I recently returned to the US after spending about two weeks in Istanbul, Turkey, photographing the uprising and resistance of the citizens there. What began with about 20 activists occupying Gezi Park in an attempt to stop the demolition of the park in order to replace it with a shopping mall turned into a countrywide uprising against the oppressive, authoritarian government after police attacked the peaceful protesters with tear gas and water cannons. Below you can find my first-hand experiences and photographs from my time on the ground:
After making a last-second decision to travel to Turkey in order to photograph and report on what is happening there, I arrived in Istanbul on the morning of June 5th, camera in-hand. I had been following what had happened in Istanbul up until I arrived there, and had seen the situation change significantly, so I was unsure of what to expect. The police had viciously attacked the protesters in Gezi Park and Taksim Square the first few days of resistance, but had since pulled out of the area, leaving the protesters to govern themselves.
After arriving at the Ataturk airport in Istanbul, I caught a cab and told the driver to drop me off as close to Taksim Square as possible, as I was aware the protesters had built make-shift barricades on the streets leading towards the square. He ended up dropping me off directly in front of one of the barricades, telling me I would have to walk the rest of the way. So, I grabbed my gear, and headed towards the square. Below is a photo of where the cab driver dropped me off:
The first few days I spent in Istanbul, there were no police officers to be seen near Taksim Square. It was quite amazing to see how well people behaved themselves without law enforcement in the area. During this time, the mood in Gezi Park and Taksim Square felt extremely free and festive. People were playing instruments, lighting off fireworks, sending Chinese lanterns into the sky, waving flags, and singing songs. Below are several photos that were taken between June 5th and June 10th:
While Taksim Square was void of a police presence, protesters used that time to build make-shift barricades on the streets leading into the square in hopes of making it more difficult for police to enter the area when they came back. Some barricades were made with city buses, while others were made with police barricades and other materials that the protesters found:
On June 8th, I traveled to Gazi Mahallesi, Istanbul, which was about a 30 minute cab ride from Taksim Square. People there had been taking to the streets for several nights (as well as in many other cities and neighborhoods around Turkey), and police were responding to the protesters with water cannons and tear gas. Local activists said it was unsafe for me to go by myself, so they ended up connecting me to an activist who had been on the ground in Gazi for the past few nights. He didn’t speak any English, and I don’t speak any Turkish, so communication was a bit difficult. But, he watched my back, and helped keep me safe the entire night.
It was almost midnight by the time I arrived in Gazi that night, and many of the thousands of people who had been in the streets earlier had already gone home. A few hundred remained, and continued to face down water cannon trucks, tear gas, and flash bangs that were being used in an attempt to disperse them:
Three days after my trip to Gazi, on the morning of June 11th, police broke through the barricades that protesters had made and entered Taksim Square. As I had been awake all night, I was about to go to bed when I got word of what was happening. I quickly packed up my gear and headed towards the square. On my way, I passed many people who were frantically fleeing the area, coughing as their eyes watered from tear gas that had been deployed as the police entered the area. Many people were yelling at me in Turkish, clearly telling me to go back, but they didn’t realize that I had traveled many miles just to photograph this.
As I entered the square, my eyes stung from lingering tear gas. The police were announcing over loudspeakers that they only planned to remove banners and tents from the square, but did not plan to enter Gezi Park. Not long after, a small group of people began throwing molotov cocktails and rocks at police vehicles from behind a set of barricades. I spoke to many Turkish activists who said they believed this was staged in order to “justify” the actions of the police that day. The protesters found it odd that the police responded with less use of force on this small group of people than they had used during earlier protests. The police ended up using tear gas, water cannons, and plastic bullets on thousands of protesters in both Taksim Square and Gezi Park during clashes that went all day and into the night, lasting for over 20 hours:
Several hours after the attack on Taksim Square began, I was hit with a water cannon and was completely engulfed in tear gas so thick that I was unable to see. After making my way into Gezi Park to receive help from the medics for the effects from the tear gas, I decided it was best for me to head back to the apartment I was staying at in order to change into dry clothes and get a few photos posted. On my way back, I was hassled by a group of police officers who were several blocks away from the clashes. They saw my cameras and stopped me, then started grabbing at my arm as if they were trying to detain me. After I told them several times that I was leaving the area, they finally allowed me to walk down the closest street that led away from Taksim Square.
Later that night, I went back out with a couple of friends and we tried to get back to Taksim Square. We soon realized that police officers were keeping others from getting near the square, and were pushing protesters further and further down the streets away from the area. We ended up joining thousands of others on Istiklal Street, several blocks from the square where the police were launching tear gas into the crowd.
