Category Archives: uprisings

How Guatemalans Ousted their Corrupt President

GUATEMALA: How We Ousted Our President

By Mercedes | 14 March, 2017

“Mercedes Ordonez Jop was part of the movement that drove out a corrupt president and restored Guatemalans’ love for their country.

Enough is enough! No more corruption. Resign now, Mr. President!

The general strike of 27 August 2015 was historic for the people of Guatemala. That day we awoke from years of silence and stood up united against repression. The nation-wide strike was the largest and most peaceful protest in the recent memory of our country, and it was convened primarily through social networks.

Together as a nation we decided that we had had enough of our government’s corruption and abuse. We took the future of our country in our own hands, and raised our voices to demand that the president, Otto Pérez Molina, step down. Today he is imprisoned and expecting a trial, so he can pay for all his crimes in jail.” See more……

https://www.worldpulse.com/en/voices-rising/stories/guatemala-how-we-ousted-our-president?utm_source=World+Pulse&utm_campaign=e6af276fbe-Story_Awards_Community_3-5_2017_3_24&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2ba7a2ad38-e6af276fbe-415500373

Why are some people activists and others not?

Why do some young people demonstrate and protest and others stay away? A case study of 22 universities in 2010 found 22% of students took part in student protests against the UK government’s plan to triple university tuition fees, although two-thirds of the non-participants supported the protests. About 10% of students participated in demonstrations and 4% in occupations. Personal connections were the main influences; first, growing up with parents who often discussed politics and second, having activist friends. The majority (62%) of activists had previous experience being politically active before attending university. Students were more likely to visit occupations at their university if they had friends there and social science and humanities students had more activist friends than students in technical fields of study. Men were more involved than women who were less likely to discuss politics or to feel informed about politics. Researcher Alexander Hensby traced the legacy of the student protests as inspiring UK Uncut, the global Occupy Movement of 2011, and the Quebec student movement of 2012.

 

Alexander Hensby, “Exploring Participation and Non-Participation in the 2010/11 Student Protests Against Fees and Cuts,” Ph.D. dissertation University of Edinburgh, February 2014.

https://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/bitstream/handle/1842/9855/Hensby2014.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Turkey’s 2013 Uprising Crushed

Chapter 4 Turkey’s Uprising Crushed

 

 

Istanbul’s Gezi Park occupation, 2013. The banner refers to the activist role of the Carsi soccer fan club and includes the anarchist “A” symbol. One of their slogans is “Carsi is against everything.” The photographer wishes to remain anonymous for fear of repression. She gave me a tour of the sites of the uprising, shown on video.[i]

 

Contents: GezI Park Uprisings, The Aftermath: Assemblies and Demonstrations

 

 

GezI Park Uprisings

An observer who refers to himself as Ali B., pointed out that unlike the European uprisings, Turkey’s demonstrations were not caused by extreme austerity measures, but by the prime minister’s authoritarianism and dedication to massive privatization of land for real estate projects and urban renewal. His ADP (Justice and Development Party) represents neoliberal policies. Ali said these construction projects just benefit the bourgeoisie and Erdoğan’s desire to “leave a neo-Ottoman stamp on the city,” making it into an Islamic Disneyland.[ii] Some rural areas were aided by his economic policies and building and they feel comfortable with his working-class roots.” A young Islamic activist used Western media to convey his dismay: “It’s like the Lord of the Rings: We have the ring now, but we have become slaves to it.” More background on the book webpage.[iii]

Protesters’ signs called him “dictator,” told him to “Run [away] Tayyip, run!” and that they were fighting for democracy. I saw graffiti in 2016 saying, “Dictator will lose.” Protester signs blamed neoliberal capitalism, saying, “End the looting of the city. Capitalism out.” Another difference is that Erdoğan was elected fairly, unlike the Arab dictators, but a similar theme is the desire for freedom of expression without government censorship. Public opinion polls show that offended people by talking about “his people, “his policemen,” “his governor,” and so on. All the people who govern with him are men and his party’s rhetoric is patriarchal.

Youth were prominent organizers. “We have achieved a lot here,” said Okan Ozkan, a 19-year-old leader of Turkish Youth Unity, before police cleared the park on June 15. “But we are afraid that as soon as the protests are over it will be the same old country again.”[iv] The leader of the main opposition Kemalist party explained the failure of his party; “These kids communicate with other nations and demand to have the same confidence about this country’s citizens too. So far we have made them fear others so they vote for us. Now we see how wrong we have been.”[v] The minister in charge of EU negotiations called on “these young people to establish a political party. They would both force us to work harder, and take a step for the good of the country.”

Typical of their generation, many of the demonstrators were texting on a phone or recording the events on a tablet, dancing, chanting and singing with a sense of humor. Ayşe said the protests started with college students, and then workers and the general public joined in. Like young people around the world, they have access to American TV shows, music, and movies. They’re very creative and humorous, skilled in communicating electronically. Ayşe remarked that the public was surprised and shocked to “see that the cell phone generation has something to say, surprised at their level of political awareness, not just hooked on their phones, Internet and TV. We had no idea this would happen in Turkey. It changed the confidence of young people and trust in them.”

In order for a youth revolt to succeed, Public Policy professor Jack Goldstone points out that the national government must be undemocratic and weakened by a material or ideological crisis and elites must be divided. Networks are needed to mobilize popular support for youth-led protests from other discontented groups such as workers with falling wages and higher costs of living.[vi] Universities and cities congregate people who are most likely to rebel—young single men like Chinese students in Beijing who fomented the Tiananmen Square revolt in 1989 that is excluded from history books. Thus youth rebellions often occur at times with large increases in the number of university students, including before the English Revolution of 1640 and the French Revolution of 1789.

Writing in 2012, Goldstone didn’t predict the youth revolts in Turkey and Brazil because he viewed their governments as democratic and believed their economies provided opportunities for youth. He acknowledged that corruption was a threat to stability in emerging countries, but “other factors are moving to offset risks of rebellion.” He didn’t anticipate Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s drift towards Islamization and the Brazilian government spending about $30 billion to host the World Cup and Olympics, plus corruption scandals and impeachment of President Rousseff.[vii] Brazilian youth were angry with the large gap between the wealthy governing elites and the poor and Turks were frustrated by the increasing Islamization and autocratic rule of the Prime Minister. A Turkish author blamed his country’s “combative, divisive, cynical political culture.”[viii] “The Turkish model” used to be emulated as a democratic Islamic country, but when Erdoğan felt threated by the protests discussed below and a corruption investigation that followed in 2013, he became increasingly power hungry. Tunisia replaced Turkey as the new model of Islamic democracy.

Precedence for the Gezi Occupation in 2013 was the grassroots environmental movement a decade before, organizing against coal and hydroelectric projects. Environmentalists wanted to save the few remaining urban green spaces. The Neoliberal restructuring policies that began in 2001 created dissent. The Kurds had organized for greater autonomy for almost 30 years, as with an uprising from 1984 to 1999, which resumed in 2011. Young Kemalists defended Ataturk’s secular legacy, LGBT and feminists advocated their rights, communists spoke for workers, and anarchists opposed the state.

Young intellectuals saw that Erdoğan intended to lead the country towards a more authoritarian and Islamic state, as in his moves to restrict purchase of alcohol (it can’t be sold after 10 PM), require Islamic religion courses in school, attempt to ban abortion and adultery, and require that Ottoman Turkish with Arabic script be included in the national school curriculum. He said this language form is necessary to read old documents and gravestones as “history rests in those gravestones.” Police in some conservative areas told young couples not to kiss in public and violently repressed the 2012 May 1 demonstrations. Women were very offended when he said that a childless woman is half a woman and that they should have three children. In 2016 he said that using birth control is “treason” a follow up of his statement on International Women’s Day that a woman is “above all else a mother.” As well as a ban on birth control, his government proposed limiting abortion and caesarean sections. Two years previously Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said that women shouldn’t laugh in public, so women tweeted with photos of themselves laughing. Some protesters are also critical of the role of the army in Turkish public life, as well as discrimination again Kurdish and Alawite minorities.

