An estimated crowd of more than 100 people gathered outside Porter’s Irvine office on Wednesday, Jan. 18, calling on her to support greater actions against human rights violations in Iran.
Demonstrators implored Porter to support the sanctioning of Iran’s leaders and freezing of their assets. They called on her to cosponsor legislation, dubbed the MAHSA Act, to impose visa and property sanctions on certain individuals and entities associated with Iran, should it be reintroduced in the current Congress.
Mahsa Amini, for whom the bill is named, was a 22-year-old Kurdish woman who was arrested by Iran’s morality police on Sept. 16 who said she was improperly wearing a hijab. She died while in police custody, and her death has sparked protests around the world — including in Orange County.
On Wednesday, demonstrators, some with the Iranian flag draped around their shoulders, stood out by the street in front of Porter’s office, holding printed and handwritten signs in support of the legislation. Some held red octagon signs, saying “stop executions in Iran.”
“Biden, Biden, take action, take action,” they chanted, waving large American and Iranian flags. “Katie, Katie, support the MAHSA Act!”
The MAHSA Act did not make headway after it was introduced in the House last October.
California is home to the largest Iranian diaspora outside of Iran, and the second-largest Iranian population in Southern California is believed to reside in Irvine, which is part of Porter’s 47th congressional district.
“It’s disappointing that out of all politicians she is not listening to her own constituents,” Orange County resident Nick Nikbakht said.
Protesters are largely against a nuclear deal with Iran, arguing such agreements can fund the regime. Porter wasn’t in Congress when the Obama-era nuclear deal was before lawmakers, but Nikbakht lambasted her support of a new agreement in 2020.
“It’s the biggest betrayal to people who are fighting for freedom,” Nikbakht said.
Porter said she has taken a number of actions to express her continued strong support for protesters, including condemning Amini’s death, attending a rally held at UC Irvine to express solidarity with demonstrators and calling for the Biden administration to tighten sanctions.
She also led a bipartisan letter demanding that Meta, formerly named Facebook, do more to protect the free speech of Iranian protesters.
“We continue to look for ways to stand with the protesters in Iran, to condemn the regime’s violence and to support the goals of the protesters of greater freedom and democracy and human rights,” Porter said.
But Los Angeles resident Arshia Sajedi, who said she is a Democrat, traveled to Irvine for the demonstration because Porter is running for U.S. Senate — where she’d represent all Californians. But she says she cannot support anyone, regardless of party, who cannot understand what Iranians are going through.
“The support is wonderful. I appreciate that,” Sajedi said. “Support is a beautiful word, but the law does actual things in this country.”
Referencing House floor speeches and the letter to Meta, Iranian American activist Mahsa Townsend said: “None of those things have any meaning behind them. Democrats in California should lead the way on the MAHSA Act, considering they have the biggest Iranian American constituency in the country.”
Porter said she is continuing to look at the details of legislation like the MAHSA Act and will speak with her colleagues who have a background in foreign affairs on both sides of the aisle about the best course of action.
“We continue to take calls, to talk with constituents, talk with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” Porter said. “We are doing our best to listen to the pain and the heartache of Iranian Americans.”
Irvine resident Pezhmun Ghiassi said protests will continue.
“If you want to represent Irvine, this is the price you must pay,” Ghiassi shouted into a megaphone. “We want to see you taking real, physical action.”
Demonstrators picked Porter’s office on Wednesday because she represents so many Iranian Americans in Congress. But Nikbakht, an organizer, said additional events could be held at other elected officials’ offices.
Groups have held large demonstrations across Orange County for several months now. Since mid-September, community members and activists have taken to the streets to urge the Biden administration to take stronger action against Iran’s government.
2 CSULB professors, who are brothers, provide virtual health care to Iranian protesters