Once the situation calmed down, police remained in Taksim Square, along with several water cannon trucks and other armored vehicles. The next few days were filled with tension as protesters expected an attack on Gezi Park at any point. Make-shift barricades were erected at the entrance to the park:
In an attempt to ease the tension, Davide Martello, a pianist who was on an international tour at the time, decided to stop by Taksim Square. He set up his piano in the square two days in a row, and played for the large crowds that gathered, creating a calming effect on anybody who listened. Even the police officers seemed to become more calm while listening to his music. On his second night in the square, Davide played for 12 hours straight:
The calm didn’t last long, though, and on the night of June 15th, police attacked Gezi Park. They used tear gas and water cannons to clear protesters out of the park, and then continued to push them further away from the area. I had been taking a nap when the police first entered the park, but soon woke up and headed directly to the park. As I walked along the street next to the park with two other photographers from the US, police inside the park began yelling at us. Although we were the only three people in the area, they then shot tear gas directly at us:
As we walked towards Taksim Square, I saw the tents and other items that had been in the park being thrown into large trucks. Police guarded the entrances to the park, keeping protesters from re-entering it:
We then headed towards a large group of protesters who had been pushed onto one of the streets leading away from Gezi Park, and were waiting for police to advance with a water cannon truck. The clashes continued late into the night, with police officers pushing protesters further and further away from the park:
The following morning, police blocked the entrances to Taksim Square and Gezi Park. Turkey’s European Union minister, Egemen Bağış, had said that anybody who tried to enter the square would be treated as a terrorist.
At this point, I had been in Istanbul for almost two weeks, and my flight back to the US was scheduled for the following afternoon. Although a part of me wanted to stay and continue documenting, another part of me realized I had already documented a lot, and I felt that I needed to go home so I could reflect on my experiences and share them with others through speaking and writing about it.
As I sit here now, writing this blog post from the safety of a coffee shop in my neighborhood in New York City, even through the images of tear gas, water cannons, and riot police that threaten to cloud up my memory, I am clearly remembering the faces of the courageous, inspiring citizens of Istanbul that I met and photographed while I was there. I will soon recover from the physical and emotional effects of what I witnessed and experienced, but the people I met, and the positive experiences I had, will forever remain with me.
Her yer Taksim, her yer direniş.
Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance.
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New York, NY–Today I went to Staten Island to photograph the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The devastation was completely unimaginable, yet the folks who were stepping up to help out were completely inspiring. Seeing these people suffer makes my heart hurt in ways I never thought possible. I wish there was a way I could help every single one of them, but I know that is not possible. Instead, I will share some of the photos I captured in order to get their story out there, and to help others at least begin to understand what they’re dealing with. Hopefully those of you who have the ability to help, will do so – whether that means putting on your boots and gloves and grabbing a shovel to help them clean up, or donating money for supplies. If you wish to help these folks in Staten Island, check out StatenIsland.recovers.org.
Below is a selection of images from the photographer; more photos from the protests may be found here.
– CourtneyOccupy –]]>
Philadelphia, PA–The third day of the Occupy National Gathering was full of energy and good conversation. Speaker Amadon DellErba from Spritualution discussed the importance of ending all “isms,” Gina McGill from Alabama promoted the ideas in Beyond Plutocracy, and Matt Taibbi exposed bank collusion. Captain Ray Lewis declined to speak in the group because of the many side conversations, but made himself available for any individual conversation throughout the afternoon.
At 5:00pm, a march began against Comcast and Verizon, and in solidarity with the NATO 5 (and the NatGat Occupier being held in the federal courthouse). It included a join up of union members and Occupiers, speeches from homeowners who have been foreclosed upon from Action United, and an energetic dancing protest down Broad Street and around City Hall.
The evening included songs from Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping and a General Assembly on racism. The assembly was cut short so that Occupiers could join the veterans on Independence Mall who were going to be evicted at 9:00pm. However, the veteran protesters were granted a twelve-hour extension, with negotiations to be held in the morning. Some Occupiers went to a bank sleep at Wells Fargo while others went back to the Friend’s Center parking lot to sleep.
– Zachary Bell –]]>
Montreal, QC–The Grand Prix racing event kicked off Sunday morning. I entered the metro around 10:15am with Nicolas Quiazua, editor of McGill University’s Le Délit newspaper. Our bags were searched, and we were told that no media was allowed to go onto the metro that day — so we entered as civilians. When I asked allowed “Is that even legal?” someone behind us responded, “Everything is legal under law 78!”
