Diasporic activism during Jina-RevolutionWoman* Life Freedom Collective, Berlin
Some Reflections on power positions, intersectionality, identity politics and solidary criticism
This text is an attempt to contribute to a space in which different activist groups can engage in critical and solidary discussions. The text’s point of departure are the accusations about the collective on social media, made by some individuals.
With this text, we pursue two goals: On the one hand, we see the accusations about our collective as an opportunity to discuss and negotiate some of our crucial political positions that mark the points of departure of our diasporic activism during the times of the Jina-Revolution (Part 1). Our second goal is to contribute our perspectives on the events in the past months to the current narrative on social media about the collective (Part 2).
We start by identifying our political premises and positions, which are and will be a work in process. This process didn’t start with this text and it does not end here. The following implementation therefore is to be interpreted as a momentary snapshot of said work, our political stances.
On intersectionality and strategy vs. deterministic essentialism
"We have spent too much time trying to figure out who has greater pain when we could have used that time to focus on the relationship and the creation of complex structures of gender, nationality, and class." 
Does a male political prisoner in Iran necessarily have a more privileged position than us, women*, and queer Iranian migrants and refugees? Is it possible to describe the positionality of the families of the survivors of the executions of the Islamic Republic only through their gender or social and economic class? Can we reduce individuals' identities to just one aspect of their identity in all circumstances? Is the priority of different identity groups always the same for all individuals?
These are the questions we have been asking ourselves over the past few months. Questions that challenge not only the different positionalities within our own group, but also the role and position of all diaspora groups in relation to the revolution in Iran.
The following is an attempt to explain our basic principles and, as already mentioned, it is but a first step on a long and probably never ending road:
Essentialism means believing in the existence of a fixed inherent essence in the experience of each individual, whether they are women, non-binary, Kurdish, working class, or any other group that can be described independently of other aspects of their lives. The essentialist perspective assumes that the experience of belonging to an identity group is a steady experience that holds a constant meaning over time, location, and different historical, social, political, and personal contexts.
This is while inferiority/superiority can only be analysed through the existing historical and present materialism. In addition, it means that many of our experiences of various forms of oppression that are not necessarily based on gender identity, sexual orientation, or racialisation are overlooked, and each individual experience of oppression is turned into a general concept. The importance of this non-essentialist approach to the specific case - the Islamic Republic - is important because the way oppression is being imposed is different. The importance of fighting essentialism also implies that people's identities are neither necessarily indicative of the correctness nor honesty of their political positions.
An intersectional approach is by no means about participating in the "oppression Olympics." Rather, it means addressing structures of discrimination and oppression. But even though individuals are involved in perpetrating these oppressions on a personal level, our focus should always be on the ruling class and the system: fascism, patriarchy, capitalism, and the apparatus of repression, because otherwise we are feeding into the cycle of reproducing oppression and discrimination.
We do need identity politics and self-definitions in order to be seen and heard or to legitimise our political demand for systemic change. Living in a white supremacist heteropatriarchal captialist society, you are either profiled by the dominant groups or you position yourself. We decide to position ourselves. Meanwhile we know that our self-positioning as for example Queer, cis-, Black, Person of Color, Migrant… are not our absolute identities. They are rather necessary strategic tools that we need in our struggles against hegemonic settings and structures.
Some remarks on queer identity politics and the meaning of exclusivity
Most members of our collective identify as Queers. However, being Queer or not has never been nor ever been a precondition for joining or collaborating with our collective. We see our own liberation as inseparable from the liberation of other oppressed groups, such as workers, ethnic minorities, mothers, women, etc. At the same time, our privileged position as individuals living outside of Iran compared to those who are inside the country and are under direct threat from the Islamic Republic regime requires us to actively try to carve out space in the revolution especially when it comes to discussing the issues within the Queer community outside of Iran. This in no way implies agreeing with the exclusivity of the term “queer” and the notion of Queer identity. Assigning gender like being cis or not does nothing but to reproduce the binary of real/fake Queer which only sees Queerness as limited to the external manifestation of gender. Not all individuals have an interest or privilege in disclosing their identity, nor do they necessarily prioritise being Queer over other aspects of their identity or political positions.
For now, our political actions regarding queer identity politics are inspired by this following quote from transformative justice seeker Adrienne Maree Brown:
“I suspect that we are in our tween era of identity work. We understand that we have distinct identities, that some of us face the burden of multiple oppressions, and that the ideas of supremacy that buttress oppression are ahistorical lies, told to uphold unjust authority. We understand that it is crucial to our survival that we attend to who we are and what shaped us.
