Gezi Park/Taksim Square: The festival of revolution

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Le premier geste pour que quelque chose puisse surgir au milieu de la métropole, pour que s’ouvrent d’autres possibles, c’est d’arrêter son perpetuum mobile.

comité invisible, L’insurrection que vient

The faces and voices of Gezi Park of Taksim Square, Istanbul, are many: youth, students, pensioners, house wives, Kurds, Armenians, Alevis, communists, anarchists, Kemalists, feminists, the unemployed and precariously employed, labour unionists, anti-capitalist Muslims, LGBTQs, the disillusioned with the AKP, environmentalists, football fan clubs … the kaleidoscope is seemingly inexhaustible.  And yet all have lived, together in Taksim, the ecstasy of freedom, the shedding in part of what divides them, and the discovery, which is more of a making, of a fashioning of something new, of new subjectivities, centred on new concerns, concerns that others, burdened by different identities, also surprisingly share.

The Gezi Park/Taksim Square occupation may have begun with a concern for saving one of Istanbul’s last remaining green spaces, its rapid and intensive spread, its resonance, throughout the country dramatically reveal desires marginalised, humiliated and oppressed under the celebrated rule of Erdogan and the AKP.  The pious, middle class fantasy marketed by the AKP of house-home-security, of the city as “a home-work-buy-reproduce container for families of spenders” (Müstereklerimiz), is built upon a massive liberalisation/commodification of the country’s wealth and a parallel authoritarianism that is little tolerant of dissidence.  The violence of the AKPs rule can be read off the landscape of the wildly speculative urbanisation of Istanbul.  The city has been radically reconceived as a well-ordered, segmented and girded space of tranquility and consumption, fit above all for domesticated cultural experiences and investment.  A city whose population is pacified, and when not peaceful, terrorised.  Istanbul is by no means unique.  It is the scale of the violence in State-Capital in this instance that makes it noteworthy.

From the documentary film, Ekümenopolis: City Without Limits by Imre Azem, on Istanbul’s most recent politics of urbanisation …

As David Harvey has recently reminded us, urbanization has played, over the course of the history of capitalism, a crucial role in the absorption of capital surpluses; a process that has only increased over time.  And as such, cities have been the privileged spaces for the class politics of capitalism and the disciplining of those subject to it: dispossession, expropriation, displacement and the violence that is necessary to all of these techniques of government.  In parallel, such urbanisation transforms lifestyles, moulds now subjects, “citizens” individualised, isolated, dependent and whose only consolation seems to lie in consumption, pacification and security.  The taking of Taksim Square and the slogan, “Everywhere is Taksim, resistance is everywhere” is testimony to cracks in the fantasy.

Some have accordingly read the Turkish events as a “Right to the City” movement.  But to which “city” does one have a right?  Georg Simmel could speak of the city of the early 20th Century as a space of equality and freedom.  But this city, still the traditional “has been killed by rampant capitalist development, a victim of the never-ending need to dispose of overaccumulating Capital driving towards endless and sprawling urban growth no matter what the social, environmental or political consequences.” (David Harvey, Rebel Cities)  The right to the city cannot therefore be simply a claiming or a re-appropriating of what is already there: a taking of public streets and squares, for example.  As Henri Lefebvre once wrote, “Urban life has not yet begun”, and it can only begin with the fashioning of new social relations through self-managed praxis that transcends the illusory/real divisions of Spectacle Capitalism: rural/urban, private/public, leisure/work. (Henri Lefebvre, Le droit à la villeTahrir, Sol, Syntagma, Zucotti Park and now Taksim are the names of such a revolutionary politics.

The turkish movement is young and it is engaged in the most fragile of human endeavours, the creation of autonomous, collective spaces and times, what one may call democracy.  And the practices of this autonomy are already in evidence in Taksim and elsewhere.  To cite Mehmet Dösemeci, writing for the Roarmag Collective

Similar practices and forms are developing in the Turkish uprising. The networks of medical and legal support, the supply lines servicing protesters with free food, supplies, internet access, and safehouses, even the collective building of barricades and the organization of night-watches to protect liberated zones from police assault, are proof of this spirit. Perhaps more important is how these acts of solidarity have gone viral within Turkish social media networks, shared as joint reminders of the latent generosity of the Anatolian people.

