Skip to main content

Working for civil liberties in Iran

Everyday Revolutions

This week marks eleven years since the Global Day of Action –– the worldwide rally that spanned six continents and 110 cities on July 25, 2009. It was inspired by and held in solidarity with the people of Iran in the aftermath of the highly disputed 2009 presidential election, as captured by this CNN video. It took three weeks, hundreds of organizers, and 110,000+ protestors to create what is still the largest global day of protest for the people of Iran. 

On this anniversary, I usually reflect on the challenges that we have overcome, the lessons that we have learned, the community that we have built, and the work that we have accomplished. I also sit with the increasingly insurmountable challenges that we face, as well as the inherent value of activism for all citizens and generations everywhere. 

And this year, I reflect on all of it once again, yet it is distinctly unique. 

In 2017, I spoke at the Personal Democracy Forum Conference. The title of my talk was “Ten Lessons Learned Fighting an Autocratic Regime.” I started by saying these are lessons I did not think would be so relevant here , and yet here we are. 

The US is more similar to Iran today than I ever thought possible.  

I see in my Iranian community the sense of despair that comes with recognizing this all-too-familiar moment and the resilience that comes with having lived through life-altering changes that include uprooting one’s life. 

For the first time in the history of the US, the number of countries that welcome those with the blue American passport can be counted on both hands, an experience all too familiar to Iranians. 

A few weeks ago, I simultaneously witnessed the outrage of Americans (and the world) over the killing of George Floyd and that of Iranians over the honor killing of Romina Ashrafi, both emblematic of the systematic abuse of power by those who use violence as a tool of oppression be it racism or patriarchy.

Last fall during a nationwide uprising, Iranian security forces killed 100+ civilians, resulting in the most violent protest since the revolution. This month, we are seeing the unprecedented use of force by unidentified federal forces in Portland, a historically new overreach by the current administration. 

Both countries, like the rest of the world, are also grappling with global challenges. From the unprecedented floods throughout Iran in the last two years to California’s “fire season”, both countries hear the knock of climate change on their doors growing louder every year.

As COVID-19 began spreading earlier this year, Iran had the auspicious title of being the country in the Middle East with the highest number of cases. As of this week, the US has the highest cases globally per day at 70,000+, the growth curve is rising sharply, and our leadership is not only inept, but actively making matters worse. In both countries, COVID-19 has had devastating economic impacts, and the worst is yet to come. Most tragic perhaps is the fact that all of this could have been avoided if both governments were more competent and less corrupt, and if they prioritized the well-being of their respective people. 

The idea that problems caused by, and plaguing, humanity are global is not new. What is new is the severity and spread of these problems. No one is spared. No one can look away. And like many times before, these problems are disproportionately impacting the less fortunate.

This year, many of us sit with more questions than answers. We want to act, we want to effect change, but making any sort of plan feels futile these days.

The most impactful of change-makers have always seen their issues globally and holistically. They have focused on the roots of problems, targeting systemic change. That is more important now than ever. We have no room for compromises or wavering voices. Our lives literally depend on this. Though our instinct in this overwhelming moment may be to shut down, we, today, have the unique opportunity to learn from these tragedies, and to rise from the ashes.   

With activism, the work toward progress often starts when the buzz stops, when the media loses interest and moves to the next catchy soundbite. The recent protests have been seismic for the Movement for Black Lives. Most of the groundwork was laid in the years before these protests, building the movement and creating clarity of vision and demands. Much of the desired progress lies ahead, from seeking justice for Breonna Taylor to dismantling existing systems of oppression.

For us, during the summer of 2009, after the Global Day of Action, the protests slowly subsided. Michael Jackson’s death replaced Neda Agha Soltan’s killing in the media. Realizing that the long hoped-for revolution was not in the works, most of the Iranian Diaspora lost momentum and stopped their activism, not wanting to risk their ability to go home or the security of their family. 

Progress rarely occurs along a straight line. 11 years after the Global Day of Action, those of us who remained and are still active today know that if we want to be truly effective, the work has to become part of our daily lives. 

I think of it as a mini revolution taking place every day.  


Firuzeh Mahmoudi is the co-founder and Executive Director of United for Iran, a Bay Area-based nonprofit working to advance civil liberties in Iran by advocating for human rights, supporting civil society, and engaging citizens through technology.