This afternoon outside Dallas City Hall, several hundred people braved the summer's first 100-degree day to protest the violent crackdown on demonstrators in Iran. They waved Iranian flags, held signs demanding freedom and democracy and showed photographs of the violence that has rocked the country since the June 13 election.
The crowd, organized by local activists and student organizations, was thick with young people of Iranian descent, and many of them carried photographs of Neda Soltan, the 26-year-old woman murdered over the weekend in Tehran. Some of the images showed the gruesome scene of her death and bloodied face, while others showed her as a beautiful, smiling woman. "Neda: Angel of Freedom," one sign read. "Neda," another promised, "We will never forget you."
Mona Hosseiny, 24, was born in the U.S. to Iranian parents and has relatives in Iran. "Neda was our age," she said. "I just keep thinking, 'She could have been my sister.' It's doubtful this will make a big difference, but we want to show our support. I have cousins my age in Iran and they can't go anywhere without risking getting shot."
While the crowd chanted Farsi slogans supporting the reform movement and condemning the Iranian president and supreme leader, Khosrow Shahbazi and his wife Azar handed out T-shirts with "Iran" emblazoned on the front.
"This movement isn't about [Mir-Hossein] Mousavi the candidate, it's about freedom and democracy in Iran," said Azar, who with her husband has lived in the U.S. for nearly three decades but still has family in Iran. "Seventy-five percent of the people in the country are under 30, and 75 percent of the people have a college degree," Khosrow said, "But the government is not for the people."
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The couple said that on a recent visit to Iran in March, the tension and dissatisfaction was palpable. "My family is OK," Azar said, "but we've been crying a lot."
Amid the signs exhorting democracy and lamenting the violence was a particularly angry one that showed a photograph of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and in bright red scrawled letters read, "Go to Hell!"
One man took the microphone and made an effort to distinguish today's unrest from other paroxysms in Iran's past. "We're not talking about an outside force trying to impose a model of democracy," he said, "The Iranian people want their freedom." The crowd erupted in applause.
Hosseiny, the 24-year-old, surveyed the demonstration, wondering what impact it might have and how things in Iran might evolve. "We want a change," she said. "We're hopeful."