Posted by: MC | June 23, 2013

Violence May Thwart Public Voice, but the Ideas Won’t Go Away

Taksim Square, Istanbul 6-22-2013  Reuters

My sister in Gainesville, Florida is recently back from Turkey — Istanbul and a rural city where she and her daughter worked a while on an organic olive farm.  The olive work was only perfect for getting to know the culture of rural Turkey a bit, but it was also the only way for these two women to travel together.  The younger is a college student, the older (celebrating her 50th with this trip) is one of the near countless Americans working for a wage she sees inching by the month toward being inadequate for even the most modest of living.

The stories of this big birthday reunion/adventure are many and rich.  Today, my sister was speaking again of the specific moment of her leaving Turkey.  The day she flew out was the day the massive citizen demonstrations against the Turkish government began.  That day, in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, thousands of people gathered to initiate what has become a public uprising of vast proportion.  As Gokhan Terioglu writes in the London Guardian,

To start with the most obvious and overstated point, it’s not just about a dozen sycamore trees.  What started with a relatively small number of concerned activists and citizens organising a sit-in to avoid the destruction of the Gezi Park in the face of the government’s attempt to build a replica of an army barracks on the park site as part of an urban redevelopment project suddenly evolved into a spontaneous anti-government demonstration of a massive scale when the police resorted to extremely brutal force to dispel the few peaceful protesters.

Today, my sister who is an active participant in the small but unflinchingly effective group – Occupy Gainesville – spoke simply and clearly about the reactions she’s received when she’s mentioned this synchronicity of her journey.  “People I tell tend to respond in two ways,” she said.  “The first response is, ‘Well, they’re Muslim, that explains everything.’  The second response goes something like, “I’m sure glad I live in the U.S. where violent uprisings like that don’t happen.'”  Then she continued, “The first one makes me really sad — the bias and ignorance in it.  The second one concerns me in a more immediate way because it shows how uninformed most of the American public is.  See, most usually and fir sure this is true in the U.S., it’s not the people who are violent, it’s the police or military.  And it’s the case all over the world.”

Sure there are big differences in the way we hear and tell these stories, but in addition to her sense of the source of violence in these massive public demonstrations (most lately in Tokyo, Brazil, Mexico and across Turkey)  my sister emphasizes the evidence in the numbers of everyday people around the globe who are standing up to power that does not serve the people.  Tens of millions of people globally are coming together, and all with the urgent call for the voices of the people to be heard.  “When Syrians, Palestinians and Afghans must give all their attention to surviving direct and horrible violence, the voices of Istanbul, Tokyo and even Gainesville, Florida represent those who can organizing to demand public policy that protects and supports the wellbeing of citizens and communities.  This demand and expectation by the people of these countries can easily be misunderstood as specific to those lands, but they actually represent the fact that people the world over are no longer willing to settle for imperialism or colonialism by whatever name.”

Yesterday, like every day since my sister flew out of Istanbul and back to Florida, the public demonstrations in Taksim Square continued.  The picture for this blog is a Reuter’s image showing  part of the crowd of tens of thousands who gathered to commemorate fellow protesters killed by police attacks.  Their red carnations, held high here, were placed on armored trucks while voices called out to the police, “Don’t betray your people.”  Based on reading a few reports of the event (a small action by comparison to those in the weeks preceding)  it appears that riot cops on megaphones ordered the peaceful protesters to leave & when no one budged entered the square in phalanxes & in armored vehicles blasting water cannons. Protesters tried to hold them back, threw the flowers at them, &  attempted to block the trucks by standing in front of them.  The square was cleared and the government claimed protesters were obstructing traffic.  Nonetheless, the documentation of these events by everyday people makes available to the entire world the images of silent, peaceful protest as intolerable to the current Turkish regime.

It probably always takes great courage to persist demanding that everyday people be listened to — sometimes it takes great courage.  Increasingly, people the world over are finding the option of continuing to say and do nothing untenable.  Violence stops dialogue, but the ideas public voices can relay are  no less urgent and will not go away.

So here we are, either learning together through all the political and social messiness, or beating and bombing each other.  We’ll each keep choosing.  We’ll each keep watching.  And perhaps more and more of us will have the courage both to speak — and to listen.

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