Archive | Stories

#OccupyGezi: How a Sit-In for Trees In Istanbul Invigorated the Global Occupy Movement

“One day there will be no borders, no boundaries, no flags and no countries and the only passport will be the heart”  ― Carlos Santana 

Istanbul, Turkey–I’m sitting in a colorful, 3-bedroom collective house just off of Taksim Square in downtown Istanbul, Turkey, but I might as well be in New York City, or Paris, or Sydney, Australia. Around me buzz Erasmus students and clown artists and culture jamming hacktivists as I work frustratingly to change the browser settings on their computer to English. I’m trying to set up a Google+ Hangout link to the occupied Cooper Union back in New York, where another batch of students have also been aiming to dislodge their own dictator-of-sorts with a month-long sit-in protest.

I ask if this is the headquarters of Occupy Gezi, now in its second week and spreading across the country. Laughs.

I ask if these are the leaders around me. Billowing, hilarious laughs.

Tolga, a gentle-toned but charismatic man who is proud to place himself among the first park defenders, points me to his back balcony. His hand traces up the length of a soaring Turkish maple tree that winds up and through the shared backyard. The cacophony of voices behind me seems to fade as he recites from memory a poem by Turkish leftist Nâzım Hikmet Ran.

“To live! Like a tree alone and free / Like a forest in brotherhood” 

It occurs to me in that moment that I’d completely misunderstood the protests to be about the wrong residents of Taksim Square. The boisterous people around me, the students, the protesters, even the police, were just migrants to this place, like Roma gypsies in a slow crawl from Asia to Europe or back the other way. The real beings facing eviction  the true occupiers of Gezi Park  are the 606 Turkish trees. And three had already been martyred for the cause.

On the day I arrived to Istanbul, thousands had assembled in Zuccotti Park, in Montreal,  in Paris and in Madrid to publicly denounce the violence against Gezi’s trees and their defenders. Waving Turkish flags they joined with the growing number of Turks across every province in unified chants of Tayyip Istifa! (Resign Tayyip!) and stamped their protest with Twitter hashtags #OCCUPYGEZI and #DIRENGEZIPARK (Resist for Gezi Park!) Meanwhile, in Gezi Park itself, the retreat of the police brought a massive outpouring of popular support for the tree defenders and soon the park was brimming with people, and new and more complex structures began to pop up under the shade of those 606 Turkish trees: a medical station, a free general store, even a library. It was like eviction defense for the trees, and increasingly the trees became yet another symbol now for the human victims of over-zealous capitalism and urban gentrification: the Kurds, the LGBT, the Armenians, the Roma, the poor, the young, the people.

This is Occupy reinvigorated. This is the basic human struggle for the dignity of nature and humanity in the face of the most menacing enemy we have ever faced: global capital. And while the selfless humanitarians of Occupy Sandy and Occupy Our Homes and the clever agitators at Strike Debt and Occupy the Workplace reach deeper into our communities to build grassroots defense networks, these young Turks are on the front line in a global offensive. And it’s a battle without borders.

Several days later, with lingering tear gas on my clothes and a hefty dose of sleep exhaustion, I bid farewell to my new Turkish comrades and board a flight to Paris. Like neurons in a vast global sensory system, we are filling in the synapses that connect disparate geographies and local cultures. The internet has laid down the international wires of our switchboard, but its operators are quickly facing the same threats as the Turkish trees: walled-off, closed, premium, proprietary and wire-tapped digital enclosure and foreclosure. If the Erdogan problem in Gezi park doesn’t seem universal to you, you’re just not paying attention. Like diverse and organic, free-flowing physical space, the open spaces of the internet are quickly being commodified and privatized in the name of national security or for straight greed. SOPA? NSA, anyone?

In safeguarding and liberating the digital and physical commons, Occupy is finding its international calling. New tactics and strategies are emerging, and a diversity of local demands and new political alliances. New fronts in the global struggle for economic and social justice will emerge and flare up, and international solidarity will threaten the very fabric of insular, monopolistic nation-states. And the humblest of beings  like the silent Turkish trees  will become symbols of a global popular movement.

-Justin Wedes-

Justin Wedes is an educator and activist living in Brooklyn New York. He recently traveled to Istanbul, Turkey to meet with, and document the exciting work of, Occupy Gezi organizers. He’ll share stories from his trip this Friday at 319 Scholes Conversations: #OccupyGezi

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

Posted in Resistanbul, StoriesComments (3)

PHOTOS: Clashes in Gazi Mahallesi, Istanbul

Editor’s note: These photos were taken by activist and photographer  during clashes between protestors and police in Gazi Mahallesi, Istanbul on June 8th, 2013. They were originally published at Jenna’s blog. Click here to support Jenna’s stunning and inspiring work.

 

IMG_9559

Cops wait on top of a hill as protestors stand near a fire. The smoke from the fire helps keep the tear gas away.

IMG_9572

Protestors walking down the street as water cannon trucks approach from behind.

IMG_9583

A protestor walking down the street as water cannon trucks approach from behind.

IMG_9586

Protestors standing the street as water cannon trucks approach.

IMG_9599

Protestors holding up peace signs in front of the water cannon trucks.

IMG_9612

Protestors running down the street to get away from a water cannon truck.

IMG_9640

A protestor holding rocks in his hands.

