Wednesday, Oct. 5, students at the College of William and Mary organized a rally in support of current protests in Iran. Approximately 50 students, staff of the College and community members gathered at the Sunken Gardens to listen to a series of speakers advocating for global justice.
Amir Shariatmadari ’24 organized the rally in light of Mahsa Amini’s death while in custody of the Iranian morality police for not wearing her hijab properly. Amini’s death caused a wave of protests against the Iranian government starting in September.
“I’d like to begin by answering the question, why am I here speaking?” Shariatmadari said during the protest. “I asked myself this multiple times on the upcoming of this event, and quite frankly it’s hard to narrow it down to one reason. On one hand I’m tired, I’m tired of seeing my people, my relatives, my family and multiple generations of a country being oppressed, having their rights and freedoms taken away.”
“I asked myself this multiple times on the upcoming of this event, and quite frankly it’s hard to narrow it down to one reason. On one hand I’m tired, I’m tired of seeing my people, my relatives, my family and multiple generations of a country being oppressed, having their rights and freedoms taken away.”
Shariatmadari used the Instagram account @wm_justice_for_iran to announce the demonstration and provide information about applying to speak at the event. Four students, including Saayeh Zarei ’26 and Professor Stephen Sheehi spoke at the event, in addition to Max Blalock of the Wesley Campus Ministry.
“What I’m going to discuss with you all today it’s truly unfathomable to believe is still happening in our world in 2022,” Zarei said. “If you aren’t aware of what’s going on, a 22 year old Kurdish-Iranian woman, Mahsa Amini, passed away on September 16th after being violently injured by Iranian morality police for not wearing her hijab properly. Since her death, hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in protests all around the world. Those protesting in Iran are being arrested and killed, just in their attempt to gain basic human rights.”
Major themes from the speakers included the importance of supporting and uplifting the voices of Iranian voices, and how the worldwide protests in support of Iranian women have been empowering for members of the Iranian diaspora. Additionally, multiple speakers discussed how the decision to wear a hijab for women should be a choice.
Professor Stephen Sheehi used his voice as an Iranian-American professor to emphasize solidarity for Iranian women.
“We have nothing to teach them, we are not going to teach them about feminism. They will teach us about feminism. They will teach us about struggle. That’s not our job. Our job in solidarity is to do what they need us to do and amplify their voices.”
“We want to come together in an act of solidarity, just like we came together in an act of solidarity for Palestinians and the Cubans,” Sheehi said. “So I want us to properly think about why we came here to support the Iranian people. Right, and how do we do that? You want to do that by elevating Iranian women’s voices. We have nothing to teach them, we are not going to teach them about feminism. They will teach us about feminism. They will teach us about struggle. That’s not our job. Our job in solidarity is to do what they need us to do and amplify their voices.”
Students of all backgrounds came to show their support for the protesters of Iran and to listen to first-hand accounts of how the speakers’ backgrounds contributed to their thoughts on the current situation in Iran.
“While I’ve been following the protests in Iran, I had been unsure as to how I could show support for the protests and those who are impacted,” Mia Tilman ’24 wrote to the Flat Hat after attending the demonstration. “I learned about the demonstration over Instagram and knew my friend Saayeh would be speaking, so I decided to attend to support her and hear more from those who are impacted. I hoped to support the people in our community by at the very least showing up and ensuring that their voice is heard by being an audience for them to share their thoughts with. There was obviously so much that I didn’t know and I had so much respect for everyone who shared their experiences and their emotions.”
Shariatmadari also was shocked at the attendance of the protest, as it was organized only in the few days leading up to the protest.
“I expected that around 10 people would show up given the fact that the demonstration was organized on such short notice (less than a week),” Shariatmadari wrote in a written statement. “Having a lot of people show up, many of who I did not know, was a pleasure. I am happy that people took the time out of their day to learn, or at least listen about what was going on in Iran.”
Shariatmadari also discussed during the protest how the current Iranian government does not represent Islam.
“To spread the message that the Iranian Regime does not represent Islamic values, nor does it represent Iranian values,” Shariatmadari added. “The regime has contributed to furthering Islamophobia, ruining the reputation of the world’s second largest religion, which preaches peace, justice, and equity, and ruining the reputation of the Iranian people.”