But emotionally, too often, we use the presence of identity and inevitable identity-based harm to storm away from the table, slam our door, and rage-tweet, rather than staying involved in the collective work. It’s become too easy to use identity based harm to stop a process, especially when we don’t quite know how to move the process forward. When in doubt, focus on an -ism in the room… there is always one there.“ ( 2021, p. 170)
Cancelling groups and individuals as an emancipatory tool!?
We have not only ever been in favour of the elimination approach, but also fighting actively against it. This has been and will be one of our most fundamental political positions. We learned from history that the cancelling policy has always been used by the ruling class as a means of reducing structural problems to individual responsibility. It is a tool that deals with the removal of the issue through "cancelling and isolating the guilty individual" rather than changing the underlying situation. This does not mean ignoring individuals' agency and their role in the errors but rather emphasis on the necessity of the abolition of a punitive and retributive justice system. This approach emphasises advancing a rehabilitative system that holds the institution responsible instead of punishing individuals. A democratic and human-dignifying society avoids isolating and putting individuals in - literal or metaphorical - cages as a tool for society's advancement. We believe that the process of rehabilitation, reflection, reparation and change always happens within the community, and not in isolation. Therefore, we consider expelling and boycotting individuals and independent civil society groups, especially marginalised groups, a fundamentally wrong approach.
In recent months, despite excessive pressure from certain individuals and groups, we have consciously decided not to be part of this cycle. The importance of this approach in today's situation is more than ever clear as fascist, right-wing, and reactionary forces have tightened their grip on the revolution of Jin* - Jiyan- Azadi. Hence, even after the publication of the history of the abuse of one of the speakers at the rally in Berlin, we did not focus on cancelling the guilty individual but on collective responsibility by establishing communication with the harmed person. Opposing and fighting against the cancelling approach or any other dehumanising approach is a political choice. A political choice that sees emancipation not in the eradication or launching of exclusionary campaigns against offenders or suspects, but in solidarity and empathy with the victims of abuse .
The Danger of revealing the names and identities of leftist activists on social media
As we all know, the issue of revealing people's identities is no joke when it comes to a dangerous and murderous regime like the Islamic Republic. Some members of the Woman*- Life- Freedom- Collective in Berlin, aware of the risks involved in revealing their identities, have volunteered to represent the group by using their real names and identities and risking the security of them and their families in Iran despite receiving no guarantees of safety or financial support from any organisation or group. Keeping individual identities and personal information confidential is essential and vital for other collective members, and it is undoubtedly a fundamental and humane duty to respect their privacy and protect their identities by anyone familiar with the regime's bloodthirstiness.
However, the authors of the published texts, fully aware of Iran's current political conditions and the risks of revealing the identities of activists fighting against the current regime, have irresponsibly and extremely inhumanely exposed their identities without their knowledge or consent, claiming they are members of the Woman*- Life- Freedom- Collective.
The recent events are especially unfortunate in light of a situation where the concern of activists is to protect queers, women* and basic human rights. Instead of supporting liberation movements for women* and queer communities, for marginalised and systematically oppressed groups and classes (both in the societies of the global north and in Iran), such coordinated collective campaigns taking place to cancel and destroy independent, self-organised groups and leftist activists, who have strived to uphold the rights of marginalised groups, is alarming.
"Narrative", "harm", "violence", “accountability” and the power of “wording”
We believe that the first step in addressing issues and creating a platform for dialogue is to have clear and explicit literature and a critical framework. In a conflict where words and phrases are pulled out of their context and emptied of their meaning, understanding and empathy can become difficult or even impossible. Words such as "abuse", "harm", "transphobia", and "violence", each with a distinct political and cultural meaning, have long-term consequences and irreparable effects when used inappropriately. We believe that removing these words from their context for the purpose of interpersonal conflicts and disputes is not only unethical and destructive but can also be an appropriation. It can contribute to relativising other forms of abuse and violence. Every disagreement, conversation, and even conflict, no matter how unpleasant, is not necessarily harmful, and every experience of harm is not an experience of violence.
After reading the mentioned accusations, we asked ourselves again, who and where did the abuse occur and how? Is reading "abuse" from the messages of the person who expressed their opinion basically ethical? Does avoiding communication with someone necessarily mean opposing their identity? It is not easy to answer these questions in a context where all kinds of oppression arise from historical and social structures.
An attempt of creating multiperspectivity as a feminist approach of truth seeking. Our perspectives on what has been going on:
This part is neither aimed at denying nor at legitimising the accusations that have been made.
As a politically active group we are no exception in making mistakes. Mistakes are an inevitable part of any community and also individuals. We’re all responsible for learning from our mistakes and for unlearning internalised power structures while we walk the walk.