IMG_9642

A police vehicle shining a light down a street to look for protestors after they were dispersed using water cannon trucks, flash bangs, and tear gas.

IMG_9648

Protestors taking a break after being chased down the street by water cannon trucks.

IMG_9654

Tear gas in the streets in Gazi where there have been clashes between protestors and police the past few nights.

IMG_9675

A protestor standing near a fire after the area was tear gassed. The smoke from the fire helps keep the tear gas away.

IMG_9678

I saw this graffiti as I returned to Taksim after photographing and being gassed in Gazi.

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

Posted in Pictures, Resistanbul, StoriesComments (0)

PHOTOS: 3 Days of #OccupyGezi

Editor’s note: These photos were taken by activist and photographer  at Gezi Park and Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, June 5th-7th.  They were originally published at Jenna’s blog. Click here to support Jenna’s stunning and inspiring work. 

IMG_8292 2

IMG_8317

IMG_8361

IMG_8440

IMG_8499

IMG_8506

IMG_8617

IMG_8692

IMG_8750

IMG_8764

IMG_8806

IMG_8879

IMG_8916

IMG_8940

IMG_8952

IMG_8998

IMG_9007

IMG_9020

IMG_9093 2

IMG_9152

IMG_9166

IMG_9139

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

Posted in Resistanbul, StoriesComments (0)

Living in Taksim: Weekend Report, June 8-9

Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Sinefil.

Istnabul, Turkey–The police has announced that they would not intervene at the park until Monday. So the weekend in Istanbul was peaceful, the park full of “tourists,” people who come from all over town to see what’s going on. We even had visits from various family members…

The big event of Saturday was the walk by soccer fans towards Taksim, especially by Beşiktaş supporters. Çarşı, a particular group of fans, has been very active in the resistance since the beginning, and they have amassed an enormous number of fans – not necessarily the club, but the fan group. They walked from Beşiktaş up the hill through Nişantaşı. We intercepted a small portion at Elmadağ, a very enthusiastic and diverse group. They were joined by Fenerbahçe fans crossing over from the Asian side, and a smaller number of Galatasaray fans walking along İstiklal. This was what it looked like when they all arrived on the square.

I skipped all that and went to meet some friends at Asmalımescit, and area full of bars and suffering heavily since the ban of tables outdoors last year. People were standing around, breaking into chants and songs every few minutes. The whole area around İstiklal is truly unbelievable, everyone’s smiling. I hear that people are singing on the ferries, in the metro, all around. A psychiatrist wrote about this today, saying people have overcome their fears and have a different stand now. We were talking about this a lot yesterday, especially those who have been on the barricades are full of energy and life. These are not “looters” as our PM likes to say, but lawyers, engineers, bankers with advanced degrees, international careers. The transnational capitalist class become revolutionaries…

But still, my age group appears to be more apprehensive than the younger generation, who are seen as the engine leading this movement. I feel truly “middle-aged” for the first time. Maybe it’s the experience of having lived through a coup d’etat, maybe it’s having seen too many films; I (and most of my friends) cannot be as optimistically hopeful as the young. It is an amazing thing that is happening, no doubt, and things are changing – or beginning to. But we often say this is great “even if nothing comes out of it” or “even if they build the barracks.” Defeatist, perhaps; or simply realistic.

Sunday was a day full of RTE speeches. He gave 6 speeches I believe, stopping every few miles from the airport into the city in Ankara. He wore the same horrid checkered jacket, and said more or less the same lies at every stop. It’s amazing how blatantly and full of hatred he can lie. Some examples: he claims protesters entered a mosque with their shoes and drank alcohol inside. Truth: they did enter with their shoes, but cleaned up afterwards – they were running in because they were being chased by the police, with gas. The imam of the mosque himself gave interviews saying the mosque was only used as a makeshift hospital and no one drank inside. There are extensive videos of what was going on inside. Another example: his government is apparently pro-environment, because they planted 2,800,000,000 trees. Never mind the environmental disasters they are causing (hydroelectric centrals, nuclear plant planned, cutting down forests everywhere – one petition here) but 2,800,000,000? People tried to make the calculations, and it seems impossible. He maintains his divisive language of “my people” and “my police” versus “those looters.” He also keeps on talking about an “interest lobby” that’s behind all this. No one’s sure what that is, we’re suspecting his advisers may have mistranslated “special interest lobbies” (the sense he uses the word in is the interest in finance, with percentages and all). What makes me truly sick is that he kept on using the policeman who died. He made a martyr of the poor man, as if he was murdered by protesters. The police had accidentally fallen off a construction while he was pursuing protestors – his own colleague testified that he was overworked and tired. While the PM gave his speeches around Ankara, thousands gathered at Kızılay (the main square there), and were gassed/watered/beaten by the police without showing the slightest sign of violent protest. So the police violence remains, it’s just not in Taksim anymore because Taksim is too much in the spotlight.

