Finding creative ways to protest

When governments try to curtail their citizens’ right to express their views, those citizens find ways to do it anyway.

Young people throughout Iran are protesting the government — including its recent shutdown of Telegram, a messaging app used by half of Iran’s population. Blocked from expressing themselves on Telegram, they’re writing anti-government slogans on the Iranian currency, the rial, including “Our enemy is right here; they say it’s America.”

And even though the Iranian government bans Twitter and Facebook, people there are bypassing the blocks through other means on social media to fight for a better future. Using anonymous accounts, people in Iran are posting online images of their slogans written on currency with the hashtag #Onehundredthousand_talking_banknotes. The aim is get 100,000 shares. One account, called @Iran_white_rose, said the “Challenge is a 100,000# bridge between social media and society,” according to an English translation of the tweet.

Others are drawing images, like the one below, in support of women protesting compulsory wearing of the hijab.

“Obviously in any authoritarian country, the use of social media can be quite dangerous,” said Ali Fathollah-Nejad, an Iran expert at the Doha center of the Brookings Institution, a U.S. research group. “It’s always a cat-and-mouse game between the two sides. This is an ongoing struggle, and it’s not going to end any time soon.”

Currency has been the means of other creative protests around the world. Activists in Russia in 2012 stamped anti-corruption slogans onto thousands of rubles, for example.

In India, an international nonprofit group called 5th Pillar developed a successful nonviolent protest against the culture of corruption with the Zero Rupee Note. The notes, which resemble 50 rupee notes, read, “Eliminate corruption at all levels.” 5th Pillar has distributed 3 million of the notes and encourages people to give them to officials who request bribes.

While the people of Iran have been frustrated by the crackdown on social media, Fathollah-Nejad has little doubt they will continue to make their voices heard. “Iranians are quite tech savvy,” he said, “and they’ve always found ways to circumvent state control on technologies.”