“There is a mysterious quality to all popular uprisings. Astute observers know the tinder is there, but never when it will be lit.”
(Chris Hedges/ Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt: 2012, p. 227)
“Social change comes very quickly and unexpectedly at times…”
(Lester Brown from the WorldWatch Institute, in an interview he gave to Açık Radyo, 2010)
Here’s my story: Individually and as a radio station we have been engaged in so many years of action against climate change in Turkey, and elsewhere. I remember participating in one rally on global warming which happened to be on the coldest day of the year, I think it was in 2007 – Probably the only day it snowed that whole year.
Anyhow, I had this small red fire extinguisher with me. Just as I was entering the square where the speeches were going to be made (incidentally the same square we’re going to have the
rally next Saturday!) this young cop stops me and, asks, with a slight sneer
sin his lips:
“Hey, you think you’re going to stop global warming with this?”
“I’ll try to do my best,” I reply – without a hint of irony.
Well, that’s how things are. Since at least one year some friends and colleagues of ours have been working like mad to save this small Park in Taksim square, at the heart of Istanbul city from destruction. Nothing really happens. The activists, they conduct some small rallies from time to time, where they invite people, the so-called opinion-leaders, to “adopt” one tree for themselves. A white ribbon with his or her name written on it, wrap it around this young tree and everyone vows to protect their “adopted” tree. (I’ve got one, too.) Nothing much happens. Construction activities by the mayorship goes on - energetically
Then they make short videos with people. “What does the park mean to you as an individual?” they ask. “Do you have fond memories of it?”
“Well I got lost in it once when I was 4 or 5 years old,” I recount. “I cried my eyes out running around like mad. And it was pretty much the end of the world as I knew it… Then you know what? This young woman sees me crying, holds me up by the hand, and lo and behold, together we find mommy in no time at all. I cry once more – tears of rage this time for mom for having dropped me in the middle of this ‘jungle.’”
“Anyway,” I tell to the activists, “I don’t want to exchange the memory of my lost innocence in the Park for a bloody shopping mall.”
Time passes., the films are shown, other rallies take place... Still nothing happens.
Then the cops raid in the wee hours of the morning one day to support the workers of the private construction company. They seize the tents of the activists and put them on fire. People start to get angry. They congregate. In their hundreds. After their peaceful meeting in the park, they go to sleep. The next morning the cops come again, and raid them. Many thousands gather this time and this time ”there’s something in the air.” Again the police raid. This time it is 40 thousand – odd protesters.
Then the Prime Minister makes a declaration, which is short and curt: “No matter what you do or say, we have decided the fate of the place,” he says. (That’s a royal “we”, I think.)
And that does it! Something happens this time. The uprising begins. And the the young people who revolt say, “No, you have decided nothing of the kind. We decide our own fate.” It is, as South African rebel, Ronnie Kasrils says “a kind of poetic beauty about rebellion and revolution. It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.” (quoted by Chris Hedges, in Truthdig, June 23, 2013).
Despite gas clouds covering the skies all over Turkey this revolt, with its barricades and all, has spread like wildfire to almost all the regions and cities of Turkey, and even has become an inspiration for the “salad revolution” in Brazil. After the police took the park from the uprising masses by a vicious gas attack on 15 June, it spread to all the other parks of the city (and other cities, too) and it has now taken the form of fora, sort of a direct democracy in practice. It has become a huge revolt of the masses against all kinds of oppression -- reminiscent of the revolution days of Paris 1968.
The mainstream (or corporate) media, with very few exceptions chose to stay silent, or, worse still, in many cases, chose to support the oppressive government. PM Erdogan, though democratically elected and having gained even a 50% percent majority of the vote, proved to be more and more authoritarian. Nowadays we're basically talking about a one-man rule.
The climate movement which we all are now in the process of building has always been, wilfully or unwittingly, ignored by the mass media too. Let’s just look at what happened last night: The US President made a major (even historic!) Climate speech laying out a package of measures including capping carbon emissions at existing power plants, double the amount of electricity produced with renewables, and lead a global movement to address climate change. And? The media virtually ignored it! (Annie-Rose Strasser, Climate Progress, June 25, 2013)
To the Gezi Park revolt we guys at Açık Radyo were rather quick to react. Açık Radyo (Open Radio) has always tried to be a voice for the "silenced" majority. Since day one we've been doing a marathon-broadcast without taking a break, on almost on aspects of this wonderful phenomenon with live shows, interviews, soundbytes, etc.for the past four weeks. (The beat goes on as I write these lines.)
One of the main reasons we were able to do this is the strength of the model we have been trying to follow since the beginning, but, most importantly, for the past 10 years. This is listener-supported broadcasting. As independent journalist Glenn Greenwald aptly states: This model is vital in sustaining real journalism: it fosters independence, democratizes political discourse, invests readers (listeners) in the work that is done, and keeps journalists accountabl to individuals. (Guardian, June 4, 2013)
I see the Gezi uprising as one of the few examples of mass revolts which took its starting point from environmentalism. It is a very rare phenomenon which has started as an ecological protest and encompassed huge masses of people, especially the younger generation within the framework of a bigger cause for real democracy. Now it is time to go further.
Now to connect the dots between the two narratives: That of the Gezi Park protestors (or resisters as they like to call themselves), and that of the young climate activists – you, who have traveled from all around the world.They are of course essentially the two sides of the same coin. (Here "coin" could be quite apt as a metaphor!)
We're talking about taking a stand literally against the corporate destruction of the ecosystem here, there, everywere...
Let me humbly point at a wonderful link between the two movements: As you may well be aware by now, one of the very first chants (slogans) of the Gezi Park rebellion was this: “This is just the beginning, the struggle goes on!” This has been to date one of the most popular slogans of Gezi.Now let me refer to a small news report I saw on Commondreams.org last night: It reads like this: “Despite injunction, protesters erect human blockade at Toronto pump station. For the sixth day, protesters have barricaded an Enbridge tar sands pump station in an effort to halt the "endless resource extraction" and stop construction meant to reverse the flow of Enbridge's Line 9 pipeline, which soon will carry toxic diluted bitumen from the Alberta Tar Sands through communities and watersheds to eventual export on the East Coast of the United States….”
And their chant? It goes like this: “To Enbridge, we have this to say: this Line 9 pipeline expansion project will not happen. [...] You are going to be swamped with resistance at every step of the way. This fight is just beginning.”
Yes, I do think the historic moment we're passing right through in Istanbul will have significant lessons for us all for the present, and for the near future, too.
Thank you for bearing with me.
June 25, 2013-06-26
GPS Panel, İTÜ Ayazağa Campus