We walked from there back to Taksim. There were multiple protesting groups walking in opposite directions. Every time we came across another group, we stood, chanted a few lines together, and moved on. This is a truly surreal experience. I know I’m repeating myself, but I cannot stress enough how amazing/weird/unbelievable this is. It feels like we’re all in a dream, hoping it won’t turn into a nightmare. I spent the Sunday morning at the park, which was fairly quiet. This has got to be the best-documented resistance movement in history. In addition to all the protesters shooting videos and taking pictures, the filmmakers in the park had organized six different groups shooting around the park and the activities throughout the day. This is not just the documentarians, but award-winning fiction directors. It looks like we’re going to have a whole batch of films coming out of all this. One of the activities was the protest at the historic Emek theater, the oldest movie theater in the city that was torn down about two weeks ago. We had protested for about three years to stop the construction of -guess what?- another shopping mall (here’s an article in The Guardian about it). Again, a very personal cause for me, as it was my favorite theater (as it was for many cinephiles), and my father used to live in the adjoining beautiful Circle d’Orient building as a teenager – that has also been demolished. They’re supposed to keep the façade, but everything else is gone. A huge banner was hung on Circle d’Orient, carrying the lines of a beloved Turkish poet.

-Melis Behlil-

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

Posted in Resistanbul, StoriesComments (0)

Resist Istanbul: A Personal Story

Editors’ note: This story originally appeared at İnsanlik Hali.

When There is No Other Way but Resistance!

Istanbul, Turkey–At home in Istanbul, grading student papers while trying to follow continuous Facebook updates of events, I am getting more and more anxious to leave. It is impossible to concentrate. I read few lines from the paper, stop and think “do I have vinegar at home?” I read a few more lines, stop and wonder “does the pharmacy sell gas masks?” Not able to sit any longer, I call, text and Facebook message a few friends: a marine biologist first, a graduate student in history second, then a film director and an environmental engineer. Everyone is planning to head to the Taksim square. I pack some vinegar and a bandanna into my backpack, I make sure I wear sneakers so I can run fast and I leave home not quite sure what is ahead of me.

At the ferry terminal, I greet my friend who just walked there from a meditation workshop. Aslı and I originally met at a yoga class. A month ago, we were at a yoga retreat together, in a small, peaceful green campground next to the Mediterranean. We look at each other, half worry-half smile. Life is, indeed, strange. I notice that her friend has flip flops on; in my mind I go “Who will wear flip flops to a demonstration like this?” But this is what happens when you have young writers, yoga teachers, and filmmakers in an uprising. We are not that experienced when it comes to fighting police on the streets; it has not really been our cup of tea until now. But in the next few days, we’ll get our training.

My generation – people born in the mid 70s to 90s in Turkey – have been categorically defined by their being apolitical. Born around and after the military coup where many activists have been jailed and tortured brutally, many of us, unless their families were activists, have been socialized to avoid “politics.” Demonstrations have been dangerous affairs in Turkey and we have been taught by our families to stay away as much as possible. While this has changed over time to a certain extent, that socialization is strong and has created certain political habits of avoidance. Combine that with the general distrust towards established political institutions that is the trademark of the postindustrial generations and an unresponsive system without many functioning channels for participation, and you have people who are not very positive about the possibilities of change through participation.

Then why are all my friends walking towards Taksim? What happened? Why would someone like me, someone who hates crowds, feels slightly awkward when she chants the slogans of the Turkish leftist parties, who flees the city whenever she can to rockclimb, would pack vinegar and a bandanna and walk towards a square where she is pretty sure she will get tear-gassed, maybe even worse?

https://fbcdn-sphotos-e-a.akamaihd.net

At this point, I have already been part of the activities that have been going on to protect the small park, Gezi Park, at Taksim square, which is the social and political center of Istanbul. The park is, comparatively, tiny. Don’t think Central Park or Hyde Park; it is probably not even 1/10th of those. But it is the only green space in this very busy, very urban square. The Justice and Development Party (JDP) government has decided unilaterally that they were to turn the park into a shopping mall in a replica of an Ottoman military barrack, even though there are multiple malls in walking distance or a few metro stops away. An association and a platform was formed around the issue and they started organizing and gathering signatures to protect the park.

This attempt to destroy the park was not an isolated case of transferring public property for private development. It was just one incident among the ongoing attacks from the JDP party directed towards public spaces, including not just historical buildings, city squares and neighborhoods, but also forests and national parks. We have been witnessing an ongoing destruction over the years. Just in the last few months, amidst protests, a beloved pastry shop in a historical building was closed and a cherished movie theater was torn down because they were in a historical building that was sold to be turned into a shopping and entertainment complex. The groundbreaking for the third bridge over Bosphorus which is expected to cause enormous environmental damage took place against opposition from citizen initiatives and professional bodies. The law to open up national parks to development was just waiting to be discussed at the parliament. We were sharing our concerns among friends and on social media, but were joking about how we couldn’t keep up with the speed of destruction.

Nor was the style new: pushing a big urban project that has no public support, that does not make sense from a public service nor urban planning perspective, without any regard for objections coming from the civil society. Tayyip Erdoğan’s version of “democracy” meant that since he was elected and has majority in the parliament, he could do whatever he wanted, however he wanted to do it.

The governing style was indicative of an increasingly authoritarian and arrogant JDP party that was single-handedly pushing a conservative and neoliberal agenda. On the one hand, there were ongoing series of policies that were enacted that caused fear about state intervention in people’s lives and choices. There was the discussion about banning abortions and stories about women being mistreated in state-hospitals when they went in to get abortions; then the PM demanding families to have three kids. There was the overhaul of the education system with the goal of raising “a religious generation.” There was the ban on alcohol consumption between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am along with a ban on all alcohol advertisement. There was a growing sense that the government was trying to push a lifestyle and fit the public into a conservative mold.

