet and other media.
“We want to get the message out to Iranians that we here in Minnesota support their desire for democracy in Iran,” said Parham Alaei, a bio/medical physics professor at the University of Minnesota who helped organize the rally. “We are condemning the oppressive nature of the regime…the killing of individuals,” Alaei said.
Alaei sent out a press release stating that the intent of the rally, in addition to showing solidarity, was “to support Iranians’ quest for democracy, freedom, and human rights, to condemn killing of innocent civilians, to call for democratic elections under international supervision, to free all political prisoners including those arrested in recent days, and to bring the killers of people to justice.”
For Alaei, showing solidarity for Iranians is both political and personal, since most of his family still lives in Iran. Communicating with family members, however, has been difficult since the election.
“It is very hard to get in touch with them,” he said. “The second day we could not get in touch with them at all.” He said communication via cell phone was impossible, but some emails have gotten through.
He found out from an email that one person he knew was beaten during the protests and another was tear gassed, but he didn’t know the details because communication has been spotty. Alaei blames the poor channels of communication on the Iranian government. “They have them in the darkness,” he said.
Still, Alaei has managed to get information about loved ones and acquaintances and is now joining social networking sites to get more information.
“I just joined Twitter myself yesterday,” he said. “I don’t know if my family uses it or not. I know one of them is on Facebook.”
One middle aged woman, a protester who asked to remain anonymous, said that she has also tried to keep in contact with her family back home, a difficult feat with many of the phone lines cut off. (She has had an easier time exchanging a few emails). The woman moved here with her parents and siblings in 1984, and felt her father was wise for bringing his family here. “He knew what was coming up,” she said.
Despite her opposition to the current regime, the woman said she still hopes for a peaceful solution. “We’re hoping [the Iranian government] would realize they are shooting their own country men, their brothers and sisters.”
Alaei said he hoped political differences between local Iranian and Iranian-American community members would be laid aside for the rally. He estimates that there are 3,000 Iranians and Iranians-Americans living in Minnesota, including second generation Iranian-Americans. However it is difficult to tell exactly how many Irananians and Iranian-Americans there actually are in Minnesota. While Alaei said they almost all oppose the current Iranian regime, they sometimes differ on the solution to the fradulent elections and the regime in general. Not all Iranian-Americans supported Mousavi, for instance, so Alaei and other organizers discouraged signs and banners supporting one candidate or another at the rally.
“Today is not just about the election,” said Mahasti Motlagh, a ceramic artist, who has lived in the United States for 30 years. “This is a 30-year-old infected wound.” She said she felt it was important to show her support. “There is bloodshed in Iran… I wish I was there, but this is what I can do.”
Ali Khanjari, another protester, said he was also there to support his fellow Iranians back home. He said he has an objection to the Iranian regime. “They’re not caring for their own people,” Khanjari said.
Protesters expressed varying degrees of optimism about hope for change in Iran. While some protesters epressed hope for a peaceful solution, many believed that it would be a long time before Iran saw real change. Regardless of their levels of optimism they rallied to show the protesters in Tehran that they were not alone and that the world–and Minnesota–was watching.