On Friday, hundreds of demonstrators stood hand-in-hand along the 520 floating bridge in solidarity with the recent protests in Iran, which were sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the country’s morality police, an arm of law enforcement that polices modesty and other behavioral norms. After the human chain demo, the group held a candlelight vigil at UW campus to mourn the dead. 

Since Amini’s death, Iranian police have brutalized protesters, and supporters around the world have called on leaders to act to prevent more violence in Iran. Local organizers believe that Washington’s relatively high number of House Reps on foreign policy committees puts Iranian-Americans here in a unique position to make those demands, but they said Friday’s demonstration prioritized mourning and spreading awareness.

The demonstration would have been hard to miss for Friday evening car commuters. Hundreds of people stood with Iranian flags and large pink signs that read “Woman, Life, Freedom,” a political slogan popularized during the Kurdish independence movement and adopted by Iranian protesters. Organizers even struck a deal with the Washington State Department of Transportation to light up the bridge with the colors of the Iranian flag. 

According to Kirkland resident Max, who asked to be identified by first name only, the more eyes on their demonstration the better. As part of its crackdown on protesters, the Iranian government shutdown the internet to keep criticism out and to keep the horrific treatment of its people in.

“There's a lot of filtration, and the news isn't really coming out of Iran. So we want to be their voice,” Max said. 

After about an hour of standing in a human chain, the protesters made the trek to Red Square on UW campus for a candlelight vigil. Bellevue resident Saghar Amini said she hoped the vigil would give Iranian-American’s a chance to mourn. 

“We’ve been marching and chanting. We're angry, but I feel like we need to light some candles and grieve our loss too,” said Amini, an Iranian-American who organized the demonstration.

The organizer said the young woman’s death feels deeply personal to many Iranians and Iranian-Americans, as many of them have had run-ins with the morality police. Hijab cops have hassled women over the color of their lipstick or their ears showing, Amini said. 

Last month, the U.S. imposed sanctions on the morality police and said the force held responsibility for Amini’s sudden death. But the organizer of the demonstration on the bridge said that response didn’t get to the heart of the problem. 

“[The US Government] put the blame on the morality police, not on the government that unleashed the morality police on its people,” Amini said. “It's almost like a kid that you keep scolding for misbehaving. You have to talk to their parents.”

The parents, in this case, would be the Iranian Government. While Amini doesn’t want the US to invade Iran, she and Max both called for some level of interference and sanctions, specifically tabling discussions on the Iran Nuclear Deal.

During the last years of the Obama Administration, several world powers entered an agreement with Iran that would restrict the government's nuclear weapons program in exchange for dropping sanctions. Trump pulled the US out of the agreement, and regained power to sanction Iran. Just a year later, Iran fell out of compliance with the deal. Last year, President Joe Biden proposed rejoining the deal if Iran started holding up its end of the bargain.

But Max warned that the deal would limit the US’s ability to sanction Iran, thus giving the country a better economic footing. He said, “the moment they have more money, they’ll just spend it killing more people.”

Amini said Iranians in Washington are in a unique position to call for sanctions because three of the state’s representatives in Congress sit on the House Armed Services Committee: Rep. Rick Larsen, Rep. Marilyn Strickland, and, most importantly, Rep. Adam Smith, who chairs the committee.

But even if Iranian-Americans in the Seattle-area have more of a direct line to ask Smith for sanctions, not everybody wants to stay out of the Iran Nuclear Deal to keep and use the power to put sanctions on Iran.

A group of feminist Iranian-American scholars and activists known as No Sanctions on Iran, which supports the US rejoining the Iran Nuclear Deal, argue that U.S. sanctions are not a nonviolent alternative to invasion or war. Sanctions hurt ordinary, working-class Iranians by contributing to “the rise of authoritarian states, extremism, conflict, and deaths of innocent people,” according to the organization’s website. 

In the short term, No Sanctions on Iran argued that sanctions raise the cost of living for ordinary people instead of putting pressure on the powerful people that sanctions claim to target. Max countered that the Iranians on the ground don’t care about the economy–they are concerned about the ongoing human rights abuses.

The anti-sanction school argues that 82 million Iranians hold diverse beliefs about their government’s behavior and how other governments should react to it. Moreover, though new research on sanctions shows they fail to achieve their goals most of the time, no perfect consensus on the efficacy and humanity of sanctions exists among Iranians on the ground or among Iranians standing in solidarity across the globe, including those holding hands across the 520 floating bridge.