On the other hand, the problem was not just about our fear for our lifestyles. It also looked like the PM was using these interventions to distract everyone from major issues and to woo his followers by emphasizing the party’s conservativeness. In the meantime, democratic deficits of Turkey just continued to exacerbate. Turkey became the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world. The mainstream media was silenced and the judiciary became an ally for the executive. There was no way to oppose the JDP. Lastly, on May 11, there was a bombing in Reyhanlı, a town on Syrian border, already tense as a result of the civil war in Syria and Turkish government’s support for the opposition forces. 51 people were killed and the goverment reacted by banning the media from reporting on Reyhanlı. 51 people dead, 140 injured and we couldn’t even read about it in the papers.

While these were happening, people around me were getting more and more frustrated. We joked among our friends about how we couldn’t read the newspapers in the morning because we got too depressed to do work, and how we coudn’t read them at night because we lost our sleep. I felt like I was pushed into a corner by the increasingly conservative and authoritarian politics of the JDP, that I had no place to live and breathe in this country. I was feeling suffocated. Suffocated in this once majestic city where I was born and grew up, whose streets I have walked for years. Constantly afraid that any building, any street, and any natural area in other parts of the country that I loved and cherished was about to be destroyed. Voiceless, powerless; I felt helpless and I was angry not just at the government but at my helplessness. Gezi Parkı felt like a corner that we were pushed into. It was the last corner. It was small; but I could fight to save it.

So I followed the activities of the Taksim platform; I tried to spread the word over the social media. Then last week, on May 27, we got the news that the government sent bulldozers to start the construction. A small group stopped the bulldozers and on May 28 the police tried to push them out. The Gezi Parkı Watch was organized so some activists started sleeping at the park to fend off the bulldozers. People started to go to the park, including myself. The demonstrations were relatively small at first. In fact, I was not quite sure if they would ever get bigger. It was fun; people cheering, singing. A young, educated, colorful crowd, made mostly of anarchists, feminists, socialists, students, LGBT movement… Knowing that we are doing our best to show that we care about our right to this city felt good – but I also was not sure if we got any support beyond the park. And I was not sure what I would do if the police just kicked us out and tore the park down.

But when on the morning of May 31st the police raided the park at 5am, teargassed the demonstrators and burnt their tents down; when they continued to brutally teargas and spray people with water, even during the press release at the Taksim square couple of hours later; when a young woman was shot by tear-gas canisters in her head, I instinctively knew that there was no going back. To protest or not to protest was not a question anymore. The brutality, the arrogance, the sense of injustice was so strong and so in our faces that at last it boiled over. You push people back into a corner, and you keep on attacking, and they have to push back. There is a point where political protest is a defense as much as voice.

http://s3-ec.buzzfed.com

What has transpired after that has just been incredible. That night, on the ferry, we could already smell the teargas blowing in the wind from Taksim. We were afraid but we knew what we had to do. We joined others who were coming from all directions as we walked up Cihangir to Sıraselviler with thousands of people, people who looked, how should I put it, very regular. They have finished their work day, walked off their offices and met their friends. They were frustrated with the brutality, with the sense that their lives, their choices, their voices did not matter. They were frustrated about the arrogance of the prime minister. They were tired of feeling helpless. They wanted to breathe, live in freedom.

So they walked and chanted, in solidarity. I had friends who were walking from different directions towards Taksim Square that night and we all had similar stories to tell. Stories of cooperation and kindness amidst chaos. It was scary but incredibly uplifting. Are all street uprisings against police this friendly? These demonstrators were saying “sorry” when they bumped into each other while running away from a tear-gas canisters. They were sharing their food and water, spraying each others’ teary burning faces with homemade antihistamine-water mixtures, carying one another, shouting “do not panic” while trying to remain calm under tear- gas fire, building barricades together. People were opening their doors and letting strangers in. Older people were shouting words of support from windows and giving protesters lemon, milk and vinegar (to help with the effects of the teargas). It felt like the people of Istanbul, who normally grunt and grind their teeth at each other in public, who elbow their way in and out of public transportation have realized that they actually live in the same city, that they can actually help each other and cooperate… That was the feeling – a moment of enlightenment: Yes, we live in the same city. Yes, we have the right to live like dignified human beings. And yes, we can.

Görsel

I am pretty sure that this is a turning point in Turkish political history. A game-changer. Not because of what will come out of it as a result. I have no idea what will come out of these protests. I know that the aftermath of any uprising is chaotic; those that are the most organized have a way of hijacking the process; and established practices and habits do not disappear quickly. Moreover, a lot depends on the prime minister, whose reaction until this point has just been unbelievably, infuriatingly uncompromising. He is transforming himself into a dictator in front of our eyes and provoking his supporters in a very dangerous and irresponsible manner. So, who knows what will happen? I cannot claim to be overly hopeful – if things go downhill from here, there can also be a lot of disappointment.

But I believe that what we have witnessed in the past week was a break of political tradition in Turkey. There has been nothing similar in recent Turkish history, where so many people of different stripes came out on the streets voluntarily, spontaneously, and have cooperated, coexisted and resisted together. This was a huge learning experience for all these “apolitical” professionals and youth who saw and experienced first-hand that if they act in solidarity – and they acted in solidarity; the socialists, the secularists, the soccer fans, the feminists, the Kurds – they can achieve something. That there is joy in solidarity and cooperation when you are fighting against injustice. That they can, in fact, use their strongest assets – their wit, creativity and love – against police brutality. Finally, we took to the streets and finally we are not afraid or helpless anymore. Now even my three year old niece says she wants to go out and join the resistance. That gives me some hope.

