I saw an image of a young man in Taksim Square, playing an accordion. In a Guy Fawkes mask. With a surreal mix of fire and smoke behind him. Among the tweeted images of blood and tear gas, this one appears and I am taken aback by the haunting artistry of it. There has begun, in Turkey, a paradigm shift. The parallels between Istanbul and cities across America are there, although not as escalated as the situation has reached in Turkey. What started as an attempt to save a small patch of green space from demolition in an already gray and practically treeless Istanbul has grown into a full-scale rebellion, a Turkish Spring.
It began in Gezi Park , a lone survivor in a city overdeveloped and dense with people. It’s been decided by Prime Minister Recep Erdogan that this park, along with the Central Taksim area, will be re-developed into a shopping mall, featuring Ottoman-style architecture and a ‘tribute’ to history with a replica of an old military barracks. Gezi Park begs the question, “Why? Why is it more important to build another mall than it is to preserve a single free space for the public?”
Within days of the initial encampment to save Gezi Park the police intervened, subjecting peaceful activists to a slew of typical tactics. The brutal evictions, under the cover of darkness right before dawn, included fire hoses, merciless batons, pepper spray and tear gas. Lots of tear gas. The police blocked exits, blocked out media and set fire to tents while people slept. At least 2 people have been confirmed dead and hundreds more injured. As of now there seems no end to the excessiveness of the police force. (Unless the cops run out of teargas perhaps, all made in the USA by the way)
As the heart-wrenching images began to pour out of Istanbul, a collective, reactive outrage began to erupt. Thousands of people stirred, heeding the call for solidarity. Beyond ages and classes people took to the streets to air their grievances with the government and their enforcers, the out-of-control cops. (The military has even helped aid the uprising by giving out protective wear, but otherwise people have resourcefully fashioned their own gas masks for protection )
Gezi Park has become a stage for the socio-economic and environmental tension finally breaking loose. It’s a stand-off between the people and industry, the preservation of the commons and the excavators that have come to plow it. This redevelopment project appears to be the final straw for a country where the economy is stalling and, after a 10-year run, has a leader becoming more authoritarian by the day. It seems Erdogan is not as popular as he may have thought; so we watch him, from thousands of miles away, while he greatly underestimates the level of dissent among the people. (and the incredible potential for it to change things) This symbolic blow to his ego has had a rippling effect, spawning solidarity demonstrations far beyond Turkey’s borders. From New York to San Francisco, demonstrations painted red took to the streets to show support for a struggle we can relate to.
From Turkey to the Bay; Solidarity Beyond Barricades
Jak and I joined a crowd here in San Francisco and marched through the streets with them on June first. A stunningly beautiful women carried the Turkish flag over her back. A megaphone carried by another woman led our voices. The breeze carried that white moon and star like a sail, gliding over the pavement with chants I could only feel. It was a quiet march otherwise. In fact, the entire day so far had been quiet. We had toured the Free Farm earlier, an amazing community garden space that has been providing free produce to the local community every Sunday. It’s one of three permaculture farms slated to be demolished and leveled for housing developments this year. So, in honor of this global struggle for the commons, we walked against the grain in solidarity with the fight for Gezi Park. “Liberate the Land From Turkey to the Bay” was our battle cry in a war to reclaim and restore sacred spaces. It was a mission to take back a space for this city, a distant cousin to Istanbul, where gardens are being sacrificed for more and more condos.
Along the march we carried pitchforks, shovels, seedlings and baby trees. It didn’t take long to reach our destination-a city block of trees and piles of dirt where demolition had begun. As we came to the corner of Laguna and Fell we entered from a gate on one side. The borders are lined with barbed wire perched on fences, but within the walls is a precious plot of earth. This is the remains of Hayes Farms, an abundant educational landscape where the public could come to engage with permaculture farming techniques. Unfortunately it was sold to a real estate developer who has “big plans”for the space. As of June first it’s on track to become condominiums.
But the local activist community has come together to change that fate. The march morphed into a direct action to #LiberateTheLand, a grassroots movement to transform the farm into an eco-village; a display of what is not only possible, but real all over the world. That is where the parallel lies, and together we weeded, planted, tilled and watered the neglected land. A lot of the greenery is still alive, and within a few hours the space is breathing new promise again. I have a renewed sense of hope in this space. There is a feeling of strength, determination and quiet rage. We mingle and explore the land, scaling a cliff of ivy and trees of eucalyptus, reaching a small summit; a dusty plateau overlooking the bustling city. Squash vines cascade off one side and I am instantly reminded of what is truly important…
Liberation. Liberation of the earth, the commons, and the people. Music, art and dance deserve a free space to thrive. We are a starved people, trapped in a system designed to deprive us. . .but in these small spaces around the world, children of this earth are crying out to us. When you take a step back from the grind, turn off the TV and step into the streets, you just may hear that desperate call for truth and justice.
In Solidarity Forever,