Angered by HDP Kurdish party victory at the polls robing him of a majority in parliament, Using ISIS as a cover, Erdoğan authorized assaults on Kurds in 2015 and 2016. In July and August 2015, Turkish fighter planes bombed Kurdish villages in Iraq, killing civilians.[ix] Authorities cracked down on Kurdish activists in Turkey and arrested thousands.[x] In 2012, Kurdish youths organized in YDG-H, an organization affiliated with PKK militants, taking over Kurdish towns like Cizre on Turkey’s border. They’re called “the youth” who organize a growing number of “self-defense neighborhoods.” Other young people organize in groups like Anarchist Youth or Anarchist Women that indirectly support the HDP party although they believe in direct rather than parliamentary democracy. Many accused the president of placing his desire to contain the Kurds much higher than fighting ISIS. Turkey launched over 400 airstrikes on PKK’s base in the Quandil Mountains in northern Iraq, killing hundreds. In response PKK killed some soldiers and policemen. The military also pounded Kurdish cities such as Cizre, Sur, Yuksekova and Silopi in the southwest in 2015, destroying thousands of buildings. The excuse was getting rid of terrorists. The government said it would rebuild but only for people who signed a statement blaming PKK for the destruction. Erdoğan told Kurdish militants “You will be annihilated in those houses, those buildings, those ditches which you have dug” until “cleansed.”[xi] Photos are available, cited in previous endnote.

 

May and June Protests in Gezi Park

Despite the tradition of “obedience culture,” the Arab Spring spread to Turkey on May 27, 2013, as shown in my photos of key locations.[xii] Graduate student Balca Arda commented in an email:

 

    Obedience Culture seems over-generalizing to me when one considers Turkey’s long tradition of activist organization. Although military coups in 1971 and 1980 imprisoned many leftist intellectuals and youth members, there is a specific politicized culture always active in Turkey. However horizontalist/ autonomous organization shaped activist organization in Turkey with the emergence of digitally-connected communication tools, as it does in all over the world. I think that any activist organization structured in vertical order can be considered as obedience-based.  

 

In focus groups with 61 university students in Istanbul in 2010 they described themselves as apolitical, easily bored, and brand-conscious consumers. They also described themselves as creative and fun techies influenced by American media in a hybrid culture. Similar to their global peers, they described their parents at their age as more responsible, idealistic, respectful, better read, consuming less and more connected to Turkish culture.[xiii] Young people’s lack of activism changed when about 70 environmentalists and anarchists called for help guarding Gezi Park’s 80-year-old trees against the bulldozers in an economy based on construction. The spark that set off demonstrations in **Taksim Square with over 30,000 people was the government’s plan to convert one of the few green spaces in Istanbul, Taksim Square in Gezi Park, into a shopping center and hotel although Istanbul has the least amount of green space of any European city. Taksim isn’t green but the park next to it has many trees and lawn, with benches to rest and enjoy the bit of nature as shown in my video.

Protests for the “right to the city” (a widely-used term coined in 1968 by Henry Lefebvre to mean access to and influence on urban life) were often held in Taksim Square. Turkey joined uprisings in other countries in using open urban spaces, usually squares, to organize and demonstrate for change. A photo on the Global Youth SpeakOut Facebook album shows the occupation of the Ataturk Cultural Center on Taksim Square transformed from a “soulless black box” to a colorful collage of leftist posters and banners.[xiv] The building has historical significance but Erdoğan wants to replace it with a new building, perhaps with his name replacing Ataturk’s. Photos of the building on social media connected material and virtual space, leading young academic Basak Tanulku to ask, “Can soulless cities re-gain their life back due to the new culture of Gezi commune?” Photos of the 2013 demonstrations are on the Global Youth SpeakOut page and many videos are online, including Gazi to Gezi.[xv]

Around a dozen protesters spent the night in the park with two large tents and guitars. The bulldozers returned the second day and police used tear gas to oust the protesters. Like Julia Butterfly who guarded the old growth redwood trees in northern California by living in one from 1997 to 1999, protesters hugged, tied themselves, or climbed a tree and prevented demolition. Kurdish rights groups and several opposition members of Parliament joined protesters to stop the bulldozers, and the Confederation of Revolutionary Trade Unions called on its members to support the occupation. For the first time, the Kurds weren’t the main instigators of rebellion and understanding and support of their cause grew.[xvi] When a Kurdish boy named Medeni Yildirim was killed protesting the construction of a police station in Kurdistan, the Gezi activists organized demonstrations in support of the Kurds.

On May 29, several hundred people joined the demonstration to enjoy concerts, sing songs (John Lennon’s 1971 song “Imagine” is a global favorite) and watch films. Activists planted tree seedlings and a vegetable garden in the park. Demonstrators included young women with and without headscarfs and young men carrying flags and signs demanding “Tayyip Resign!” (see photos[xvii]). I saw more women in the protests in videos than in Middle Eastern countries. High school students brought their homework to study on the lawn. It started with protecting the trees in Gezi Park and then opened up a decade worth of discontent with the government.

About 150 people slept in the park, woken up at 5:00 AM by tear gas. The police burned their tents and fired tear gas canisters at their heads, kicking people holding onto trees. As news spread on social media requesting people to come to Gezi, by morning 5,000 people came to the park. By evening more than 10,000 people joined them in the park. Several hundred slept in the park, again roused by police who escalated violence. They shouted “infidels, Alevi bastards [a Shia sect], terrorists!” as they attacked the demonstrators.

By May 31 between 5,000 and 10,000 people gathered in the park and over two million Tweets with protest hashtags were sent. The next day #DirenGezi Parki (Resist Gezi Park, also a webpage) was the most viewed Twitter account. Turkey is fourth largest Twitter community behind the US, UK and Japan. Late that night, the police barricaded the park and closed all roads and public transportation leading to the park. People gathered in their neighborhoods and walked to the square, with estimates of 40,000 demonstrators. From their balconies, neighbors booed and yelled at police at they marched down the street to Taksim Square. A left-wing group of Beşiktaş soccer fans, called Çarşı, whose banner with the anarchist A heads this chapter, cleared the way for marchers to move past police into the park. Solidarity protests spread to other cities where police again used tear gas and water canons against peaceful crowds. A common slogan was “Everywhere is Taksim, everywhere is resistance.”

With each wave of police violence, the crowd grew larger—the largest in a decade. The Minister of Interior estimated 2.5 million demonstrators took to the streets, but the activists thought it was probably five million. Many thought it was the largest crowd ever assembled in Tashim Park. Professor Ayca Cubukcu, from Istanbul, explained at the Global Uprisings Conference that protests against shrinking urban space spread to more than 50 cities (I’ve seen different numbers). Diverse groups including socialists, feminists, LGBT activists, anti-capitalist Muslims, and Kurds supported the protests. Rival Istanbul soccer clubs came together to support the Solidarity Movement—similar to Egypt, tweeting “Damn American imperialism to hell.” They united under the slogan “We’ll fuck Erdoğan” (see a documentary about the clubs).[xviii] He responded, “If you use provocative words, our people will never forgive you. If you gather 100,000 people, I can gather a million.” Some protesters wore Guy Fawkes masks as in other Occupy movements and some threw Molotov cocktails at police in the park. In a reference to the American film The Godfather, posters of Erdoğan’s face imposed on the Mafia boss played by Marlon Brando were posted around the city. This protester unity was unprecedented and unexpected, professor Cubukcu observed.

Ali B. reported that demonstrations took place in every major city with new feelings of solidarity. Activist Joris Leverink reported that over 100,000 demonstrators took to the streets and in just a few days the protests spread to 80 cities.[xix] The new solidarity carried over to demonstrations to support Kurds when soldiers opened fire on them on June 28: “Before Gezi, it would have been unimaginable for such expressions of solidarity to spontaneously erupt from a non-Kurdish segment of society.” This unprecedented unity indicated the power of emotion and the Gezi spirit rather than simply economic motivations for political action. During the 15-day occupation, the demonstrators created a “culture of kindness.”[xx] Balca Arda emailed, “The Gezi spirit of kindness was remedying neoliberal brutalism under AKP’s rule. Therefore although motivations of Gezi protests seem to be not economic, there is a indirect economic reason behind it.”