 

http://mashallahnews.com/

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

Posted in Resistanbul, StoriesComments (1)

Living in Taksim – Daily Report June 7, 2013

Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Sinefil.

Long, long day. And not just one, but two speeches by RTE (the PM). Luckily, I managed to miss them both. His first speech was at the airport, upon his arrival from Algiers via Ankara. First the AKP announced that they didn’t want an audience then I guess they changed their mind. Thousands of SMSs were sent inviting people to the airport, free bus services were arranged from all around the city, and the metro line to the airport was kept open until 4 AM. Normally, the metro shuts down at midnight. During the first few days of the protests, metro service to Taksim was stopped altogether. Let alone free bus rides, traffic was diverted away from Taksim. People came anyway.

At his airport speech, RTE was apparently as enraged as ever, declaring that the construction will not stop. His speech will be good material for discourse analysis classes in the years to come. Even the language he employs is divisive and inflammatory. The press was given pictures of the “huge” crowds, which were apparently photoshopped (see below). I’m not arguing that Erdogan is not supported by many, but the need to do this shows a certain desperation… His second speech was in the afternoon, while we were live on radio (more on this later). Apparently, it was softer and milder, and ended with a promise to tear down the Ataturk Cultural Center on Taksim (currently being renovated by the Sabanci Holding) and build “a baroque-style opera building” in its place. Someone needs to remind him that a. AKM (cultural center) is indeed an opera building and b. he announced plans to shut down all cultural activities (opera, theater, ballet, symphony) by the state.

I started out with a shift at the cinema tent 6-10 AM. The park is beautiful at that hour; not empty at all, but peaceful. Apparently people were up until the first lights of the day, making sure the police don’t appear again after the airport speech. 6-10 is the cleanup time, it’s when some are asleep in their tents, others start getting ready for the day. There were some “leftovers,” still somewhat drunk, babbling on. Park is getting somewhat stricter on alcohol, there are signs around to “remain sober,” especially at night, when the previous attacks happened. But the police have now agreed not to take any action until Monday. What happens on Monday, we do not know.
In the afternoon, I did my usual weekly radio program on Açık Radyo, with my co-programmer Yeşim Burul and guest İrem İnceoğlu. We talked about the representation of the protests in the media, the role of social media, and connected to two activists from Videoccupy, who are documenting the entire process. For those who can understand Turkish, here’s the link to the show.
After an evening stroll in the park, I decided I needed something else and went to Nişantaşı for the evening. Life goes on normally elsewhere in the city (even though I have to walk there because there are barricades on the way). It was really nice to be with friends and somewhere without signs and graffiti, even though we could not talk about anything else than the events and what might happen, and kept on checking our Twitter accounts. While we were there Red Hack representatives gave an interview on TV, expressing all the frustrations that are shared by all who joined the protests. (Interview here, in Turkish).
This whole process has made us all somewhat sensitive and emotional. We hug more, we say “I love you” more, we tend to get teary-eyed unusually often. With me, it’s even more personal, because that was, thankfully still is, “my park.” I was born and raised in Taksim, Gezi is where my parents took me to play – as my friends take their children now. We’ve been protesting for nearly two years, come rain or come snow, often in discouragingly small numbers. But I always had an intuition that something would happen if they tried to touch the park. I always thought “it’s not that easy.” No matter what happens now, it’s clear that it’s not that easy. I feel like the entire country has come out to support “my park;” I feel grateful and proud at the same time.  And here I go with the teary eyes again…
-Melis Behlil-
Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.

Posted in Resistanbul, StoriesComments (0)

Where is Occupy Now?

Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Art F City.

Where is Occupy Now?

June 1, 2013.  Answer: Turkey.

Gliding down Broadway last Saturday, the blazing-red Mark di Suvero sculpture known to arts professionals as “Joie de Vivre” and to Occupy Wall Street as “the Weird Red Thing” comes into view. The scene is familiar. Facing west, I see white-shirt cops on Broadway and Liberty and the Imperial Walker-esque NYPD surveillance tower perched in the lower right corner of the park. More friendly are the falafel and juice stands lined up on the left.  The 33,000 square feet of public/private space formerly known as Zuccotti Park pulses with energy: men and women waving red flags, shouting in unison and singing spirited songs in Turkish.

It is day one of #OccupyGeziParkNYC, an American offshoot of the Turkish #OccupyGeziPark, that began as peaceful sit-in demonstration against a shopping mall slated to replace Istanbul’s last major public square. The protest quickly morphed into a Tahrir-like movement to oust Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Tens of thousands of protesters in Taksim Square were tear gassed, arrested in the hundreds, some beaten and killed by the police.  Within hours, a solidarity group called #OccupyGeziParkNYC had begun to organize a response. There were even those from the OWS movement who flew to the action, like Justin Wedes, a member of the communication working  group in Zuccotti. “The revolution has just begun,” he tweets, the first of a day, in seemingly hundreds he sends out. (He also files regular posts at Animal NY).

