home Current Affairs, Middle East, Politics, Science & Technology Iran Protests: It’s not about Twitter, it’s not about us

Iran Protests: It’s not about Twitter, it’s not about us

I’m not going to make any cute jokes about how “the revolution will be tweeted,” mostly because they have already been made. Also, because the most inspiring thing about the protests in Iran isn’t the Twitter part, but the sight of thousands of people crowding the streets, demanding basic democracy in their country.

The story is about Twitter only to the extent that it’s about us, the rest of the world outside of Iran and especially here in the U.S. Yes, it’s inspiring to see a field of green avatars on Twitter, or to see people normally uninvolved in politics even in their own country passing on information about a protest thousands of miles away, but when the comments are mostly about what Obama is doing about Iran, I have to remind myself that this isn’t our protest.

We had a pretty questionable election ourselves not all that long ago, and we didn’t take to the streets in any large numbers. Americans seem to have forgotten what large public protests are like. Sure, 2 million people showed up to Obama’s inauguration—and that was a thrilling sight—but several people have pointed out the irony of Americans supporting Iranian protesters while ignoring our own.

I’m a big fan of the right of people to peacefully assemble—it’s one of my favorite bits of the U.S. Constitution. I thrill to the sight of crowds of people united, love being part of it, but I also love small protests, the quixotic mission of five or ten determined people with signs. I love the people who participate in them, and since I was a teenager I’ve been one of those people.

As a new media geek I’m fascinated by the Twitter part of this popular uprising, I love watching information spread around the world at the speed of light, and thrill to the anarchistic nature of the peer-to-peer network, the trust in other people. I wish I was more tech-savvy so I could create proxy IP addresses for Iranian tweeters and bloggers. But the most inspiring part, to me, is seeing the scale of the protests. I’ve plastered my Tumblr page with photographs both professional and amateur of Iranian women standing in the streets, fists raised, and wide-angle shots of the crowds filling entire streets, stretching for miles.

Most of us in the States don’t really know what the Iranian people are protesting about, though. And perhaps we don’t have to know. Our willingness to support a public protest that would, without a doubt, be written off in this country as the work of “professional protesters,” “troublemakers” or “fringe elements” without even knowing what it’s about speaks volumes. Does it mean that we’re truly committed to democracy? I’d like to think that’s the case, but more likely it’s that we’ve been fed propaganda over and over again about how despotic Ahmadinejad is, while on the other hand drinking the Kool-Aid over America’s inherent goodness and more-democratic-than-thou nature.

It’s easy for Americans to believe that an election could be stolen in Iran, but next to impossible for most of us to believe that it could be stolen in our own country. Iran has a much more recent history of revolution and overthrowing a leader by popular protest than we do, which may explain their willingness to take to the streets. Americans love to brag on our revolutionary heritage, but we do so from the safety of our couches most of the time.

We can learn a lot from the Iranian people, and I hope that when the protests have ended (and I know we’re all hoping they end peacefully) the people who turned their profile pictures green do some thinking about solidarity and what it really means, and learn more about Iran and other countries around the world that haven’t needed America’s intrusion into their affairs to reaffirm their own right to choose their government. I hope, too, that America’s government—and those who will be in charge in the future—take notice of the response to Iran’s uprising, and think about supporting populist activists within a country instead of claiming that we can install democracy from without.

This revolution, after all, is not about us. It happened without our involvement, and though I would like to think that all the support around the world helped, the real movement is on the ground in Iran.


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Sarah Jaffe

Sarah Jaffe is deputy editor of GlobalComment. She's interested in politics and pop culture, and has a special place in her heart for comics.

11 thoughts on “Iran Protests: It’s not about Twitter, it’s not about us

  1. Great article. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for drawing the parallels of America’s own elections to Iran’s. From my journalistic perspective, I have to say the most exciting things to cover are natural uprisings and protests. It is such a fascinating display of democracy. And on the flip side, so is sitting on a couch.

  2. The problem is that nobody is willing to talk about the true power structure in Iran. The ayatollah hand picks his leaders and they carry out his will, the gov’t is a figurehead and that’s the issue.

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  4. As a Black American of civil rights era legacy I cannot tell you that my generation has ever drunk “the Kool-Aid over America’s inherent goodness and more-democratic-than-thou nature”. We know first hand about America’s willingness to do whatever to whomever. Many of us old civil rights activists (which used to be almost every Black person in America) worry that to accomplish his goals, the current president will have to fall back on this approach.

    What does this have to do with Iran? I would suspect that the same thing is happening. Over time those Iranian leaders whose palette contained only black-&-white over the last 30-40 years have themselves done much painting with gray. Many Iranian citizens have discovered they were used and forgotten for revolutionary purposes. Thus the present large-scale protests phenomena may have more to do with the outrage of manipulation and misuse than it does with an overt cry for democracy. Democracy is just one of man’s many forms of government; while it works (sort of) in the U.S. it isn’t for everyone – and they have a right to decide that locally.

    Hopefully the Iranian protest will yield two results:

    First, the people of Iran will learn to never lend out their intents to those who govern. This is called NOT getting the government you deserve, but getting the government you intended.

    Second, maybe the next set of nation building capital-based interventionists will realize sometime it’s not chickens that come home to roost, it’s raptor and they will attack. Interfere with other countries now, pay later and in spades.

  5. all doors close to us..please help us
    The government people say is a lie. Confinement to death all people will. Saturday is the day the revolution. Public protests to overthrow the government. We request all the world, we help.

  6. You raise some very interesting and thoughtful points. It makes me wish we had stood up in 2004 and fought against obvious election irregularities. It also makes me wonder where the social media as protest platform will go from here. There are still plenty of people on twitter buzzing around the pro-choice/Dr Tiller issue and the ONE campaign twitters regularly about issues and activism in Africa. Which issues rise and capture world-wide attention? Which ones deserve to and are truly worthy of our help and attention? Some of it ends up being about access and affluence- there is no buzz about twitters from Sudan or refugee camps in Ethiopia (although I bet someone is twittering from there). And how easy would it be to overload the twitterverse with protest tweets and loose your audience? Just some thoughts. Again, very nice post.

  7. The whisper of a million voices

    The echo of each footstep

    Can you hear them?

    Cries from a roof top

    Neighbor after neighbor

    A call to God

    A prayer for deliverance

    Can HE hear them?

    Where is my sister’s vote?

    Where is my brother voice?

    Can you hear them?

    The silence is deafening.

    The world is listening.

    (N.Walji. 06/20/2009)

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  9. Protest in San Diego – Free IRAN!
    Start: July 12, 2009
    7:00 pm – 9:00 pm

    Location:
    FEDERAL BUILDING– Downtown SAN DIEGO.
    on Front & Broadway.

    Contact: iranpeace@yahoo.com

    People are being tortured and killed daily because they spoke out against the government, over 3000 more are awaiting their deaths in the prisons. Even though this is LAST MINUTE, try to come out today to support those in Iran that have fought for their freedom.

    BRING YOUR FLAGS & SLOGANS! We will provide some as well.

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