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How to get sued by the Chamber of Commerce and influence people

Editor’s note: This post was originally published by  at Waging Non-Violence

Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — the world’s most formidable big business lobby — quietly abandoned a trademark infringement lawsuit against a number of individuals connected to activist pranksters the Yes Men, including John and Jane Doe 1-20, in whose mysterious company I was presumably represented. It’s been a while since I’ve given any thought to the circumstances surrounding the four-year-old suit, and while the news came as a relief, it also made me a little nostalgic for a particularly madcap chapter in my colorful career. By the standards of my fancy sounding job, that year as “Director of Marketing and Outreach” for the release of the Yes Men’s latest documentary film, “The Yes Men Fix the World,” being sued by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce felt par for the course.

Allow me to take you back to the fall of 2009, where from a small, crowded academic office-cum-film distribution headquarters, my official duties involved coordinating a marauding ragtag volunteer “Survivaball” army, helping to organize mini-riots at Whole Foods, and avoiding capture by the NYPD after a failed attempt to launch an amphibious assault on the U.N. (which led to the apprehension of one of my colleagues). There was also a film to release, marketing materials to distribute, post-film Q&As to schedule and so on. So with the documentary slated to run in Washington, D.C., Yes Men cofounder Andy Bichlbaum and I had been chatting with activist groups there about other fun stuff we could do as long as we were in town. Over the course of those conversations a big, bad bogeyman kept rearing its head: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Rewind for a quick bit of context. It feels like eons ago now, but at the time there were real hopes for a binding agreement to cut down global carbon emissions, with the big U.N.-sponsored climate summit in Copenhagen just months away. It was also Obama’s first year in office, there were Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate, and the Senate was in the midst of debating substantive climate legislation, after the House passed similar legislation.

Enter stage right the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a group claiming to be the official voice in Washington for millions of American businesses, big and small. In practice, especially when it comes to energy policy, the Chamber lobbies for hard-right policies favored by the biggest of the Big Oil and Big Coal companies. That year the Chamber was easily the largest force working to kill climate legislation, spending $300,000 a day on lobbying and, as we would learn in due time, it was also one of the most litigious.

With the lawsuit no longer hanging over our heads, details of which I’ll describe below, now feels like a good time to pull back the curtain and share a useful step-by-step guide for anybody else out there looking to get sued by the Chamber of Commerce or another equally worthy foe. I should be clear that usually getting sued by a majorly cashed-up corporate lobbying group is probably not a great idea. No matter how spurious their case, these groups are expert at using the law as a blunt weapon to silence critics. But in this case, especially after high-powered legal allies stepped up to the plate to help the Yes Men and John and Jane Doe 1-20 defend themselves from the suit, I think the Chamber just ended up calling extra attention to the issue at hand — the big business mega-lobby’s corrupting effect on our democracy.

So having assessed the risks, for all those tempted to try their luck at related high jinks, I recommend following the steps below.

Step one: Get to know some scrappy, talented young climate activists in the nation’s capital. If they have office space to work out of in D.C., even better. Spend some time on the phone with them and do some brainstorming on creative ways to get news outlets interested in looking at the destructive role the Chamber’s massive lobbying apparatus plays on our politics.

Step two: Free your mind and think about what kind of role the Chamber could play in U.S. politics if its better angels were allowed to hold sway. Think about how to make that happen. Call up the prestigious National Press Club, two blocks from the White House, and find out how much it costs to rent a room for an hour or two (much less, it turns out, than at the Chamber of Commerce itself, which was our first choice).

Step three: Study the Chamber of Commerce’s website, then mimic the content and style of the Chamber’s site. Register a few new email addresses with that domain, and borrow the Chamber’s cheesy logo and slap it on top of a press release template. Now you’re ready to tell members of the press about an exciting new direction for the Chamber.

Step four: While driving a minivan down I-95 from New York to D.C., prepare a speech that the Chamber will deliver at a packed press conference the following day. Don’t forget to print out a full color copy of the Chamber’s logo to slap on the podium at the front of the room.

Step five: You want members of the press to show up at your press conference and that the room is packed. After all, you’ve got a great speech, and you’ve got Yes Man Andy Bichlbaum styled out in a $20 thrift store suit. Solution: Contact some friends and colleagues in D.C., ask them to dress business casual and show up at the National Press Club with reporter notepads, and to be ready to ask the Chamber of Commerce some tough questions on climate change.

