Hundreds of Iranian Americans, shouting “Democracy” and “Where’s my vote?” marched in Washington on Sunday to protest the election results in Iran.
The demonstration began outside the Iranian Interests Section in Washington at 11 am, but after about an hour a police officer asked that the group to disperse. Instead, a number of DC police cars escorted the protesters as they marched down Wisconsin Avenue, through Georgetown, and eventually ended at the National Mall near the Lincoln Memorial.
The views among those who gathered were not monolithic by any means. Some people I spoke with supported Mir-Hossein Mousavi as an incremental step toward change in Iran, while others believed that the entire Islamic regime needed to fall altogether for real change to occur. A smaller contingent waved the Shah-era Iranian flag and argued that the current regime needed to be replaced by a monarchy. At times, the exchanges between the Mousavi supporters and pro-Shah individuals turned heated. But at the minimum, there was a general consensus that the election in Iran on Friday was a sham.
“We want to stand in solidarity with the people of Iran and say we reject the results,” said Babak Talabi, of McLean, Virginia, who helped organize the protest. “We expect the governments in the West and the news outlets in the West to reject the ‘official’ results.”
Talabi was born in Shiraz, Iran and moved to America in 1987, when he was seven years old. He said the protest came about spontaneously, through Facebook and text messaging. It was partially an outgrowth of an effort, called “Our Campaign,” to get Iranians living in America to cast absentee ballots in the Iranian election.
He said they were making four demands on Iran: to release all political prisoners; reopen all forms of media that were shut down in the past few days including cell phone service, text messaging, Facebook, and the internet; investigate fraud in Friday’s elections; and hold new, fully transparent, elections.
“The freedom and democracy of the Iranian people has been demolished, and this is one major step, one major last stand that we have to do to show that we are not happy, and we are not going to take it anymore,” said Mason Darvishin of Great Falls, Virginia.
Darvishin, who said he moved from Tehran 27 years ago, when he was 10 years old, said that while Mousavi may not be ideal, he’s an improvement over Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Mousavi is a liberal individual within the group of this regime and any step forward for the Iranian people is better than dealing with somebody like Ahmadenijad, who has set us 10 steps back,” he said. “So we would like to do this in a smooth transition, in a democratic way, and getting the moderates in front, slowly, inside of the regime without going through bloodshed of a revolution.”
A younger female who asked not to be identified made a similar point more concisely. “Right now, Mousavi equals democracy,” she said as she marched holding a photo of Mousavi with the caption, “Elected president by the people of Iran.” She added, “Baby steps.”
Another female demonstrator who asked not to be identified because she’s scheduled to visit Iran in a few weeks went further, saying while Mousavi is better than Ahmadenijad, the whole regime needs to collapse for real change to happen. She said she’s been in touch with cousins in Iran over the past few days. “They’re not going to stop protesting,” she said. “They’re calling this Iranian Revolution 2.”
Eric Foulidi, who said he was born in Iran but moved to America 40 years ago, held a Shah-era flag and said that the younger Mousavi supporters were naïve.
“Thirty years ago our young people made a mistake and brought this regime,” Foulidi said. “Thirty years later, today, another young people of Iran is making another big mistake.”
He continued, “Everything is corrupt over there. Mousavi is corrupt. We know that from 10 years ago. And these young people who are 20 or 25, they don’t know that. I don’t know what’s happening in their mind to think Mousavi is going to change anything. It’s not going to happen.”
Instead, he said he supported a kingdom, which he insisted could be democratic.
“Iran and the Middle East needs a monarchy,” he said. “It cannot be presidential over there. The culture in the Middle East does not like presidential. It’s not Europe, it’s not America.”
Yet another protester, Saed Salehinia, shouted “down with the Islamic Regime of Iran,” but wanted to replace it with what he said would be a “free, secular, and socialist” government.
“Mousavi is not a reformer,” Salehinia said. “People who say that, they are either charlatans or ignorant. Mousavi was in power for 10 years and he was in charge of the biggest political massacres in first 10 years of Iranian government.”
Salehinia said he was jailed three times by the Islamic government while living in Iran, but escaped through the northwest border in 1997 and was granted asylum in the United States. He identified himself as a member of the Workers Communist Party of Iran.
Note: Below, I posted a video I shot of protesters marching down Wisconsin Ave. You can hear people driving north honking in support of the demonstrators, and can see a police vehicle in the background escorting the group. Quite a contrast between a free society that welcomes people’s rights to voice their opinions and the images coming out of Iran of the brutal Iranian regime beating down protesters.