Feminists and GLBT groups were active in the Gezi uprising; women painted over walls with sexist slogans against Erdoğan with white and purple and corrected football fans sexist chants. Women were almost half of the protesters occupying the park, despite their lack of representation in parliament and in management positions in the private sector. Turkish women were given the right to political representation in 1934, but in the 2011 general elections only 14% of members of parliament were women and a lone woman was on the cabinet, predictably in charge of the family portfolio. Erdoğan’s sexist policies generated extensive protests with slogans like “My body belongs to me.” The prime minister proposed that abortion, which he called “mass murder,” be prohibited a month after conception, and he urges women to have at least three children (Russia’s President Putin also urges women to have three babies but acknowledges they need social supports to be able to be employed). Erdoğan blames rape victims for being “immoral” and made it legal for families to take children (mostly girls) out of school after only four years. A slogan “every day, men’s love kills three women” highlights increasing violence against women. Ministry of Justice statistics showed that an average of 10,000 women are abused and/or raped annually.[xxi] He also opposed wearing red lipstick and white bread.

The film Mustang (2015) illustrates the continuation of cruel sexist practices in the present. The five teenage sisters are taken out of school and married off because a neighbor complained about them roughhousing with boys on the beach on their way home from school. A doctor gave them a virginity check because if there was any doubt among villagers they wouldn’t be marriageable. The girls are kept at home behind bars in what Lale (the youngest and strongest) calls a “wife factory,” teaching them to be housewives, to cook and clean. When the older sisters are married off, the second sister is taken to the hospital for a virginity check after her wedding night to a man she didn’t know because she wasn’t able to show the bloody sheet demanded by the groom’s parents. The third sister shoots herself rather than get married and to escape sexual abuse by her uncle. Ironically, their uncle and guardian listens to a TV show where the speaker says modest women shouldn’t even laugh out loud in public.

First-time director Deniz Gamze Ergüven travels back and forth from Turkey to France. When she returns home, “I feel a form of constriction that surprises me” so she wanted to explore the status of girls and women in contemporary Turkey in the film.[xxii] She said, “Everything that has anything to do with femininity is constantly reduced to sexuality,” as when high school principals prohibit boys and girl from using the same stairways. Women are viewed as babymakers “good only for housework.” However, the youngest sister leads a rebellion (played by an actor born in 2001), saving the fourth oldest sister from a marriage she didn’t want. They escape to her former teacher who moved to Istanbul. Ergüven described the young actors who played the younger sisters as empowered, “They are also crazily plugged-in; they know everything about everything.” I asked a Turkish woman about the film’s accuracy. She said, “It is exaggerated in some ways and it other ways it shows the truth. We had a real rape issue just a few months ago,” where children were abused by their teacher and the government made an attempt to cover-up.[xxiii]

The various groups of protesters are examples of social identity theory of social movements. An informal map of the “Republic of Gezi” showed the location of identity groups: anarchists, communists, socialists, nationalists, LGBT, environmentalists, Muslims and soccer fans. The theory explains that a person feels oppressed because of their identity as a woman, a Kurd, a gay person, etc. We can have multiple identities such as a lesbian Marxist Kurdish mother. How strongly a person identifies with these identities and how much she feels her actions will be effective determines commitment to take action. The large numbers of occupiers increased the feeling that together we can make a difference and group identities changed as demonstrators became more politicized and viewed themselves as activists.

Participants I talked with in Turkey all commented on the joyous feeling of unity, their shared dislike of Erdoğan, and the lack of fixed leaders as everyone did what they could to help. Social media let people know what supplies were needed on a daily basis. A participant who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, told me in June 2016 the demonstration was spontaneous, a strong reaction to what she called the last sip from a glass, what I would call the last straw being bulldozers in Gezi Park. She said people reacted emotionally and instinctually, from their hearts, like being in love without logic. Without any leaders, they communicated on Twitter and Facebook. She gave credit to one organized group, a left-wing group of Beşiktaş soccer fans, called Çarşı, who pushed police back so demonstrators could occupy the park and were in front when the police shot teargas canisters.

She said most of the demonstrators were well-educated and young people were the ones sleeping in the tents. They also excelled in their humor, making jokes and slogans to express themes. Their mothers brought them food. For a week it was Woodstock, she said. The Standing Man stood silently in Taksim Square, confusing police who didn’t know what to do with him. Despite their peacefulness, police violence continued. The main outcome in her view is that Turks who thought they were alone in resenting the president’s growing autocracy and efforts to Islamize Turkey realized they had allies. She told me that high school students prepared manifestos to protest efforts to change modern curriculum to an Islamic one. Turkey is a moderate Muslim nation, she said, unlike Pakistan or Afghanistan.

Two Turkish scholars cited in the next endnote observed that a new phenomenon emerged, different from previous contentious action, characterized by “peacefulness, creativity, insistency, sense of humor, and sudden expansion,” with “an immense amount of creativity and humor.” Different groups were able to work together. Police didn’t know how to handle new protest styles developed by the mostly educated middle-class urban demonstrators such as reading to police or the “standing man” who did nothing but stand in Gezi. Police finally arrested him around 2am, but let him go. A festival atmosphere attracted people to the park especially when police didn’t intervene from June 7 to 15. Protests were strengthened by the government’s vacillating between harsh police crackdowns and attempts to negotiate.[xxiv]

Although the demonstrations were initially peaceful, police moved in with tear gas canisters fired at people’s heads and chests, pepper spray, plastic bullets and water cannons. A university student told NPR that she heard police brag about shooting demonstrators in the face with gas canisters. Football fans referred to themselves as “tear gas addicts” from previous run-ins with police, so they knew how to deal with tear gas with vinegar, lemon or milk. A sarcastic sign read, “Enough, I’m calling the police.” College professor Ayşe explained that these were not ordinary street police, but special forces of young men who felt powerful with guns in their hands even though they were loaded with plastic rather than metal bullets.

Medical professionals who helped injured demonstrators were threatened with losing their licenses and police attacked and arrested lawyers who denounced the repression. Hospitals and hotel lobbies that treated injured demonstrators were punished with water hosing their interiors or with tear gas. Police even fired tear gas canisters at doctors in their white lab coats, beat hospitalized protesters and didn’t allow passage for ambulances, as shown in a video.[xxv] I visited the posh hotel next to the park whose owner opened it as a first aid center. When I was there in June 2016 a hotel staff checked each arriving car, using a mirror to look under the car. A 2014 law gave authorities new powers to prosecute doctors for giving unauthorized medical care.

The violence (five deaths and about 5,000 injuries included 11 people who were blinded in the first 18 days of demonstrations) and arrests of thousands of people generated sympathy in cities all over Turkey. Supporters banged pots or metal street signs at night from their apartments similar to Argentina, Chile and Quebec. The Prime Minister suggested in July that banging pots and pans is a crime and at least one criminal case was filed for this offense! Other protesters waved Turkish flags, and people drank beer in public toasting “Cheers Tayyip” because of his Islamic opposition to alcohol. Some neighbors threw down furniture from their apartments to help build barricades against the police and some made keys available to find safety in their lobbies. Large jugs of water were left out to extinguish the gas canisters. Neighbors also left out baskets of lemons and milk to soothe teargas and lowered food from their windows to feed the demonstrators. Restaurants left food outside their windows. Protesters were free to hide in restaurants and bars until tear gas cleared. Turkish flags were everywhere.

After two days of non-stop fighting, the police retreated from the square and Gezi Park. Similar demonstrations occurred in every major city, especially in the capital Ankara. They invited famous entertainers to join in. Labor unions organized a one-day strike to support activists on June 17, leading a university professor to observe, “The fear threshold has been broken,” as demonstrators weren’t afraid of the authorities.

