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AN ADVANCE FROM HEAVEN

in remembrance of those who lost their lives during the Gezi Park resistance

In Turkey, the discussion around the concept of democracy and its various manifestations has been transformed entirely by a recent event. Many people who took part in the people's uprising of summer 2013 that rapidly spread from Gezi Park in the centre of Istanbul across the entire country have since described their experience of, and bond with the resistance in ways that were previously not part of political or sociological vocabulary. Sounding unwittingly mystical, yet in an irrepressibly cheerful tone of voice, "Gezi was like receiving an advance from heaven," said one protester. Another, a psychiatrist by profession, states that she now measures her level of happiness in the here-and-now by comparing it to those two weeks she spent in or around the park. "It's good, I say to myself," she said of her recent mood, "but not that good."

Lest we forget, Gezi was a public uprising that was sparked by a protest against the demolition of a park in the centre of Istanbul and the construction of a shopping centre in its place, one of many urban transformation projects that have threatened to destroy both the built and natural environment of the city. The initially small protest was met with intense police brutality, backed up by the unconditional support of the government, which developed an extremely aggressive discourse laced with outright lies aiming to discredit the resistance. The mainstream press, under heavy pressure from the government, chose not to report on the protests at all; and the mostly independent journalists who did, were targeted by the police with the same animosity they displayed for protesters. One art journalist/protester stated that she had found at Gezi the tangible expression of everything that she had so far thought and written about, and cherished in her career, yet she also confessed that, until then, she had harboured doubts about the extent to which the whole discourse of the cultural field actually corresponded to actual experience. Those doubts had now met a response of the most unexpected, exhilarating and transformative order. The occupation of the park was ended by a final assault by the police, however forms of action, communication and solidarity either created or popularized during the Gezi resistance live on in many ways; and it would be no exaggeration to say that no political movement in Turkey from now on can afford to ignore the experience of Gezi, and its imprint on the public's consciousness.

One might claim that Turkey does not have a democracy as 'developed' as the 'West', or that its 'tradition' of 'public protest' or 'civil resistance' was not as deeply-rooted. This perhaps suggests that there is still a measurable amount of time, or number of stages this country – like many others outside the core of the West - and its democracy must endure until it becomes a proper democracy. Yet I would like to put aside such linear, not to mention patronizing and misleading perspectives on progress aside, and via the example of Gezi develop a perception on a radical form of democracy that might also suggest some preliminary routes out from the impasse that Western democracies today face. This does not mean to say that the forms of resistance that Gezi displayed were entirely unprecedented, yet their genealogy is to be sought not in the official histories of this or any other nation state, but in the still legible codes of the public spaces of cities, and not in the restricted and regulated forms of representation, but in the crooked line formed by sudden eruptions of rebellion to which neither Byzantium nor Anatolia are strangers. Another protester, a writer, ecstatically exclaimed: "Finally Istanbul, the city, has regained its soul." Long lost under the heavy hand of oppression in this Republic where the state continues to make its paranoid presence felt in the deepest pores of society, the spirit of the city was invoked by people who now risked all to demand their right to it, to public space, and to walk, gather and meet in the way they desired. Their actions in doing so constituted both the most radical demand for, and act of freedom, in turn giving rise to the sense of joy and unity expressed in the accounts cited above.

This unleashing of subterranean forces exposed the manifold layers of restriction the establishment had placed on life itself. The injustice that the resistance objected to was not merely an illegal construction project: It was greed, theft and the suppression of the truth. "We are so right, I'm finding it hard to believe," read one banner. Aspects of identity so rigidly imposed from above – based on the warped, official account of history, on pseudoscientific and oppressive interpretations of gender, family, ethnicity, origin... - were dissolved and discarded to be replaced by identity as defined by collective action: We want to protect the park. And the people came in their hundreds, and then thousands. We want to meet each other and enjoy our time together where we want to, when we want to. And the people met in the park, and then in parks everywhere across the country, and they protect their parks, and their trees despite police brutality (as I am about to post this text on the morning of September 18, villagers in Soma continue to collectively guard an olive orchard where bulldozers entered at midnight and uprooted 20 trees for a planned thermal power plant project -16,000 [sixteen-thousand] is the number of olive trees the company wants to destroy) The park was there to be shared, and it was there for sharing, so money was abolished, and there was abundance. Its medium was the collectivity, and thus its message became instantly recognizable across the globe.

'Real' democracy, therefore, could be understood as a continuing process in which a front, or alliance - local and grassroots, and also transnational and global in nature - is nurtured on those values that quickly drew activists from Greece, Spain and all across Europe to Gezi Park, that the uprising in Brazil immediately recognized, that later drove those who took part in Gezi to swiftly declare their support to Ferguson, and led ultras across Europe to unfurl banners in solidarity with Çarşı, the supporters group, days after it was absurdly put on trial in Turkey for plotting to overthrow the government during the Gezi resistance.

An initial proposal, then, would be to expand critical action originating in 'Western' or European nations so that alliances are sought, fostered and developed across the globe, regardless of established notions of geopolitics, or the dictates of the foreign policies of governments, yet with a commitment to radical democracy. The state mechanism exposed by Gezi was perhaps more brutal and less flexible than those in the West, yet once governments gather behind doors to decide upon our future, such judgments bear little significance. Politicians may remain weary observers of resistance movements that form bonds between unexpected localities, yet we have already shown that we possess both the symbolic and concrete tools to mobilize a radical movement of freedom, so now new forms of discourse and action shall dare to flourish.

Posted 18 Sep 2014
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