It was a bright, sunny day in downtown Kingston as a sombre, moving demonstration took place in Confederation Park on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022.
There, over a dozen organized demonstrators participated in a performance art installation in support of those protesting in Iran, despite the sometimes deadly consequences faced for doing so. ‘Lay Down Bloody,’ an “art performance in solidarity with those who were killed by the Islamic regime in Iraq – Women, Life, Freedom,” began at 1 p.m. on Saturday, and saw dozens of Kingstonians – of Iranian descent and otherwise – gather around the stage area of the park, which is overlooked by Kingston City Hall. On the stage platform, performers dressed in white and smeared with red paint to emulate blood, held up signs facing in all directions. Many of those signs spoke of Mahsa Amini, also known as Jina Amini or Zhina Amini, whose death ignited unrest in Iran, where protests have taken place since her passing in hospital under suspicious circumstances on September 16, 2022.
In Iran, the so-called “guidance patrol,” or the “religious morality police” of the Iranian government, arrested Amini for not wearing the hijab, something required by government ordinance in the country. Government officials in Iran have stated that, following her arrest, Amini collapsed of a heart attack and went into a coma before she passed away. However, eyewitnesses in Iraq – including those detained alongside Amini – have said she was severely beaten. Leaked medical scans have furthered the belief for many in Iran and around that world that Amini died from a brain hemorrhage or stroke resulting from the beating. In the aftermath, hundreds of thousands of protests have taken place in Iran, and internationally in support of those protests in Iran, which have led to further deaths. This month, Iran Human Rights, an international non-profit human rights organization both in and outside of Iraq, reported that at least 215 people – including over 25 children – have been killed by security forces at protests across the country.
Saturday’s demonstration did not shy away from the disturbing nature of what is reportedly occurring in Iran, however, the sense of a community coming together left an underlying impression on those in attendance, as well. Event organizers shared their messaging loud and clear. They were joined by politicians here in Kingston, including Mayor Bryan Paterson, Councillor Ryan Boehme, and MP Mark Gerretsen.
“This is really an inspiring event here in Kingston, to be able to see Kingstonians standing shoulder to shoulder with people from around the world and in support of women, life, and freedom, and being able to see Iranian Kingstonians, but also Kingstonian’s of other backgrounds, are all coming together for common cause,” Paterson said in an interview with Kingstonist following the performance.
“This is really, I think, part of what Kingston is about as we become a more international city. We’re standing up and making our voice heard on international issues that that matter so much to the freedom of, in this case, millions of women in our Iran. So, I’m proud to be here, and I know that I speak on behalf of all of City Council, and the community as a whole say — and I’ve told the organizers this today — that we stand with you, and we stand behind you.”
Councillor Boehme echoed Paterson’s remarks, paying particular attention to the importance of the demonstration, not only in showing solidarity with those in Iran, but also in educating those here in Kingston, including his own daughter.
“Following up on that, all I can say is that he basically speaks for everyone that I’ve spoken to in the entire city that this is such an important issue. And what a powerful demonstration, unbelievably powerful. I have my daughter, Isabel, here, and she was reading the signs, and she just couldn’t understand how things like that could happen somewhere in the world. We are so fortunate with where we live in the world, but we have to work very hard daily to ensure that these freedoms and these rights are everywhere in the world, and it’s not going to come without a fight,” he expressed.
“And it’s not something that we can take for granted. So, with… these demonstrations like this, here, and everywhere else, to raise awareness on these issues, it can’t stop until the killing stops, until people can honk at a protest and not fear for their life after. Until people can go and say what they want to say, and be able to do it knowing that their voices will be heard and they won’t be chased out of that city for fear of their life. So, it’s important that we share with this generation and the generation that comes after that freedom does not come free. It has to be fought for and has to be respected.”
Those participating in the event also shared moving sentiments, including one Iranian-Canadian resident who will remain unidentified for safety reasons.
“I have been a resident of Kingston for quite a while now, for several years. And just recently, because of all the horrifying events that’s been happening in Iran, it’s really hard to be an international resident of a free country and seeing all the freedom all around you and not being able to comprehend the reality of the brutality that is happening in another country, which you call home,” she shared.
“And so, I really wanted to do something, because I all I could do during the past two weeks was crying, and the headaches and all the difficulties that all of our Iranians have been going through,” the organizer continued. “So, I came up with this idea to do something in the form of an arts demonstration: A quiet demonstration that involves music, but it has a big message to it.”
The event involved a number of Iranian students from Queen’s who also expressed sincere gratitude for those who are not Iranian coming out to show support. One of those people stood out for exceptional reason, organizers explained.
“During the art performance by the Iranian students of Queen’s University, we were joined by an Indigenous graduate student who cut her hair in solidarity with the women of Iran in their fight for freedom. In many Indigenous cultures, cutting of hair signifies profound grief, mourning a traumatic event or loss,” they said.
“The Iranian community in Kingston would like to thank the Indigenous community, as well as the supporters who have rallied with us and continue to stand in solidarity with us in our fight for ‘Women, Life, Freedom.’”
Event organizers pointed to an online petition addressed to international leaders, which has already gathered well over 600,000 signatures from around the globe, as a place Kingstonians can go to find out more and lend their support.
With files from Peter McKenty.