The death of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish Iranian woman who was detained by the country’s morality police for breaking a rule that mandates females wear hijabs, has sparked nearly two months of protests in every province across Iran. Videos on social media have shown Iranian women lighting their headscarves on fire, cutting their hair in public and yelling, “Death to the dictator.”
But it’s not only in Iran where waves of protests have exploded.
“There are thousands of Americans in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and around the country shouting the same chants and holding the same signs as the oppressed people of Iran,” said Majid Sadeghpour, political director at the Organization of Iranian American Communities. “America is paying attention.”
International focus is being drawn to the people of Iran as their government further intensifies its crackdown. Iran Human Rights, a Norway-based group, reported that as of last week, 234 people — including 29 children — had been killed by security forces. Additionally, Iranian authorities have announced they will hold public trials for 1,000 detained protesters in the country’s capital, Tehran.
Shooka Scharm, a California-based lawyer of Iranian descent whose parents escaped the country shortly after the 1979 revolution, believes that after decades of associating Iran (and Iranians) with high-profile atrocities, Americans' views are finally shifting.
“When we traditionally think of Iranians, we think of how they took hostages at the U.S. embassy [in Tehran], or how they shot down a [Ukrainian] passenger plane [in 2020],” she told VOA. “But what America is finally seeing is that this is a regime that commits those same atrocities against its own people — a regime that attacks its own universities and shoots its own women in the streets.
“As human beings, that should pain us,” Scharm continued. “But also as Americans, we should support a movement attempting to replace a regime that created the slogan, ‘Death to America!’ with a democracy that will support our priorities such as freedom and nuclear safety.”
Joining the cause
Americans with familial or professional ties to Iran are not the only ones who are paying attention to the protests. According to an Economist/YouGov survey in October, two-thirds of Americans (67%) say they have heard about the recent uprising in Iran.
Matthew Linkhart has lived in the United States all his life. Residing in Virginia and having a few Iranian friends, he said he almost immediately felt a desire to show his support for Iranian protesters.
“When I saw young people being killed because they were protesting, I knew I couldn’t ignore it,” he told VOA. “Teenage girls, who ... you can find videos of them on social media laughing, singing and playing with their friends ... these are little girls now on the front line of this revolution being arrested, beaten, shot and killed. It brings me to tears. How can I not get involved?”
Linkhart said he attended three protests in Washington last month, with plans to continue in November and beyond.
He estimated he was one of 5,000 protesters on the National Mall recently. The demonstrators, he told VOA, chanted “Zan, Zendegi, Azadi” (Women, Life, Freedom), “Democracy for Iran,” and “Say her name, Mahsa Amini” — many of the same chants shouted by protesters in Iran.
“The Iranian Americans seemed happy to have our support,” Linkhart said. “The movement’s flag is being waved, and I’m just going to keep attending protests and being a voice for Iranians until they have the free country they deserve.”
Building additional support
Not only are most Americans paying attention to what’s happening in Iran, but they are also overwhelmingly in support of the protesters.
October’s Economist/YouGov poll found that nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) strongly or somewhat approve of the country’s recent protests, while only 7% disapprove.
Still, there is a feeling by some that the U.S. media aren’t giving the uprising as much attention as it deserves.
“While there has been some media coverage on Iran,” Morad Ghorban, director of government relations and public policy at Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans, told VOA, “I think more can be done to cover and analyze what’s happening.”
Maryann Martelli, a communications professional from Miami, Florida, agrees. She said her job requires her to pay attention to international news, but she hasn’t seen much regarding Iran.
“I follow a lot of media publications on social media, which is an easy way to get news,” Martelli said, “but I haven’t seen a single post about it. Maybe the situation in Iran is somehow deprioritized in my feed?”
Even among those who have seen news about the protests, some say they don’t have the time to pay attention.
“People have so much going on in their lives,” Joseph Frisard, a cook from New Orleans, Louisiana, told VOA. “I don’t think everyone has the time and resources to pay attention to everything going on in the world. I support the cause Iranians are fighting for, I just don’t know that me marching or tweeting is actually going to help.”
But Sadeghpour disagrees. He believes Americans have a specific role to play in supporting the people of Iran.
“Throughout history, Americans have understood what it means to protect liberty and to defend oneself from aggression. America proved it during its own revolution, and they proved it again during the civil rights movement.
“The United States is best served when it stands with people who seek self-determination,” Sadeghpour continued. “That’s what the people of Iran want. So, rather than trying to negotiate a nuclear treaty, which only gives legitimacy to this brutal regime, Americans should be pressuring its political leaders to support the Iranians who want to replace it.”