Thousands gathered outside City Hall in Los Angeles on Saturday, demanding regime change in Iran and demonstrating solidarity with the country’s women-led protest movement.
Protesters chanted, “Zan, zendegi, azadi,” or “Woman, life, freedom” – words that have become a rallying cry since Mahsa Amini’s death in September sparked an enduring protest movement. Amini, 22, died in custody after being arrested by the country’s morality police for allegedly not wearing her headscarf properly.
Mona and Tamanna, two Iranian American sisters in their early 30s who declined to share their last names because they feared for their family in Iran, said they were inspired to join the worldwide chorus of voices calling for change in Iran. They had carpooled to Los Angeles from Orange County with 15 family members in tow.
“Personally I would like to see in my parents’ lives that the Iran they remember is restored,” Tamanna said.
“An Iran stolen from them,” Mona said.
Saturday’s demonstration coincided with February 11, 1979, when Iranians mark the anniversary of the Islamic revolution, which overthrew the pro-Western monarchy of Mohammed Reza Shaj Pahlavi.
Held up in the wind, draped over shoulders and strapped to strollers, a sea of pre-revolutionary Iranian flags filled the Grand Park. The flags, which feature a lion and sun in the center instead of the stylized red symbol of the Islamic Republic, were banned after the revolution and have become an emblem of opposition to the theocratic government that has ruled ever since.
“There is great hope among all of us Iranians these days,” said Pezhman Ghiassi, a 33-year-old hairstylist who wears beaded necklaces in the colors of the Iranian flag. Regime change seems closer “every single second that passes,” Ghiassi said.
Several protesters said they traveled from Northern California to participate, with organizers saying others had come from Arizona and Nebraska.
“Los Angeles stands by your side in your fight for democracy, respect, dignity and human rights,” Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian told the crowd, saying he hoped the message could come from Los Angeles in Tehran.
Hours into the programme, the surprise appearance of Reza Pahlavi, the late Shah’s son, caused overwhelming excitement, with protesters cheering and filming as he waved and raised his arms in support.
Times writer Laura Nelson contributed to this report.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.