by Maria Rohaly
This is just a brief note on something that occurred today while I was participating, in solidarity with Iranian workers, in the May 1st March at Union Square in New York City, USA, organized by the May 1st Coalition. I’ll put the complete event report up shortly, but I need to start with this.
It was at any rate a lovely sunny day in New York City. I had just finished talking to one of the guys from Platypus 1917 who had noted my sign expressing solidarity with Iranian workers. One side of my sign said: “Expel the Islamic regime of Iran from the ILO: Solidarity with workers in Iran,” while the other side read, “May Day 2010: International solidarity with the people of Iran.”
My new Platypus friend was discussing the reasons for the weak support among the American left for the struggle for Iranian freedom. I have been so focused on the situation in Iran itself that I have paid little attention to the response of the American left to the human rights crisis exploding in Iran. He reminded me that there is a significant current within the American left that supports or at least does not critique the Islamic regime because it takes an anti-imperialist stance against the imperialism of the United States: an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach.
Not 10 minutes later, as I was still shaking my head at the thought that any single person, let alone an entire political current, could for one moment accept the atrocities of the Islamic regime against the Iranian people just because the regime shares a dislike for American imperialist hegemony, I was rudely jolted out of my reverie. As I was making my way through the crowd with my sign for Iranian workers held high in the air, a man’s hands roughly grabbed me by the shoulders from behind hard enough to bruise, he shook me, and tried to tear my sign out of my hands to destroy it, while another abusive male screamed something unintelligible in my face. They both kept pushing me into the crowd of people, trying to push me out of Union Square and into the street. They were the staff of the May 1st Coalition responsible for the organization of the May Day March.
They screamed at me, “YOU’RE OUT OF HERE! GET OUT! YOU IMPERIALIST WARMONGER!” as they pushed and shoved me for what was assuredly a few seconds but felt like long, long minutes. I wanted to explode with screaming at the violation I felt from this man’s horrid, violent hands that would not leave my body. Because of the crowds and because these two men had me pinned between them, there was no way for me to move or defend myself.
They couldn’t push me far, however, because the crowd was thick and, though they were not at all concerned about my safety or well-being, they didn’t want to hurt the migrant workers they were pushing me into. At some point, the Iranian friend I was there with gently intervened and said to these barbaric individuals, “It’s OK, we’re going. We’ll go.” As much as I felt under assault by these violent men, I reacted strongly to the idea that we should be forced by violence to shut up, to be silenced, to be forced out of a public place, where it was our rights as Americans to be, to speak. So I turned to the most violent man and I told him that he was being undemocratic. He again let spill a torrent of word salad, with ingredients like “imperialist!” “warmonger!” “you’re supporting war against the Iranian people!” and “do you know how many people our country has killed in the Middle East!?” He was referring to the demand that the regime be kicked out of the ILO – he screamed that it was a Western imperialist position.
He finally stopped screaming at me for long enough that I could tell him, “These are the demands of the Iranian workers.” Of course, he looked at my blue eyes and blond hair and asked me who was I to speak for the Iranian workers, and no, kicking the Islamic Republic out of the ILO was a Western imperialist demand, not an Iranian worker demand. My Iranian friend, with his Iranian face and his Iranian accent told this non-Iranian violent white American male that he was wrong. This member of the May 1st Coalition then proceeded to tell both of us with religious and irrational fervor that we were supporting the bombing of Iran. I turned my sign over and I said, “Look: “‘SOLIDARITY WITH THE PEOPLE IN IRAN.'”
The most violent one of the two finally started to back off, though his friend kept hounding me. The most violent one told his buddy to back off, then said, in the closest expression that he could come to an apology, “Well, you shouldn’t have put that on your sign. Your demand should be that the US should not go to war against Iran.”
Of course the US should not go to war against Iran. And we work against that outcome too.
But that was not the demand for May Day.
May Day is a day where we stand in solidarity with all of the working people in the world. And we came out to celebrate May Day with particular solidarity with Iranian workers. We went to Union Square to make sure that people in the United States remembered Iranian working people on May Day, and heard some of their demands, and learned more about the paralyzing conditions that are being imposed on the Iranian workers and the deepening impoverishment of the entire working class.
And we did all of that.
I also learned a lot today too. I learned that I no longer recognize the activists among the American left. What I saw from these men, and later heard and saw from other members of the May 1st Coalition was total intolerance for freedom of expression: unless the message was dictated and approved by them, it should be met with violence or silencing or disapproval. Since when did the American left become so fascist?
Furthermore, these activists seem to have staked out their position on Iran from a place of ignorance. The Worker-communist Party of Iran has been demanding the Islamic regime’s removal from the ILO at least since 2006, and every year they go to the ILO’s annual meeting to repeat their demands. Ejecting the Islamic regime from the various UN bodies is no demand from the imperialist West! The imperialist West rolls out the UN’s red carpet for the Islamic regime, even inviting the gender-apartheidist murderers to sit on the UN Commission on the Status of Women!
This current of the American left needs to get educated about Iran so that it can take informed positions that echo the demands from inside Iran. They also need to get civilized. In this day and age, we discuss and we debate when we disagree. Using violence to silence is not acceptable under any condition in a free and democratic society.