It is still early going, but the spatial conditions for more permanent structures and initiatives have begun to materialize. For the past few days Taksim Square has become a ‘liberated zone’, a fragile oasis surrounded by massive and ever growing barricades. As of June 5, a people’s library, dozens of free food, blanket, and medical supply stations, LBGT and gender awareness tents, and areas for musical performances and political speech have been set up in the square. For the religious holiday of Kandil, protesters have set up alternate spaces for prayer and dance and invited all those in the square to find a stranger with differing political beliefs to sit and chat with.

These spontaneous structures and initiatives mushrooming amidst the now ubiquitous graffiti and political banners offer a stark contrast to the scripted choreography and corporate sponsorship of festivals previously organized by the municipal-capitalist alliance. More than an assertion of the right to the city, the self-organization of life in the square attests to the power of ordinary people to actively structure the social space itself.

Such police-free zones are also taking root elsewhere in Turkey. Barricaded against police harassment, freed from the constant threat of dispersal, these encampments are creating new practices, allegiances, and institutional forms organically within the uprising.

To speak of police-free zones must of course be taken of relatively, for the amount of violence that the turkish state has unleashed upon the movement has been overwhelming, with at least four dead and thousands wounded, to this date.  But to the violence the resistance has been equally determined and courageous.

 

A protester against water canon earlier today in Taksim

 

A protester with a slingshot in Taksim.

The violence would seem to defy “common sense”, but only if one ignores what is at stake.  The Roarmag Collective raised the question of whether we are not witnesses to the “Istanbul Commune”, thus alluding to the Paris Commune of 1871.  But what exactly is being alluded to here?  The Situationists described the Paris Commune as the “biggest festival of the nineteenth century”. (Guy Debord, Attila Kotányi and Raoul Vaneigem, On the Commune)  Or again to refer to Lefebvre, it was a political carnival of passion, unleashed desire and fantasy, transgressive excess in which “the community became a communion at the vastest scale imaginable”. (Henri Lefebvre, The Proclamation of the Commune)  In this festival, identities, functions, fixed social ties and barriers are unravelled, unhinged.  Self-perceptions slip, become unmoored, shift towards other possibilities, some previously imagined, others euphorically discovered and affirmed.  The “Commune” of Taksim, like earlier “Communes” before it, make real anew the idea that “the city creates the theatre and is the theatre” (Lewis Mumford, What is a City?) where all are actors and audience simultaneously, in the play of their lives.  And then all becomes possible.

The obvious threats to the turkish movement are tragically easy to catalogue: State repression (in the early morning hours of the 12th of June, turkish riot police cleared away the occupiers of Taksim square), appropriation by opposition political parties or other institutional forces, exhaustion.  But what may finally destroy it is what ultimately brought the Paris Commune to its end.  “The Paris Commune was defeated less by force of arms than by the force of habit”, the habit of alienated life. (Guy Debord, Attila Kotányi and Raoul Vaneigem, On the Commune)

The social scientists have already to explain events.  Perched up high on their god-like perspectives, they identify causes, search out origins and predict seemingly inevitable outcomes.  What they fail to discern however in the occupation of Gezi Park, as a revolutionary event, is that “for those who lived the events, the transcendence was there.” (Guy Debord, Attila Kotányi and Raoul Vaneigem, On the Commune)

 

Video of the Gezi/Taksim festival …

… from the music group Duman …

Eyvallah! Bring it on!

To your pepper, your gas,
Your batons, your sticks,
To your harsh kicks,
I say bring it on, bring it on

Attack me shamelessly, tirelessly
My eyes are burning but I don’t bow, nor do I lessen

I am still free I said
I am still right I said
to you
I am still human I said
Do you think I would give up, tell me

To your pepper, your gas,
Your batons, your sticks
Your slap in our face
Your grudge against our voice
Cheers to all of you
Bring it on bring it on

Raise your hand without hesitation and fear
The squares belong to us, don’t forget it, this nation is ours

We are still free we said
We are still right we said
to you
We’re still human we said
Do you think we would give up, tell me

To your pepper, your gas,
Your batons, Your sticks,
To your harsh kicks,
I say bring it on, bring it on
Your slap in our face
Your grudge against our voice
Cheers to all of you
Bring it on, bring it on

Attack me shamelessly, tirelessly
My eyes are burning but I don’t bow, nor do I lessen

I am still free I said
I am still right I said
to you
I am still human I said
Do you think I would give up, tell me

To your pepper, your gas,
Your batons, Your sticks,
To your harsh kicks,
I say bring it on, bring it on
Your slap in our face
Your grudge against our voice

Cheers to all of you
Bring it on, bring it on

 

For a brief video history of the movement, by Shiloh Silverman …

 

The voices from Gezi Park/Taksim square have been many.  Below are two texts from the Müstereklerimiz/Our Commons which captures part of what is being expressed by the movement …

 

Today we all are someone new!

