Tuesday June 16, people took to the streets for the second consecutive day.
From noon onwards, we must have changed our minds ten times about whether or not to go. The main reason was that Ahmadinejad supporters suddenly planned a demonstration of their own at the very same spot where the Mousavi supporters intended to gather two hours later. The main concern was whether the first group would linger around until the second group came on the scene, and whether that would result in violent confrontation. The second concern was that none of the pro-reform alliance — Mousavi, Karroubi and officials from their circle — can openly throw their support behind any kind of public event. If they do, they can be accused of violating the law, if they don’t, thousands of supporters are left wondering what to do. Thankfully, a great majority of people have understood this and taken upon themselves to be out there; they have understood that peaceful public action doesn’t need to be sanctioned by anyone, it is a right of the people. In this sense, Mousavi’s presence or non-presence in the demonstrations, his approval or non-approval is slowly taking second place to the events and dynamics people are creating on their own.
Mousavi did not appear at yesterday’s march which spanned — with empty patches here and there — Vali-e Asr Square to Park Way. His name was chanted, his posters were carried but the crowd was not left wondering: where is he? And that is because the marches have taken on a life of their own, and the demand for justice is now stronger than its figurehead. Placards yesterday were more diversified and more daring than the day before. One man was going around with a poster carrying pictures of graphic scenes of violence from the previous day (state media report 7 killed, rumors report many many more). Slogans also took on a bit of an edge. As during the first march, people remained silent during the first half. Some people had tied a green ribbon around their mouths while others carried the corresponding poster: “Our silence is green”. A group of chadori women were gathered on the sidewalk holding hand-made placards of bright green background that asked: Did our martyrs die so that more blood could be spilled? Volunteers were handing out posters of Mousavi and green ribbons so that everyone had at least something to show the state helicopter which hovered overhead like the day before.
Once we reached the headquarters of state TV and radio (Sar o Sima — a vast expanse of land between Niyayesh and Park Way), the crowd came to a halt. Both sides of Vali-e Asr and both sidewalks were full of people. The furthest northerly point was Park Way (where police prevented the crowd from moving forward) while southward, people kept moving up in the thousands. At 9pm, when we started heading back south, people were still walking up to hit Park Way and turn back again. Sar o Sima was very under-guarded given the circumstances. Again, riot police was nowhere to be seen, at least in the distance that I covered (Vanak Square to Park Way). Once the crowd stalled for good, people were instructed to sit down. A friend and I spotted young guys taking over what had been the Borj restaurant/disco before the revolution and setting camp. Attracted by the great vantage point the building offered, we made our way up the dilapidated fire staircase and onto the crumbling ruins of the former house of forbidden pleasures. Vali-e Asr is lined with beautiful and very old leafy plane trees, so the visibility up and down wasn’t perfect but my estimate is that close to a million people came out. Less than the day before, but mission accomplished nonetheless.
The crowd never kept its seated position for very long. Karroubi is supposed to have made an appearance somewhere although I did not see him. Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani (Rafsanjani’s daughter who has done a lot for women’s sports in Iran) also made her way through the crowd at the back of a pick-up truck. Blue veil, black chador, all smiles and holding a green ribbon. “Hashemi, Mousavi, hemayat, hemayat” (Hashemi, Mousavi, support, support) hailed her presence while “Hashemi, saket koni, khaeni” (Hashemi, if you’re silent you’re a traitor) reminded her father that he is expected to break his silence and take a stance on the current events. Faezeh’s presence did the trick. Thousands of cameras and cell phones were turned her way. Even from a distance, people were painstakingly stretching their cameras at arm’s length in the hope that the lens would catch what they could not see. People excitedly turned to each other: it’s Faezeh!, the simple use of her first name immediately endearing her as a fellow member of the resistance. On the sidewalks, people were elbowing viciously to get a glimpse of her. A slogan started, bringing tears to many eyes: “Baradar-e shahidam, rai-e to pas migiram” (My martyred brother, I will reclaim your vote — a generic singular referring to all those who died in the shootings and violence of the day before).
We walked on toward Park Way where policemen were turning people around. So we turned around, passed the barbed wire wall onto which people were tacking posters, pictures and messages. We passed the Borj, now deserted. On the street, many were still marching in the dusk toward Park Way, some in line formation carrying large plastic banners inscribed with the well-heard slogans. One group carried flowers, a reminder of the 1979 protests when women marched up to soldiers and stuck flowers in the barrel of their rifles. Some marchers started talking of glitches with riot police stationed below, but these were denied by other marchers (according to friends, violence did erupt badly that night in and around Vanak square — I mention this area because it was on the trajectory of the march, but other areas were probably also the focus of violence. A video is going around on mobile phones showing a 50-something woman who beat a riot police to death with a brick).
We reached the intersection with Mirdamad and having decided that we had once again taken a small step in history, headed for a chelo kabab.