Harvard Square Protests Rally Against Authoritarianism

Elaine Wen, Nation Editor

On the second Saturday of each month, human rights organizations gather in Harvard Square to protest the authoritarian regimes and political oppression that occur in the world. The tradition has remained strong since 2010, and the groups present on April 8th, 2023 were From Boston to Iran and the Boston Chapter of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA). With flags flying, music blasting, and posters demanding freedom, these monthly gatherings aim to raise awareness for the political prosecution and tyrannical governments. 

In front of the Harvard T station was the group From Boston to Iran, a grassroots organization that rallies in support of Women, Life, Freedom, a movement that arose after the death of Mahsa Amini, an Iranian woman who died at the hands of Iran’s morality police. Shabnam Panahi, one of the protesters and a member of From Boston to Iran, explained to the Register Forum how the fight of Women, Life, Freedom extends to Cambridge, “[From Boston to Iran] is specifically here today to ask for freedom of political prisoners that are detained illegally.” While Biden has publicly condemned Iran, some of the sanctions have been counterproductive. Panahi also points out that the American public tends to confuse the government with the people, saying, “What I want people of the world to understand is that the Islamic Republic of Iran does not represent the people of Iran.”

These calls for human rights extend beyond a single country. Behind the subway station is another group of protestors focusing on fighting against Chinese violence in Taiwan. The Boston Chapter of The Formosan Association for Public Affairs (FAPA) has been organizing rallies every month in Harvard Square since 2010, only taking a hiatus during the lockdown. Sonya, a representative from FAPA, told the Register Forum, “We’re trying to raise awareness on the international situation in Taiwan.” Similar to From Boston to Iran, FAPA rallies with the intent to garner support and encourage peace. FAPA has also advocated to Congress to increase relations with Taiwan in hopes of enhancing Taiwanese independence. These stipulations are far from novel, but what’s particularly notable about this protest is the collaboration between these two organizations.

These stipulations are far from novel, but what’s particularly notable about this protest is the collaboration between these two organizations

Despite From Boston to Iran and FAPA advocating for two different countries, the intersectionality of their causes against violence and for democracy allow them to amplify their voice. Panahi told the Register Forum that this collaboration was intentional. She explained, “By bringing all of these different groups from around the world around shared values of freedom and democracy that we all want, we would be able to get our voice heard better.” 

Groups centered around similar focuses aren’t difficult to find in the Greater Boston area, and it was FAPA and From Boston to Iran’s goal to capitalize upon that. Sonya detailed, “When we realized we had this thread in common we [thought] it’s very powerful to send a message to everyone else, saying, ‘hey, look. If there’s all these different groups, we look very different, we are very diverse, but under it is all the same thing.’”

This article also appears in our May/June 2023 print edition.