The prime minister said they were “extremists running wild” and puppets of foreign powers. Similar to other autocrats, he called them terrorists, hooligans–çapulcu, although as a Sunni Muslim he supported the Syrian Sunni rebels against Alawite President Assad. **The protesters painted the word on their tents and printed çapulcu stickers so the word came to mean a champion of the environment and freedom. A sign read, “I’m a çapulcu baby, why don’t you gas me?” Activist and blogger Oscar ten Houten reported that authorities looked in vain for non-existent leaders because activists are not an organization but “a world wide web. We are the people on the threshold of changing times.”

Ten Houten reported on the revolution in his book Occupy Gezi (2013) as he saw it unfold. He included a map of the “Gezi Republic” with kitchen, first aid, library, radio, TV, etc. and the location of anarchists, communists, socialists, nationalists, LGBT, Greens, Muslim, Kurds, and soccer fans in the park.[xxvi] He commented on demonstrators’ courage in the face of police tear gas, bullets and arrests. The were supported by neighbors’ pan banging throughout various Turkish cities and shinning strong laser beams from their windows on the drivers of police vehicles—even throwing burnings sofas from roofs, plus demonstrations in various Turkish and European cities, the hacker group Anonymous attack on government sites, and Canadian magazine Adbusters created a poster on Occupy Gezi. An anonymous person blogged from Istanbul, “We have never felt so alive! They can’t kill freedom!”

Erdoğan blamed the uprising on a foreign plot to destabilize his government, part of what he viewed as a “global conspiracy” that spread to Brazil on June 17. Typical of his age group, he doesn’t understand the possibility of leaderless uprisings sparked by shared media. Referring to the banners and flags demonstrators posted around the square, he said, “Were we supposed to kneel before them and say, ‘Please remove your pieces of rags? They can call me harsh, but this Tayyip Erdoğan won’t change.”

After 18 days of the sit-in in Taksim Square (the same number of days as Cairo’s Tahrir Square), Erdoğan sent in a massive police force early in the morning on June 15 to clear out the thousands of demonstrators with tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets, and make arrests. Cigdem Ozturk said at the Global Uprising conference it was a real war with protesters using slingshots to throw rocks. Like their global comrades, they said, “We’re not afraid of anything.” The police attack was brutal, despite children’s presence with their parents. Amnesty International reported human rights violations on a huge scale, including more than 8,000 injured protesters, the deaths of 22 of them, sexual abuse of women protesters by police (as occurred in Tahrir Square and Occupy Wall St.), and adding chemical irritants to water cannons. The report called for a boycott of all imports of riot control equipment to Turkey. Erdoğan later admitted, “The police acted severely,” so he brought the people responsible for burning the tents into his office and said proudly that he yelled at them to make them cry.[xxvii] Police beat journalists, some are jailed, and foreign reporters were deported.

Protesters said the huge fires in the square set by the police to burn the tents looked like the movie Apocalypse Now, using the global imagery of western films and TV series. Protesters retreated into surrounding streets where they build barricades, chanting, “Tashim is everywhere. Resistance is everywhere.” Gezi was cordoned off by police, but reopened on July 8 when crowds continued to gather, especially on Saturdays in neighborhood parks accompanied by police surveillance. Erdoğan organized pro-government rallies on June 16 with hundreds of thousands of supporters, offering free transportation while cancelling public transportation to protester events. He did suggest a public referendum on how to develop the park. After the square was cleared, protester Erdem Gunduz stood motionless in Taksim Square for six hours ignoring police harassment, becoming an icon of the rebellion. Gradually others joined him in standing silently reading books like 1984 and activists in other countries copied his “standing man” pose.[xxviii] People continued to come to the park to play music, sing, and debate politics.

 

Middle-Class Youth Activism

Committed to their individual rights, Nihan Dinca, a woman age 26, told Al Jazeera, “We are here for our freedom, for a space to breathe. We are here to be able to kiss in public, consume alcohol, read without any censorship. We are here for a life without any pressure from the state.”[xxix] Yesim Polat, 22, added, “Prime Minister Erdoğan thinks that he is a sultan, he does not listen to anybody, consult with anybody. He thinks he can do whatever he wants.” A university student commented, “We thought he got the message not to interfere with people’s lives at Gezi. I guess we were wrong.”

A video of the protests can be viewed online, showing many women on the streets, as well as other marginalized groups such as Kurds, students, and LGBT groups carrying signs identifying their causes.[xxx] The LGBT movement allied itself with democracy movements in Turkey and other Middle Eastern countries.[xxxi] A university student, (21, f) reported, “The government has sought to divide us, but has succeeded in bringing a lot of different people to the same cause.” Tanulku reported the largest group of demonstrators were well-educated urban young people with many women and leftists, leading to criticism that the urban poor were under-represented.[xxxii] However, resistance continued longest in working-class neighborhoods. Young street boys also participated. Most of the participants were previously apolitical, first time protesters.[xxxiii] Many of them vote but don’t trust political parties. They appreciated the number of protesters they trusted “to support me and help me” and the role of graffiti and music in showing “another way of life.”

A poll of 4,411 Gezi activists in June 2013 by the Turkish Research Institute reported that over half were employees, 40% were students, 56% had some university education, 13% had a university degree, 6% were unemployed, 3% retired, and 2% were housewives.[xxxiv] Many were from middle-class backgrounds, while poorer Turks supported Erdoğan’s AKP party. Demonstrators included members of trade unionists and farmers, not just young middle-class demonstrators. In the poll, the average age was 28 and 50.8% were female. Most said they were motivated by restrictions on their personal freedom, 37% were against the AKP, 30% against Erdoğan, 20% against cutting down the trees, and 20% against the state. Most (77%) learned about the demonstration from the Internet.[xxxv] Disenchanted with politics, 47% said there was no political party they wanted to vote for. According to three surveys of 5,409 Gezi participants, many voted for the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP). These voters were mainly young people raised by CHP parents.[xxxvi] About 30% were radicals who didn’t trust any political party.

Youth were prominent organizers. “We have achieved a lot here,” said Okan Ozkan, a 19-year-old leader of Turkish Youth Unity, before police cleared the park on June 15. “But we are afraid that as soon as the protests are over it will be the same old country again.”[xxxvii] The leader of the main opposition Kemalist party explained the failure of his party; “These kids communicate with other nations and demand to have the same confidence about this country’s citizens too. So far we have made them fear others so they vote for us. Now we see how wrong we have been.”[xxxviii] The minister in charge of EU negotiations called on “these young people to establish a political party. They would both force us to work harder, and take a step for the good of the country.”

Typical of their generation, many of the demonstrators were texting on a phone or recording the events on a tablet, dancing, chanting and singing with a sense of humor. Ayşe said the protests started with college students, and then workers and the general public joined in. Like young people around the world, they have access to American TV shows, music, and movies. They’re very creative and humorous, skilled in communicating electronically. Ayşe remarked that the public was surprised and shocked to “see that the cell phone generation has something to say, surprised at their level of political awareness, not just hooked on their phones, Internet and TV. We had no idea this would happen in Turkey. It changed the confidence of young people and trust in them.”

Activist Foti Benlisoy from Istanbul said at the Global Uprisings conference that attempts to portray the conflict as a culture war between secular youth and the Islamist government obscures the actual leftist motivation. The protest was a right-to-the-city movement against the encroachment of capitalism on the urban public space. Ubiquitous urban renewal projects around Turkey displace the urban poor and erode common space for everyone. During the occupation of the park they created a transfigurative alternative to capitalism and “existing social conventions.” As well as organizing food and medical care, demonstrators set up LGBT and gender awareness tents and invited individuals to talk with someone with different religious beliefs. Efforts by unions to strike weren’t successful. Benlisoy said Gezi was not the classical Marxist workers’ revolt. The new proletariat is formerly middle-class professionals who have precariously fallen into the working class, economically alienated due to neoliberal policies. Although they don’t think of themselves as working class, he believes they’ve permanently lost their high level of prosperity in an era when youth unemployment averaged 19% from 1988 to 2016.[xxxix]

Benlisoy advocates replacing spontaneity with strategic planning for alternatives to capitalism because “improvisation alone is not sufficient to confront the enemy.” The Gezi uprisings didn’t change the balance of power, he said, but ended the moral apathy of the last 15 years and began the struggle for the right to the city. He viewed the uprising as weakened by the lack of general strikes and mainstream labor movement support.