Step six. Showtime: Send Andy Bichlbaum, aka Chamber of Commerce flack “Hingo Sembra,” out to the podium to deliver a speech, the likes of which have rarely been heard in the well-appointed National Press Club; a speech that opens with a stark warning:

Ecologists tell us that if we don’t enact dramatic reductions in carbon emissions today, within five years we could begin facing the propagating feedback loops of runaway climate change, which would mean a destruction of food and water supplies worldwide, with the result of mass migrations, famine and death on a scale never before imagined. Needless to say, that would be bad for business.

Step seven: While the press conference is the main event, don’t forget to send the release out to broadcast outlets that may not be able to attend. That way both CNBC and Fox Business News can give on-air breaking news updates about the Chamber’s surprise about-face on climate policy.

Bonus step: After the speech and a first round of questions from “reporters” and reporters, make sure an actual press rep from the Chamber barges in and declares the press conference a fraud. Cue an unforgettable showdown, massive national media coverage that puts a spotlight on the Chamber’s backward stance on climate, and soon thereafter, a lawsuit from the Chamber alleging amongst other things that the spoof was all part of an insidious plan … to sell DVDs. As if anybody actually buys DVDs any more.

Extra bonus step: Enlist the pro bono legal support of ace freedom of speech defenders, the Electronic Frontier Foundation! Then imagine the Chamber having a very bad day.

Four years later and with the lawsuit now officially history, I’m reminded of the initial doubts I had about accepting that film release gig in the first place — a job I took on shortly after graduating from one of the country’s most prestigious journalism schools. At the time, I figured that going to work for a group of people whose notoriety comes from fooling the media to call attention to social and environmental ills — in lieu of say, landing a cub reporter gig at some second tier news outlet — would be the effective end to my career as a “serious journalist.” And I do wonder sometimes where I’d be now if I had followed a path that put me in a place to report on that faux press conference, as opposed to being one of the people who produced it. For the most part though I haven’t looked back since. I love journalism, and many of the people I respect the most are journalists. But while I still call myself a writer, I stopped calling myself a journalist with a big-J a while ago. It’s just too damn fun helping to make news happen, shaping events and working in some form or fashion as an activist, lawsuits and all.

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Fault Line of Istanbul – Insurrection Notes from Taksim

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared at  Contra Info.

Turkey, Istanbul–Actually it was NOT totally unpredictable, but we somehow couldn’t see it was coming. What have people of Turkey being doing until this revolt? Students have beaten up the teachers who gave them grades lower than they deserved. People stabbed doctors who neglected their loved ones. They shot sergeants to run away, and deserted obligatory military service. They crashed police stations and beaten up abusive police officers. After courts gave their verdict, people gave a taste of their own verdict at the hallways of courts. Women brought their own justice to their violators. They committed suicides under the pressure of big exams, credit card debts…

Insurrection of individuals and revolutionary groups finally touched each other and got connected in Gezi Park Resistance (as of May 29 to date). So, we wanted to share some of our observations from behind the barricades with you:

