“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 #
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 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.