The Austin Chronicle

Iranian Revolution Touches Austin

Woman, life, freedom

By Benton Graham, December 16, 2022, News

While Iran sits over 7,000 miles away from Austin, local activists are bringing attention to the revolution that has swept that country. On Sept. 13, the country's guidance patrol detained Mahsa Jina Amini, a 22-year-old woman, in Iran's capital, Tehran, for allegedly breaking hijab rules. After suffering a blow to the head while in police custody, she went into a coma and died three days later. Protests quickly erupted.

In a show of support, the city of Austin declared Dec. 1 Iranian People's Revolu­tion Solidarity Day. "We're here today because the city of Austin upholds the values of freedom and democracy and stands in solidarity with the Iranian community, both locally and abroad," Council Member Vanessa Fuentes said during the event. "Their acts of courage, bravery, and unity will have major consequential effects on the state of democracy across the globe. We cannot and should not look away." Later, supporters led the chant, "Woman, life, freedom," which has become a rallying cry for Iranians.

"This is a feminist revolution," said Banafsheh Madaninejad, an activist and self-described recovering professor with a Ph.D. in philosophy from UT. "I think the most important thing I can say is we, especially in Texas, are teetering towards possibly standing at the precipice of stepping into a theocracy. And here we see a very failed 43-year-long, painful, lots-of-lives-taken experiment, and we should heed the message that's getting to us."

The Iranian regime has upped the severity of punishment in recent weeks, executing 23-year-old Mohsen Shekari – the first known execution stemming from a protest – on Dec. 8. With the escalating brutality, Madaninejad is calling for greater urgency from the Austin and international communities. She is asking Texas elected officials to contact her ([email protected]) to sponsor prisoners who are unjustly on death row, as the international attention can help reduce the chances of execution. She pointed to the example set by German politicians who have pushed Iran's ambassador in Germany on the imprisonment of Toomaj Salehi, and of Saman Yasin, arrested for supporting the protests. Both men are rappers and could face the death penalty – for "corruption on earth" in Salehi's case and for "enmity against God" in Yasin's case.

Iran's silencing of protesters is nothing new to Madaninejad, who has had an activist streak since she was a child in Iran. Eventually, she went to the University of Houston for her undergraduate degree and stayed in the U.S. after meeting her husband while working at NASA. Now an Austinite, Madani­ne­jad is the founder and executive director at Bulbul Collective, which aims to create a space for AMEMSA (Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian) communities to process "systematic oppressions through sharing their stories of triumph and defeat." She has taken on a leadership role encouraging the Austin community to support the revolution.

Austin's Iranian community managed to quickly coalesce in support of the movement, because they had previously supported the Green Movement, a series of protests calling the results of the 2009 Iranian presidential election fraudulent. Armin Salek, who moved to Austin with his family in the 1990s, participated in those protests. This time, Salek, the Youth Justice Alliance's executive director, feels hopeful the movement can lead to the removal of the current regime. "Success in Iran isn't just going to be a matter of the people in Iran, it's not just going to be a matter of the people who are out there every single day risking their lives and freedom. It's going to be a matter of people outside of Iran, outside of the Iranian diaspora, actually caring about what's going on there."

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