As in other Occupy movements, young people set up a tent city with a library including books donated by publishers, free food distribution centers, first aid center, pharmacy, plant nursery, children’s center and playground, stages for musicians and workshops in a variety of subjects including yoga and painting. A group called müştereklerimiz (“Our Commons”) helped set up some of these centers. Different tents featured specific approaches such as socialist feminists who erased sexist slogans from walls or media experts who recorded the protests. A “feminist tent” was set up the first day of the occupation and remained active. Everything was free, they practiced direct democracy, and some professors held classers in the park. Many people crowded the area almost like sightseeing but also to show support. Ayşe said they created an alternative city with a multitude of activities, until the police burned the tents and other structures.

Many of the protesters were previously called apathetic because their middle-class parents who had experienced traumatic coups told them to be quiet, similar to the Arab Spring countries. Surkru Argin called them not apolitical but counter-political. But Balca Arda doesn’t compare Gezi protests with the Arab Spring: “Turkey has a tradition of parliamentary system since the Ottoman era. AKP government has been elected by democratic elections although corruption in voting exists and there is a high percentage threshold (%10) for entering the parliament in Turkey. Consequently, Arab Spring cannot be the primary source of comparison in my mind.”

As we’ve seen, anger galvanizes rebellion when it seems like other people are showing up. A young lawyer who read about police burning tents in Gezi Park said, “I got really angry and I called all my friends” to demonstrate with her. They bought gas masks and water at the pharmacy on their way to the park. Even thought they were assaulted by water cannon, they were motivated to continue marching by neighbors banding pots and pans in support and their political will changed with their new identities as activists.

Thousands of the lawyers joined the demonstrators similar to their helpfulness in the Tunisian uprising of 2011, therefore Turkish eyewitness reported on Facebook on June 12,

 

Couple of hours ago, police attacked the biggest court house in Istanbul and arrested around 70 lawyers, who were only protesting against the morning attacks, probably as a response to their help with protecting the rights of the people arrested and injured during last weeks protests. In response to today’s events, people of Istanbul are going back to Taksim Square this evening at 19:00 possibly with larger numbers than the protests on May 31. Please share this information. The Turkish media has failed miserably and it is very important that the world knows what is really going on in Turkey.

 

One of the protesters interviewed by BBC TV said his goal and that of other young intellectuals was a socialist revolution. He definitely considered himself a revolutionary and others mentioned their opposition to “neoliberal impositions of uniform ways of living, producing and consuming through violence….” Demonstrators chanted “shoulder to shoulder against fascism,” “anticapitalism,” and “capital out.” Muslim groups against capitalism and for democracy were active, not just secular youth. At the same time, thousands of protesters marched in European cities including Brussels, Madrid (chanting “Government, resign”), and Lisbon “(IMF, out of here”) to protest austerity programs and neoliberalism. In front of the European Central Bank in Frankfort they chanted “Humanity above profits.” More than 10,000 protesters gathered in front of the Bank’s new headquarters in Frankfort in March 2015 with the slogan “Blockupy,” met by a large police force.

An observer viewed youth activists as less ideological than youth in the ‘60s and ‘70s who were “more ideological” and aligned with political parties.[xl] The majority of protesters were motivated by government restrictions on their liberties, not just by desire to protect trees. They blamed the Sultan, the Dictator. As in other uprisings, no central political organization existed although a Taksim Solidarity umbrella group (with over 100 groups, see their Facebook page) coordinated some of the Gezi sit-in. I asked a Turkish participant in the uprisings about this group: She is afraid to email the president’s name so she used his initials: “Taksim Dayanisma held a talk with rte (you should know who this is) for negotiations. They did some organizing on Twitter after the first days.” The group presented the government with five demands: keep Gezi a park, end police violence, ban tear gas, release detained protesters, and lift all restrictions on meetings in public squares around the country. Prominent members of Taksim Solidarity were investigated under anti-terrorism laws.

 

Role of Media

Twitter (#OccupyGezi[xli]) and other social media were used to communicate, as the mainstream media didn’t cover the demonstrations. For example, during the height of the clashes, CNN Turkey ran a documentary on penguins instead of covering the demonstrations, leading to posters of penguins saying “Antarctica Supports You” and a penguin with a gas mask. Graffiti on walls stated, “Fuck the media.” “Penguin media” was an insult. A Capul TV station was set up in Gezi Park to broadcast events.

Because millions of tweets were sent in a day, the prime minister denounced Twitter as a curse “the worst menace to society,” despite having two million Twitter followers himself. The Ministry of Communication tried to get copies of messages sent on Twitter and Facebook during the uprising, but the companies refused. The government sent out its own tweets. An eyewitness reported that events were staged for the media to make demonstrators look violent while real events were ignored. Turkey is rated poorly on freedom of the press, ranked 154 out of 179 nations in the World Press Freedom index. In February 2014, parliament used a 2007 law to allow the government to block webpages without court order after YouTube was blocked for 18 months. The prime minister shut down YouTube because of leaked government conversations about provoking military intervention in Syria. The updated law forced Internet companies to retain data for two years so government could access it. Turkey already leads the world in jailed journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and is the top country for requests for Google to delete content. A student named Nedim Coskun worried, “The media already distorts the truth because it is under the government’s control. So when they take over the Internet, everything will go black, and we will become ignorant and Erdoğan will gain power.”[xlii]

The government put 29 people on trial for tweets posted during Gezi, accused of “inciting the public to break the law,” and three were also accused of insulting the prime minister. All but two were acquitted in September 2014. Facebook reported that India and Turkey were the most frequent censors of its pages, such as blocking “The Other’s Post” that reported on Kurdish issues and the Gezi protests. As president, Erdoğan said, “I don’t like to tweet, schmeet, because you know what they cause in society. Facebook and Twitter are ending lives,” but he uses social media anyway.[xliii]

Protesters went to the streets again to be met with the familiar water cannon and tear gas not afraid of the fact that thousands of activists, health workers, journalists, lawyers, and teachers had been detained and investigated at their schools or workplaces and their homes raided. Thousands were injured; water cannon can damage eyes, it’s not just about getting wet. An “Urban Transformation Act,” called the “Disaster Act” by activists, aims to remove legal barriers to building projects. Conflicts were exacerbated by economic problems in 2013 and 2014 when Turkey and other developing countries were hurt by the US Federal Reserve slowdown in bond purchases, leading to rising global interest rates.

Hundreds of protesters again went to the streets to protest the Internet censorship bill on January 18, 2014, and police fired the usual rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons. Erdoğan shut Twitter down in March 20 before important local elections, but of course young techies figured out ways to get around it and it was available again in a few days. A professor said his son got through the ban in 15 seconds. Student Engin Alturk said, “We know all the tricks to get around this. Erdoğan must think us stupid.” In a series of tweet President Abdullah Gul opposed the shutdown. Erdoğan threatened he would eradicate it; “I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.” He viewed users of Twitter and Facebook as people who “incite any kind of immorality or espionage for the profit of these institutions.” A widely re-tweeted post showed the Twitter icon of blue birds over the prime minister’s head dropping excrement on him. Another put his face on an Obama campaign poster with the modified slogan, “Yes, we ban.” And another slogan referred to the Emperor’s New Clothes, “Look, the king is naked!” Later in the year after a quiet period, in November Erdoğan came out against coed dormitories at state universities including off-campus housing.

