Photo: Clive Chilvers/Shutterstock

6 Ways the Western World Can Support Iranian Activists

by Julie Schwietert Jun 18, 2009
It’s tough keeping up with all the action that’s been unfolding in Iran since last weekend’s announcement that incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been “re-elected.” Once you’re up to speed, here are six ways you can get involved.

When something significant is going down in another country and you’re halfway around the world, it’s hard to feel that you can take any action that will make a tangible difference in the lives of people who could benefit from your support. Here are six things you can do right now to help people in Iran who feel that the presidential election in their country was not carried out fairly.

1. Get the facts.

Before you take any action, make sure your facts are straight. With news coming out of Iran at head-spinning speed and from multiple sources–not all of which are reliable–it’s critical that you inform yourself about what’s been occurring in the country over the past week.

Read widely. Opinions, perspectives, and first-hand accounts from the country vary dramatically depending on the source. Some places to start? Al Jazeera, Andrew Sullivan’s “The Daily Dish” blog on The Atlantic’s website, Der Spiegel, the BBC, and National Public Radio.

2. Become part of a critical mass.

Don’t reinvent the wheel: there are already dozens of non-profits, NGOs, and activist groups that have mobilized organized actions that will only be effective if they achieve a critical mass of participants.

Avaaz is currently organizing an exit poll to phone Iranians, ask for whom they voted, and publicize the collected data to the international media. The organization has set a goal of raising $119,000 USD to conduct the poll, and is aiming to collect donations from more than 10,000 participants in the next 24 hours.

3. Take to the streets.

Street protests CAN make a difference. You don’t have to be in Tehran to take to the streets, though. Marches, protests, and demonstrations of solidarity are being held all over the world, including Washington, D.C. and Portland. Google your city, “Iran” and “solidarity” to learn whether an event is planned for your area.

4. “Green” your online profiles.

It may seem silly, but changing the background color of your avatar is an outward sign of solidarity that’s visible to Iranians with Internet access. Imagine how you’d feel if you knew millions of people were thinking of you while you were struggling for your political rights, even if they couldn’t do much that would make a tangible difference in your circumstances.

The color that has been chosen to support Iranian activists is green. To “green” your profile, follow these instructions:

1. Go to
2. Upload your photo.
3. Click “create.”
4. Click “effects.”
5. Click “night vision.”
6. Save and add to Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace.

Alternately, you can download this icon, courtesy of, and use it as your temporary avatar.

5. Be a smart follower on Twitter and Facebook.

Just as Twitter and Facebook are being used by Iranian activists to organize action and disseminate information, the same platforms are being used by the opposition. Evaluate accounts related to Iran and the elections carefully.

One legitimate Twitter feed to follow is @IranSolidarity, who’s collecting and retweeting information and updates from multiple sources.

6. Start thinking about the bigger picture and the back story.

Don’t let your activism become a form of neo-imperialism.

As one American blogger noted, it’s easy to get riled up about injustice abroad, but easy to overlook more subtle forms of oppression in our own backyards.

Iran is more than the cause du jour.

Let Iran be your impetus to commit to action everywhere, especially at home. Make your activism part of your daily life.

Community Connection:

If you missed Ryan Van Lenning’s article about citizen diplomacy in Iran, be sure to take a few minutes to access it here.

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