This converged last minute with a planned OWS re-occupation or “homecoming” action for June 1 which I was attending. Since the eviction of Liberty Square on November 15th2011, big days of action such as May 1st (M1) or the September 17th anniversary (S17– we activists convert important dates into codes to make them sound ominous) partially fell into the shadow of the original Occupy season. Each big march provided proof that the movement is still here but dwindling.  You’d see many familiar faces from the glory days of the park, but a reunion just does not equate to a movement that can take on Capitalism. Especially a slightly dysfunctional reunion. Occupy was slowly fragmenting into groups (though impressive ones);  big moments where Occupiers came together were becoming  less and less convincing.

Saturday felt different though, and it looked different, too.  I saw very few familiar faces in the park, now filled with Turkish protesters. “It’s exciting” Occupier Marisa Holmes told me, speaking of the new upbeat energy in Liberty Park. This energy flows in from elsewhere causing creative hybridized memes to pop up like wildflowers. OWS posters from 2011 have been re-tooled for Turkey, yellow “Occu-tape” is wrapped around trees to highlight the eradication of green space in Istanbul,  those famous ragged cardboard signs are scrawled in Turkish. Someone bangs a pot with a spoon in the protest style of the Quebec student movement or “Casseroles.” Others hold signs that say “Turkish Spring,” harkening back to Egypt and Tunisia.  It’s as if all the movement memes from the last couple years have ended up in a common whirlpool.

By noon, the park was so packed that all I could see of the movement were those squeezed up against me. I made my way through the dense crowd to catch a better view from Zuccotti’s northern wall (hallowed site of the speakers’ area in the very first OWS general assemblies). There I met a Turkish woman in her fifties, Lutfiye Karakus, a nurse from Staten Island, who has been in the US for twenty-one years.  She’s part of the 99%, having lost her home to foreclosure, and watched the American Dream slip away. She made it out to Liberty Park once in 2011 to join the protest.

This time, she tells me tales of Turkish corruption where the 1% straddle the financial and political lines, similar to the impetus for Occupy Wall Street. Luftiye was enraged at the Turkish media blackout, including even CNN Turkey, during the protests and police violence. “The police sprayed tear gas in people’s eyes and blinded them,” she told me.

The focus on Turkey– with red crescent flags, pictures of Turkey’s modern state founder Ataturk, and chants of “Turkiye! Turkiye! Turkiye!”– may seem strangely nationalistic for an Occupy movement. But Occupy doesn’t espouse a singular political view. The activist and anthropologist David Graeber reported from among the different political players in the planning stages before September 17th; not only Anarchists, but members of the Democratic Party and quite a few Ron Paul followers. (One of the “bottomliners” of the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City was a big fan of Ayn Rand). And then once the movement went viral, hundreds of cities interpreted Occupy differently, from Oakland’s militant style to El Paso’s protests against the government.

After we parted ways, I began to wonder why Lutfiye and her Turkish community decided to use Occupy to raise their voices. A few years ago, she had participated in a large Turkish protest outside the United Nations. Why head down to Lower Manhattan this time? “Because they’re not appealing to the UN” Occupier Marisa Holmes told me. She believes the slowness of a bureaucracy is unappealing to many, particularly now that there’s a little Occupy-inspired Anarchism in the air. Appealing to fellow citizens directly may be more effective than the state, and Occupy is building a platform for it.

That’s exactly why it’s exciting. For one, the “Occupy” meme itself can be interchanged with other locations and causes like Legos (Occupy Gezi Park, Occupy the SEC, Occupy Museums, etc).

Second, it offers tools for communication, whether through social media mutual aid efforts or offline “social software”: the hand signs, and the people’s mic, which allow large groups of people to project their voices without speakers or microphones.

Third, Occupy serves up a toolbox of direct action tactics: the long-term holding of space (Tahrir Square, Liberty Park, and Frank H. Ogawa Plaza) shorter-term occupations (a 2011 sleep-in at Lincoln Center, a 2012 occupation at the Berlin Biennale, and last month’s occupation of the Ludwig Museum in Hungary) and spectacular actions (just today, Occupy Gezi crowdfunded a full-page ad in the New York Times).

Finally, Occupy offers a form of horizontal organizing which discourages the centralization of leadership. These tactics have diverse roots, from the Zapatista Movement of the 1990’s to Spanish Anarchists. But this time, an unprecedented ability to socially network makes it possible for these tactics to flow in bursts of energy across the globe, and also to rapidly morph and develop in a co-authored but connected way: kind of like the Internet.

Circulation is happening offline as well, as occupiers travel the globe to exchange movement experiences and tactics. Hundreds of occupiers, for example, attended The World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis as part of a group called Global Square. Their attendance, fellow occupier Marisa Holmes told me at Zucotti, took the form of an occupation. “They didn’t know how to relate to us.” she said, explaining this was in part due to a generational clash and in part due to an entrenched vertical leadership. Still, group met every day, and over all, Marisa concluded that “It was really great for us.”

I got that sense from other occupiers as well, but it’s important to remember that these movements have a darker side as well. Damage to the body can easily occur during protests, as police violence is common. Activists can lose jobs or damage professional reputations by standing up for strong political positions. The time and risk required in the heat of a movement can destroy relationships; a member of Occupy Museums went through a divorce, partly due to her strong commitment to the movement in 2011. Activists have power struggles with other activists, and most of all, exhaustion. Most of us have gone through some form of movement trauma.

