The sun peeked through the clouds on the late afternoon hours of Thursday, Oct. 17, as a group of about 30 people clustered in the sidewalk in front of city hall in Ormond Beach. The Farsi version of "Bella Ciao" — a song that was originally the anti-fascist anthem for Italians during World War II — played over a speaker.
Many held signs with Mahsa Amini's name, with the promise that they won't forget the 22-year-old's death on Sept. 16 in Tehran, Iran, after she was arrested by the country's morality police for allegedly wearing a hijab improperly. She died later in a hospital under suspicious circumstances. Since then, Iranians have held massive demonstrations in the country, with women burning head scarves, despite violence from Iranian security forces.
And the Iranian American community of Greater Daytona Beach decided it was time the community paid attention to what is happening in their homeland.
“This has been going on for five weeks," said Dr. Mona Mashayekh, one of the protest's organizers. "They’re killing the teenagers, students, high schoolers and they just have no morals. It’s a dictatorship that should go, and unfortunately, we don’t see that much support from the U.S.”
In the aftermath of Amini's death, Mashayekh said she was faced with nightmares as she recalled her own experiences in Iran. This isn't the first time, she said, that an uprising has occurred as a result of the Islamic Republic's actions.
“But this time, the sad thing and the beautiful thing is that people from all ethnicities in Iran and all cultural groups have become united," she said.
Asal Mohamadi Johnson, an associate professor and the director of the Public Health program at Stetson University, was born and raised in Iran. Twenty-three years ago, as student protests surged after the Islamic Revolution, she was approached by Iranian state-sponsored militia and told she needed to cover her bangs, she wrote in a recent op-ed to the Observer. She was saved by people who intervened and decided not to be "passive bystanders."
At the protest, Mohamadi Johnson said many local Iranians feel sadness because they can't have a direct role in what is happening in Iran. But, what they can do, she said, is take advantage of free speech in the U.S. and share posts and videos of the demonstrations in Iran on social media.
“What is important is for us to be their voice," Mohamadi Johnson said.