We acknowledge that the pain is real. As people with lived intersectional experiences, we all carry wounds that can resurface in different situations. Our wounds will always sting regardless of the intention of other parties involved in the situation.
There are always different possibilities on how to interpret a social situation. If feminist and intersectional theory taught us anything, it is to overcome binaries. To overcome the idea that you are either right or wrong. The idea that there is only one truth, one story to tell about a social situation. There can be many truths depending from where and with which past experiences you perceive a situation. And that is why we call it an interpretation of different situations.
In the past few months, we have repeatedly asked ourselves what a critical culture based on solidarity looks like. How can we use criticism as a liberating tool in feminist communities without reproducing the oppressive and exclusionary structures of the patriarchal society? How can we help organise more through solidarity as a tool in a safer space for criticism of each other? When is criticism a liberating tool, and when is it used to reproduce the cycle of oppression? Where is the narrow border between accusation and criticism? The importance of discussing these questions is crucial because, in the words of Audre Lorde, "the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."
The initial criticisms of a group of individuals narrative against the Collective began before the first demonstration. Criticisms were made with regard to the use of the asterik (*) in the word Woman* - which was proposed by trans-non-binary members of the group to emphasise the double oppression of the trans-non-binary community and to display the written language of the Collective, within the current slogan of the revolution (Woman*, Life, Freedom). This was approved by the rest of the group - we requested the criticising group proposals and collaboration to reach a more inclusive and encompassing term that includes all the mentioned groups. We also published the criticisms received and the corrected poster, posted by one of the members of the criticising group on the Collective's Instagram page, citing the source.
It should be noted that these criticisms were not initially shared directly with the Collective and were always communicated by either publishing them on social media or by mentioning them to M. K. . Pressure to boycott the Collective or cancel its members had also existed before this same demonstration. In order to communicate about the repeated criticisms that existed, the facilitator was added at the request of the criticising group after expressing the feeling of insecurity and the request from N. A. and others. Therefore M. K. was declared as a safe person for direct communication with the members of their group, in order to resolve the existing disputes with the collective.
Regarding M. K.'s relationship with the Woman* Life Freedom Collective, we only mention the fact that the activities of individuals in the collective have been voluntary, and its members are not fixed, and independent activists have collaborated with it in various ways during the formation and activities of the collective.
In line with accepting criticisms and creating more solidarity, we decided to invite the mentioned group to speak and express their views at the protest of September 24th. In the twenty minutes this group was given to speak at the protest, they claimed to have been overpowered by the collective.
The second and last collaboration of the collective with this group took place on October 22nd, in line with the solidarity of the Queer and Feminist groups, and to emphasise gender and sexual injustices during the Jina revolution.
Despite numerous political and theoretical differences with the Flight Association (The Association of Families of Flight PS752 Victims), as a feminist group, we decided to collaborate with them to change the dominant discourse in protests outside of Iran and create solidarity instead of boycotting each other. We worked together to create a space for marginalised groups to be heard at the October 22nd protest. This collaboration contained many difficulties from the beginning, but the fight against fascism and the Islamic Republic made its necessity clear to everyone. Despite the Association's emphasis on inviting their chosen speakers, with long negotiations and multiple discussions, we managed to allocate several speaking positions to representatives from the Kurdish and Baloch people and representatives from the LGBTQIA+ community.
Hence, individuals, activists, and various groups from the LGBTQIA+ community were invited to participate in the preparation of these speeches. One of these individuals was M. Z., a member of the collective and the 6Rang network. The initial idea was for different LGBTQIA+ activists to reach a joint statement. Despite the many volunteers and for inclusion of all in the preparation of the speech and the short time available for finalising the speech, the collective shared the speech text with all the representatives.
In this regard, a member of the collective, along with M. K. as a mediator between the collective and the criticising group, took on the role of facilitator to reach a collective conclusion. The members of this group announced that they would not collaborate with the 6Rang members and requested a separate platform for their speech. After numerous struggles and lengthy discussions with the Flight Association, it was decided to allocate two separate speeches to these two groups of activists. For more transparency and coordination, M. Z.'s statement was given to N. A. and N., and vice versa. The parties agreed these points to be written along with the session’s protocol at the end of the October 21 session and to be signed by all negotiating parties to prevent any future misunderstandings.
Meanwhile, the artistic director of the program, who was present as a representative of the Flight Association in some parts of these negotiations, emphasised the need for coordination of all programs and events on the scene with the Flight Association. One of these emphasised issues was the issue of not being naked on stage. The collective however was always opposed to any comments on the expression or behaviour of the speakers on stage, as we consider this to be fundamentally contradictory to the right to bodily autonomy.