Many words are about to be spent on these four days. Lots of things will be written, and many grandiose political analysis are surely on their way.

But what has really happened these four days?

The resistance for Gezi Park ignited the collective capacity to organize and act between us common citizens. It has been the matter of just a spark…. we saw the very body of the resistance as it walked towards us along the Bosphorus bridge, we saw it endure without fear along Istiklal street; we saw its limbs in each one who, chocked by an excess of teargas, would still struggle to help another; we saw it in the shopkeepers giving us food for free, in residents opening their houses to the wounded, in the volunteering doctors and in the grandmothers banging their pots at windows all night long as a sign of defiance. The police waged a veritable war against us; they ran out of their tear gas stocks, they trapped us in metro stations and shot us with rubber bullets – but they could not break this body. Because the body of the resistance, once on fire, could only go on. And now all of our experiences are part of a collective memory which will run through its veins like lymph, so that we may always remember one simple fact: we can choose our own fate through our own collective action.

We can reclaim our life –  and where we want to live it.

The journey which started in Gezi nurtured our strength and courage with its tenacity, creativity, determination, and self-confidence. In no time, the resistance blossomed from Gezi park to Taksim Square, and from Taksim to all Istanbul and then the rest of the country. The struggle for Gezi park became the place where to voice all our rage against anything preventing us from deciding for our own way to live the city. After this display of rage and solidarity nothing will be the same again. No one of us will be the same. Because now we have seen something about ourselves we had never seen before. We did not just see it: we made it together. We saw our own bodies ignite to a spark, and set the body of collective resistance to life. The struggle for Gezi park triggered a youth riot: it assigned a place and a meaning to one or two generations who lived through AKP governments and who equate Recep Tayyip Erdo?an with authoritarianism. These are the children of the families evicted from Tarlaba?? in the name of grand gentrification plans, these are the workers who lost their jobs in the name of cutting production costs and privatizing factories. Any struggle to come is now going to be enriched by these generations.

The struggle for Gezi Park and Taksim Square set a new definition of what public space means. Reclaiming Taksim has shattered AKP’s hegemony in deciding what a square is supposed to mean for us citizens, because Taksim is now what the Resistance wants it to mean: our public square. We have seen the resistance that a single spark can ignite, and we know now that we are fully capable of lighting new sparks and new resistances. We can sense our collective might against the dispossession of our commons because we got a taste of what resistance feels like. We shall not step back from where we are now. Because we know  that we carry more than one spark, more than one struggle, and that it is only a matter of moments before a single spark turns into a fire.

 

Our Commons – Who, why?

What we see

Clouds gathering North and South.
Public spaces, street corners, poor neighborhoods shouting out loud for true democracy. From Tahrir to Sintagma, crowds are urging us all to see: see the inequalities of a system in total crisis, of the dirty games of technocrats and parliamentaries, of insecure of dictators and false democrats.
They would have us without any alternative – all we can do is play by the rules. Work more. Make do with less. And be content with what is left. The consequence of this 30 years-old lie is yet more inequality and more servitude.
It is to this lie that the present revolts. This is where we begin our struggle.

The capitalist system can no longer hide the consequences of the crisis it is crippling into. Fast-paced ecological destruction and global economic crisis mean the same thing for all the poor and the oppressed throughout the world: disaster. Year after year, unemployment rates increase against all statistical manipulation; some are marginalized by being declared “unemployable”, while the great majority of those who are able to find a job are condemned to precarious work. Young people and women are the first ones to live in poverty more than any other, no matter how hard they work. Basic social rights such as education, heath care and accomodation are being attacked one by one – we can benefit from them just as long as we are able to buy. The consequences of the global economic inequality are forcing millions to migration either directly – through hunger and deterritorialization – or indirectly through conflicts and wars. Those who line up at the blind gates of the civilized world, victims of constant discrimination and racism, can ok,nly exist as cheap labor force easily spendable, and be drawn into even more miserable conditions life than the poor people of their new homeland.

