It was a long day; my feet are tired, my voice is sore, and my heart is heavy. I just returned from my first rally in support of the protests in Iran. There were a lot of people there, all of them holding up signs or waving Iranian flags, chanting together for the destruction of the dictatorship. "Maarg baar Amreeka" (death to America).
For years this chant was the trademark chant of the Iranian Government, shown on state television and written about in state newspapers for decades, but now the people in Iran, and those at the rally, were chanting a different phrase: "maarg baar Khamenei, maarg baar dictator" (death to Khamenei, death to the dictator). I have to admit, of all the different chants that night, this was my favorite; it felt extra powerful to turn their own chant against them. It was like spitting in Khamenei's face, something many of us wouldn't mind doing.
I was amazed by how many people were there, the lawn in front of the federal building was full of protestors standing shoulder to shoulder. The crowd spanned many generations; there were those who had fought in the '79 revolution or had seen it firsthand. There were those that had been born in America, children of parents who fled the country. Then there were those like me, old enough to have been born in Iran but too young to remember any of it. Yet despite all our age differences, we were all united, wearing our green shirts and armbands in solidarity with those back in Iran.
As diverse as the ages of the people in the crowd were, the emotions on display were even more varied. There were people mourning those who had died, weeping and holding candles in the darkness. Others were angry at the regime, seeking retribution for the last 30 years of oppression. Some were cautiously optimistic about the whole thing, hoping for a revolution that would bring better times but knowing that things could go badly very fast, and still others were simply ecstatic at the prospect of revolution. There was, however, one overarching sentiment that everyone shared; the desire for freedom in their motherland, an Iran that stands for peace and liberty.
I wasn't quite sure what I felt; amidst the waving flags, the numerous posters, and the chanting crowd, in this overwhelmingly emotional sea of green, I stood asking myself the same question I had been asking since the protests first began in Iran: how am I supposed to feel? I was born in Iran but my family left when I was two years old, I have no memory of the country and growing up I never felt much of a connection with it. Most of my friends growing up were American. I could never read Farsi, I could never write in Farsi, and I never knew most of the customs or any of the traditional stories. As far as I was concerned, it was my parents who were Iranian; I was not.
But when the election happened, something changed. I have always been interested in geopolitics, but never particularly interested in Iran. Yet in the weeks leading up to the election, I found myself paying close attention to the events there. When the obviously fraudulent results were announced, I was a little upset, but that was about it at the time. Then the images began to come out of Iran, the videos and pictures of people protesting in the streets. Images of young people, people my age, people who looked like me. They were bloodied and battered, marching in the streets for something I have enjoyed and taken for granted since I was two years old; freedom. My parents fled Iran; we were some of the lucky few that actually had an opportunity to leave after the '79 revolution, but we could have just as easily been kept in Iran.
I realized that it could have been me marching in those streets; it could have been me being beaten by Basiji forces; it could have been me getting shot and killed during a peaceful protest, and perhaps it should have been. I began to feel, for the first time, that these were my fellow countrymen, that it was my country under siege, my country beset with strife. Suddenly the oppression of the last 30 years became real to me -- the family I had in Iran, family I have never met and never spoken to before, were heavily on my mind. Their safety became one of my top concerns. My mother called them late last night, and for the first time ever I got on the line. I sat shaking with the phone to my ear, hanging on their every word, asking if they were safe, telling them to be careful.
And now I sit at home, flipping through all the television news channels and scrolling through Twitter and Facebook, trying to consume as much information as humanly possible regarding the events in Iran. I sit hoping for one thing: freedom for Iran. I want freedom for Iran not just because the people there have had to suffer under the repression of the Islamic Republic, but because they are my fellow countrymen, they are Iranian citizens, just like I am, and they deserve the same liberties that I have. I want freedom for Iran because it is my motherland; it is the place I come from, the place where I was born. I want freedom for Iran because it is my first home, a home that I can't remember, a mother I was too young to remember seeing, something that was taken away from me when I was too young to know it, a place I have been missing my whole life but never knew it, and now it is a place I desperately long to see.
I want freedom for Iran because it is my country, and I finally see that now.