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Home page > Articles > The Campaign and I / Mina Zandi

The Campaign and I / Mina Zandi

Happy Birthday Campaign!

Tuesday 26 August 2008

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Feminist School: Mansoureh called on Saturday, two days after I had arrived in Tehran, her voice low and painful.

— What happened, migraine headache again? I asked

— Not really. We were beaten up, she said with a laugh.

The use of first person plural was a little reasuring; at least she has someone company for her misery.

— Where and how?

— At a demonstration the other day. I’ve been in bed since. Your message this morning forced me to get up and take a hot shower. I feel much better. She spoke as cheerfully as ever.

— When can I see you?

— If my black and blue marks do not horrify you, this evening.

I could not believe her if I had not seen it myself. Her arms, backs, and legs looked as if horses had trampled on her body, though I should admit that seeing those bruises helped me overcome the horror of the morning conversation when she told me she had been beaten. It had been about a half century passed since I had not heard the conjugation of that verb in its passive form. When we were kids, if we were occasionally beaten by our parents, we would either keep the humiliation to ourselves or, if caught crying, would have to come up with a genuine manipulation and would explain that “X hit me,” leaving out the word for “beating,” which was really humiliating. Being proud enough not to admit the humiliation, we would make it out that the brutality and injustices had been done by someone else. The easy admittance of my friend bothered me more than anything else until I saw the bruise.

She invited me to go to a meeting the next day to talk about the demonstration and sort of evaluation of it. That gave me more time to go turn around in my head what they had all gone through. An amalgamation of “being beaten” and the boycott of the election by almost all activists kept running through my head. Great! A good solution! Go ahead and see if things improve! Getting beaten? I do not know which one made me more upset.

At the meeting some seventy five women had gathered. They were all there. Now I could put a face on all those names. We saw a video of the demonstration. We saw the police forces attacking and beating defenseless women with their heavy military boots and batons, easy as can be! A grown up man raised his leg and brought it down on the back of a young woman who had bend over and cleverly covered her face and head with her hands while bending her head into her chest. (They all agreed it was not that bad. What would really be bad was what happened in Laleh Park and Tir Square the following year.)

What was amazing was what cheerfulness and happiness shone from these women’s faces while they talked and read and delivered their speeches. Oddly enough, they were all calm, peaceful and gentle. They had two options, to run or to stay, and they stayed as they were surrounded by a wall of police, preventing more people from joining them. They started chanting Ay sorud-e zendegi, while clapping, yes, clapping and not raising fists. Whoa! Can you believe it? Angry and beaten and still just clapping!

After the film was a heated discussion as to what else they should have done, and gee they were so damn hard on each other and themselves. They were not there to congratulate themselves. They were there to work, to do something, to demand. They were there courageously to face who they were and where they were living, just in that microcosm of the entrance to Tehran University. No euphemisms, they were there to face the humiliation of what they have to go through every day. They all, one way or another, said they had been “beaten” without any shame. These women were not very far from my generation (at least many of them) but were much different than my generation, I noticed with some humility.

There was something unusual in the faces of those determined women, something which I did not even know existed. These women were all pregnant, pregnant with one child. They all reminded me of the three sisters in Salman Roshdie’s Shame (the book which won the Book of the Year award from the Islamic Republic, awarded by Khameni’i.) Three girls who were restricted and almost imprisoned by their father rebeliously threw a wild party right after their father died and the funeral and memorial services were over. The very same night, one of them becomes pregnant. However, sharing the scandal, they shut themselves within the house for nine months. During these nine months, all three of them showed the signs of pregnancy fully and all three of them even went through labor pains but deliver only one baby boy. Even the midwife could not tell which was the real mother.

After some twenty-odd years, I realized the significance of the metaphor used by Rushdie, the kind of solidarity of which only women are capable. Then I noticed that I’m in the presence of an amazing force and energy, something which is going to grow, and soon bear fruit, thought a forbidden one.

In the story, the baby boy was named Omar Khayyam. What else? Who else could be born in such fashion, who else but the champion of the cry for equality, where his existentialism could be translated fully into that concept more than any other existentialist, who else by Omar Khayyam? Indeed, it was the year after when the Campaign for A Million Signatures was born out of the wombs of all these women with a single simple message of change for equality.

That day, I humbly noticed that this generation is somehow very different from mine in another respect as well. Whenever my generation gathered together, in a party, workplace, school or university, one could not resist noticing that we all looked like each other. To my amazement, when I looked around the room, these women were all different. Each has her own color and flavor, each was her own woman, with her own beauty. And none was prettier than other. The unique beauty each one had was as if it emerged from their very insides, their very democratic insides which very soon would translate itself into a full-fledged movement to be carried into the further generation without let up. I could not resist the urge to share my finding with them. I thought they might like to know how they looked from the outside. Gee, I was wrong, although, Roya Tolu’i came and gallantly gave me a hug and a kiss. It seemed they knew it themselves. “What else did you except?” It was written on the face with a happy smile. I wondered about human nature that adopts itself to something good and better so quickly as if it were natural. It seemed that it was such a small thing which did not even deserved any mention.

Following its everyday progress, following its spread from the mountains of Luristan, my mother’s homeland, to the desert of Yazd, my father’s home province, visiting the Campaign’s website, its gallery, the classrooms in which the activists held their workshops, their meetings, picnics under the moonlight, discussions and ingenious structure which nothing could stop, and the most democratic nature of its network, I wondered where and when these women learned to be so elegant? I wondered where they learned to have such wisdom. Where did they become so professional? After whom did they modeled themselves? Occasionally, when I got the chance to ask these questions, I noticed they were aware of that too, though without any ado; they know how amazing they are without any fuss, without any claim, as if to say “How else? Is there any other way?”

This August 27, the Campaign becomes two years old and I become an old-timer. I took it as a good amen that my birthday falls, more than half a century later, on that of a landmark movement, a movement with such a unique character, which one day will shine like a brilliant star in the horizon of our nation’s proud history, a movement which will be part of the Iranian treasury.

Two years later, to my dismay, my only share in this giant fortune which has fallen to the women of my land is only this instance of the configuration of sun and moon. I have to make do with quoting Samad Behrangi, who said once, “If they divide all Iran into pieces, my share won’t be more than this.” As I’m going to fade, the movement is waxing, is spreading and growing, and one day its fruit and its seeds will spread and continue, long after we all are gone. This Campaign is on such a right footing that no force will be able to weaken it. Indeed, those women I know will raise it to full maturity. As this baby was destined to be born, it is destined to be grown. We all are going to nurture our Omar Khayyam to chant, “Which one is a woman and which one is a man?!” this time not as a philosophical question but as a mundane assertion of a fact.

Happy Birthday Campaign!

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