  • Roads were blocked, trunks and back seats are checked to see if they secretly sneak gas bombs to police. Because police used ambulances to sneak bombs, people carefully searched them; people stoned fire trucks because they were observed to be carrying water for the water cannons that put out fire barricades.
  • ID checks for those who were suspected to be undercover police.
  • CCTVs and cameras were dismantled and damaged.
  • More than 40 outstanding barricades were set. Pavement stones, billboards, traffic signs, trash cans, whatever is in hand and lying around, were used.
  • Banks, ATMs, billboards and bus stop advertisements were destroyed.
  • Police containers and police cars were set on fire, OR used for the benefit of public.
  • Construction machines and buses were overturned, damaged and set on fire.
  • Food and necessary supplies were shoplifted from corporate supermarkets around the neighborhood.
  • Media vehicles (CNN van) were overturned and destroyed.
  • A bulldozer was captured to counter-attack riot control vehicles, and water cannons were pushed out of the streets.
  • Young kids who were abused and humiliated by cops every day set the record straight by stoning and cursing them in their face. They wrestled back their integrity.
  • Trucks and bulldozers were captured and used to build barricades.
  • Unorganized and largely apolitical youth got acquainted, discussed and mutually learned tactics and strategies with more radical and organized groups.
  • Thousands of young people got firsthand experience in clashing with police forces.
  • Large solidarity network was spontaneously organized for food, beverage, solution for tear gas and cigarettes.
  • Beverage and food points were set up to disperse free stuff to whomever in need.
  • People started to frantically share everything, their chocolate bars, cigarettes, their home-made food, food they were given by others.
  • Trash and litter were collectively collected, even the cigarette butts.
  • Everybody was helping everybody with anti-acid solutions against tear gas on the barricades.
  • People opened their houses’ doors, as well as small cafes and shops, for perfectly random protestors, who were cornered by police forces.
  • Housewives and other people in the neighborhoods joined the protests with making noise with pans, etc.
  • Food and anti-acid solution kits were placed in a lot of spots.
  • First- aid points were set up.
  • Doctors ran from barricade to barricade during heavy clashes.
  • Street vendors happily proliferate in the absence of police, who normally chase them and confiscate their stuff.
  • Sex workers, including transsexuals, could work, stroll around, and mingled with others freely without being abused.
  • A vacant area under closure had been liberated for the public and turned into a small park.
  • Some other vacant houses, which were under mortgage closures, were occupied and put into use.
  • A small urban garden was created.
  • A free library was set up.
  • People read bulletins and pamphlets like they never did before. They thought things they never thought before.
  • People claimed back and made the streets their own again with graffiti, stencils and various different flags and colors instead of billboards and commercials.
  • Instead of going to work or back home with public transportation or cabs, people marched slowly under clouds of tear gas chanting slogans and curses. They weren’t scared anymore, they kept on marching.
  • People determined their own agenda, not parties, powers or leaders.
  • Not a single woman was abused. They freely marched, strolled around and stayed in the park.
  • People spent their time together instead of killing it in front of TVs or computer screens.
  • Masses were disillusioned and openly started to criticize mass media.
  • Kurds freely waved their guerrilla flags (PKK), showcased portraits of their guerrilla leader under arrest (Apo) and enjoyed themselves with their traditional collective folk dances. Nationalists willy nilly had to get used to it. Even some of them couldn’t resist and joined the dances. Middle-class activists, with their pristine bourgeois hygiene standards, ate the same food, shit in the same portable johns and went long periods without showers together with the homeless people and street animals.

People realized life without cops is JOY, indeed.

“Life is so boring, there is nothing to do except
spend all our wages on the latest skirt or shirt.
Brothers and Sisters, what are your real desires?
Sit in the drugstore, look distant, empty, bored,
drinking some tasteless coffee? Or perhaps
BLOW IT UP OR BURN IT DOWN.”
-
The Angry Brigade

pics – police enter taksim square eventually, with the help of “taksim solidarity”; that commission behaving like they are representing the revolt. how a revolt, an insurrection can be represented? anyway. but of course people resisted against police invasion.
pics – painted slogans. they are in turkish, but just to show that, everywhere around taksim was graffiti, everywhere.

photos retrieved from occupygezipics

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VIDEO: No Olho Do Furacão (In The Eye Of The Storm)

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VIDEO: #ChangeBrazil in their own words

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Living in Taksim – Report June 12-14, 2013

Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Sinefil.

First, an addendum to my June 11 post. Over 70 lawyers defending the park were taken into custody at the courthouse yesterday. They were later released, but another perfect example of trying to strike fear in people’s hearts.

This footage is around 2 AM June 12 at the park, very soon after I had left. Following the gas attack, it started to rain. While that’s good for clearing the air, it’s difficult for people sleeping in the open air. I went back to the park in the morning, people were trying to re-group and re-establish an order. All the while, they were also trying to keep themselves dry and their belongings from flying away in the storm. Honestly, it looked a little depressing. But after a short nap at home and an afternoon at the office, a much drier and cheerful park awaited me. The evening was crowned by a concert – first by the statue, then in the middle of the square, and finally almost inside the park, above the steps. The piano was moved around by a bunch of guys who picked it up and carried it up and down. After the stress of Tuesday, sitting on the ground in the middle of the square and listening to “Imagine” (a few times too many perhaps, but still) with friends around me was priceless. At this point, people had gotten gas masks and hard hats. My mom bought my hat, and a friend lent me her mask. It was surreal – several thousand people hanging out in a park with gas masks, goggles and hard hats. One thing I heard over and over again was the anger and discontent about even having to own – and wear – this equipment. We’re regular citizens, not militants.

