Growing up in the United States I was taught to be proud of my cultural background and to embrace multiculturalism, as both of my parents were refugees: my mother a Russian Jew, and my father an Iranian.
As a child, this seemed to be a reasonable request, and in large part, I liked floating between different worldviews. However, as I got older, my cultural background began to surface more in conversations, and I could tell that there was twang of distaste toward a young Russian-Iranian-American girl living in a suburb of Washington, D.C. — a place that is heavily dominated by government workers and their families.
As far as my classmates were concerned, I was born in the ‘axis of evil,’ considering the fact that my parents were from arguably the most hated nations by the United States.
With time, I realized that the American brand of multiculturalism that I had been brought up with was a hoax. When I moved to Canada, I felt more welcomed by my community — not because of the government or any sort of policy — but because there were people who shared my cultures. This sense of community marked the start of my political activism, and eventually led me to organize a rally against war, following the recent airstrike in Iraq.
On January 3, the Trump Administration conducted an air strike near the Baghdad International Airport, assassinating Iranian General Qasem Soleimani. Iran’s United Nations ambassador spoke up about the events shortly after, and deemed it an act of war. Since then, Donald Trump has threatened to target 52 Iranian cultural and historical sites if Iran retaliated against the American aggression. However, this threat was later rejected by the Pentagon.
Naturally, many of the Iranian Canadians I know, myself included, were outraged. To be clear, it’s not so much a matter of who had been killed, but more so an issue of what Soleimani’s death gestures for the fate of Iran. This seems all too reminiscent of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Syria, Yemen — the list goes on — and we decided that we would not idly stand by.
My friend Saman Tabasinejad, a former Ontario New Democratic Party candidate and community organizer, asked if I wanted to help set up a rally to fight against a potential war the following day.
I answered with an emphatic ‘yes.’
Being the naïve first-year that I am, I had no idea how to organize a rally, not to mention arranging one in a single day, but I had the support and guidance of other community members.
The first part of our mission was to make the #NoWarWithIran rally less about Iran and more about the broader issue of American imperialism and militarism. After all, many other countries have been targeted under similar circumstances and we felt that we had a duty to address those injustices as well — especially in a diverse city like ours.
From there, Tabasinejed spoke to some of her colleagues about their protest experiences and found a multitude of speakers from various backgrounds for the event. In the meantime, I created social media accounts for the rally and made digital posters to better circulate the information.
We also faced another pressing question regarding what we wanted our protest to accomplish. There have been far too many occasions where people have banded together to express their anger, but have left without creating any tangible change.
Tabasinejed suggested that we pressure Canadian government officials to take action following the rally; to achieve this goal, we set up a campaign page where people could directly contact their local MPs with a default email that we had drafted.
Frankly, I was unsure of how successful our turnout would be. Only four people had closely planned the rally and we were very reliant on our social media following — but I was wrong to doubt followers of the issue. On January 4, around 300 people mobilized to show their solidarity for the cause — photographers, journalists, representatives from non-profit organizations, and individuals alike — and we seemed to have garnered a strong following. It was a moment of true people power.
And, despite opposition by counter-protestors on the other side of the road, our rally remained peaceful and respectful.
Since the rally, more than 300 people have contacted their local MPs, calling for them to condemn acts of war and to take a stand on the global stage. Activists in Montréal also followed suit, organizing their own rally the following day.
We have pledged to come back and rally until we get a response from our officials. We refuse to let history repeat itself, but it’s also important to address that this rally was by no means intended to support the current regime in Iran.
Iran is undoubtedly a deeply flawed nation and still has a lot of progress to make. However, this change should be brought forth by the Iranian people, not the American government. Despite what we are taught, politics are personal.
Yana Sadeghi is a first-year Social Sciences student at New College.