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Reportback from the streets

June 21, 2009

Alireza had a banana and tear gas for lunch. Then he wrote this (used with his permission).

‘i went with a few friends to the sharif university subway station, because the azadi station was closed (for obvious reasons). there were riot police everywhere, but not a lot of activity when we arrived there. then we walked toward azadi street, and encountered a huge crowd on one of the streets leading to azadi. people were chanting “marg bar diktator” (death to dictator) and other slogans. all of a sudden the crowd was frightened and everyone started running away from azadi and toward us (probably seeing tear gas, though i couldn’t be sure). some people shouted to them to stop running, and not to be frightened. we walked away from that crowd into one of the other side streets. there, a tear gas canister landed near a friend and i, and everyone started running. on another street, people started hurling big stones at the police to retaliate for the tear gas. being the coward that i am, i told myself that there’s no way i’m going to go into a stone-throwing crowd!!! so we backed away. some of the kids out there, including a lot of girls, are pretty gutsy.

‘the general pattern in many places was this: there were bands of people who would march forward and chant, and then escape and scatter when tear gas was fired, then gather together again slowly and march once more. at one point after a number of tear gas canisters were fired, i breathed in a LOT of tear gas and started coughing like hell, with my eyes and throat burning. people lit fires in the street everywhere, big and small ones in trash cans, on small uprooted trees, or using tires. there were also little ones on the sidewalk with newspapers and cardboard for the tear-gas-stricken to breathe in the smoke and be relieved (it works! i can attest). it took me about 20 minutes i think, with plenty of smoke inhalation and careful breathing, to feel better.

‘later i found my friends (i had lost them for about 30 min) and we walked to yadegar-e imam highway. again there were a lot of people there, and the traffic had come to a standstill and people were honking to support the protesters. a few people (including some really feisty girls!!) broke down the fence between the two sides of the highway and threw them onto one side of the highway to prevent cars and motorcycles from going toward the northwest (i believe this was meant as a kind of barricade). then others took stones, bricks, and metal bars from the fence and began to bang them on the guardrails on the side of the highway, rhythmically and in unison. lots of people were just standing by and watching or filming. a tall old man had a brick in one hand, a metal bar in the other, and was dutifully banging on the guardrail. in the distance, there was a dense crowd shouting death to dictator and occasionally running from tear gas. i also heard shots being fired, but i think they were being shot in the air. there might also have been noise bombs, but i can’t be sure. large plumes of black smoke rose from places where fires had been lit.

‘eventually we decided to walk back to our car, but the metro station was packed so we walked all the way back. at some point, on sattar khan st, under a bridge, about 30 kids had lit a fire in the middle of the street and were chanting slogans. one of the slogans i heard near here was “mardom chera neshastin, iran shodeh felestin” (people why are you sitting, iran has become palestine).

‘there were riot police and basijis in many places, but sometimes (as under the bridge on sattar khan) they were not around and protesters took advantage of their absence.

‘i heard from the wife of one of our friends, whom we met later, that she had been prevented from entering azadi when the protest was beginning, but eventually the riot cops had let them in. so a crowd of maybe 600 people had formed in an area encircled by riot police. and then the riot police had begun to beat them with sticks, stones (she said they were throwing them. i am somewhat doubtful of this and wonder if they might have been stones coming from a crowd hurling them at the police. but what do i know), and throwing tear gas at them. they had escaped into nearby shops that had opened their shutters to let them in.

‘basically, the riot police prevented people from forming in a large cohesive group on inqilab-azadi, as far as i know. so the crowds were disparate and focused into the side streets and highways leading into azadi.

‘there were military and police helicopters constantly flying overhead. i think they were scouting the entire area to give directions to the riot police.

‘walking on sattar khan, i noticed that most shops were pulling down their shutters. this was around 7 pm, which is a little early to close. they were probably afraid of rioters. a smallish man, who looked like he was a worker, walked alongside us and told every single shop to close down because the “agents” (police) were (i’m not sure if i heard this right) “closing them” or “attacking them”. he appeared to me to be a freak and just scaring people unnecessarily. some shopkeepers just ignored him. one juice stand guy took out a canister of pepper spray and told my friends and i (who were sipping juice we had bought from him) “who do you think i am? i’m ready for whoever wants to attack me.”

‘in the midst of the chaos, it was very interesting to see normal life continuing for many. i saw a “wedding car” pugeot decorated with flowers, with the bride and groom inside, stuck in traffic near some of the protesters. there were kids playing in the park near some basiji forces. and a barber was giving a man a haircut while all hell went down near his shop. near the highway, an old grey man brought out a hose and turned the tap to give water to the thirsty, along with a jug-full of iced water. tired protesters washed their hands and faces of dirt and tear gas, and drank from the jug. i’m certainly glad he was there.’

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