- Published on Wednesday, 21 September 2011 05:00
- Category: Grand Central Stories
On Tuesday September 20, 2011, hundreds gathered in Dag Hammerskjold Plaza, adjacent to the United Nations building. Despite the dreary weather, New Yorkers of Iranian, Libyan, Yemeni, Syrian, Egyptian, Palestinian and Tunisian descent came together to form “Freedom Square NYC,” the ultimate protest against oppressive dictatorial regimes.
Organized by a handful of human rights groups that share a common cause of fighting for freedom, democracy and social justice, these activists joined in protest of the G8 Summit, which was in session across the street at the United Nations offices, stressing that the voice of ordinary citizens needed to be heard as the Arab Spring continues to rage in the Middle East.
“Many of our groups have been inspired by the people of the region and hope to demonstrate our solidarity in the pursuit of their fundamental rights and democratic aspirations,” Bitta Mostofi, an Iranian-American living in New York City, who co-organized the event, told Aslan Media. “We call on the international community to uphold the people’s demand for accountability and call for an end to the violent crackdowns on demonstrators and ordinary people.”
Sadra, who did not want his last name to be used, is an Iranian-American living in Brooklyn. He is part of Where is My Vote New York, a human rights non-profit that has organized dozens of rallies in the same spot over the past two years, most of them protesting the botched 2009 Iranian election.
“We are here in solidarity to get familiar with each other and our causes,” he explained. “The super-powers of the free world are talking to each other behind closed doors and don’t ask the people to decide the fate of the Middle East. This time Ahmadinejad doesn’t have to be the center of protest, the U.N. has to do something.”
Mostofi said that corrupt leaders must be held accountable for what they are doing. “We have to strengthen our voices and create our movement through unity,” she said. “The U.N. invited dictatorial regimes and interim prime ministers when the people have been calling for elections. They even invited the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which has a history of exploiting natural resources in these countries.”
During the rally, protesters waved their countries’ flags, made signs and chanted, “Down with Dictator,” “Shame, shame, shame on you” and the crowd’s favorite, “The people united will never be defeated.”
“This is not politics as usual but a decision that we have to make,” Mostofi added. “The U.N. has to acknowledge these human rights concerns and hold governments accountable.”
Rania Elessawi, an Egyptian-American living in New Jersey, came out for the event. “These are a bunch of organizations representing movements in the Middle East and North Africa and we are all here in solidarity,” she explained. “We want to deliver a specific message to the G8 summit. We really want to be partners in the process and they should be supportive of the people’s movement and their struggles.”
Elessawi said that Egypt has been oppressed for far too long. “It’s about self-determination of the people and putting lives on the line. The G8 shouldn’t be talking about the people, they should be talking to the people.”
Elessawi echoed the idea that the representative governments at the summit are a sham. “These are transition governments,” she said. “It’s not enough to do wonderful declarations on paper anymore, about now it’s time to take this into action.”
Ibraham Qatabi, head of the Yemeni-American Coalition for Change, and a Brooklyn resident, also participated. “I came here to ask the U.N. to stop funding dictatorial regimes,” he said. “We call the U.N. and the U.S. to stand up for the people of the Middle East. There are clear crimes against humanity happening to the Yemeni people and the U.S. and the Saudi government should not stay completely silent.”
Ahmead, who also did not want his last name used, is a Syrian-American living in Brooklyn. “We need to support our people in Syria being killed,” he said, adding that more than 3,000 people have been slaughtered this year. “There are more than 30,000 people in jail right now with no food to eat. We have to stand with them.”
“The only way to hear the demands of the people is to listen to them and let them lead,” Mostofi concluded.
The evening was capped off with music, spoken word and a vigil.By Denise Romano, Aslan Media Columnist
For more pictures of the event, click here
About the Columnist: Denise Romano
Denise is a freelance reporter extraordinaire. She is Brooklyn born and raised with a Print Journalism degree from Brooklyn College. Though not of Middle Eastern descent, she started a blog to tell the stories of Iranians and Iranian-Americans after the 2009 election fallout. Ever since, she has been dedicated to giving voice to those who are marginalized by the mainstream media. When she is not writing, Denise spends time with her husband, sings in a barbershop chorus, cooks Italian food, and watches Saturday Night Live. Because she is in tune with the beat of the Big Apple, she launched this blog to share the everyday concerns of New York's Middle Eastern diaspora communities exclusively with Aslan Media.