The news of the day were the negotiations in Ankara in the evening. The PM had called several people from the park and a group of artists. None were chosen by the park protestors, and they said so before going in. From what we heard, it was a long, emotional and ultimately fruitless meeting. When they came out, the spokesperson announced a possible referendum, which was never discussed in the meeting. We also later found out that there is no legal infrastructure for a referendum to be held. One of the negotiators, who declared he’d never been to the park and would refuse to go, gave a speech after the meeting which entertained everyone. I could only follow it from social media, but here it is – he’s not making much sense. This is the star of the famous “Valley of the Wolves” series and films; I have no idea why he was invited.

I was able to go home fairly early at night, and got the longest sleep of the last few weeks. It felt good…

On Thursday (June 13), the fear campaign continued. There were rumors (perhaps a few real cases) of people being searched, and those with hard hats and / or gas masks being detained. No confirmation though.

A second set of negotiations were called for 11 PM – this time, the list included members of the Taksim Solidarity, and the artists had actually been to the park. But again, it was called by the PM’s office with no proper representation. Waiting for the negotiations, the filmmakers issued a press statement, and I was busy trying to help with its translation. Hence, I missed the highlight of the day: human chain formed by the mothers. The previous evening, the mayor had called out to the mothers of the “young” protestors in the park, telling them to pull their kids back, essentially. The mothers responded by showing up themselves and forming a human chain around the park . Very touching…

I felt that we were approaching the end of things, one way or another (how very prescient of me…). So I went for a walk with a friend around the park. Not so much inside, because it was really crowded again, but along the edges, in the darker areas that are forgotten. In retrospect, I guess I wanted to etch the memories of this utopian space in my brain before it was gone forever. At some point, I went back home and wrote my report for June 10-11.

Police and the people

Friday morning, I had signed up for the 6-10 shift again. It was a nice and cool morning; we cleaned out the tent and I headed to the square, where I heard the piano concert was on again. Davide was playing by the statue, with a small audience that included a few drunk people and more than your usul share of the crazy. Around the statue, young police officers were in dialogue with protestors who surrounded them (pic below). It was a heartwarming sight, but the officers’ superiors soon replaced them with older, more experienced, and more distant colleagues…

As I headed back to the park, it started to rain. Soon it was a heavy rain and we were trying to keep everything dry. Soon, the summery shoes I was wearing were wet and I was cold. Not long after the rain stopped, there was an announcement that dry mats and blankets were available in the headquarters. And someone showed up at the tent, offering us new, dry pairs of socks – an offer I truly appreciated and picked up immediately. I ended up staying there until the afternoon, and when I went to the radio for my weekly show, all we could talk about was the park again. And having played the film version of “Do you hear the people sing,” the week before, this time we played this video. And cried, of course.

Morning concert

After the (again fruitless) negotiations of the previous night, the park had organized seven forums in various locations to discuss the options. This is an ultra-democratic system, but of course, not very practical. Taksim Solidarity held a meeting later, with all the input from the forums. It apparently went on from 8 PM until 4:30 AM, with no clear outcome. They announced the next morning that people intended to stay, but there was also talk of converging some of the smaller groups into larger tents and leaving the decision to individual groups. It was seen as the beginning of a negotiation process, to be continued for some time…

-Melis Behlil-

Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

 

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Marching in the Sunday Sun

Granada, Spain–Where did all these people come from?

At 4:40 we congregated in Campo de Principe in the heart of Barrio Realejo in Granada. There were about 30 of us, hurriedly putting the finishing touches on our posters and distributing whistles, badges and stickers. The sun beat down like a hammer but the expectation in us all made us ignore it.

At 5pm we set off towards Caleta, via La Puerta de Elvira to meet up with the Asamblea del Albaicyn. Each group arriving at the gate at the same time (more luck than coordination) and greeting each other with cheers and whistles.  Raul turned up on his tricycle, coolers loaded with water bottles and begging a hat to cover his dreds… I gave him mine; I looked silly in it anyway. We numbered about 150 by then.

