Woman, life, freedom: Chicagoans march for Iranian rights


Nadia Carolina Hernandez

A child looks up at an older man holding multiple protest signs during the Chicago rally at Michigan Ave. and E. Van Buren St. on Saturday, Oct. 1.

Hundreds of protesters marched through downtown Chicago on Saturday as a part of the Global Day of Action for Iran.

It was one of many rallies around the world sparked by the killing of Masha Amini, a 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian woman allegedly beaten to death by Iran’s morality police for improperly wearing her headscarf.

Iran enters its third week of unrest as continuous protests over Amini’s death have been met with violent action from the nation’s government. Iranian state TV reported that at least 41 demonstrators and police have been killed since the protests started Sept. 17, with over 1500 people arrested.

“We are all kind of in exile,” said a Chicago protester who requested anonymity. “I had to leave Iran and never go back because I can’t go back. If I go back and say anything, I will have the same destiny. Everyone who comes here to study or work is basically a refugee.”

Protest leaders marched the crowd down Michigan Ave., leading chants of “woman, life, freedom,” which has become the rallying cry of these global protests. Many demonstrators held signs that condemned the Islamic regime’s treatment of women and human rights violations.

A protestor at the Chicago rally to fight for Iranian freedom rights. Protests sparked around the world after the killing of Masha Amini, a Kurdish-Iranian woman allegedly beaten to death by Iran’s morality police for improperly wearing her headscarf. (Nadia Carolina Hernandez)

One protester cut her hair and displayed it on her sign. Cutting or shaving hair has become a popular form of protest during this movement, in particular.

“I cut my hair in a protest to show my anger, my outrage, my frustration,” said protester Negin Hosseini Goodrich. “This is a symbolic political act we do nowadays, we cut our hair to show how outraged we are at the Islamic regime’s brutality. Forty years of oppression of women’s rights in Iran, not only women but all human rights in Iran, have not been met because of the Islamic regime.”

Over 120 cities staged protests on Oct. 1 to show solidarity for Iranians fighting for freedom in the Islamic regime. As protests in Iran continue, the nation’s leaders fear that the unrest could destabilize the country.

According to DePaul economics professor Karim Pakravan, who has expertise in Middle Eastern geopolitics, a movement like this has been a long time coming.

“Women in Iran have been at the forefront of resistance to the regime for the past 40 years,” Pakravan said. “This time, I think that it came on top of the tremendous amount of dissatisfaction with the economy, with corruption, with mismanagement.”

In an effort to squash organizing efforts, the Iranian government imposed severe internet blackouts and blocked numerous digital platforms throughout the country. This heightened censorship under Iran’s new conservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, comes after years of the nation’s leadership attempting to control internet usage in Iran.

The Biden administration responded by relaxing sanctions on internet services in Iran to “support the free flow of information” for Iranians.

Despite the increased censorship from Iranian leaders, social media and the internet continues to fuel this movement in the country.

“In Iran, 80% of people have social media,” Pakravan said. “It’s a very urbanized, very sophisticated society with a lot of highly educated people. A lot of people have VPNs, and they manage somehow to communicate and manage somehow to get the word out.”

Protestors around the world are cutting their hair to show support for the women in Iran. (Nadia Carolina Hernandez)

In fact, Pakravan believes that the actions taken by President Raisi to establish more cultural control have actually caused Iranians to be even more defiant of the government.

“Under the previous president, [Hasan] Rouhani, they had loosened, a little bit, the social norms,” Pakravan said. “But the new president wants to go back to the roots of the revolution, and impose a strict hijab rule of hair covering. Because over time, women had started to show more hair, wear more errant clothes, push their scarves back, and so on.”

As the unrest continues in Iran, Pakravan sees three courses of action for the Iranian regime.

“They can either give in and remove restrictions on women, or it can continue with repression and arrest and kill until the protests die down,” he said. “Or there will be some kind of a change, but that kind of change can only come from inside and the regime is pretty united in its desire to stay in power.”

For Iranians in Chicago, the oppression from the regime is not lost by the over 6000 miles that separate them from their home nation.

“We want the world to know we are people seeking freedom and peace,” said an organizer over a megaphone. “We are being suppressed for more than 40 years, and this is the time for us to say enough is enough. We want our freedom. We want a peaceful Iran.”