Last Saturday I attended the Occupy Homecoming in Liberty Square. I had heard ahead of time that there would be an “Occupy Gezi” solidarity rally happening in the park that day. I anticipated that the OWS presence might be light, aware that there was a Bradley Manning march at Fort Meade that same day, but I still thought the park would be filled with people. All of the solidarity rallies I have been to in the past have mobilized large numbers of folks from the local community. A common culture and a common language go a long way when trying to get people active, especially if their country has a history of popular protest. The familial dynamic, the ability to come together as sisters and brothers, that I have witnessed in many other cultures doesn’t comfortably fit into the core American identity. Declarations of United We Stand are common in times of hardship, and we have seen acts of tremendous empathy in response to natural disasters and other tragic events in recent years, but the core American identity continues to prioritize competition and self reliance over solidarity. In an earlier post I wrote about how the emphasis on independence and personal liberty has created a kind of “culture of doubt,” where people find it necessary to strike a defensive posture even when they are in agreement with others. Many of the conversations I had on Saturday dealt with this dynamic. Seeing the Turkish people come together so strongly had many asking why it was difficult to create similar dynamics here in the US among the 99%.
It got me thinking about the mythical guy (does this guy really exist?) who is outraged that he has to push 1 to continue in English. In fact, most of those phone systems no longer ask you to push a number at all, but you may be forced to pause momentarily to listen to someone ask Spanish speakers to push numero dos. Ok - stop for a moment - think about this. We live in a society that prides itself on being a “melting pot,” with a national motto of e pluribus unum (out of many - one), and yet we cannot seem to recognize this momentary pause as a simple courtesy extended to one of the many cultures that make up this rather amazing place. When I see the folks that speak Spanish as my sisters & brothers, this pause is not an inconvenience, but a teeny tiny little acknowledgement that they are just as welcome, valued, and essential in this country as I.
On Saturday the Turkish people in Liberty Square were chanting and singing mostly in Turkish. I took it upon myself to inquire from people I was standing near what some of the chants were, and what they meant in English. When a number of flags were raised and the crowd cheered I found out that the fans of rival teams that usually fight it out on the football field, had come together as Istanbul United to fight police brutality. It was amazing to me that everyone seemed familiar with each of the many songs that were sung. I found out that many of the songs were modeled after football chants/songs that were commonly known, that words were substituted using the same melody, and some were even sung verbatim. On the following day an effort was clearly made to do more chants in English and I availed myself of the opportunity to participate more fully.
Photo by Mickey Z.
The People’s Assembly began with music, song, and an informative performance about Monsanto and GMOs by The People’s Puppets. Afterward a man got up and mic checked (paraphrasing here) that music and puppets were fine & entertaining, but that we needed to be more serious about the issues at hand. After he spoke another man mic checked that his family had been part of what he referred to as a “singing revolution” in Estonia. I believe that the inclusion of expressive performance at the beginning of the assembly was both an attempt to make the segue into the assembly go more smoothly, as well as an attempt to speak in language that was not simply based in words. There it is again - language. Translation. On a day that was filled with song and chants in Turkish, here we were encountering resistance to another language, a language based in artistic expression rather than linguistic precision. Do we all speak the same language? How can we express our solidarity even when we don’t? If we are in fact building a culture of resistance (as opposed to the fore mentioned “culture of doubt”), how can we be more mindful not to misdirect this resistance toward our sisters and brothers?
Photo by Phoebe Berg
Tomorrow (Saturday), June 8th, there will be another Solidarity Rally in Liberty Square beginning at 12pm. March to Times Square scheduled for 4:30. Everyone is invited!
POST MARCH UPDATE - The rally and march on Saturday was well attended and well received. A powerful and beautiful showing of solidarity by all involved! Chanting “Resist Turkey - You are not alone!” “Resign Erdogon!” and “The people united will never be defeated!” we marched from Liberty Square to Union Square. At both Liberty and Union Square mic checks were done in Turkish and English so everyone could participate fully. Earlier on Sunday a Greek contingent joined the rally at Liberty, warmly greeted with loud cheers from the Turkish people. When people who have been made to distrust one another can come together, to recognize their common struggles and common aspirations: for freedom, for justice, for peace - the people united will never be defeated.
Check out these beautiful photos by Resa Sunshine of Saturday’s rally and march.