We continued our little stroll towards Caleta, passing a group in Triunfo fixing up posters and banners. There were affectionate criticisms of their tardiness: “Where are you going?” “To change the world! And you guys are late… hurry up!”

We reached Constitucion, and suddenly we weren’t 150… we were 1000!!! Two more barrios had sneakily joined us, drums and all. We checked each other out, admiring our t-shirts, our banners and our messages. The atmosphere was–electric sounds too cliché–expectant, perhaps.  We were beginning to sense the after-shocks travelling back through time. Something big was about to happen.

By the time we reached Caleta our numbers were growing, and then suddenly we can hear drums, music, shouts and cheers as the head of our little procession entered the square to greet the thousands already there waiting for us. People who had come from all over Granada and beyond. The first people I saw were folk I recognised from the acampada. People I had slept beside in the Plaza del Carmen. They seemed as shocked by our numbers as we were by theirs. Looking around we realised we had already passed the 5000 mark of the first demo on 15th May… rumours abounded. Astonishment abounded… crowds of sweaty demonstrators huddled together in the sparse shade as the temperature soared to 35 degrees and everyone looked for people they knew.

That should have been a clue. Who were all these people? Why was it so difficult to find companions from the assemblies?

At 6:30pm we set off… at 6:50 we were still in the square! Thousands had joined us… and more were still coming… and jumping the queue! (This is Spain, after all!) Finally we got back on to Constitucion to head towards the centre and already the head of the march was at Triunfo. Unbelievable… 12,000 was the number buzzing around.

The atmosphere was incredible: charged, elated, indignant and loud! The drums were pounding, the saucepans were clanging, the whistles were… errr… whistling.

We jumped, we shouted, we marched a little bit… repeat. We bumped in to people as surprised and as happy as we were to find a familiar face. We hugged, we compared notes and emotions. We realised we were part of something that still defied explanation.

And still the sun beamed down. Friends and strangers passed bottles of water, or squirted us from water-pistols and atomizers–everyone was a friend, a fellow ‘Indignado’ sharing whatever resources we had brought with us.

Slowly we crept towards the Town Hall where a few thousand Granada FC fans were celebrating their team’s ascension to the first division.  “First Division Team, Third Division Government!” we all shouted. And still we streamed past them.

I met a friend who said she had spent half an hour watching us pass, and still we were coming! 20,000 we were once we reached the Fuente de las Batallas! 20,000, when last time we were 5,000!

Children, students, parents, grandparents all together and clamouring for a better world, a true democracy and an end to corporate control of our government.

At 10:30pm we left the fountain to the Granada FC fans. Some to have drinks with friends, others just to rest their weary legs and reflect on what they had been a part of…

That is going to take a little longer than the five hours walking in the Sunday sun. Will let you know when I make sense of all the emotions. There is one thing I do know… I am embraced in the arms of 20,000 people who feel just like me… indignant with the way the powers that be have lied, cheated and stolen our future, and now ‘THEY’ can no longer ignore us. We will reclaim our democracy. We will prevail.

Resistance is NOT futile.

-Daniel Ross-

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Chaos at the Divan Hotel

Editor’s Note: This piece was first published at Dimter Kenarov’s blog.

When Turkish riot police stormed Gezi Park yesterday evening (June 15) and lay waste to the tent city, where for more than two weeks Turks of all stripes had found peaceful community space to protest the increasingly authoritarian regime of the prime-minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, many of the exiled tent residents sought refuge in the nearby Divan Hotel. A luxurious, 10-story building in the center of Istanbul, it opened in 1956 as the first five-star hotel in the city, the stationary version of the Orient Express. But now, it was the Titanic.

The lobby, complete with plush armchairs and scintillating chandeliers, was transformed into a desperate fortification. Young people with gas masks were sitting around, nervously talking on cell phones and checking their Twitter accounts for the latest updates from the outside world. On the lower floor, in the spacious ball rooms, volunteer doctors were treating the injured, many of them suffering from tear gas inhalation. The reception staff had donned on gas masks, bravely trying to help and preserve some semblance of order, as outside riot police and water cannon vehicles (TOMA) had effectively besieged the hotel, occasionally lobbing off tear gas canisters and blasting water cannons at the entrance. Then, after a few hours, the police suddenly stormed the hotel and started shooting tear gas inside the lobby, sending people into a horrible scramble to the upper floors, many of them blinded, nearly suffocating.

