Friday, June 7, 2013


Diren Gezi is Gezi Resistance. Taksim (Taksim Gezi Parkı) is the park that is being occupied in Istanbul, Turkey. Not to be confused with Tayyip (Recep Tayyip Erdoğan), who is the Turkish Prime Minister. Tayyip Istifa! is a chant for him to resign. Çapuling is chapulling. If you are unfamiliar with the word chapulling, that is because it is a new word. Tayyip (remember him?) has taken to calling the demonstrators ayyaş (alcoholics) and çapulcu (looters). Rather than defend against this, the demonstrators chose instead to reappropriate the term çapulcu. The urban dictionary defines the term as “to resist force, demand justice, seek one’s rights.” The term “looters” shouldn’t be unfamiliar to us here in the US. We have heard it and other similar terminology used time and again to dismiss the legitimate concerns of people in need and those that rise up against social and economic injustice. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina the US news media was rife with stories casting desperate victims of Katrina as marauding bands of “looters.”

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.

I felt that the solidarity rally taking place in Liberty Square was both a tremendous acknowledgement of the significance of that space and of OWS, as well as a wonderful opportunity for us to connect with and learn about the people at the heart of another occupation. While the evidence of solidarity was clearly visible in the crowd that had gathered as well as in the SOLIDARITY - OCCUPY GEZI / OCCUPY WALL STREET banners that were present, the rally never seemed to me to coalesce fully. I don’t believe that it was about willingness to participate as much as it was a function of the ability to participate. As I mentioned above, solidarity is easier when you speak the same language. At one point a young man approached some folks I was talking with concerned that there was a right wing sign near one of the OWS banners. He thought there was the possibility that a photo of this could create the impression of an OWS endorsement of the message on this sign. He proposed moving all of the OWS banners away from the main group of Turkish people to avoid this. I asked him if he read Turkish - if he had read the sign in question. He replied that he had heard this information from someone else. The OWS banners, mostly held by the Turkish people themselves were not removed from the group, but I mention this is an example of how the language barrier can potentially limit our ability to connect. Mic check and move check were on my mind after writing about them in my last post, and I wondered why someone (including myself of course) didn’t mic check to welcome the Turkish people to Liberty Square, to express how powerful it was to be there in solidarity with them and the people in Turkey. I had hoped that participating in a mic check with the Turkish people might provide us a way to develop a deeper connection, to build empathy through internalizing the feelings that came up. Perhaps this happened earlier when I wasn’t in the park, or perhaps it happened between individuals, but even when we later bridged to the People’s Assembly, I felt that we were largely missing out on hearing and speaking (through mic check) the voices of the Turkish people present.

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.