This past weekend May Day came and went, though not without some notable developments that I think could serve as harbingers for the June 12 anniversary protests.
To begin with, what happened on May Day this past Saturday? As expected security forces were out en masse, breaking up any groups of people and rifling through people’s belongings in search of green-colored contraband. Given this atmosphere demonstrations were smaller than recent May Day demonstrations, but workers and labor sympathizers did turn out to demonstrate. Several thousand did gather
at the Ministry of Labor headquarters in Tehran to protest, while there were reports
of smaller demonstrations in places like Qazvin, Tabriz, Shiraz, and Esfahan. Although there were some scattered calls for gatherings–specifically at the Ministry of Labor–these were not widely disseminated and extremely disorganized (even by green movement standards). Color me optimistic, but for me that counts as a small victory for the labor (and possibly green) movement. Despite a heavy security atmosphere and few calls to actually come onto the streets, still a few thousand demonstrated.
On the same day Ahmadinejad made an unscheduled appearance at Tehran University, right after giving a speech at one of the official May Day events with bused-in supporters. After students caught wind
of his visit several hundred gathered and marched towards the auditorium where the speech was taking place, shouting
“death to the dictator” and trying (unsuccessfully) to get into the speech.
What’s striking, though perhaps not all that surprising, is that 11 months after the presidential election, despite all the arrests, brutality, and repression, it’s necessary that this visit be unannounced, for fear of an embarrassing mass gathering of students and others protesting his appearance on their campus. Presidents and Secretaries of State visit Iraq or Afghanistan unannounced due to security concerns. This shouldn’t be the case for a president supposedly elected by popular vote. And that the organizers of this felt it necessary to do so shows that the regime, again 11 months after the election, still does not feel confident enough in its own legitimacy.
Lastly, Musavi’s speech to workers and teachers was translated into English and I finally got the chance to listen to the whole thing. I tried not to jump to conclusions immediately on its Persian release in my previous post, but I will admit that Musavi did more to reach out to workers than I thought. He spoke directly to them, acknowledged their demands and grievances–even the one about imports I noted in my follow-up–and stressed that their demands are the same as those of the green movement. I’m not sure how convincing we was to workers, as he did fall back to generalities about the overarching goals of freedom and development–not to mention an odd three-minute tangent about foreign policy, the role of the armed forces and the Iran-Iraq war. But at least he explicitly and directly reached out to workers. In rhetoric at least.
What does still stand from my earlier analysis, though, is his prescription to the problems of workers, and the population at large. Sitting against a backdrop of the Iranian flag and portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini (with the obligatory one of Khamenei conspicuously absent!), he again emphasized a return to the principles of the constitution as the solution. I fully recognize the delicate ground Musavi and other leaders must tread, but you simply can’t energize and lead a movement, the majority of whose members were born after the revolution itself, with this sort of message. People aren’t risking life and limb in the streets, holding signs reading “let’s go back to the good ol’ days”, harping for a return to the glory years of the Islamic Republic. Reform is inherently not conservative. Change does not mean a return to the past. It means a path to the future, and one that is better than antiquity.