I was in and around the Divan Hotel for most of the night and what struck me especially was the surreal contrast between the opulent interior, decorated with paintings and colorful tiles and the general mood of anguish and fear. In the following photographs, I’ve tried to document some of that.

-Dimter Kenarov-
Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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PHOTOS: Turkish Police Attack Gezi Park

Editor’s note: These photos were taken by activist and photographer  at during the police raid of Gezi Park and Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, June 15th.  They were originally published at Jenna’s blog. Click here to support Jenna’s stunning and inspiring work.

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Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

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Resist Istanbul: Or how I got teargassed again and started losing hope that this government will ever stop the violence

Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared at İnsanlik Hali.

Here we go: I have been attacked; yet again, tear-gassed brutally by my own government. By my government, which is supposed to protect me. By my government, which is supposed to work for me. By police officers whose salaries, armors, batons and ammunition are paid by my friends’, by our families’, and by our taxes.

Make no mistake. We were not exactly protesting when the police started attacking us. Not that it is illegal to protest democratically in Turkey – though you would be hard pressed to believe that seeing how we are treated. We were just a lot of people standing together at the Taksim Square. We were not even chanting. I was talking to two friends standing next to me, an architect and a historian. The square was full with people arriving after work. We were in a good mood; worried, as there have been continuous police interventions during the day after police moved in onto the square, claiming they wanted to take some banners down; but with friends, running into people we know, just chatting; debating if we should move into the park where more friends were hanging out.

That’s when the gas canisters appeared, without any warning, like comets in the sky. I saw the white cloud afar on the other side of the square; I saw some commotion. But by now, we, the protestors of Turkey, are very much familiar with this particular sight and sound, tear gas canisters being fired – so I didn’t start moving immediately. See, it is not too bad if there is only one and the wind is blowing the other way. But people were moving, in fact, running. Unlike the streets on which I have been teargassed before, here, on the square, the effect was like a stone thrown into water – ripples of people – moving, fast; which in and of itself is very scary when you are in the middle of it. I did what I learned to do last week: I shouted with my hands in the air, “do not run, remain calm,” stepping back slowly, while trying to do what I preach; that is, remain calm. I looked around only to realize that I was already separated from my friends… I tried to shout at them “don’t move too fast, lets see what is going on” but it was too loud, and they were already far. In my mind I was going “maybe the shooting will stop, maybe it is not too bad, no need to run” when a gas canister landed next to my feet. I stepped back, looked up and saw, well, a shower of gas canisters landing left and right. As I started stepping back faster and faster, one landed in front of me, one to my left; I turned to run and another landed in my way… Turns out that I was mistaken; I was the naive one to think that the police would not attack a city square full of peaceful people; not after the governor has announced that they were not planning to attack. Really, how stupid am I to trust what the governor says at this point? We were under what looks like a tear-gas storm.

Dear friends who have been lucky enough not to have experienced tear-gas until this point in their lives; let me tell you; it hurts. It burns your eyes, your nose, and your lungs. You can’t breathe and you wanna tear your lungs out, you cough and cough and cough. You feel sick to your stomach; I was in so much pain that I was pretty sure I was going to throw up. It is really not pretty.

It was a white-out, I couldn’t see my friends at all and I just kept on walking; I was too afraid to run in case I stumble and fall; plus, I couldn’t breathe. I concentrated, one step after another, reminding myself “Do not panic, it is going to be over soon,” trying to put my goggles on, not being able to breathe, worrying if my contacts are going to melt into my eyes like some people have been claiming they do. Worrying if my lungs are actually burning, what if they are? What if they are damaged? They are still shooting canisters in my way, what if I can’t make it out? Will I faint? Will I be stuck here? No no, don’t panic. Just walk. One step. After another.

How long did that walk take from the square to Sıraselviler? It is a very short distance we are talking about. Not even a few minutes. But I was afraid. I was very afraid.

Yet, as many of us have learned by experience in these past 10 days in Istanbul, the effects of the tear-gas do not last long. The danger really is the canisters hitting you in the head, cracking your skull, or taking your eye out. If you are lucky and get out in the fresh air without being hit, things keep on hurting for awhile but then slowly, the pain wears off. After all the attacks, the backstreets of Istiklal and Galatasaray are full with people, sitting around, coughing, waiting for the pain to pass, sharing their antihistamine mixtures. Then, at one point, you forget that you were in pain. And of course, the adrenaline, the fear; you have to wait for those to wear off, too.

