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From the International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners Now (IEC)

A Night of Cultural Revolt Full of Joy and Hope: Free Rebel Rapper Toomaj Salehi and ALL Iran’s Political Prisoners With Urgency editors’ note: We received the following from the International Emergency Campaign to Free Iran’s Political Prisoners Now (IEC).

Hope you're doin' ok! Thank you for still supporting me, like you have from the first days (and hopefully not forgetting all the other loved ones in prison). In here, I am still getting the news channels, and sometimes even reading your tweets. Nothing can disconnect us—because our hearts remain connected.  [Translated by IEC volunteers]

Poster for Feb. 24, 2024 Night of Cultural Revolt, for Iran political prisoner Toomaj


Toomaj sent out this message from Iran’s Isfahan Prison to his social media on February 14. His caring about others infused the élan of the cultural program at Berkeley’s popular Starry Plough Pub on February 24. The evening promised to be—and indeed delivered—a fitting tribute in the fierce struggle to free Iran’s heroic political prisoners, among them the beloved people’s rapper known to millions as Toomaj. Hearts and minds indeed connected in the uplifting joy of resistance and collective hope in striving for a liberating world.

It was standing room only, with over 75 people of different generations and backgrounds crowded into the pub. It included poets and dancers, long-time political activists and newbies to radical politics, students from nearby UC Berkeley, Iranian diaspora families and a few Palestinian activists. More than a few people wore keffiyeh scarves, showing support for the Palestinian people’s struggle. Afterwards, several people said there was “very good energy” in the crowd, and one felt it had “captured the seriousness of the situation while still being festive.” He also noted that the Women, Life, Freedom [uprising] had stirred him, but then Oct 7 had really woke him up politically. He added, “I had family members come from the South Bay suburbs, and the hope made them see things clearly, and that it was not blind optimism. They hadn’t had that realization.”

Poetry on Fire

The opening videos of Toomaj, his fiery, defiant songs against Iran’s reactionary regime such as “Battlefield” set the tone for the night’s passionate performances. Regrettably, here we can only highlight a few of the dozen powerful presentations of the artists who participated. 

D.L. Lang began with a call and response verse: 

Be like Toomaj and loudly proclaim the truth,

 Sparking revolutionary longing within the youth!

Singing out justice is not a crime!

No soul should ever do hard time/just for speaking the truth in rhyme!

Free them all!

With each “Free them all!” the audience roared the words and, along with D.L., threw their fists in the air.

The MC had set the overall mood for the whole evening with his introduction:

With worldwide tensions heating up from Gaza to Iran between the forces of reactionary Islamic fundamentalism and imperialism, US imperialism by far being the most dangerous gangster of them all—Toomaj in his music and lyrics, stands with the people and concentrates the spirit of resistance, not only against oppression in Iran, but all over the world. He has taken an art form that he has described as a “voice from the bottom of society,” and made it his own, carrying forward its spirit of “raise a storm”—the equivalent of “fight the power.” He sings to us in Farsi but his fiery lyrical poetry and raw emotions transcend the borders of geography and language.

Many of the poets captured this same spirit in verses written especially for this occasion. Karen Melander-Magoon read her “Poetry for Imprisoned”:

Toomaj Salehi

Imprisoned in Iran for his words/ Imprisoned for his voice/

Imprisoned for speaking out/Against the death of Amini/

…Toomaj Salehi/ Is not alone/

…The list of imprisoned voices/Extends beyond Iran/

Extends around the world…

Rafael J. Gonzalez and Mahnaz Badihian each read in their native tongues (he in Spanish, she in Farsi), then translated to English. Mahnaz read “Kisses”:

We kissed under the bombs/in our homeland/
under the thunder of fear and doubt/
We kissed on the streets of diasporas/
…We kissed so much/ that our lips joined eternally/

under all the beliefs/under fire and blood/

under the executioner’s sword… 

Throughout the evening, the situation of Toomaj and Iran’s political prisoners was interwoven with outrage against the US-backed Zionist genocide in Gaza. This was reflected in the heartfelt response to poetry in solidarity with Gaza. There was an emotional response to a video of folk singer Seth Staton Watkins' song “Oh Palestine, Oh Palestine”1  and to a recorded poem sent by Raymond Nat Turner (excerpt below):

Forked tongue/ dis-honest broker/ 
fluent in ancient language.  
Genocide/ trots tattered tropes for terror out/ 
Swears another Offal Office./
 Oath on War House Bible—bathed in blood of 10s of millions—
Wounded Knee to Trail of Tears; Tulsa to Hiroshima; 
Korea to Vietnam to Afghanistan…
Riddler/Joker—Dis-honest broker: 
“You have a right to” 
      Be an aircraft carrier on the desert. 
     Acting as a weapons lab conducting trade shows; 
     Disguised as democracy, Acting as an apartheid state; 
Concealing Third Reich real estate practices—
Go on Step on the gas—and “Mow the grass!”

The MC, Larry Felson, read his poem “No More of That,” which was inspired by BAsics 1:13,2 from revolutionary leader Bob Avakian, and ended his poem with a call to all brave resisters in the world: 

No more fighting for liberation,/
without a strategy and gameplan for revolution/
and a vision of a whole new revolutionary world/
No liberation without revolution/
Revolution Nothing Less! 