 

The Aftermath: Assemblies and Demonstrations

The main outcome of the uprising is that the people are empowered, although currently in a period of discouragement. An activist named Zeynel Gul said self-organizing in the Gezi occupation “gave us a powerful sense of a world based on solidarity and equality, which we could not imagine before. No one can take away what we experienced in the park.”[xliv] Since Gezi, Turks have given support to minority groups including LGBT people, Kurds, feminists and Alevis (the largest Shia sect that the police insulted in their conflicts with the demonstrators). Since no major political party represents the goals of the uprising, forums focus on neighborhood problems such as evictions.[xlv] Other post-Gezi outcomes are boycotts, strikes, marches, and public forums. The fact that over half of the protesters were women is empowering, calling attention to government gender discrimination. A Gezi slogan is, “This is just a beginning, we keep struggling,” in the spirit of the Zapatistas.

The June 15 eviction from the park evoked huge anger and frustration that crystallized in general assemblies—about 70 throughout the country as of November 2013, according to Cubukcu. They formed self-organized, democratic, leaderless assemblies called “people’s forums” in various neighborhoods as done in Spain, Greece, the US and other Occupy Movements. Activist Binnaz Saktanber reported that assemblies in the Gezi Spirit continued in local parks around the country, some with thousands of participants, some a dozen. Activists set up barricades in some neighborhoods and parks, stood silently in protest, and threw stones at police. They offered workshops, yoga, art activities, and free books, as in other global occupations of public spaces. They created their own radio station and newspaper. The Turks used many of the familiar hand signs for communicating in a large group, such as crossed arms means no. People line up with a number in order to speak for a few minutes and no applause is permitted, as hand gestures signal approval or disapproval. Cubukcu observed meetings were generally quite smooth, although in some neighborhoods some political parties were prominent.

Cubukcu reported the assemblies began by sharing experiences with weeks of police violence as a way of healing each other. I imagine this process is similar to the communists forming Speak Bitterness groups for peasants after they took over China in 1949. They focused on how to sustain solidarity and collaborate with groups in different neighborhoods with weekly newsletters. Some forums brought in experts on topics such as what to do when arrested or how to form alternative media. Spontaneous actions occurred like protesting Egyptian President Morsi’s ouster by the military at the Egyptian embassy, protesting censorship at a TV channel, visiting wounded demonstrators in hospitals, and joining protesters shouting Kurdish slogans in a Kurdish town where police killed a demonstrator. Some assemblies were open and some had themes like LGBT pride. They discussed boycotts of certain corporations, formed social media platforms, worked with small shop owners, discussed non-sexist language, conducted legal rights workshops, and discussed how to influence urban transformation. One theme that united them all was anger at the Sultan.

Turkey’s first squat is a social center called Don Kisot (Don Quoixte), set up shortly after the eviction from Gezi Park. The Windmill Solidarity group claimed their “right to the city” and occupied an abandoned building (vacant for 15 years) to create a squat culture center with spaces for art, conferences, forums, children’s events, and concerts. Painted by the entrance to the first squat is “another world is possible.” Authorities shut it down in 2015.

Another act of direct democracy inspired by Gezi, female and male workers took over the in Istanbul textile factory on June 28 after their bosses disappeared without paying four months of back pay and after two years of struggle, stating, “No one will ever be able to exploit our labor again.” A short video documents the takeover where one of the workers said, “I learned not to be afraid.”[xlvi] They adopted the slogan of the Landless Movement in Brazil, “Occupy, Resist, Produce!” One of the members of the cooperative said the Turkish state is pro-boss so they want women to stay home and have lots of children to produce more slaves for the bosses.[xlvii]

Protests continued, including weekly Saturday demonstrations, even though the court said the park should be preserved. Although two Turkish scholars concluded that other than the cancellation of the development of Taksim, the protests “did not have any other substantive outcome,” they do acknowledge a new identity resulted.[xlviii] Other disagree: A Facebook post on August 5 reported, “Gezi Park is closed and cordoned-off on a near-daily basis, but the Turkish resistance lives on. In the streets, on the barricades, and most definitely as well in the parks, at the people’s forums all across the city.” People started painting public steps and streets in bright colors. When the authorities painted them back to gray, the people painted them rainbow colors again, as you can see.[xlix] Ayşe observed that discussion continued in public parks and universities, discussing national politics and local issues. These public forums use consensus decision-making. She added that in rural areas people have always made time for social connections in their neighborhoods.

A video titled After Gezi highlights the ongoing protests, including anger at repression of Kurdish and Alevi people and accusations that Erdoğan assisted the Islamic State terrorists in order to weaken the Kurds and Assad’s Alevi regime in Syria.[l] People went to the streets when Berkin Elven died, after Soma mine workers were killed in a mining accident, and protesting lack of support for Kurds attacked by ISIS. The “Children of Gezi” civil organizations continue to meet, as in the Radical Democracy Urban Encounter in December 2014, committed to making cities meet the needs of all the urban dwellers, not just the rich.[li] Erdoğan blamed opponents for being pawns of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.

Critics were angry about the new presidential compound with over 1,000 rooms on almost 50 acres of land costing $1.2 billion and the purchase of a new presidential jet. Despite a court ruling that the development was illegal, Erdoğan said, “If you have the power and the courage, then come and demolish the building.”[lii] His family moved in at the end of 2014. The arrest of a 16-year-old boy for insulting the president by calling him the “thieving owner of the illegal palace” created an uproar.[liii] After his release the boy, known as M.E.A. said, “We shall not yield to the fascist unprogressive pressure.” He said Ataturk inspired him and his mother was proud of him. Turkey’s Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag reported that 1,845 cases were pending based on charges of insulting the president from 2014 to 2016.[liv] Bozdag justified these actions: “I am unable to read the insults leveled at our president. I start to blush.”

Around the same time, 35 soccer fans who took part in the Gezi demonstration the previous year were put on trial for being part of a conspiracy to “remove the government,” threatened with life in prison. Police raided media centers accused of being aligned with Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen for trying to take over the government. When the EU protested, Erdoğan told them to “keep your opinions to yourself” and it didn’t matter if Turkey is accepted into the EU.[lv] His government increased the number of religious schools that provide food and free transportation and limited the number of secular schools, thereby limiting parents’ choices about their children’s education. He mandated classes in “religious values” starting at age six. We’ve seen his goal is to raise “a pious generation,” meaning conservative Islamic. He also told schools to teach about Islam’s contribution to arts and sciences and Turkish Ottoman language “whether they like it or not.”

Turkey struggled with a $129.1 billion debt due in 2015 and a credit squeeze due to the end of low-interest rates set by the US Federal Reserve that fueled consumer credit card spending with a collective debt of $45 billion. Activist Joris Leverink predicted a severe economic crisis when the bubble bursts. He hopes that it will generate “rapid social awakening,” as happened in Argentina and Greece after economic collapse. The ROAR Magazine collective of researchers predicts for Turkey and globally, “The everyday resistance of the ordinary people will burrow its way through society, cracking the concrete, undermining the foundations of the neoliberal urban landscape, and ultimately allowing us to reclaim the physical and political space we so desperately need to live, produce and share in common; in solidarity, democratically, and as equals.”[lvi]

Kurdish youth organizations became “more vocal, violent and popular” with the urban guerrilla YDG-H (Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement) young Kurds striking back after Turkish attacks on PKK bases in eastern Turkey and northern Iraq. Nationalist youth attacked Kurdish neighborhoods and offices of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).[lvii] To counter resistance, parliament passed a law in March 2015 that broadened police powers to use guns against demonstrators armed with firebombs or other “injurious weapons” and to detain demonstrators fro 48 hours. Protesters who cover their faces can be sentenced to five years in prison if convicted of spreading propaganda for “terrorist organizations.”

