Feeling Like an Outsider in SF: June 20, 2009

As I attended the demonstration at United Nations Plaza in San Francisco earlier this evening, accompanied by two dear friends; I couldn’t help but feel a little awkward. I am pained by the images and stories coming out of Iran, the videos of young men and women bleeding out in the streets, the Iranian forces mercilessly beating women and children. But, I couldn’t help but stand in that crowd and feel like I didn’t belong. I wanted to bounce two thoughts off of you all to see what you think.

1.   Sure, it felt good to yell “marg bar basiji” once or twice, but then, the American in me kept wondering why we were standing in United Nations Plaza, wanting to urge the world to take a stand in favor of human rights in Iran, but the chanting was 95% in Farsi. Were we just  there for ourselves?  To me, it would have been much more effective to chant slogans in English, asking the world to petition the United Nations to take a stand in the name of the Iranian people. Yelling words out like “democracy” “freedom” and “peace” would have gathered a larger crowd and peaked more interest in our cause. And, if the chants absolutely needed to be made in Farsi, why use the word “marg” so much?  Especially when American ears have been hearing “marg bar America”  for so long. The word marg bothers me. Is that really what we’re preaching from our comfortable lives half the world away?

2.    There came a point in the gathering that someone speaking Farsi into the loudspeaker in Farsi, began to ask the crowd to prepare for a moment of silence to honor those who had fallen in the course of the past week at the hands of the regime. At this time, a black woman in her fifties, standing beside the loudspeaker, began asking in English if she, too, could say something. In my experience going to school in San Francisco, I was well at ease with dealing with the city’s eccentric inhabitants. I smiled and thought someone would explain to her what was going on and lead her out of the way. Instead, I watched with my mouth hanging open as a man my age, with his curly hair tied back, began getting in this woman’s face, his finger on his lips as he harshly kept hissing her over and over. In that moment, my heart began to beat fast in outrage as I stepped one step forward, but the woman was already being pushed away. Thankfully, a young girl my age explained to her what was going on and apologized to her for the way she had been treated. In that moment, in that man’s face and in his actions, I saw the very same sense of righteousness that those basijis have when they are standing before women and children. It honestly made me sick. In that moment, as I realized the crowd around him was indifferent to his actions, I felt I did not belong there anymore.

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