The political heart of the evening was a succinct message sent by IEC co-initiator Dolly Veale and read by an Iranian IEC supporter. The audience paid rapt attention, as she put a challenge to people living in THIS country in THIS time:

Although I’m not fully sure of Toomaj’s views on revolution, I do know and support the Communist Party of Iran, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist who base themselves on Bob Avakian’s innovation of the new communism to making revolution in Iran. And I do know the good word of revolution may be coming to your neighborhood sooner than you think! It likely will not be televised, but it is currently on YouTube every Thursday evening—on The RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less!—Show, and also at the website that I contribute to,

We live in a truly rare time where GAZA is the new 4 letter word and the sickening horrors of this system are all too clear for those who refuse to look away. What is NOT obvious is the revolutionary crisis this may give rise to right here in this shithole country of Amerikkka, as those who rule over us in the US are at each other’s throats. All this promises to come to a head in the 2024 elections, if not before. To get the good news, pull up @BobAvakianOfficial on your phone tonight. It is THAT urgent. I urge you to go to these sites and to get with THIS revolution—to scientifically know the world so we can change it to emancipate all humanity.3

This Is What Internationalism Looks Like

An Iranian woman wearing a keffiyeh asked, “What did she mean when she asked us to take a big step into the revolution this March 8?” It was answered by two members of the Revcom Corps for the Emancipation of Humanity (famous flag burner Joey Johnson, along with John, a young comrade) who gave a solidarity statement and invited people to an upcoming meeting at Revolution Books in Berkeley to get organized into the Revcom Corps including marking International Women’s Day 2024 with real revolutionary content. 

Several people let us know that the breaks between sets allowed folks to bond and develop a sense of camaraderie and community. People were hanging out together and having boisterous discussions feeling the humanity of Toomaj and their own in a shared concern for the people of the world. The pub was nicely decorated with posters of Toomaj, Iran’s other political prisoners, Free Gaza and photos of the Women, Life, Freedom uprising. 

Many visited the book tables to ask questions, make donations, get IEC reprints, multilingual literature from Revolution Books, or books written by the poets. Revolution Books in Berkeley uniquely carries many Farsi titles by the Communist Party of Iran, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist, and Farsi translations of key works by Bob Avakian and the revcoms, which invited browsing by Farsi speakers in the audience. Some people wrote heartfelt messages to Toomaj in the guest book or on cards. 

Near the end of the night, a dance was performed by peace activist Sharat Lin to a recording of women prisoners from inside Iran’s notorious Evin Prison singing “Bella Ciao,” with the audience clapping along. People have since let IEC volunteers know how much this program meant to them. A Palestinian woman said she had never heard anything like the IEC statement showing how the struggle of the Palestinian and Iranian people are related. Others, moved by this cultural revolt against the horrific crimes of reactionary regimes in Iran, Israel and the US, told us this had given them a renewed energy and a sense of hope. They expressed looking forward to more of such events. 

Like Toomaj, Iran’s political prisoners continue to sacrifice mightily and stand up heroically against injustice and theocratic oppression, especially that which is aimed at women (see "Evin Women Sit-in to Support Narges Mohammadi; Nagid Taghavi Sent Back to Evin"). One poet said he had participated because of the courage of Toomaj and the political prisoners and his own support for the Woman, Life, Freedom movement against Iran’s reactionary regime. But he felt the IEC statement raised his understanding to another level, linking the struggles in Gaza and Iran to the role of US imperialism and the need and potential for real revolution to develop in the Middle East and the US. 

Let’s together carry this inspiring internationalist grassroots movement to free Toomaj and all of Iran’s political prisoners NOW! Adelante! 

(Go to the IEC for text of the evening’s poetry, video links, fuller poet bio’s and more.)

IEC organizers wish to thank all the awesome artists who performed at A Night of Cultural Revolt

Mahnaz Badihian: poet, painter, and translator, author of two books of poetry; John Curl: poet, activist, historian, translator; Larry Felson: poet, supporter of and Bob Avakian, volunteer with the IEC; Rafael J. Gonzalez: Poet Laureate of Berkeley, 2017-2022; Mike Jones: poet, violinist, longtime teacher in Oakland public schools; D.L. Lang: former Poet Laureate of Vallejo; Sharat Lin: dancer for solidarity and resistance; Kirk Lumpkin: poet, spoken word artist, environmentalist; Karen Melander-Magoon: poet, singer, social justice activist, ordained minister; Steve Rood: poet and practicing trial lawyer; Tolbert Small: legendary physician, poet, social activist, humanist; James Tracy: author, poet, activist, professor; Raymond Nat Turner: “The Town Crier,” Poet-in-Residence at Black Agenda Report.



1.  Watch the subtitled version of “Oh Palestine, Oh Palestine which was projected at the Toomaj event.  [back]

2.  BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian, RCP Publications, 2011.  [back]

3.  Read the full “Message to A Night of Cultural Revolt to Free Toomaj Salehi and all Iran's Political Prisoners.”  [back]

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From the genocide in Gaza, to the growing threat of world war between nuclear powers, to escalating environmental devastation… the capitalist-imperialist system ruling over us is a horror for billions around the world and is tearing up the fabric of life on earth. Now the all-out battle within the U.S. ruling class, between fascist Republicans and war criminal Democrats, is coming to a head—likely during, or before, the coming elections—ripping society apart unlike anything since the Civil War. 

Bob Avakian (BA), revolutionary leader and author of the new communism, has developed a strategy to prepare for and make revolution. He’s scientifically analyzed that this is a rare time when an actual revolution has become more possible, and has laid out the sweeping vision, solid foundation and concrete blueprint for “what comes next,” in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America

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Put it this way: there will be no revolution unless this website not only “keeps going” but goes up to a whole different level!

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