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.