Dispatches from Tehran — The Metro Ride — sent 11:27 am, 19 June 2009
The crowd pushes in. I think of those scenes from Tokyo of the metro officers, the ones with the white gloves squeezing and packing with all their might. We are all arms, legs, elbows. Even for a country with no notion of personal space the compression on the train is incredible. Readers who had the privilege of being in DC for Obama’s inauguration will remember the scenes at the Capitol Hill metro stations. This tudeh, or mass, is the same, maybe more. Inauguration day is every day in Tehran.
Someone jokes that “Today Hashemi carries us to victory!” referring to the fact that the the metro system, a notorious cash cow, is run by former president Hashemi Rafsanjani’s son.
Spirits are good. It’s after 4 in the afternoon, cell phones are completely down but everyone already knows where to go and what to do. Today we are green and we are black, black for those who have died…
Dark to lightness the crowds pour out of Imam Khomeini Station and into the Square. Already the crowd is huge.
Citizens have arrived early, not the customary 1 to 2 hours late, Iranian time as its known. The weather has returned to normal this week. It is hot, made worse by the darkness of our clothing. Every day by early evening, however, fat and full clouds dangle in large proportions from the sky, forcing the sun to set through grey and imminent rain.
Other than the magnitude of the demonstration the main thing that strikes the observer is how quiet it is. Nothing above a murmur. No one moves. The Falun Gong’s silent protest in 2005 has nothing on us. Today’s theme, captured in hundreds of handmade signs, is “sookoot e sabz,” or “green silence.” We are here to mourn the fallen, those several who have died in the past few days at the hands of the reprehensible basij.
The chants that played such a prominent role prior to the elections and which here and there can be heard, are contained by the “shushes” and “quiets!” of the crowd. Perhaps after 30 years of chanting the best way to answer is with silence.
That Imam Khomeini Square is so still borders on a minor miracle. Formerly known as Toopkhone, literally “cannon house,” this square is one of Tehran’s most storied, once the site of regal state ceremonies and Dar al-Funun, Iran’s first modern college built in the 19th century. In recent years noble aspirations have been cast aside and Imam Khomeini Square has settled into its current role, a major south-central hub covered in ashen grey and lined on three sides by small shops and boarding houses for itinerant workers and their families. To the south of the square rises the smooth glass of the mokhaberat or telecommunications building, built in the doleful international style so common in the developing world.
They watch us with one eye. We can see a man on the 4th or 6th floor openly filming the going-ons with a tripod-mounted camcorder. The state takes pictures of us. We show them, in turn, photos of what they have done. Many hold up the pictures of the wounded and killed, gruesome images of blood-covered chests and heads, the young and the middle-aged who have fallen.
There is an overhead picture of a plainsclothes basiji rushing at a protester with what appears to be catte-prod or perhaps a knife. His face is clearly visible and in some of the pictures captured of the paramilitaries people have written “killer” underneath.
This is important. Things are moving faster. The old-timers, the ones who had seen 1979, tell us that it took months for it to get to the same point we are now. Then it began with the college students (it is no coincidence that Friday Prayers are held on Tehran University’s campus). First the students came out, then the families, mothers famously sending their sons forward to face the soldiers of the Shah. We are not yet a week out from the voting and the movement is already filled with different ages and occupations. I do not believe that this is a revolution, people have seen what that brings. The comparison to 1979 is limited. Nonetheless, many of the contours of the two are shaping up to be the same.
The crowd gathers around a woman and a man, they are speaking in anguished tones. The woman, older, has her face covered like so many others here — fear still remains despite the strength of numbers — I can see only red, red eyes. Chera? Chera? Why? Why? We ask who she is, what has happened. We find out that she is a mother of a young shaheed, or martyr. People reach for their mobiles to take a picture and the man who is comforting her beseeches them to put the cameras away, to have sympathy for her. Over the gathered shoulders I see her turn her head to the ground…
A kid grabs my arm and tells me to come, take a picture of his friend. He is in bad shape. They lift up his shirt and we can see the bruise where the baton struck him. When he turns around I see that there is a white dollop on his head, a fresh bandage. I grin and tell him that he’s the champion of the people. He knows better and only laughs.
We finally start to move, slowly, feet shuffling northwards toward Ferdowsi Square several kilometers away. People debate what to do next, should we go to Friday Prayers tomorrow and let them know that we respect and accept our Rahbar, our Supreme Leader, this nezam (system) and Revolution? Or do we stay away, is it better to not antagonize a crowd that will no doubt be hot. There are reports and rumors that the basij will be out in full force, that the Supreme Leader will speak and no doubt cast his final verdict on the elections. It is ultimately decided to not go — remember, decisions are made
collectively with this crowd, unlike the top-down driven gatherings of the pro-Ahmadinejad forces. The song passes through the crowd in waves: “Farda khabari nist! Farda khabari nist! Tomorrow there is nothing going on! Tomorrow there is nothing going on!
Mousavi shows up, he is on the other side of the square, miniscule then unseeable, unhearable.
Bishin agha! Bishin! Sit down sit down! We squat on our hams like Okies or soccer players lining up for a photo. I hold onto the shoulders of the guy sitting next to me. Mousavi never rises far enough out of the crowd for us to see him but we can track his progress through the press by the security and cameramen standing on top of his car. They float above the heads of the thousands gathered and make their way north.
“Agha, Ferdowsi am ba mast!” a young man tells his friends and points towards the statue in Ferdowsi Square. Iran’s national poet, the author of the epic Shahnameh, has been wrapped around the neck and the wrist with a green shawl.
Ferdowsi is with us!
Exhausted, thirsty, I make my way back to the metro. Social movements are turning out to be a great way to shed some weight, what with all of the walking and occasional running. On the train again for the ride home, I notice that the clear plastic handles for standing passengers contain what appear to be beer cans. It’s a line of hanging beer cans running up and down the two lengths of the train. Of course, this being Iran they are
non-alcoholic, but in the last part of the day and with my heart heavy the dissonance nearly causes me to reel…
(This is a guest post written by “Shane M.” — an anonymous student in Tehran who has been writing dispatches from Tehran for The Washington Note over the last week. Shane M. has a major op-ed in today’s New York Times titled “A Different Iranian Revolution.)”
— Shane M., an anonymous student in Iran