While Iranians are a highly politically savvy lot, getting them to do more than merely talk politics is a near-herculean task. The combination of cynicism from a revolution gone bad and fear of a potentially oppressive and retaliatory government is an unlikely formula for public displays of political activism.
So, the high voter turnout and involvement in the recent presidential election represents a serious political message and achievement by the Iranian people. The enthusiasm around this election, though disguised as an overwhelming public support of the opposition reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, had very little to do with the candidate himself. Mousavi, in fact, is a far-from-inspiring and charismatic figure. Quite honestly, he’s downright boring. But his choice to involve his wife, artist and political scientist Zahra Rahnavard, in his election campaign along with his stellar timing sparked a fire in the hearts and minds of many Iranians.
Despite the huge voter turnout, with some estimates as high as 80%, holding an election is by no means the best way to get Iranians to show up en masse. Rather, the tried and true number-one means of getting high Iranian turnout anywhere is by throwing a hopping party.
Growing up amid a sizable Iranian-American diaspora in Ohio of all places and having visited my homeland on many occasions, I can assure you, Iranians throw parties like those of no other community I have yet to come across. And I have come across my fair share.
So, how did we get so many people to take part in this election? You guessed it: by turning the whole thing into one big party. High-energy music, dancing, mind-altering substances (ranging from kick-ass kabob to alcohol to even MDMA) and dressing to impress — for cameras and peers alike — are all stalwarts of your standard hip young Iranian party. But taking to the streets in Iran (or Ohio for that matter) isn’t exactly our typical style. To take to the streets, we need some serious incentive. And the potential for positive change in our beloved homeland, the longing to regain the respect we crave and deserve, as well as the opportunity to whoop it up on an international stage has given us the nerve to take our parties public.
Regardless of the winner, the Iranian people have spoken, and I highly doubt that we’ll be shutting up any time soon. The outpouring into the streets of Tehran, Shiraz and other large cities throughout the country was a call for recognition. As members of Iran’s baby-boomer generation such as myself start entering our 30s, we are sending a loud and clear message to our leaders: we’ve grown up, we’re sick of your empty promises, and we’ve learned how to mobilize in true Iranian style. We all know that the actual power in Iran lies in the hands of the Ayatullah and the mullahs, and beyond that, we also know that their version of Islam is about as inaccurate and twisted as the KKK’s version of Christianity. We have wised up. We’re no longer asking for secular democracy: We’re demanding it.