TAMPA —From the couch of her Tampa home on Saturday, Damineh Oveisi held her fingertips to her temples and fought back tears as she listened to her younger sister describe being teargassed and fleeing gunfire.
Her sister, Danoosh Oveisi, was video-calling from Iran, where protests across the country have resulted in more than 30 people reported killed in the last week.
The catalyst for the unrest was the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini earlier this month. Amini, who was visiting Tehran with her brother, was taken into custody by the country’s morality police after she was accused of violating Iranian laws that dictate how women dress. Authorities said Amini’s headscarf was too loose.
Although Iranian police said Amini died of a heart attack in custody, the event resulted in thousands of civilians taking the streets in cities across Iran to protest the government.
On the video-call to Tampa on Saturday, Danoosh Oveisi described women cutting their hair in public and teenage girls burning their headscarves in acts of defiance.
Because the government has responded with force, people are scared, Danoosh Oveisi said. But more than that, they are defiant.
“It is about more than Mahsa, now. People are protesting because they are tired of oppression and poverty and this regime,” she said. “We need people around the world to hear our voice.”
Since the protests began, Damineh Oveisi, her husband and 13-year-old daughter, have made a habit of these video calls to family back home. Damineh Oveisi has lived in Tampa since 2007, but most of her family remains in Iran where she grew up.
She said the calls have garnered feelings of urgency, but also helplessness.
“I am telling my family to go out and be in the streets, to be with our people and to fight for freedom,” Damineh Oveisi said. “But I feel bad because I am here, I am not in danger.”
She said she wishes she could go back to Iran to march alongside her family. Instead, she’s working alongside other Iranians in the Tampa Bay area to call attention to what’s transpiring in her birth country.
Damineh Oveisi said she’s seen a number of protests against the government in her 42 years, but each time, the people have been met with force and the movement has died.
This time, she said, feels different.
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On Saturday evening, Damineh Oveisi and her immediate family gathered by the Tampa riverfront with a group of about 150 people. They carried posters that read “Free Iran” and passed out informational flyers to people passing by. The group was out for more than and hour, but of the hundreds of people they encountered, only one was familiar with the events taking place in Iran, she said.
“When war started in Ukraine, we were all their voice,” said Damineh Oveisi. “People were posting on social media, sending support. Iran needs the same.”
She said she knows that people have a lot on their minds right now.
She knows there’s a hurricane coming.
She knows that people are worried about shelter and food, sports outcomes and work meetings, the cost of gas and catching up on newly-released Netflix specials.
But right now, she’s begging you to pay attention to what’s happening in Iran, too.
“This must become a revolution,” Damineh Oveisi said. “It’s a very important moment for us because it has to end in victory. We need the world behind us.”