Two years after the Gezi uprising, thousands of police blocked the entrance into Gezi Park to prevent demonstrators from offering carnations to celebrate the second anniversary of the protests. The AKP party lost its majority in parliament in June 2015 after over a decade of its rule, but regained it in November with accusations of media censorship and intimidation of voters. Western article headlines stated, “Turkish election campaign unfair, say international monitors,” and “The ruling AKP won yesterday’s Turkish election through sheer violence and repression.”[lviii]

Interviewing various Turks in June 2016, a businesswoman I’ll call Perran said that Gezi activists were punished, not able to get work, some put in prison. She said the upper court said it was legal to build a shopping center in the park that nine people died to protect and the president vowed to go ahead with the building. She added that Erdoğan privatized nation resources, selling land and water to foreigners, as well as building infrastructure. In Istanbul I was shown tall buildings that violate building codes pushed through by Erdoğan. If was told if he loses a future election many suits will be filled against him and he’ll have to go to jail, so he plans to stay president for life. He allowed violation of building codes with tall buildings that block views and wind flow and prevented police investigation of corruption publicized in leaks about shoeboxes of money in homes of sons of government ministers. A woman named Meral Aksener, a former conservative party minister, wants to be leader of her party and replace him. About the migrants, Perran said the educated ones went to Europe, leaving behind peasant farmers who squeeze many families into one apartment and have many children. She sees them begging in cities and sleeping and parks.

Another Gezi participant, who I’ll call Ceyda, said Erdoğan is a Darth Vader-like radical who thinks he’s perfect and the country’s father who did succeed in bringing Turkey out of the economic crisis of 2001. He’s like a prophet to uneducated people. She also said he sold the national resources to outsiders and tries to impose his conservative view of Islam in a country where most people think your religion is personal. The biggest mistake of the government before Erdoğan was forbidding wearing hajib in places like universities, hospitals, and government buildings. She thinks Gezi scared him because he still talks about it three years later, while the people gained more confidence. I videotaped her walking me through the hotel, park and square where the large demonstrations occurred in well-to-do areas of European Istanbul. Afraid of retribution from authorities, she asked that I not film her face.

I asked her about youth participation, she said they started the demonstrations when they set up tents to protect the park and were 80 to 90% of the demonstrators because other people were working. Their mothers came to support them the next day. With almost a million demonstrators, people of all age were represented, most well educated. Gezi was like Woodstock, with singers and other entertainment and exhilarated crowds of people. What organization there was done on the Internet, but Ceyda said no group and no leaders were in charge. Feminists, anti-capitalist Muslims, GLBT activists, Kurds, and environmentalists were all active.

A soccer fan, Ceyda is proud of the Besiktas fans of the local Carsi team; their banner with the anarchist A heads this chapter. When the police blocked the marchers, the Besiktas pushed them aside so people could keep walking, and the police pushed back in a kind of dance with their helicopters flying overhead and firing tear gas canisters and plastic bullets. Another hero, the owner of the elegant hotel at one side of the park opened its doors as a first aid station to treat tear gas inhalation and other injuries. Some of the fans and other leaders were jailed as traitors despite the group’s collecting money for the poor and other social activities.

Participants in the Gezi Park uprising described being there. None of them wanted their names used because of the pattern of government retaliation. At a middle-school in Istanbul, teachers said they were afraid and didn’t want their principal to see me talking to them and think they were up to something as they sat smoking across the street from their school. A mother of a student, the friend of the teachers, asked if I was a spy. A teacher asked me not to ask political or religious questions of the students I interviewed on video, but they brought up criticism of the government. The adults were surprised when students supported the Gezi demonstrations, thinking of them as lost in social media. Also after 1980 parents raised their children to be afraid of the government and be quiet. After Gezi, they realized that young people could take action. A middle-age man said everyone shared, supermarkets delivered food, there was no violence. Neighbors left out keys in case demonstrators needed to get away from police or teargas, they left out lemons and medicine and food. When they tried to have an anniversary demonstration, police prevented it. Now, people lack hope.

A female teacher in her 30s said she too lacked hope but she noted that Gezi inspired people to protest, as when a member of the government suggested that pregnant women not go out in public because it would make people think of sex. Many pregnant women gathered on the streets in response. After Gezi, GLBT organizing and gay pride events increased, along with the women’s movement and efforts to help battered women, and organizing for the environment and animal rescue. However, a businessman in Istanbul said the gained nothing from the Gezi protests, “Now it’s impossible to organize such protests. People think the results will be the same.”[lix] Another man worries that, “We used to be the secular republic. Now, we don’t know what we are.”

In Turkey I asked teens and adults about characteristics of the younger generation in 2016. Perran, a business woman from Istanbul age 48, said they’re more pessimistic about getting a job, more individualistic, and less well educated because the quality of education decreased because of the increase of Islamic schools and teachers aren’t paid well and many “lost their enthusiasm.” Students are promised government jobs if they graduate from the religious schools and families get free food and sometime money, but young people with money go to private schools and try to study and work abroad. In some of the religious schools girls are “covered,” the word Turks use for wearing hijab, as early as age five. They teach that women shouldn’t work outside the home. Although almost every city has a university and fees are small, there aren’t enough professors. Urban youth lack social skills because of spending so much time on their electronic devices, starting as young as age three. Some kids don’t sit down to eat without their iPad.

High school students led protests against traditionalist education policy in 2016. High school students in an academic high school where their first year is taught in English, turned their backs when their principal was making a speech and wrote a manifesto about their goals. Their campaign spread to other schools. Conservative school principals were sent in to replace more liberal administrators, including the school I visited. They cancelled festivals and made strict new rules such as about the length of girls’ skirts. A teacher said the traditionalists “Don’t want people to be happy. The fly is small but it makes you sick.” Students and their parents have protested conversion of their local schools to Islamic schools and requirements to learn Arabic.

I asked Emrullah Ataseven to critique the Turkey section: He’s a Ph.D. student in Istanbul and translator who observed the protests.

 

I would like to appreciate you for your detailed and toilsome research. You analyze and summarize the situation very well. As you noticed the protests and events at Gezi have a multi-layered character. Turkish nationalists, Kurdish activists and secular republicanists together protested Erdoğan and his government. However, in the course of events, the attitude of some protestors changed. For example, the Kurdish political movement became more distanced with the mainstream Gezi protestors after the emergence of such slogans as “We’re the soldiers of Mustafa Kemal.” You could argue Kurds’ position. Also, the Alevi question could be emphasized. The majority of Alevis in Turkey support the Republican Party (CHP) and this party in the past was reluctant to give Kurds and Conservationists their rights like hijab and education in Kurdish. So, it is debatable to evaluate Gezi as a purely human rights movement.

The political life in Turkey is so changeable, the cease-fire declared by the PKK was abolished. This indicates the fragility of Turkish democracy. That’s why I think Gezi movement was a strong movement in terms of environmentalism, freedom of speech and minority rights but it did not lead to an enduring democratic body. Young people were more politicized, developed means of peaceful protests but an all-pervasive democratic understanding could not flourish. The solidarity aftermath of Gezi could enhance democracy. The party in power (AKP) lost remarkable seats in the parliament and violence restarted in the country. The Gezi spirit could contribute to a permanent peace but as in the case of Arab Spring, perhaps, it is early to say that movements like Gezi in Turkey can construct a well-established democratic youth movements.

 

In reaction to Erdoğan’s push to convert public schools to Islamic schools that are sex-segregated and teach Sunni Islam, the Turkish High School Students Union, TLB, circulated a petition signed by more than 370 schools by spring 2016.[lx] TLB leader Bora Celik said these schools don’t permit girls’ volleyball teams because they would wear shorts, they don’t permit literature or poetry societies, and have prayer rooms instead of laboratories. The main opposition party backs the students and parents demonstrate against plans to convert local school to increase the more than a million religious Imam-Hatips. President Erdoğan graduated from a religious school and aims to change the curriculum to raise a “pious generation.” Islamization results not only in protests by secularists but violence from religious zealots, as when a group of 20 men beat up customers in a record store in Istanbul in June 2016. Their crime was listening to the British band Radiohead and drinking beer during the holy month of Ramadan.

On July 15, 2016, junior officers attempted a coup (the military led four previous coups to preserve secularism in 1960, 1971, 1980 and 1997) while Erdoğan was on holiday, aiming to protect democracy and human rights and “reinstate constitutional order.” The coup was probably triggered by rumors that the president was going to fire many officers the following month. The coup leaders promised a new constitution and an end to corruption and terrorist attacks. The constitution charges the army with upholding democracy, as established by Ataturk, but all the opposition parties including the Kurds and world powers came out in support of the democratically elected president. A young woman tweeted, “I protested Erdoğan during Gezi. I was teargassed by his police. I think AKP is trash, but I support them against a fascist military coup.” The military declared martial law and a curfew, blocked social media, and shut down the major bridges between Asian and European Istanbul, shown in videos.[lxi] It sent tanks to the main Istanbul airport and shut it down, and flew helicopters over the city and jets over the capital.