At this point, Occupy Wall Street increasingly operates within totally separate networks.  When the Turkish community began to thin out that evening, the tribe reconvened in little clusters to discuss re-occupation. I heard many woeful tales about power struggles, people’s Occu-nemeses, their banishment from groups, or just sense of burnout. Although there was a 6 PM assembly to discuss re-occupation organized by a group called Occupy Town Square, it became clear that any sort of large consensus wasn’t going to happen.

These may sound like big problems, but they don’t define the movement.  It just means that the movement is moving along in stages. To name just a few of the many efforts in the last 9 months, Occupy Sandy has figured out a new model to provide direct relief to those affected by global warming-fueled catastrophes. Strikedebt has come up with ingenious new economic proposals such as the Rolling Jubillee, a crowdsourced fund to buy up personal debt, and it’s produced a manual for debt resistance. Occupy the Pipeline is putting up a spirited fight against fracking. The group I’m in, Occupy Museums, is launching Debt Fair: an experimental art fair spread  throughout the streets of New York City that invites collectors buy art in exchange for artists’ debt.

These projects flow naturally from a view of the world you acquire by fatefully stepping into the public squares.  But they take a tremendous amount of energy. As we enter the long-haul, this practice can seem like a heavy burden to bear.

Yet on June 1st, I remembered something that is actually totally obvious: Occupy is no one’s burden. It’s an uncontrollable open source project where all responsibility is shared, and in that way, I see Occupy as an alternative model for culture. For a generation, the private sector has been encroaching on the public, reenforcing the mentality that we must achieve individual goals at all cost to shared resources. As depicted in mainstream entertainment and news organizations, we are people who distrust strangers and associate the public realm with poverty.  Occupying a park challenges these assumptions through practice. Serving food in a park, chanting, or organizing actions with people you just met points toward a culture based on shared, rather than private, space.  There’s a sublime feeling of connection with fellow protesters anywhere in the world.

From its inception, it was a perfect storm of talent, wisdom from past movements, catalyzed by economic and political shocks. It’s always had a random quality: the name and initial call itself was coined by a Canadian magazine, Adbusters, who didn’t even show up to their own party!  I have learned to suspend disbelief as the protest unfolded differently than any script I could imagine.

Yet another chapter is unfolding as thousands of Turkish protesters fill Liberty Park on June 1. This time however, the novelty has worn off, and Occupy is looking like a permanent part of our post-crash reality: a direct democratic forum for citizens to highlight and link political situations globally. And, as I stood there looking at a poster of Ataturk printed out on foamcore and decorated with yellow Occu-tape, I had another thought: Occupy just may be ahead of the curve.

-Noah Fischer-

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

Posted in Resistanbul, StoriesComments (0)

Living in Taksim – Daily Report, June 6

Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at Sinefil.

Istanbul, Turkey–Highlight of the day, or rather, frustration of the day: PM declared in Algiers that they “will build the barracks.” No understanding, no empathy, no reason. Luckily, the stock market went downhill after his declaration; that’s the only thing left that might convince him that he’s doing something wrong. He’s back in Ankara as of tonight and was supposed to land in Istanbul by 11 PM, but they keep on delaying it. The Interior Minister gave a speech full of blatant lies; he claimed no police attacked the Swan Park in Ankara, and when people pointed out that was untrue, he claimed that they had it wrong. Okay. He also claimed that the injured young man who fell off the construction site of the cultural center the other day was pushed by the protesters. If he could only come to Taksim, he would see how people apologize to one another even if they push each other by mistake – this isn’t just a lie, it’s slander in its worst form. But this is the man who was the head of the Istanbul Police Force when Hrant Dink was murdered. Enough said.

As far as my personal observations go, it was yet another peaceful and happy day. A morning walk through Cihangir, site of many gassings over the weekend: not even any graffiti on the walls, all seems normal. A protest march with academics from Tunel to Taksim: big crowd, very supportive onlookers, all in all a good experience. Taksim is the same, too many party flags around the square and on the cultural center I think, but the park remains a party-free zone. I mentioned the main food and medic center, there are many more at this point, as well as a well-drawn plan of the whole area. It is more organized than anything this government has ever done. I didn’t stay very long, it getting even more crowded than last night. I was afraid people would lose interest after the weekend, but I’m (happily) proven wrong.

In other news, one of the AKP members (may be a minister, sorry, not sure) declared that CHP (the main opposition party) should apologize for organizing the protests. We’ll say it again and again – this is a grassroots movement, not connected to any political organization. If CHP were strong enough to organize such an event, we wouldn’t even need to have these protests. It is amazing how much they don’t/can’t/won’t understand the nature of what is going on.

And on a sad note, a police officer died today, falling off of construction while pursuing some protestors. I’m no fan of the police, but this is a pointless way to die (if there ever were a non-pointless way). My only hope is that it will be a sign of how nonsensical the whole situation is.

Things seem to be pretty calm in Istanbul and most of the country, with some tension in Ankara. The creativity boost continues with tweets and slogans, and most significant input for today comes from Kardeş Türküler. PM made a statement about the noise protests held around the cities, where people bang on pots and pans. This song is a reaction to that.

We do realize that we are living in very different times. History is being written. Nothing may change directly at the end of these protests; they might even still re-build the barracks, but I want to believe that something has already changed in the way we look at each other and in our faith in ourselves.

