How long does it take before a motion of resistance is hijacked? Two, three days? Maybe it can live for a week. I am more skeptical than that though. I think that on the moment of action, the motion becomes more than its intention. Because, the truth is, that for most of our actions we actually lack any intention whatsoever. Those actions- the yelling in the streets, the camping out, the throwing of stones, had very little intention, and in some ways they were quite pure. But then groups started coming in, trying to make sense of things. The communists, the anarchists, the i-am-not-sure-who-but-they-definitely-have-a-flags. I guess that is the problem with a platform- everyone wants to stand on it.
Last night Nikola and I were walking home from dinner when we were hit by a particularly strong sensation in the air. I described it as if someone was cutting onions directly in front of me. He was a bit more accurate, saying that it felt like hot peppers. For about a minute we were genuinely confused, and I was looking around for some sort of barbecue. I saw two boys pass by in the guy fawkes masks that have become standard street gear, and a small girl about to be sick. It was then that we realized the wind was blowing down from Taksim, and what we were experiencing was a very mild form of the dissipating tear gas. I just re-measured the map and realize that as the crow flies we are only 4km away from Taksim (The 7km that I originally stated involves streets and bridges- I had never stopped to think about how freely air moves within such a constrained grid), but 4km still seems rather removed from the heart of the activity to me. I never expected to be hit with tear gas so far away. Within five minutes the irritation, which came in light waves, was getting to be unbearable. I can’t imagine how thick and painful it was in Taksim. So I went online to see what had happened. I had thought the protests in Istanbul were peaceful and the police were out of the square.
Apparently this week two things happened:
- The prime minister agreed to meet with the organizers of the protests.
- The prime minister claimed that the protests would be over by the weekend, called the protesters vandals and swore that the square would be open to, “the people.”
Now, I consider both of these things to be tragedies as far as resistance is concerned. First of all, meeting with the organizers of the protests is problematic as the protests are very organic. He can meet with the organizers of the original Gezi park protests, but it is obvious this has gone well beyond the construction of a shopping complex, and if he hears only those complaints he is missing a LOT of the public grievance. Similarly, any already formed group that steps forward to claim this protest is going to cause the exclusion of some protesters. Figuring this out through the leadership of the protests requires some sort of coalition to be formed and sorted out- a large gathering of ideas and possibilities, and a continuation of the open forum that the park floor has become. By allowing the prime minister to choose the group he wishes to work with in formal discussions much of the general, organic process of this protest is lost. Maybe this coalition leadership has already been formed, although I am very interested to see how these discussions play out, and who will be there.
The second point is just offensive. The prime minister is basically claiming that everyone at the protests is destructive and a public nuisance. It is true that there have been many acts of vandalism, some in response to police brutality and some from the sheer glee of chaos. Some people believe that the more violent protesters have been placed by the government to incite riots and to legitimize the use of force. I am not sure about that. I know there are plenty of people who have a lot of pent up anger and are probably destroying public property of their own volition. But the fact is that the majority of the protesters remain peaceful. The park fills with students, children, parents etc. These people are sitting and talking. They are singing. They are dancing. They are drinking and eating. They are living there, in a public space, peacefully. What is particularly offensive is that the PM claims the space will be open to the people by the weekend. The space IS open to the people, now. The PEOPLE are there!!! What people could he possibly be talking about? Tourists? Only the people who elected him? They are all welcome to go down there. I was there several evenings and did not feel threatened or uncomfortable. It was exhilarating. The space was open to the people, and by denying that he basically is denying that those people, occupying the park, are actually Turkish citizens, thus confirming that he only works for his own constituents, and is not representative of the whole country. Add to that the force used to empty the park last night? It was supposedly unexpected, and if it came so strongly all the way here all that I can think it must have been like there is the fumigation of rats. Tragic, bad move on the part of the Turkish government.