We students wait for word from the West. We know the mainstream media want our movement to fail, but our telephone service provider doesn't care one way or the other. Ring-ring. News: Students at a prestigious western university are on strike. The tide moves eastward; hours later, we learn of a massive demonstration at a campus half a country closer. The baton of uprising has been passed to us. Will we have the strength and unity to meet the challenge, knowing that our local reaction will shape the response of other students on other campuses further east?
I am not referring to the Iranian university students that I and so many other freedom-loving Americans have come to so immensely admire over the past week. Rather, I reference students at universities such as the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and at scores of other U. S. campuses more than 40 years ago, when my generation of American university students rose up against the same sort of oppressive power elite that our Iranian counterparts now confront. Images of the Iranians' bravery and determination against a potentially mass-murderously repressive power structure take me back to my own student days, a year before I went "Clean for Gene," nearly a year before January '68's Tet offensive, March '68's announcement of President Johnson's abdication, April's assassination of the Rev. Dr. King and on and on that apocalyptic year.
CNN recently quoted a professor of Iranian Studies at a prominent U. S. university. "I am absolutely convinced that what we are witnessing is a turning point in . . . history. Even if the [government] survives this crisis," said Dr. Hamid Dabashi, "it will no longer be as it used to be."
I've seen this movie before. This is exactly what we Americans in our own anti-government movement thought back then. The author of 1968 in America describes my generation's sense of events a few months later when the Tet offensive revealed to rank-and-file Americans what we students knew all along: that our governors had deceived us to the point of betrayal. Tet acted on Americans as "an immense magnetic field energizing the [government's] opponents and transforming the political landscape."
We knew our republic was founded to "provide for the common defense." But we also knew our government had squandered, and showed no sign of ceasing to squander, American lives and treasure on a war that did nothing to "provide for [our] common defense." Similarly, the Islamic Republic was founded to express the wishes of Iranians for a new type of democracy. But, similarly, the established power structure has betrayed the Iranian people. And, similarly, Iranian university students were among the first in their country to know it had.
I do wonder how much earlier we '60s "peaceniks" would have ended the war and how many more lives we would have saved if we would have had Twitter. But I beg you: Don't be distracted and lose sight of the political aims of the Iranian opposition in our typically American fascination with the technology they have so artfully "repurposed." Just as we lost once Johnson stepped aside and chaos overtook Chicago, the Iranian opposition could lose. Their movement could be co-opted by vague promises of a partial recount from "Boss" Khameni.
My lesson from my movement is this. I guarantee you: This moment will not happen again. And from the more distant past, from another, more successful American oppositionist, lesson #2: Do not "suffer yourselves to be wheedled out of your liberties [including the freedom to practice your religion as you see fit] by any pretense of politeness, delicacy, or decency" or that most toxic contemporary variation, the reluctance to appear "negative."
"These," John Adams warns us, "as they are often used" by the empowered and their apologists, "are but . . . different names for hypocrisy, chicanery and cowardice."
Fight, my Iranian counterparts. Fight like there is no tomorrow. Fight for your parents, your children and yourselves. Fight with Bob Marley, who admonishes us always: "Get up, stand up: stand up for your rights! Get up, stand up: don't give up the fight!" Victory is within your grasp. Your parents overthrew the old Shah. It is your duty-it may even be your destiny-to overthrow the new ones.
Arnold S. Wolfe is a Bend resident, and professor emeritus at Illinois State University.