This report by Revolution Books about the poetry reading co-sponsored by the IEC, was posted on revcom.us. We are reposting it here as relevant to our readers and the Campaign. Watch a video of the evening. Read here the full poem by Rafael Jesús González excerpted below.
Revolution Books called for poets from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to come together on Sunday, September 17, to celebrate the spirit of the Iranian people’s recent uprising, to support the ongoing struggle in Iran, to demand freedom for the political prisoners, and to point to the need for revolution. The response was swift, and brought together 12 poets, including current and former poet laureates of Berkeley, San Francisco, and Vallejo. The event was cosponsored by the International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners Now (IEC). The bookstore was packed with a rapt audience.
One year ago, Iran’s morality police murdered Mahsa Jina Amini for the “crime” of wearing an “improper hijab.” Women rose up in unprecedented and unquenchable fury, in their thousands and thousands. Soon they were joined by men, and the streets resounded with “woman-life-freedom!” Millions of people, taking the streets, marching, dancing, for days and months battering at a core pillar of the Islamic Republic’s rule—the patriarchal suppression of women. Chants rang out “Death to the dictator!” and “Neither Shah nor Ayatollah!” Nothing quite like this uprising had ever happened in Iran—or in any other country. It impacted the entire world.
Inspired by the brilliant uprising and the courage of the Iranian people, poetry flowed strong at Revolution Books. An Iranian poet read a poem by exiled Iranian Fatemeh Shams that began
Around our throats, tight like a chain
In our hands, loaded like a gun
Each strand of our hair can stoke a revolution
Burn this symbol of our pain
He also read a piece inspired by a street encounter that he and his mother had with the morality police as he, a child, had held her hand.
Poets spoke about the rage and about courage of women in Iran, around the world and throughout history. Kim Shuck read a poem that ended:
Bury me with the standing women
The dancing women
If not free, then a step for someone’s eventual freedom
Bury me with my hair unbraided.
There was poetry of dancing in the face of oppressors, poetry about revolution. The poetry was punctuated by videos of songs from the struggle by the imprisoned Iranian rapper Toomaj Salehi, the recently imprisoned singer, Mehdi Yarrahi, and the Arab Iranian singer Mina Deris. And interwoven with the poetry and song were powerful statements and audio clips from the Communist Party of Iran, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist and others, including the IEC, which helped lift people’s sights even further.
A speaker from the IEC Bay Area spoke about the goal of freeing all Iran’s political prisoners and opposing and condemning threats by the U.S. and intervention. “The Campaign’s Emergency Appeal makes clear that we proceed from the interests of humanity, not the interests of either the Iranian or the U.S. government: ‘The governments of the U.S. and Iran act from their national interests. And we the people of the U.S. and Iran, along with the people of the world, have OUR shared interests, as part of getting to a better world: to unite to defend the political prisoners of Iran. In the U.S., we have a special responsibility to unite very broadly against this vile repression by the IRI, and to actively oppose any war moves by the U.S. government that would bring even more unbearable suffering to the people of Iran.’”
One poem written and read in Spanish then English by Rafael J. González ended powerfully with:
But oppression breeds rebellion
and your heart burst with need
of freedom, to let the sun warm
your hair let loose for the wind
to comb it, the moon caress it.
For this simple act you were taken,
imprisoned, beaten, and you died.
But your death was a spark that set
aflame the tinder of women’s
curtailed lives and they took
to the streets worldwide.
Stand, sisters, for the woman, life,
freedom, and we your brothers
stand with you because no one
is free unless women are.
The theocratic regime has hit back at the women and men with clubs and bullets and arrests and torture. Social media is filled with pictures of the beautiful faces of those killed for daring to protest or shot in the eye during the protests, wearing their eyepatches with defiance and pride. Funerals became protests and we witnessed the courageous resistance of Kurds, of Baluchis, women and men, young and old. A year later the Islamic regime seeks to silence the people with its arrests and bullets, but resistance continues in many forms, including inside of Iran’s prisons which were already filled with thousands of political prisoners before the uprising, and now are packed with thousands more.
The audience got to hear a just-recorded statement by seven groups (Turkish, Iranian and Afghan) and hundreds of individuals, In Memory of Mahsa (Jina) Amini and For the Emancipation of All Women in the World, which spoke to the uprising and to the need for fundamental change. The statement noted that the regime is still standing, and that “The global capitalist system has put humanity in a 24/7 state of emergency, but it has also created the basis for our unity.… We are all the oppressed of the world. And on the anniversary of the extraordinary Jina uprising that was like the heartbeat of the whole world beating in Iran, we intend to use everything we have learned to clear the path to overthrow the Islamic Republic, the patriarchy and the whole system of domination [exploitation and oppression].”
At the evening’s end we read an excerpt of On the Anniversary of Jina Uprising in Iran: Revolution, Nothing Less for Iran and Everywhere by the Communist Party of Iran, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, which raised the question:
The cry for freedom has been on the lips of millions in Iran—but the burning question is, will this be freedom for the oppressed to seize on the turmoil that is tearing apart the old order to make revolution, overthrow the regime along with all relations of oppression and exploitation and replace it with something much better? Or will exploiters and oppressors be free in one form or another, either to continue the old regime or continue the same conditions of oppression and exploitations with new faces at the top?
And the statement put forward this direction:
All this means that the revolution we need in Iran can only be a communist revolution. The first step in this revolution is to overthrow the IRI and establish a New Socialist Republic in order to start uprooting this capitalist exploitation and oppression. But this revolution is an integral part of a world revolution, because we are all woven together by this world capitalist system. Either we are all emancipated or nobody will be.
Reflecting on the event, poets wrote: “I was honored and enlightened to be part of this incredible event. Thank you so much.”—“Poets, you were terrific! Your poems were wise and compassionate, and I hope the video [of the program] will enable the truths you spoke to go on and on.”—“Thank you and the bookstore for the event last night. Some issues are simply too important.” A retired teacher wrote, “The quality of the program was absolutely exceptional. Each poet really had something interesting and important and meaningful to say. I just loved it.”
One of the poets who helped organize the event observed, “I thought the poets took the occasion very seriously and had given a lot of thought to what they were going to read, including several who wrote new, heartfelt poems to honor Mahsa and Iran’s political prisoners. The overall atmosphere was serious and joyful. The video clips interwoven in the program—[the song] Roosarito at the beginning helped frame the joyous and defiant tone for the evening—were lyric and celebrated the courage of the uprising—and the music and singing were beautiful and contributed to the overall flow and uplifting spirit, showing actual scenes, artists and prisoners from the struggle in Iran. The poets and the audience reflected a broad spectrum of age, nationality, and ‘political perspectives.’”
A video of the evening is on the Revolution Books website.