At the entrance to the event, the profiling was significantly more intense. Anyone with a red square (sign of solidarity with the student movement), or anyone suspicious looking (young) was searched and many were told to leave.
– Zachary Bell –
More photography by Zach at ReCovered]]>
Montreal, QC–At 5pm, activists gathered at Phillips Square for the anti-sexism demonstration. The manifestation was controversial among Montreal protesters because it explicitly advocated the abolition of sex work — prompting the moderator of the anti-capitalist CLAC (labor union association) listserv to issue an apology for disseminating information for the event.
The march stopped at various places to deliver speeches against Formula One’s chauvinist culture, like one at the Delta Centreville hotel, which condemned the business as a well-known spot for prostitutes to go with clients.
– Zachary Bell –
More photography by Zach at ReCovered]]>
Montreal, QC–Around 6:30pm, the demonstrations began with a (noticeably) small protest at Dorchester Square aimed to show solidarity with the people of Bahrain.
The petite march ignored a call by the police to clear the streets, but complied when the troops moved to enforce it. Still in good spirits, the protesters sang a French chant meaning “on the sidewalk, until victory.”
– Zachary Bell –
More photography by Zach at ReCovered]]>
No journalists, no television, no microphones—only their voices and faces.
These portraits bear witness to the beginning of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. They regard dreamers who believe in an idea.
No one could have imagined that in the space of a few weeks, those involved in Occupy Wall Street would have entered people’s homes all over the world through newspapers and television.
—Daniele Corsini, photographer
I spent most of the train ride to Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti’s reclaimed name) conjuring the many nights of elation and frustration I have had in that park – the countless general assemblies, free meals, cigarettes, stimulating conversations, rain storms, arguments, marches and finally, the brutal eviction that brought it all to a screeching halt. Since the eviction, the park had been empty. Or maybe barren is a better word. A cold (literally), lifeless slab of concrete in the valley of the gargantuan buildings surrounding it. Whatever vitality we brought to that place had long been replaced with barricades, security guards, and an eerie stillness.
When I emerged in Lower Manhattan, I was hit by a wave of déjà vu. I could hear the drums and chants inside the park reverberating throughout the neighborhood. I realized that even the sound of the neighborhood had changed since the eviction. A flash flood of warm familiarity washed over me. On the six-month anniversary of our movement, I was transported back to its beginning. I picked up the pace and almost sprinted to the park. When I arrived, I found it once again brimming over with occupiers and police.
It was wonderful to see the park electrified with people power again. That powerful feeling of remembrance and recognition continued to surge through my body like a kind of muscle memory being reawakened.
As soon I walked into the park, I witnessed someone being arrested by the NYPD. The mood was tense and rowdy. I was surprised by the number of police, all with a dozen or so zip-tie handcuffs hanging from their belts. I saw a few old friends and gave and received many hugs. We talked about the insane tug-of-war in which we are constantly engaged with the NYPD. They show up with batons, handcuffs, guns, and riot gear and raise the tension level in the park, then put the onus on us to deescalate. There were a few other arrests, and the police shouted at us where we could and couldn’t stand and what we couldn’t bring into the park.
Throughout the day, different marches left the plaza and came back to cheers and raised fists. It was as if we were in the midst of a mighty stretch after a long slumber. As afternoon turned to evening, the overall mood of the park shifted and the police presence seemed to taper off a bit. The chants going around and the drum circle in full swing filled the park with that familiar cacophonous buzz. There is something amazing about chanting and dancing around with complete strangers. One of the more popular chants of the day was taken from the Spanish Indignados and proclaims simply and rhythmically: “Anti-capitalista!” It was refreshing to hear so many chant that radical declaration. Even through the winter, we had kept our radical roots.
At 7pm, as customary, we had our general assembly (GA). This was my first time attending a GA in a good while, and by the time it was over I was re-enamored with direct democracy and twinkling fingers. There were hundreds in attendance – probably our biggest GA of the year. It was also surprisingly lacking in rancor or squabbling, except for the traditional begging of the drum circle to keep it down or move away from GA. We consensed on signing on to a letter calling for a federal investigation of the NYPD for spying in Muslim communities and broke out into discussion groups to talk about our ideas for May Day. There was a palpable spirit of camaraderie and solidarity in the air, and many OWS veterans commented to me that they felt truly transported to “the good ol’ days” before the eviction and even before the tents went up at Zuccotti, fighting with drummers and all.
