Women. Life. Freedom. This was the rallying cry of Iranian protesters, chanted in solidarity by supporters halal a world away in Great Neck on Sunday.
Hundreds of community members gathered in Village Green Park to show their support of the recent protests against Iran’s oppressive government regime. Amongst the sea of red, white, and green Iranian flags were homemade signs calling for the dictatorship to be replaced with democracy, for the end of the mandatory hijab law, and for support of the Iranian women leading the charge. Most prevalent of all was a picture of a young woman, which people held high as they cried “Say her name! Mahsa Amini!”
On Sept. 16, 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died after being arrested by Iran’s morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely. The police maintain her coma and subsequent death was caused by a spontaneous heart attack and seizure. The bruises Amini’s family found on her legs, as well as the head trauma shown on medical records leaked to the public, tell a different story. Her co-detainees say they witnessed her being tortured in the police van, and that her death was a direct result of police brutality — and Amini is not the only one.
In the nationwide protests that have erupted since Amini’s death, hundreds more have been killed by authorities. This includes Nika Shakarami, 16, who went missing during a protest. Her body was kept by authorities for 10 days before being buried without her family’s permission.
The tragedy only further fueled the public outrage — even members of the police force have dropped their weapons to march alongside protestors. Hundreds more have been killed in the past two weeks, and more than 1,200 more have been arrested, according to The Guardian.
The sight of Iranians, particularly women and young people, openly fighting for their rights has inspired hundreds of thousands around the globe to march in support — including on Long Island. Among the friends, families, and community members attending the rally were multiple activists and politicians, including New York State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills).
“We are in awe of all the women taking to the streets, their bravery,” she said. “They are fighting for their rights, for their life. And we’re gathering to tell them we see them, we hear them. We stand with them in support.”
Kaplan herself is a political refugee — the first one to serve in the State Senate, as well as the first Iranian-American to be elected to either New York legislative chamber.
“It’s important for those of us who are out of the country to stand up for those in the country who are suffering,” she said. “We can’t sit back and watch. We have to show our support, and we have to do whatever we can to help them.”
Also in attendance was Nassau County Legislator Mazi Melesa Pilip, who escaped an oppressive government at 13 years old as one of the children rescued by Operation Solomon in 1991. She stresses the importance of fighting for freedom at every level.
“My parents’ generation, they didn’t know what freedom is,” she said. “It was something you couldn’t even dream or think about. But this generation knows their rights, and they’ll stand up for those who don’t have those rights.”
She also emphasized how important Iranian women’s rights are to Great Neck’s thriving Persian community, many of whom also emigrated to escape political unrest.
“[Many of them] know what it is to live under an extremist regime, so for them it’s even more personal. That’s why we’re all coming out here today to show support.”
One of the attendees with firsthand experience of the Iranian government was 14-year-old Fathi Hammad, who gave an impassioned speech to the hundreds gathered at the park. The Iranian-born teenager moved to the U.S. as a young child, moved back to Iran, and settled in New York in 2015. He is a political activist and aspires to continue the work throughout his life.
“Today is the beginning of a new era — an era of freedom and democracy,” he said to the cheering crowd. “We all stand with the women of Iran. We are all named Mahsa Amini. We will not back down, and we will continue to fight.”
Hammad’s young age, though impressive, is not an anomaly. The average age of current Iranian protesters is 15, showing just how youth-led the movement is. Hammad explains that the internet is a vehicle for young people to exchange ideas, thus combating a government that suppresses free speech.
“I’m super proud of what we have started today,” he said. “I hope it continues on. In the future, we can break this awful regime.”
As music began to play over the speakers, the sea of people became solemn. They raised their flags and swayed in time as they sang along to the Iranian protest anthem “Baraye.”
For all mankind, for our country. For the boys and girls who never knew equality. For woman, for life, for liberty. For liberty. For liberty.