originally posted on June 18, 2009.
The news of Iranian university student protesters being attacked in a dorm by riot police and militia cut me to my very core. Up to 150 students were arrested, according to witnesses, and at least one was killed. Students were beaten and shot, and one of the buildings caught fire. I just can’t stop watching this raw demonstration of oppression, anger and power unfolding before our very eyes. It’s so far away, yet feels so close when so many of the protestors are my age or younger. As I watch them take to the streets, using their voices and bodies to fight the regime, I am broken out of my dramatic thoughts and prayers by a jarring pop culture reminder: Twitter is a part of the movement.
On the surface, Twitter just doesn’t seem to fit with my mental images of protest and upheaval. But everywhere I turn I am reminded that many of the stories that I hear and news that I read is coming not from traditional news sources. The Iranian government has blocked journalists that work for international news organizations and the Iranian media is telling an incomplete, at times outright inaccurate story (like saying that the University students are taking finals when the campus has actually been shut down for days). No, the stories of the beatings, attacks, and killings are coming from young Iranians cracking the codes of internet barriers put up by their government, and tweeting the truth in defiance.
Twitter and I have a love hate relationship. I find it slightly burdensome and self-important to tweet my thoughts every minute and like skateboarding and MySpace, it got old to me once everyone else – especially celebrities - hopped on. But it is unquestionably useful for news - especially in an environment of suppression. Iran has made me again proud of my generation owning technological innovation and using it for more than games and gossip. We can use and are using it to change the world.
As the days go by and Western media learns more about the protests, we find that even though Twitter has been a vital tool, it has been used to supplement traditional word of mouth, peer to peer organizing and SMS, which is also being used in even larger quantities. The organizers are using every tool at their disposal – old school and new - to rebel.
And if what we are seeing through Twitter is only a glimpse of the real turmoil, when will we hear the rest? The stories from outside of Tehran and the University, from people without internet and no way to break the censorship codes, and no voice other than the one they use to shout? I can only imagine…
These stories, told and untold, are quenching the thirst of my political soul. They remind us all that you can’t block a movement. It warns those that doubt the ability of our generation to incorporate technology into new models of social change and action, that times they are a’changin.
Living in the sanitized world of watered down, pragmatic U.S. politics, a good, take to the streets protest is just what I need to believe that regardless of whether the revolution is televised, facebooked, tweeted, or simply shouted from the rooftops, when people are oppressed and suppressed long enough, humanity will find innovative ways to fight the powers that be and inevitably, whether fast or slow, revolution always happens.