The president said on FaceTime to CNN Turk, the most watched news station, that he would overcome the coup and encouraged his supporters to go to the streets, meaning he didn’t have access to a TV studio. Muslim clerics joined him in calling for men from their mosques to rise up and AKP party leaders knocked on doors asking men to demonstrate. Videos showed mostly men on the streets chanting religious slogans: Watching for hours I only saw a few women. Police and soldiers and 1000s of male supporters faced off in Taksim Square where shots were fired. Some civilians arrested soldiers and they beheaded one man and beat several others to death.

Erdoğan said the coup was a gift from God to cleanse the military further. He had already “cleansed” the judiciary of independents he thought were aligned with Gulen, but removed almost more judges. He had already put more journalists in prison than any other country, including China. He blamed Gulen (who moved to Pennsylvania in 1999) and his Hizmet movement for orchestrating the coup in a “parallel state” and asked the US to extradite him. One of my Turkish contacts who doesn’t like the president also blamed Gulen. Erdoğan didn’t refer to Gulen by name in his first speech after the coup, just to the “second estate” headquartered in Pennsylvania. The coup is an example of the finding that non-violent changemaking is most effective.

The government announced that thousands were wounded and over 265 died in the coup attempt, 104 of them were the “plotters.” Some suggested that the president knew about the coup but did nothing to stop it in order to gain more power.[lxii]A trending Twitter hashtag was “Not a coup. Theater” and “And the Oscar goes to…President Erdoğan. He told a crowd, “We will not leave the public squares. This is not a 12-hour affair” and sent text messages asking supporters to keep showing up in nightly gatherings in public squares like Taksim where vendors sell flags and T-shirts with the president’s face. His supporters blamed the US and the CIA for trying to assassinate the president.

More than 9,000 suspects were arrested and nearly 60,000 suspects were quickly detained or dismissed, including 5 to 10% of educators had their licenses revoked, 1,577 university deans, almost 9,000 police officers, one-third of generals and admirals, around 3,000 soldiers, 2,745 judges, 30 governors, plus more than 100 media outlets shut down and websites blocked.[lxiii] More than 15,000 employees were suspended from the Education Ministry, but the president said he will retain a “democratic parliamentary system.” By September, more than 100,000 people were arrested or fired from their jobs, accused of connections to Gulen.[lxiv] The president also ousted Kurdish mayors and thousands of teachers in the southeast, who were not even accused of being Gulenists, and seized about $4 billion worth of businesses.

Amnesty International reported torture of suspected Gulen followers. Erdoğan floated the idea of reinstating the death penalty. Next, he prohibited academics from foreign travel and recalled any of them out of the country. Erdoğan must have been keeping files on Turks he suspected of allegiance to Gulen. He’s been called “megalomaniacal” and “quasi-messianic,” and compared to Putin in Russia and el-Sisi in Egypt. He wants to replace secular Ataturk as the most famous Turkish leader as he creates and Islamic “New Turkey.” Perhaps Donald Trump is in the same category, telling Republicans he’s the only one who can fix US problems and he would be the law and order president, keeping out Muslims and Mexicans.

Watching hours of CNN coverage revealed inaccuracies in the coverage and ignoring the president’s sexism when describing his deficiencies. This is what I wrote to CNN: I flew out of Ataturk Airport a week before the recent bombing, after doing research for my book on global youth activism. Fareed Zakaria said that Erdoğan is secular. One bit of evidence he gave was women aren’t allowed to wear headscarves in universities and public buildings. That’s no longer true, they can wear what they want. He didn’t mention Erdoğan’s campaign to turn public schools into Islamic schools, which is a profound shift away from secularism. I watched CNN for hours yesterday and didn’t hear anyone mention the president’s extreme sexism. Women I talked with in Turkey are vey angry that he said a woman who doesn’t give birth is half a woman, women should give birth to at least three children, women’s place is in the home because their main role is motherhood, they shouldn’t wear red lipstick, etc. His government is mainly male. Turks refer to him as the Sultan or Dictator.

I asked a Turkish contact about the impact of the coup and firing 60,000 people in August 2016: “Many people loosing their jobs has an impact on economy and tourism is already finished. I don’t think we can recover the image of Turkey easily. Not all of them real supporters of Gülen. Gülen is a radical religious imam who wants seriat in all the world, a Islamic world. Government and president are the ones to be accused to let him take all the positions.”

Joris Leverink explained that Erdoğan effectively used the coup to silence opposition including the capulcus, Kurds, Alevis, and LGBT groups; create the belief in the power of the people who overcame the coup attempt; and further his desire to replace Ataturk as the great man in Turkish history.[lxv] The government posted the slogan “sovereignty belongs to the nation” everywhere, along with photos of the president and red Turkish flags, but without references to the AKP party. At frequent “democracy watches” crowds shout “God is great.” My Turkish contacts are afraid to speak out.

 

EndNotes

[i] Gezi Park video YouTube

[ii] Ali B., “Notes on the Uprising in Turkey,” in “Voices of Resistance from Occupied London #5, Disorder of the Day,” ROAR Magazine, Fall 2013.

http://media.ROARmag.org/2013/10/Occupied-London-Disorder-of-the-Day.pdf

[iii] http://wp.me/p47Q76-vM

[iv] Firat Kayakiran and Selcan Hacaoglu, “Turkey’s Old-Gurard Opposition Fights to Surf Wave of Protest,” Bloomberg News, January 20, 2013.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-20/turkey-s-old-guard-opposition-fights-to-surf-wave-of-unrest-1-.html

[v] Firat Kayakiran and Selcan Hacaoglu, “Turkey’s Old-Guard Opposition Fights to Surf Wave of Unrest,” Bloomberg News, January 20, 2013

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-20/turkey-s-old-guard-opposition-fights-to-surf-wave-of-unrest-1-.html

[vi] Jack Goldstone, “Youth Bulges and the Social Conditions of Rebellion,” World Politics Review, November 20, 2012.

http://www.worldpoliticsreview.com/articles/12507/youth-bulges-and-the-social-conditions-of-rebellion

[vii] Stephen Wade, “Brazil Faltering Under Pressure of World Cup, Olympics,” The News-Herald, January 20, 2014.

http://www.news-herald.com/sports/20140130/brazil-faltering-under-pressure-of-world-cup-olympics

[viii] Mustafa Akyol, “Whatever Happened to the ‘Turkish Model’?” New York Times, May 5, 2016.

[ix] Yvo Fizherbert, “Erdogan Sacrifices Peace to Entrench his Own Power,” ROAR Magazine, August 3, 2015.

http://roarmag.org/2015/08/erdogan-sacrifices-peace-to-entrench-his-own-power/

[x] Yvo Fitzherbert, “Kurdish Neighborhoods Take Arms as they Declare Autonomy in Turkey,” Middle East Eye, August 27, 2015.

http://www.middleeasteye.net/fr/news/kurdish-neighbourhoods-take-arms-they-declare-autonomy-198443852

[xi] Ceylan Yeginsu, “Turkey’s Campaign Against Kurdish Militants Takes Toll on Civilians,” New York Times, December 30, 2015.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/31/world/europe/turkey-kurds-pkk.html?_r=0

Alex Kemman, “Whispers of War in North Kurdistan—a Photo Essay,” ROAR Magazine, March 8, 2016.

https://roarmag.org/essays/photo-essay-hakkari-alex-kemman/

[xii] Basak Tanulku, “Gezi Park Events: Various Shades of the Opposition against the Authoritarian Rule,” Urban Cultural Studies, September 20, 2013.

https://basaktanulku.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/gezi-park-events-various-shades-of-the-opposition-against-the-authoritarian-rule/

https://www.facebook.com/160382763986923/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1268319639859891

[xiii] