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The Iran Protests Present An Opportunity To Teach Kids About Tyranny


If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again — especially where tyranny is concerned. This must be the unofficial motto of the Iranian opposition, because after 1999’s student uprising and 2009’s Green Revolution, Iran’s people are back at it.

Here we are in the early stages of yet another American presidency. Unlike the last go-round, when President Obama’s studied silence and lack of support hurt the cause, Iranian dissidents now have a champion in President Trump. While I don’t always see eye to eye with the current president, I’d love to high-five him right about now. I hope President Trump, Vice President Pence, and United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley offer dissidents support while maintaining pressure on the Iranian government, and the president’s recent tweets set a hopeful tone.

While many news cycles over the last two years have not been G-rated, this is one where I hope children are watching. And let’s be honest, they’re always watching.

How Reagan Helped Me Process Tienanmen Square

On this score, I speak from experience. I still remember being 10 years old and watching the Tienanmen Square stand-off unfold on TV in 1989. My family was visiting Washington DC for a cousin’s Bat-Mitzvah that first weekend of June. Between the service and party, we were in our hotel room.

We turned on the television and saw a news report about Tienanmen Square. Students had been protesting peacefully for democracy. The Chinese government responded by attacking them with tanks and guns. Seeing how horrified I was, my father suggested that I write to the president. So I did.

How could I not be upset? After all, I was a child of the Reagan Revolution. Even as a 10-year-old, I had a few ideas about what government should mean.

As far back as 1984, I had begun learning the basics. My father explained to me that President Reagan was a good man, who kept us safe. He seemed like a nice man on TV. To me, he was Grandpa Reagan. So, when we had in-school elections that fall, I voted for Reagan. You knew Reagan would beat Walter Mondale in a landslide that year when he handily won my Jewish day school.

In 1986, like American children everywhere, my classmates and I learned about NASA’s space program and Christa McAuliffe, the friendly teacher-turned-astronaut. Seventy-three seconds turned possibility into peril. All seven astronauts died, and we became a nation of mourners, as we watched the Challenger explode live on television.

That night, President Reagan addressed the nation. Most people remember the president’s poetic closing, “slipping the surly bonds of earth” and “touching the face of G-d.” I remembered Reagan’s speaking directly to America’s children, knowing how scary and incomprehensible the whole situation was for us. In a moment of national tragedy, he addressed and consoled us.

That was my experience with leaders. That was my normal. June 4, 1989 was eye-opening, because I realized that in some places, there was no such normal.

Kids Need to Learn that Freedom Is Rare and Precious

As my children grow, I want them to learn that too, because the lesson remains timely. Too many people around the world continue to live without basic human rights. I want my daughters to understand what a blessing it is to be American, to be free and have constitutionally protected rights.

I also want to instill a sense that we must do whatever we can to help others facing brutality or oppression. That support can take many forms — starting with writing letters and op-eds, and participating in protests — but fundamentally, it begins with understanding the basic principles that make life here so special.

All these years later, I still believe democracy is the best form of government. I still believe government has a responsibility to communicate with its public, to encourage free speech and the freedom of assembly. Further, I still believe a legitimate government never murders its own students or targets innocents abroad.

I intend to pass these values on to my daughters, because this is what motivates me. This is what makes me proud to be an American. And this is why I was inspired to serve in government after college.

The Iranian people may never have an American-style democracy, but they deserve the right to peaceably govern themselves. I urge President Trump to continue supporting the protesters, whom I’ll be cheering from afar. It’s too early to say how this will all end, but supporting the Iranian opposition is the right thing to do, both morally and national security-wise. Let’s hope it also changes history for the better.