If there is one thing that does not seem to wear off – it is the anger. It is the disbelief that you, as a citizen of this country, someone who tries to voice her concerns, be open, negotiate, deliberate; someone who at one point actually believed that this country could democratise, is walking the streets of your city, tears streaming your face; eyes and lungs burning, in pain, because your government is attacking you, repeatedly. There is no question that none of us deserves this. No one deserves treatment like this. Even if we were marginals and radicals, as our PM claims that we are, we wouldn’t have deserved this. Silly me; I know I shouldn’t be surprised; this has been going on for a long time; this time it is us, other times it was other people. Logically, I am not surprised. But emotionally, I am. It is one thing to know of government violence when it is happening to others in far away places. You speak against it, you feel its injustice. Yet somehow, I find out it is another thing to actually face it. To be there when the gas canister is flying towards you. To wonder, in a millisecond, whether it is going to hit you, or not. To hear that your friends have been taken to custody. To feel helpless. If this is what is happening to us – to the most educated, most connected crowd that this country has produced, imagine what has happened to others who were not connected, who were not heard.

It is time to dispel the notion that Tayyip Erdogan is the “democratically elected leader” of a “democratic” country. While he might have been elected democratically, the actions, reactions, and the language of the prime-minister have been text-book authoritarian. These protests, which have started off as demonstrations to protect Gezi Parkı, have peacefully voiced very legitimate concerns against the JDP government. As I and many others have talked about before, the concerns are about the neoliberal-conservatism of the JDP government and about its authoritarian politics; the protests are about democracy, about our right to live as dignified human beings. They are shared by a very heterogenous group of people; this movement has brought many groups together that previously did not quite realize they were fighting similar fights; ecologist, neighborhood movements against urban transformation projects, feminists, urban planners, artists, students, secularists…The reason they are protesting is that there are no other channels to affect the government – the government rules with no opposition in the parliament, has silenced the media, coopted the judiciary, and does not care about any opposition that comes from the society.

Now, the demands of the protests have been voiced clearly – they are no secrets. They are not hard to understand. In fact, they are pretty minimal considering all the complaints against the JDP government.Yet, there has been no acceptable response from the government. The opportunity to negotiate, the opportunity to back off, the opportunity to grow, the opportunity to listen – there were many of those opportunities. But there seems to be no will by the government to do any of those. The prime-minister seems to have gone mad by his hunger for power; and the ministers and governors look like confused puppets. They do not want to negotiate; they want to wipe us out and continue as they please. For this, they are using very provocative language in their speeches, demonizing and targeting us, and they are putting on a PR show which largely consists of blatant lies, in fact, even staging police interventions where police fights undercover cops to air in the media.

Thus, just to clarify one more time:

  • This is a genuine voluntary and spontaneous citizen movement; it was not planned by a party or by some foreign power to weaken the JDP government;
  • The people who are participating in it are not “radicals” or “marginals” as the prime-minister claims they are, whatever that means;
  • There have been no violence whatsoever in or around the park until the police attacked. The protestors have not attacked anyone, did not loot anything. There was nothing violent going on today when the police attacked us cruelly. The park has become a peaceful self-sustaining commune with many tents, a health-center, and a library, with workshops going on through the day, with people hanging out. Of course, it is destroyed now.
  • The content of prime-minister’s speeches are mostly made up of lies which are aimed at provoking people and making the interventions look legitimate.
  • There has been no efforts from the government at negotiating, or solving the issue besides violence. The word was out that the prime-minister was going to meet with the representatives of the movement; turns out no one from the Taksim Solidarity Platform who have been organizing and talking for the protests until this point have been invited. I am not sure who the PM is going to talk, but they are not the representativeness of the movement. It is just a PR show to make it look as if the PM is taking steps.

At this point, I am back home. I got thrown onto the other side of the square and could not make my way back to the park because of the police. I am extremely afraid for everyone, for my friends and countless others who I don’t know personally, who are still in and around the park. I am afraid for the future of this country. I can’t see this end well. Not with this government; not with the way they have been acting. I wish to be proven wrong. I so wish to be proven wrong. But I’ve already been shown that I am naive when it comes to the limits of government brutality in Turkey.

