I am Neda.

I am Neda.

By Julie and Glen

Ed. Note: This post is presented in honor of the 4th anniversary of The Airborne Toxic Event’s benefit show for the Neda Project, held on May 25, 2010. The historical background on the death of Neda Agha-Soltan is reprinted by permission from Julie’s blog, Musings from Boston, with details of The Airborne Toxic Event’s involvement added by Glen.

A mother should never have to bury her daughter. Bad enough when it’s a sudden illness, suicide, car accident, or drug overdose. Worse still when at the hands of another, for doing something that so many of us take for granted, like exercising what should be a basic human right: speaking out against an oppressive government regime, and taking part in a peaceful protest. Here in North America, we can’t even imagine fearing for our lives for speaking our minds, or what it’s like to live in a place where one’s freedom of speech is completely denied.

Neda Agha-Soltan was a 27-year-old Iranian student and aspiring musician and singer. She lived with her parents, brother and sister in an apartment in Tehran. She was frustrated by the lack of freedom and rampant discrimination against women in her native country, but had never been an especially political person, until she, like many others, were angered by the disputed election between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mir-Hossein Mousavi. As her mother, Hajar Rostami-Motlagh, stated in an interview with Rooz online (a Persian and English news site mostly staffed by exiled reformist Iranian journalists):

Neda was upset that day. She called and said that she had gone to several polling stations to vote but hadn’t been able to. She explained that Mr. Mousavi’s representatives weren’t present at any of the stations. When Neda investigates and asks to see Mr. Mousavi’s representative, they tell her, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s representative is here, come and vote. She got upset and asked how is it possible for a polling station not to have representatives from any candidates other than Ahmadinejad. Because of that she didn’t vote.

On June 20, Neda had gone with her music teacher to join in a demonstration against the disputed election. They were at a distance from where the main protest was going on, just observing, when she was shot in the chest by a member of the government Basij militia from a nearby rooftop. She died shortly after. She was not the first in Iran to be killed while engaged in peaceful protest, but what made her death unique was that it was captured on video, uploaded to YouTube, and subsequently broadcast around the world. Neda came to represent the countless people who have suffered at the hands of this and other oppressive regimes.

But this horrific event didn’t stop with her senseless death. People loyal to the government desecrated her grave, public gatherings to mourn her death were broken up by security forces, her family was forced out of their home, and those who spoke out against the government’s insistence that Neda’s death was part of a foreign plot were reportedly tortured. Though this member of the Basij was caught at the scene by fellow protesters who took his ID, he was released and five years later, has still not been brought to justice.

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The subject matter of most of The Airborne Toxic Event’s work is intensely personal. However, that’s not to say that the band never looks outside themselves. The album All At Once, in particular, marries the personal and the political to great effect on songs like “The Kids Are Ready to Die” and “Welcome to Your Wedding Day.” But a year before the group took up the cause of wounded warriors, they jumped with both feet into social activism through the Neda Project.

Like much of the world, Mikel Jollett, Anna Bulbrook, Daren Taylor, Steven Chen and Noah Harmon were moved by Neda’s story – and moved to do something about it. Explained Mikel:

Neda’s death was a sea change in political power in the world. It was the first viral video to change the course of history, a symbol that the power of broadcasting is no longer simply in the hands of governments and corporations, but in the hands of people. It is in the hands of anyone with a cell phone camera and an internet connection.

There’s also something about Neda herself. About the simplicity of her request (that her vote be counted) and the violence of the response her government gave her. She represents the most fundamental decency of the human spirit standing in the face of the most base corruption of that spirit. All she wanted was for her vote to be counted. For that, she was shot through the heart in the street in broad daylight holding a sign that said simply “freedom.”

Many others died that week and more were wrongfully imprisoned, beaten, tortured and executed in the year since. Some still sit in jail cells. These are people we do not know and we will never meet. But we have to let them know that we stand with them…

We are asking you to help us tell this story, to allow it in some small way to enter the public consciousness, to change the subject on Iran from the horrific little man who has hijacked the country to Neda: a warm and independent, educated and loving soul who is a more fitting symbol of one of the world’s great cultures.

There are a lot of us. We need each other, and we need your help.

On the day of her death, the last phone call Neda made before she was shot was to her mother. Her mother begged her to come home since everyone knew there were people being killed in the streets.

Neda said, “If I don’t go, who will?”

This is the question we pose.

If we don’t raise our voices, who will?

Join us. This is our time to stand up for freedom.

Anna put it more succinctly: “It’s a social responsibility. If you have the power to help someone, you should.”

On May 10, 2010, Mikel joined Amnesty International spokesperson Nazanin Boniadi in announcing the Neda Project, which would kick off with a benefit show on May 25 at The Echo in L.A. – site of The Airborne Toxic Event’s first official performance as a band back in 2006.

A short time later, Mikel and Anna released a second video announcing that friends Red Cortez would join them at the benefit. They also provided further explanation of why they were driven to take a stand for Neda, and announced that the May 25 show would include the live premiere of a new TATE song, simply titled “Neda.”

The May 25 event, which included a private dinner and silent auction in addition to the concert, was only the beginning. The band wanted to do more than just raise money; they wanted to get the world talking. They did so by raising an army: a virtual march led by Airborne fans but extending far beyond the TATE community. A website was launched, Neda Speaks. Here, the public was encouraged to lend their face to the cause by uploading selfies proclaiming their support with three simple words: “I am Neda.” Thousands joined the movement, including celebrities like Sting, NeYo, Good Charlotte, Macy Gray, Cold War Kids, Alyssa Milano, Paul Haggis and Carson Daly.

On June 8, the “Neda” single was released through iTunes, with all proceeds to benefit Amnesty International. And on the same day, the band released a video for the song, retelling Neda’s tragic story and drawing even more attention to the plight of the people of Iran.

Some find it unseemly when rock bands presume to stick their noses into serious world matters, perhaps thinking they should stay within the prescribed boundaries of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. And while Mikel is the first to admit the celebrity platform is a ridiculous thing, he sees things differently: “Just because you can write songs doesn’t mean your opinions matter more. But there’s a lot of things in the world that need people to give a voice to those who don’t have one… Raising awareness is so important.”

Daren echoes: “I think because we have a public forum to work from, it gives us a good opportunity to speak out on the issues we feel strongly about.”

The Airborne Toxic Event spoke out about Neda… and the world listened.

JulieJulie publishes musingsfromboston.com, a music blog with the bipolar personality of wannabe philosopher and charlatan music critic, where she is just as likely to review the audience as she is the band. Her first Airborne show was at a lingerie party hosted by WFNX at an Irish-Mexican bar in Boston’s financial district. She does her best to live by the motto “only one who attempts the absurd can achieve the impossible.”

Glen, Fan of The Airborne Toxic Event Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.

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Comments
  1. Susan S. says:

    I remember this vividly. Thanks for revisiting. Aside from the awareness Neda inspires, I am hoping the band may play this during the Fillmore Residency. It’s one of my favorites. Great blog post, Julie & Glen.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] we recently posted our own look back at the Neda campaign, and The Airborne Toxic Event’s first overt attempt to put their growing celebrity to good […]

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