After GA a large march which included Michael Moore and Dr. Cornel West arrived from the Left Forum. Suddenly there were over a thousand people communing in the park, some playing games, some doing interviews or making media, others just talking and smoking. There was a Capoeira circle, a mic-check speak out, and of course plenty of drums and dancing. The mood was jovial in spite of everyone’s noticing that the police presence seemed to be increasing as the night went on. At one point, a barrage of bag pipes could be heard on the southwestern corner of the park. This being St. Patrick’s Day, a small Irish marching band had either purposely or by coincidence found its way to Liberty Plaza, equipped with bag pipes and snare drums. The crowd in the park erupted with cheers and applause and ran to the park’s northern perimeter to greet the band. In a confused scuffle (at least from my vantage point) the police moved in, forced the band to stop playing and moved them to the other side of the street. One officer told me they feared the band would “cause a riot.”
Suddenly an orange net appeared. Usually, this means that you have been kettled by the police and are about to go to jail. But this orange net had the words “Occupy” and “99%” stenciled on it. A group of protesters were extending the net and creating a barrier between the police and the occupiers. I admit, being surrounded by that net gave me a creepy feeling , even though I knew it was ‘on our side.’ Yellow OWS caution tape started to go up all over the park too, tied on the trees and cutting through the crowd in odd angles. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I could almost sense the tension in the park boiling over. An exorbitant number of police were amassing on the northern side of the park. I stood on one of the benches in the park to try to get some perspective, and I saw what all the fuss was about. A group of occupiers were erecting tents in the center of the park. The net, the tape, all of it, was to protect the tents. A light came on inside the first tent and the words stenciled on its side became visible: “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”
I watched as the tent was hoisted into the air and cheered with the crowd, but I knew that what had been a glorious and rejuvenating day would have an ugly ending. We paraded around with two tents for a bit, all of us enjoying what we knew were the last exquisite moments of our resurrection. Then, as if someone hit a fast forward button, we jumped from reliving those first amazing months of Occupy to November 15 – eviction day. Much like that night, the police lined up on the Broadway stairs and announced that the park was closed. They told us that being in the park was now an arrestable offense. And so those who were willing to risk arrest moved to create a human wall on the eastern end of the park, a few meters from the line of police officers. I moved toward the middle of the park and stood on a bench to see the NYPD march in and start arresting people. After about half an hour they had moved everyone out of the park and began erecting barricades around the park’s perimeter. After being pushed and shoved out of the park, those of us who remained stood on the sidewalk, most of us bewildered by the brute force we had just witnessed. We were on the western end of park, isolated from the far greater brutality happening on the eastern side. In the background I could hear people calling for a march.
By this point, I was both mentally and physically exhausted from this behemoth roller-coaster of a day, but I just couldn’t tear away. I ran through the gamut of emotions and questions we all ask ourselves in moments like these, trying to balance my sense of duty and solidarity with the sheer terror of the situation at hand and its possible outcomes. Do I want to get arrested? Or beat up? Is it worth it this time? In truth, I had to fight off the urge to wave the white flag and go home. But I was angry, dejected, and so was everyone else. In the end, I decided to march with my comrades.
A few hundred of us wound our way through Lower Manhattan, flanked all the while by police in scooters and squad cars. We turned sharply down side streets a few times, which seemed to confuse the police, but definitely caused confusion amongst the marchers. I found myself running down the sidewalks and streets with large groups of other occupiers just to keep up. This, plus the sheer volume of the police response, made for some moments of pandemonium. We took the streets several times throughout, prompting arrests and batons. Police smashed an occupier’s head against a glass door. We passed a least one broken store window (though it was unclear if it was broken by Occupy) and at one point on a side-street in the Village, some protesters emptied several trash receptacles into the streets to block the police. It worked, to everyone’s excitement. I saw several police scooters with trash and plastic bags caught in their wheel wells.
When the march reached E. Houston shortly after that, I decided to hop on the nearby F train and make the trip back to Queens. I wanted to stay, continue the march, be with my comrades, express my anger and my joy – but I just had to break away. I knew that things would only get uglier, and I was already delirious with a cogent mix of exhaustion, frustration, and the high of marching through the streets. It felt as if I had lived the whole history of occupy in the span of 10 hours. On the train ride home, I found myself thinking that despite its dystopian ending, M17 had been a success. It was a re-ignition of our imaginations; a reminder of all the beautiful things we built from scratch in that small park, and all the hardships that came with them, and how easily it can be wiped away.
Spring has definitely sprung at OWS, and it’s only the beginning.
– Danny Valdes –
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