Taken from Gezi Park Medya's Facebook Page

-Deniz Erkmen-

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Living in Taksim – Report June 10-11, 2013

Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Sinefil. Pictures copyright: Ulaş Tosun

Long time, no report. It has been a tough week… Monday was fairly relaxed, I was in the park 6-10 AM again, it was a continuation of the previous two weeks: peaceful, green, full of life. In the evening, it was announced that the PM would meet with a group of people on Wednesday to discuss the park. It was the first announcement about negotiations, but the problem was that these people were not representatives chosen by the protestors, but some people related to the park and a random group of artists. Nevertheless, I thought it was good that some steps were taken.

Tuesday morning, looking forward to the forthcoming negotiations on Wednesday and certain the police would hold back until then, I put on a light make-up, wore a skirt and high-heeled suede boots. The park was gorgeous again at 6 AM. At around 6:50, there was a short bout of panic- apparently, the number of police down the hill had surged. The panic quelled shortly, although everyone had already gotten up. At 7:30, news arrived that the police was demolishing some of the barricades and entering the square. They made an announcement that they were there only to clean up the façade of the cultural center from the banners (the most popular of which was a giant “Shut up Tayyip”), and the statue of Ataturk (which was covered with banners and graffiti). The governor tweeted that they had no intention of entering the park.

The rest of the morning was a long wait. Some of the groups that wanted to keep the barricades started clashes with the police at certain locations. Some of these were apparently police in civilian clothing, as our friends who had access to TVs informed us via Twitter. They were wearing standard-issue gas masks and carrying walkie-talkies. The general impression was that it was a charade staged by the police and broadcast live by all the channels that had been absent the first few days. I tried to go home to change, but was told that my neighborhood was not safe at the moment. At some point, a human chain was formed around the park. Most of us walked out to see what was going on, but no one was attacking the police. That’s when we got hit by the first gas. We all rushed back to the park, trying not to panic and not to run. It turns out my swimming goggles are really good at keeping the gas away from my eyes, and my makeshift gas mask -which is essentially a filter with extra paper towel tucked inside – also worked pretty well. It’s still a pretty unpleasant and painful affair.

At 1 PM, the Taksim Solidarity was supposed to read out their press release. A large group of people gathered on the steps. The police made an

Blasting away the Anticapitalist Muslims

Blasting away the Anticapitalist Muslims

announcement saying they did not intend to attack and of course, soon gas bomb pellets were flying in our direction. We retreated back into the park. This whole thing repeated itself once again, and it was pretty clear the press release was not going to get read. The press that had broadcast the charade in the morning was not around to show any of this. I went back to our tent, where I spent most of the rest of the day. Luckily, at some point I was able to go home and change into jeans and sneakers.

The view on the edge of the park - it was much more peaceful inside

The view on the edge of the park – it was much more peaceful inside`

Despite the announcement of not entering the park, the police did enter parts, and kept on throwing gas bombs inside. Our side of the park was largely unaffected, but the Western side was often covered with gas. Later in the evening, many people showed up in solidarity, but the general feeling was quite tense, the police having been literally pushed out once. They were able to destroy a portion of the tents, those closest to the square. Ironically, one of the first to go was the masjid (prayer space) put up by the Anticapitalist Muslims group (pic above). Throughout the evening, both TV channels and some people on Twitter kept on talking about how the police was entering the park, beating people and burning the tents. I got curious, as none of that was within my vision from the tent. A midnight stroll through the park resulted in confirming that there was nothing really terrifying going on in the park – tense, but quiet waiting. Apparently, this was a way of intimidating people into not coming to the park. When I posted a picture of the quiet park, I received quite a few mentions calling me a liar. So we (or I) realized that Twitter was not simply a useful tool for communication, but also a weapon of disinformation.

The police at the entrance to my mom's street

The police at the entrance to my mom’s street

I wasn’t sure how I would go home, since there were clashes on and off en route. My mother’s was also out of the question since the police was situated exactly between her place and the park (pic below). Luckily, I ran into some friends and ended up staying with them – it also felt really good to be in the company of others, and not by myself after a long day of waiting in fear. (Soon to come: Things did get better the next day, although it was a long night for those who stayed in the park…)

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