Notes from an NYC Occupier in Taksim Square

Interview with Justin Wedes published on Waging NonViolence, by Nathan Schneider, June 3, 2013.

Almost two years ago, Justin Wedes was one of the original organizers of Occupy Wall Street, as well as one of the first to be arrested in Zuccotti Park. Now, he is witnessing the birth of another occupation of public space at Gezi Park in Istanbul’s Taksim Square. He took some time out of the world-in-creation there to answer a few questions for Waging Nonviolence.

How did you end up in Taksim Square this week?  

  • I was in Paris last week at the OECD Forum 2013 on Jobs, Equality and Trust. When I logged on to the computer to check in for my return flight to JFK, I saw that a protest being dubbed #OccupyGezi had started in Turkey and that police were cracking down on these peaceful, brave young people who had come to protect the trees from over-development and ambitious urban gentrification. By the time I had read through a few reports, I was changing my plane ticket to Istanbul. I’ll be here for a week, and I’m live-tweeting and blogging whenever possible on @justinwedes and on JustinWedes.com.

What do you think what’s happening there is building toward? What do people there want to accomplish?

  • The protest began to save the park, but it quickly escalated into a full-out popular referendum on the legitimacy of the Erdogan administration, a religiously conservative and increasingly autocratic government. While broadly popular for its economic gains, the government has been increasingly scrutinized by groups that see it infringing more and more on people’s secular rights: a recent decree banned drinking in public places after 10 p.m., and women’s rights have been curtailed. At the same time, Erdogan has been pushing forward a very ambitious urban gentrification program, and Gezi Park — the “life center” of Istanbul according to a cafe owner I met here yesterday — was the last straw, for many people, in the over-development program. As in many cities around the world, over-gentrification leads to a squeezing of the working class and higher and higher pressure for job growth and salary increases, which aren’t keeping pace.
  • Now, the demands of the protesters have broadened with their numbers, and they’re calling for Erdogan’s resignation. They’re also calling for a more democratic government, a fairer media, and a whole host of other environmental and social demands. The protests are incredibly non-partisan, with youth in Gezi requiring people to put their political party flags away when entering the park. The only flags that remain are the Turkish ones, and many calls for “one united Turkey.”

Do you think it’s realistic? Do they care? … //

… Are you seeing anything happening — tactically, strategically — that you want to bring back to the United States?

  • The organizing model in Gezi is very interesting. There’s no “General Assembly,” but many small clusters of people interact with each other organically. Right now, there doesn’t seem to be any brain or central decision-making body, and for sure there are political parties that are organizing the space. It’s really a raw energy that’s being stirred by many marches and soccer-style chants, and the engagement with regular people is broad and growing. When I talk with “organizers” on the ground — though I’m not sure they would call themselves that — they speak of tight coordination of media and tactics over SMS and Twitter, but it’s all very real-time and dynamic. I think it’s too early to assess how it’s growing.

Anything more?

  • I’ll be here until Saturday. Follow along with me on Twitter, Facebook and the blog! #OccupyGezi!

(full interview text).

Links:

Foreign Aid, Or Foreign Hindrance, on Forbes, by Doug Bandow, Feb 22, 2011;

Development Aid, Help or Hindrance? on ONE.org, by Cheryl S. Nrumy, July 24, 2008.

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