Twenty-six year old Neda Agha Soltan’s face has become the face of the Iranian protest movement. She was an innocent Iranian student, standing on a side street close to the protesters, when a bullet struck her. The video of her collapsed bleeding body, and the posters of her forthright gaze provide some insight into who these protestors are. We’ve seen the blurred footage, most taken with cell phone cameras, of crowds marching, placards held high, and then we’ve seen them fleeing the armed police and militia. Some were shown being beaten and arrested. It is hard footage to watch because these are not violent crowds. The violence is all on the other side. It’s like watching a movie that we know will end badly.
The faces of the crowd rarely have come into focus. But the portrait of one woman, modestly covered with a headscarf tells us more than a crowd trying to avoid tear gas. We no doubt read more into her eyes and her innocent look than we should. But I find it impossible not to do so. Women, under the repressive Iranian regime, have had more to lose and stand to gain more with regime change. They have often been in the vanguard of the marches, refusing to cede their rights to the men who march with them, for good reason.
The courage these women and men have demonstrated is worthy of our shock and awe. We, in the United States, have voted with our feet, we have raised our hands to shout and wave at political rallies, but nothing in our experience can be compared to what we have seen in Iran for the last few nights. These people, young, middle aged, and old, are voting with their bodies. They are, in the true sense of the expression, putting themselves on the line.
Neda Agha Soltan is the martyr, and her visage is the image, which may resurrect the dreams of so many women and men around the world for equal justice.
Madeleine M. Kunin is the former Governor of Vermont and was the state's first woman governor. She served as Ambassador to Switzerland for President Clinton, and was on the three-person panel that chose Al Gore to be Clinton’s VP. She is the author of Pearls, Politics, and Power: How Women Can Win and Lead from Chelsea Green Publishing.