Photo by Tribune India
By Huey Collette
BERKELEY, CA- UC Berkeley’s campus is no stranger to its students taking the initiative towards advocating for various social issues. Starting from Mario Savio’s fiery addresses during the Free Speech Movement of 1964, Sproul Plaza has a storied history of student-led protests. In fact, as its pupils receive a humanitarian-focused education, the campus’s board actively encourages its students to mutually shape the very history of the university itself. However, a deafening silence on the recent protests in Iran—sparked by the passing of Mahsa Amini—has led many students to question the university’s genuine values concerning the diversity of its students.
On September 17, 2022, Mahsa Amini, a 22-year old Iranian woman, died while in the custody of Iran’s “morality” police for not complying with the country’s strict hijab policy. Her death has since incited international protests for both “women’s rights…[and] an end to the country’s Islamic system of governance, which controls all aspects of society.”
On October 17, a march was held in Upper Sproul, hosted by the Iranian Students Cultural Organization (ISCO), Middle East Matters, and the Afghan Students Association (ASA). The organizers were women, reflecting both the fact that the Iranian protests are women-led and that women’s freedom is an integral tool in dismantling the religious authoritarianism of Iran’s government.
The march was a global demonstration aided by other UCs and schools aimed to show solidarity with the Iranian protests and the social issues of Afghanistan. “Both countries are facing oppression that they didn’t choose. Both are fighting for freedom, for life, for basic human rights,” said Hasti Mofidi, an organizer of the event working with ISCO.
Students of differing backgrounds, along with volunteers from Revolution Books (a communist bookstore found in an alleyway on Durant Ave.), attended the march.
Voiced over a megaphone on the steps of Sproul Hall were the repeated condemnations of the lack of statements from UCB’s administration on the revolutionary happenings in Iran. An organizer painted attendees’ hands red, representing “the blood that’s in the country right now; it represents that if we were to hold a gathering like this in Iran, we would be walking away with real bloody hands rather than painted ones,” Mofidi said. Signs carried by protestors also displayed other significant issues concerning gender equality and the end of the Hazara genocide.
As UCB students and radical bookstore clerks moved in unity throughout the UCB campus, repeated chants shook the air of the fall afternoon: “Women lack freedom,” “Junbesh-e Roshanaye” (a reference to “The Enlightenment Movement,” a Hazara-led rally that was bombed in 2016), and “Hey hey! Ho ho! The Taliban has got to go!” The march ended by circling back to the steps of Sproul Hall.
“Baraye” by Shervin Hajipour, a revolutionary song that has become synonymous with the Iranian protests, was sung by the protestors as they closed out the demonstration.
When asked about how one might stand with the protests continuing forward, Mofidi concluded with, “We’re not looking for anything but social uplifting…social media really helps. It shows the people in Iran that the momentum is still going. It shows western media that this isn’t going away and that this is something they should care about. It shows western powers that it’s something that they shouldn’t ignore.”
October 27 marked forty days after the passing of Mahsa Amini. As of October 28, there has been no acknowledgement or support of the international protests from UCB’s Board of Trustees.
Huey is currently a junior majoring in English and pursuing a minor in philosophy at UC Berkeley. He transferred from San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, CA, but bounced around different parts of the Bay Area throughout his childhood. When not feverishly reading or writing, he enjoys producing music, fencing, and horror films. He is a writer for Vanguard at Berkeley’s social justice desk.