-Melis Behlil-

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

Posted in Resistanbul, StoriesComments (0)

Living in Taksim, Daily Report June 5, 2013

Editors’ note: This story originally appeared at Sinefil.

Istanbul, Turkey–First off: Do not believe the reports in the media saying that Deputy PM Arınç has apologized. His words were directed to a very small group (the activists attacked in the park on the first night of the events), completely disregarding those killed and the thousands injured by police violence since the beginning; and his “apology” sounded more like a fuck you. Some people have a way of making anything sound that way… (Here’s a Turkish video of the “apology”)

For me, it was an exciting day as I was fully out and about for the first time since my cold. After doing some work in the morning, a few colleagues and I joined the tens of thousands with the unions walking from the Golden Horn up to Taksim Square (pic above). It was all peaceful, with a lot of chants. Sorry to say, socialist chants are not as much fun, or not nearly as energetic as those by the young crowds in the park. Another group, probably as large, had come in from the direction of Şişli. Remember how the police didn’t let the unions march to Taksim on May Day, and blocked the entire city to prevent them from doing so because it wasn’t “safe”? Well, apparently it’s perfectly safe when the police is not around.

I went on and off to the park, but when I arrived at 9 PM, it was more crowded than it had ever been. More crowded than a football game, a rock concert, a rush hour train… Today was a Muslim holiday, so there were calls to avoid alcohol, and it seemed that all abided by this. Prayers were held for believers, and this is important to show the 50% that does vote for AKP that it’s not a bunch of infidels in the park with no respect for any religion. There are now representative tents in the park, in addition to the developed kitchen and field hospital. I hung out around the tent of the cinema crowd, handing out free “simit” special for the holiday. All kinds of people, old and young, were walking by, again, everyone friendly and excited. Fireworks. Literally.

So the news from Taksim are as joyous as the last few days. They even managed to build an outdoor movie theater to show some films. But the police attacked the people again in Ankara with full force, and there were other incidents in Rize. So it’s impossible to say that all is well; and the screenings were cancelled because of this. As I write these, police are watering people in Ankara – and now for a change, CNN Turk is showing it live. If anyone is wondering how strong this water is, here is a video of an old friend of mine who is literally blown away by the force of the water; thankfully, he’s safe.

Representatives from Taksim have visited Deputy PM Arınç today. From what I can gather, nothing really came out of it. RTE comes back from his trip tomorrow. I am somewhat worried. I feel like we’re the children of an abusive father, and he’s about to come back home to beat the hell out of us. It wouldn’t make sense, but nothing he does makes sense. I saw an old friend today (all these old friends I see around the protests!), and when I admitted I was a little worried, he said that only people who are abroad or over 50 are worrying. Granted, I just recently came back, and I spent most of the day with my mother, but that doesn’t make the source of our fears any less real. We are not dealing with a rational man here. Taksim makes me think of the Paris Commune; let’s just leave it at that…

P.S.: I came across this video just after I finished this post. Apparently, I’m not the only one…

-Melis Behlil-

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

Posted in Resistanbul, StoriesComments (0)

On the Streets of Istanbul

Editors’ note: This piece originally appeared at JustinWedes.com.

Istanbul, Turkey–There’s something happening here.

It’s unpredictable. It’s chaotic. It’s raw and imperfect. It’s growing.

About to board a flight from Paris to NYC – I was repping Occupy Wall Street at the OECD Forum - I changed plans abruptly. I flew to Istanbul, grabbed a cab with another random globe-trotter I met, destination Taksim Square. Inside the square is a park called Gezi.

It is now occupied. With thousands of bodies: young, old, all religions, all political persuasions. It began early last week, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began to demolish the park to build a new commercial development. A small group of people – mostly youngsters like my friend Ege (see below) – fought back. And almost a week later the country is on spiritual (and in some places literal) fire. In over 48 cities people are protesting.

The air in the streets around Taksim is electric, because the police have withdrawn, at least for now. Last night, Saturday, techno music bumped in disco clubs while swarms of youth alternately ran from police flashes and tear gas and boogied down. Windows smashed, but nothing looted. Street medics applying bandages at narrow intersections, youth drunk with power and beer celebrating the (small) victory.

This morning’s rain washed away some of that evidence, but the sun started to emerge again around 11am, as did the protesters, but now in a much larger number. Some of them, clad in pink gloves and with blue trashbags, cleaned up the evidence of the reverie the night before. Bonfires that had burned and government vehicles that had exploded to applause had disappeared. Now, little kids and strollers replaced them. Flags of every color and political stripe.

I hear that the protests have been repressed brutally in other cities, and I may have to leave Taksim to Ankara later today to see for myself. People are basking in the uncertainty without fear, and nobody I speak to doubts that the whole country supports this uprising. It is beyond political now, they say.

What looked disorganized last night is beginning to congeal, but no one can tell me what will happen tomorrow when business is supposed to start up again. I guess we’ll see.

-Justin Wedes-

Justin Wedes is an activist, educator, media-maker and community organizer. He’s the co-founder of the Paul Robeson Freedom School in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to provide engaging, culturally-relevant curriculum to young adults in Brooklyn in order to train them to become educator-leaders in the struggle for high-quality, free education. To support the school and Justin’s independent media work, visit their website.

See more pics from the last few days on Justin’s facebook and twitter.

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

Posted in Resistanbul, StoriesComments (0)