Marching on the Margin of Politics

by Amin Parsa

Friday 22 April 2011

Change for Equality: ears before Iran’s Green Movement launched its awe-inspiring march of silence to protest their votes being stolen by their own government, the famous women’s rights campaign, One Million Signatures, simply known in Iran as “The Campaign” started its humble and persistent journey as the only true social movement in one of the world’s most complex societies; a society bound for centuries by unjust laws, traditions, religion and tyranny.

The Campaign launched a textbook movement, which began over three years ago. It was and is a neatly designed movement to change the inequalities in Iranian society that discriminate against women, which encompasses all the elements that sociologists like Tilly count as necessary for one; “Campaign”: a continues public effort which makes collective claims, “Repertoire”: a combination of political actions and of course “Participants”.

The Campaign was and is therefore an understated but persistent movement focusing on the deepest and oldest social conflict; patriarchy, and, in this sense, the campaign was and is a sophisticated movement, without the need for any conflictual “events” as the cause besides the very reality of being women – the most historical conflictual event.

So what makes this movement special?

Firstly, what makes this movement special comes directly from what they are doing. They are living democracy in the present; as political entities every time that they launch a workshop or publish a zine and are moving the boundaries of politics. Boundaries in the Sheldon Wolin sense; to proclaim identity and stand ready to repel difference. Boundaries that may signify exclusion “keep out!"- or containment -"keep inside!" but regardless are preconditions of the construction of the sovereign power.# The Campaign is aware of the effects of these margins because their cause stems from the oldest of boundaries; the boundary of the household (oikos). What this boundary confines is time and space; both the household and the constitution are constructs of society that bound in their capacity time and space, in a Wolinian sense the constitution sets the boundaries of democracy and thereby limits the amount of politics – the legitimized public contestation by different social powers over access to power and resources - that can be practiced in a society. Therefore both the household and constitution are boundaries that confine the time and space of action, and therefore a true effort is needed to emancipate these confinements to form the political – the moments when diverse groups in society can come together to form a collective in order to further the same cause, without being forced to change their own identities. Women’s movements everywhere in the world, by not identifying themselves with the placed boundaries of states’ power, emancipate those confined times and spaces and create actors for democracy. It’s this creation of actors that modern power tries to avoid; it tries to monopolize the production of subjects in order to tame them and control them. And that’s why this movement is not stoppable; because it’s not struggling for power per se as much as it is about creating the momentum of action.

Secondly, the Campaign is highly inclusive since it is both pushing the boundaries that entail exclusion and also being inclusive in its methods, by finding and using the commonalities shared across a wide range of actors and tools. They are lawyers, engineers and journalists, they write and make their fellow women members write, not necessarily to publish but to create a collective memory that has never before had the chance to be shared. They fight unequal laws by using its own deficiency to further their cause and meanwhile make the legal machinery, norms and frameworks work against itself, and they pay the price for such vicious acts, as Nasrin Setodeh is paying at the moment.

The Campaign provided both the material and contextual background for what happened after the 2009 election, they enlightened and spread awareness among the layers of society most forgotten by the intellectuals; the common everyday women of the country, because they were aware of the power of a good story and the free network that was already in place. They are within boundaries and aware of what it means, they are breaking their boundaries of time and space and are not concerned, like other political movements, with replacing one boundary with another, and is exactly why they are flying over the borders.

Here is what the Green Movement or any other liberation movements can learn from “The Campaign”, to focus on pushing these boundaries as far as possible and to be concerned about whether they are replacing one boundary with another. Nowadays Green Movement of Iran is more than ever dependent on the lessons that it can learn from “The Campaign”; a pioneer which was forgotten by an unsatisfied society. What “The Campaign” can offer today to the Green Movement is not just lessons on boundaries but also lessons of how to work as a movement. Something that is highly necessary is missing from the Green Movement; a concise repertoire - it shows itself in the here and there demonstrations in the public space or events in the virtual one. The Campaign can provide the missing elements and add a vision to the Green Movement. Now it’s time for the Green Movement to realize its shortcomings and march behind “The Campaign” on the margins of politics.

Amin Parsa is a master student of International Human rights Law at Lund University, Sweden


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