And in response to this total crisis, current powers ask for even more. Corporations and governments are turned the crisis into an opportunity and attack what was hard won by hundreds of years of struggles. Thus the capital is trying to lay his hands on out urban spaces and our daily life we all produce in common; on the rural areas to which we owe our existence, their water supplies, and the very seeds they nurture; on the rights we have won through decades of social struggles; on the ideas and goods we produce in common; and even on our genes.
The present time can only mean disaster to us. Less work, more working hours; sacralized family institutions and suffocating homes; war calls everywhere and shamelessly spoken declarations of democracy; water streams preempted, endless projects for energy centrals, alienating urban transformation, entire neighborhoods forcely evacuated; education and healthcare services marketized; secondary schools bringing up the precarious work force out the next generation; higher education institutions where capitalist forces and games of power are displayed; public places watched by hundreds of cameras and security dispositions, disconnected cities, quarters without soul. In short: the loss of what is common. Dispossession, insecurity, loss of integrity. And this aggression has been constantly growing, down from the 12 September 1980 coup d’etat up to the national tyrants of the present times. Here is the happy Neverland stirring the dreams of the world’s powers.

What we hear

Not that we lever lacked objections to this wholesale attack, for sure. There has been opposition yeasterday as there is today, and news of resistance reach our ears from the four corners of the country even when they are not voiced by vested media outlets. Discreetly, silently, objections are ferments. Irregular, broken tunes are being whistled. But we have not crossed the wall yet.

Now we know it well: despite all heart-driven efforts, struggles with one issue based on one locality do not supply continuity. Crowds who take action with certain demands on a certain region, facing the enormous power against them, have to retreat after a while. The experience of those who succeeded can not be transferred to next levels or elsewhere. We are reminded of our perennial powerlesness with the wholesale attacks of the capital. The end-account of the neo-liberal world for us is dismantling and disintegration.

For us, the urgent need of the present time is to create and multiply the spaces of opposition and solidarity to break off from this powerlessness and fragmentation. To make possible a series of articulations on several levels, ranging from the practical necessities of everyday life to more abstract political analyses. We know that we will be able to break the waves attacking us, to dispel the effect of disintegration* caused on us by neo-liberalism, to the extent that we are able to create and multiply these common spaces.

Where we begin

We are not looking for a new roof – we are in search of a common ground. And we do not intend to form a unitary and therefore limited demand or discourse to hold together the network forming us, and neither do we put forward what was tried innumerable times under the label of “novelty, total novelty.”

What we need to do is to pick up and expose the demands, the functioning, the methods and the means of a long-standing, sustainable struggle coming from below – to describe a common space on which we can lay down the building of solidarity. Today’s and tomorrow’s solidarity.

In February 2013 we started to meet together – neighbourhoods threatened with eviction, urban movements, ecologist, feminist and transgender groups, anticapitalists, migrants’ solidarity networks – e propose to create a united ground of action. The mechanisms of power and oppression surrounding us are the same, so should be our struggle. The journey that started in Gezi nurtured our strength and courage with its tenacity, creativity, determination, and self-confidence. In no time, the resistance blossomed from Gezi park to Taksim Square, and from Taksim to all Istanbul and then the rest of the country. The struggle for Gezi park became the place where to voice all our rage against anything preventing us from deciding for our own way to live the city. After this display of rage and solidarity nothing will be the same again. No one of us will be the same. Because now we have seen something about ourselves we had never seen before. We did not just see it: we made it all together. In cities as in countrysides, in neighborhoods and campuses, with citizens and non-citizens, we propose to weave together a resistance of men and women who oppose to capitalism, to ecological destruction, to patriarchy, to heterosexism. We began where we are, but we are not going to stop there. We are moving with a patient haste. This is just the beginning, the struggle continues.

Starting with our commons, we reclaim what belongs to us!

 

Souces of information on the turkish are difficult for non-turkish speakers, but there is nonetheless a very impressive effort to get news of events out …

Diren Gezi Parki, Occupied Taksim Blog, Occupied Taksim Blog/facebook, Taksim Solidarity, bianet, sendika

 

In solidarity …

 

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