It’s fascinating to watch the developments unfold in Iran, while I’m in Prague learning about their “Velvet Revolution” -- If you haven’t been following the bloody aftermath of the recent Iranian election which many believe to have been stolen, just search for #iranelection on Twitter and you won’t get any more work done for the rest of the week. It is a fascinating 1st person account from dozens of people on the street, talking about events literally as they are happening. It started with proofs that the election was stolen, went on to accuse CNN and American Media in general of gross negligence in its coverage. Ultimately the Tweets on the streets started posting photos of the violence, the Twitterverse responded with a number of innovative ways of showing its support, The most compelling were the shots of Iranian women, bloddied but unbowed taking to the streets in the cause of freedom.
It’s being called the Green revolution and as we speak hundreds of my Tweeps have changed their avatars to green in support of the protests. There are several key twitters, specifically @change_for_iran and @persiankiwi who have been live blogging the events, and while I’ve never met either one of them, I’m praying like crazy that they are safe.
As I’m running around Prague I started thinking hard about what it all means and what’s the difference between the Czech “Velvet” revolution and todays’ “Green Revolution” in Iran. Obvioulsly when the Velvet revolution happened, while there was no alternative or social media to report it, the truth was that the soviet regime had essentially run out of steam, and didn’t have the muscle to fight the protesters. According to a student I sat next to on the plane, who's parents were in the thick of it, those in the know, and in authority, realized what the future held, saw the writing on the wall and switched sides. Thus the whole thing happened with nary a shot fired. There was no Twitter, no Facebook, no such thing as “blocking” Internet access because it was before the Internet, Google, Hulu and any of the other tools we’ve gotten used to.
Fast forward 20 years later, Prague is a vibrant city, with free Wi-Fi virtually everywhere, a startingly diverse cultural life, a healthy divergence of political opinions, that retains its Bohemian reputation but has added democracy and freedom to its repertoire. This for a country and a city that has been occupied, terrorized, subjugated, and otherwise robbed of its freedoms more times than you can count. Yet here it is today, with better arts and culture, more tourists, a better reputation, and one might argue a healthier democracy and a freer society than American has enjoyed in the last 8 years.
Which brings me back to Iran. Obviously Achmadinajad is nowhere near as close to the end of his powers as Gorbachev was in 1989. But Gorbachev didn’t have Twitter and the rest of social media to deal with. Despite the Iranian government’s numerous attempts to block various social networks Including Twitter, the amazing crowd sourcing abilities of the millions of people who are on line providing proxy servers, alternative means of distribution, and a continuous stream of photos, videos and proof that the election was rigged.
All of which reminds me of a conversation that I had with Shel Israel a couple of years ago. Shel and I are both idealistic hippy reporters from the 70s, so it wasn’t a big stretch for us to come to the conclusion over dinner in Chicago one night that social media might actually lead to world peace. Okay, you can attribute whatever percentage of that idealistic notion to the wine we may or may not have consumed. But we’ve now had some serious proof, in Moldova, Colombia and now Iran that revolutions really can be, if not started, at least fomented via social media.
I pray that my friends and Tweeps in Iran survive this night and the ensuing weeks, and that their revolution is both “Green” and “Velvet” and that change happens in Iran with a minimum of bloodshed. But I also pray that every other authoritarian ruler out there, that thinks that they can somehow keep down the human spirit in an age of social media takes heed of these happenings.
As I chanted in the 70s “The people, united, will never be divided” I now add, the people, united by Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and all other forms of social media, will never be divided. Ultimately, we are all human at heart, some more human than others, but when we have the ability to connect with each other and remind ourselves that the vast majority of us want the same things as Elvis Costello would have said – peace, love and understanding .
Wandering thru Prague one sees constant evidence that over time, even the strongest of bastions will decay, whether it be a Castle, a church, a tower, or a command and control authoritarian government. The good news is that if Prague is any indication, we’ll may chose to patch elements back together, but ultimately, humanity does survive.
persiankiwi (persiankiwi) on Twitter.