On Saturday — exactly one month before Election Day — a rally and march supporting women’s rights packed a corner of downtown Santa Barbara, with the community showing up strong to voice solidarity with women in Iran and push voters to use their power at the polls on November 8.
This year’s Women’s March was part of a National Day of Action and was a joint effort by several local organizations, including the Women’s March Santa Barbara, Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), Standing Together to End Sexual Assault (STESA), the Santa Barbara Women’s Political Committee, and the Iranian Academic Community at UC Santa Barbara.
A crowd of nearly 200 gathered around what has become known as “Free Speech Corner,” at the intersection of State and Anapamu streets, where speakers addressed critical issues facing women across the world and choices on the upcoming ballot that may shape the future for women in the U.S.
In California, voters will decide on Proposition 1, which would further affirm the right to reproductive freedom in the state by writing it into the California Constitution. If passed, it would prevent anybody from denying or interfering with someone’s right to abortion, birth control, or any other form of reproductive health care.
“On November 8, our rights are literally on the ballot,” said STESA’s community education coordinator, Karla Huizar. “We cannot let anyone take control of our bodily autonomy.”
Several community leaders spoke at the rally, including councilmember Kristen Sneddon — who urged people to use the “power of their voice” to change local politics — and CAUSE advocate Frank Rodriguez, who spoke in both English and Spanish on the importance of getting out the vote this election, and the inclusion of immigrants’ and tenants’ rights in conversations about women’s rights.
But some of the most powerful moments of Saturday’s rally were the stories shared by Santa Barbara’s Iranian community, which has spent the past several weeks calling attention to an ongoing crisis in Iran following the killing of 22-year-old Mahsa “Zhina” Amini in police custody in Tehran on September 16.
Dr. Aazam Feiz, who teaches Persian language and literature at UCSB, has lent her voice to a number of demonstrations at the university campus and downtown Santa Barbara recently, describing a movement in Iran led by youth challenging the patriarchal Islamist regime.
“Brave women in Iran — with Iranian men beside them — are currently fighting for freedom, human rights, and women’s rights,” Feiz said. “It is not just a protest; it is a revolution. People in Iran don’t want this regime anymore. Enough is enough.”
While the movement has sparked “Women, Life, Freedom” demonstrations worldwide, authorities in Iran have shut down the country’s internet, she said, controlling how information is released. In several cases, Feiz describes “teenagers being killed,” with their bodies withheld from families and the deaths treated as “suicides.”
UCSB graduate student Soha Saghazadeh also spoke, reading a portion of an op-ed published on the Independent that says at least 130 individuals have been killed in the weeks following Amini’s death in Iran.
“Those are the ones whom we know. For many more, we most probably will never know their names,” Saghazadeh said. “That is why ‘Mahsa Zhina Amini’ is not just a name but a symbol.”
Amini’s death at the hands of “morality police” for improperly wearing a hijab represents “the regime’s vicious, yet futile, attempt to uphold its gender apartheid, to restrain women’s ever-growing autonomy over their bodies and their rapidly increasing agency in society,” Saghazadeh writes. “Far from the reductive image of women in Iran as voiceless victims, it is the Iranian women’s fight for equality and liberation for centuries that has brought us to this revolutionary moment.”
See more of Ingrid Bostrom’s photos from the 2022 Women’s March in Santa Barbara here.
Correction: The main organizer of the march and rally was Women’s March Santa Barbara, whose name has been added.