Immediately on the same night of October 22 and after the protests, a narrative of psychological abuse by N.A was published. The Collective contacted N.A. immediately to verify the published narrative and determine whether we should defend them against baseless accusations or take responsibility and apologize to the public for giving tribune to the person responsible for psychological abuse. N.A. 's response was to publish a text by themselves on the next day. After half a day of silence from them, they were again asked by the collective to quickly clarify their position on the accuracy and validity of the account so that the Collective could make a decision and react. After an hour, N.A. publicly expressed their response by releasing a statement in which they took responsibility for the published statement and expressed their own experience of abuse in this regard. The Collective also felt it was their duty to publicly express their solidarity to the harmed person and shared this issue with N.A.
The harmed person was also contacted to get a clear understanding of their demands. Before the Collective statement was released, the news of N.A.'s fortunately unsuccessful suicide attempt reached the group.
After this incident, N.A. accused the Collective of being the main cause of their attempted suicide. The only request made by Collective was for transparency on N.A.'s position regarding the abuse and support for the harmed person.
These events coincided with cyberattacks by a group of monarchists against Collective in the virtual space and attacks by the forces of the Islamic Republic on Collective members after the protests on October 22nd. The attacks began by invading the home of one of the members of the group and ultimately led to the temporary evacuation of the group's members from their homes for a few weeks.
All of this was happening while N.A. and the criticizing group were trying to exert psychological pressure on the members of the collective, for example by threatening to the act of suicide, spreading lies that the collective had not considered a space for them to speak and was trying to remove them, attributing transviolence to members (even trans members) and preventing the publication of any statement by the collective. The collective refrained from even mentioning one of the threats, or reading the narrative of an injured person as false or inherently transphobic.
In addition to the aforementioned, the threats and pressures of the Islamic Republic led to many members of the collective being in a psychologically fragile state, and some left the group because of these conditions, which in turn increased the pressure on the remaining members. These events led to the point that the friends of this person - who recently has published their narratives with the title of M.K. as a facilitator - requested that we refrain from any position or even expressing support for the harmed person until the mental state of N.A. is stabilised. What was mentioned as "censorship and pressure" in their narrative is actually a message from one of the collective members, who is requesting clarification about the events and the claim of harassment.
Finally, a month after the October 22nd demonstrations, the collective issued a statement in support of the harmed person and condemning any transphobic attacks. Since the publication of this statement, we have been and still are affected by the consequences of taking a stand on this harassment narrative.
The organised efforts to cancel our group and its members' activities over the past few months can not be summarised in online attacks. Our collective members' experiences over the past few months, from being bullied, accused, and receiving online and offline attacks from members of our own community in addition to threats from the Islamic Republic and right-wing groups, have undoubtedly been one of the worst political experiences for all of us.
This experience has caused deep fear and discouragement among many members of this group regarding political activities and feminist solidarity. However, it has also taught us a great lesson about the importance of adhering to feminist values and human dignity - for everyone, even in a revolutionary situation. Because the path to liberation never goes through displaying power or creating fear.
About us: attempt for collective organisation:
Women*- Life- Freedom collective is a grassroots and independent group consisting of individuals with diverse and different life experiences, identities, and backgrounds, formed in September around the Jina revolution and in support of it. The group owes its formation, activities, and continuation to individuals who, alongside their daily and often precarious wage labour and the ordinary difficulties of life, as immigrants, refugees, or without residency documents, voluntarily and without any compensation, worked and acted together.
The formation of our collective should first be seen as an effort against the repression of the Islamic Republic, which has uprooted the possibility of organisation for any kind of association in the past forty-four years. This group is by no means a homogeneous group. The different experiences of our members with cross-class, ethnic, sexual, and gender-based oppressions, along with their individual experiences with the systematic oppression of the Islamic Republic, have made it extremely difficult to reach common ground at different times. But recalling the common source of pain has made it easier and possible to return to collective resistance and solidarity during all these periods. The main prerequisite for our return to collective solidarity has been distancing ourselves from individual and group identities and actively fighting against the "us vs. them" mentality. However, this distancing is not about ignoring the repressive apparatus and cross-sectional oppressions, but rather, it is completely contrary to that and is about being aware of the issue while simultaneously believing in the possibility of change through collective action.
 Grillo, Trina. n.d. “Anti-Essentialism and Intersectionality: Tools to Dismantle the Master's House.” Berkeley Law. Accessed April 2, 2023.
 Brown, Adrienne Maree “Holding Change: The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation. The Way of Emergent Strategy Facilitation and Mediation.” Chico, CA, AK Press, 2021
 To protect the privacy of individuals, only initials are used instead of their full names.