The election in Iran was pitched as reformer against hardliner, the future against the past. Although little might have changed if the “reformer” Mir Hossein Mousavi defeated “hardliner” Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, so much could have changed.
The presidency of Iran isn’t as powerful as many think, with ultimate power being held by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The cleric holds power to overrule the president whenever he sees fit, and to guide him to the policies Khamenei deems important. Still, the president of Iran holds a big spot on the world stage, and has power to address issues, as long as he remains in context with the clerics.
But with the results of the presidential election looking very suspect and the people hitting the streets in protests, at least a chance of a re-vote exists. The decision may come as soon as Friday. If that happens, or even if a lesser accommodation is made, the point is clear. The clerics who have long dominated Iranian politics have to address change.
The majority of Iranians don’t want to fall into the mold made for them by FOX News and conservatives in America. They don’t want to be political pariahs. They want to engage the west, especially America. And they are willing to take to the streets to keep away from that. They want change at home too, like more equality for women.
Will they get what they want? Probably not right away, but big steps have been taken. And the Iranian people join the ranks of other birthing democracy movements like the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in showing the power of people in mass.
It’s a lesson we here in America need to re-learn. The power of protest ended the Vietnam War. The power of protest propelled the civil rights movement. The power of protest gave us labor laws, gave women the right to vote, and ended slavery. It can bring change again.
We have it easy here – with some notable exceptions, protesters in America aren’t in danger of losing life and limb these days. We can march and then go home at night in relative safety. The Iranians hitting the streets have more in common with civil rights marchers in the 60s then with the challenges America faces today. So I have to ask – where are America’s protesters?
Sure, we have the tea bag movement, but it’s ill-defined and even less informed. We had marches against the war in Iraq, but not big enough. What would have happened if millions of Americans would have been out in the streets for days after George Bush was allowed to steal the presidency in 2000? What if America (or at least Florida) was forced into a new vote? How much damage to the country could have been avoided?
Or what about health care? Polls show a big majority of Americans favor single payer health care, and even more favor at least a public option. Still, big money interests are dimming the chances of passage. How broken does the system have to get before enough Americans are enraged?
We could learn from the Iranians. And others around the world. France is a country with a grand history of protest. Sometimes over issues far more trivial than health care or stolen elections.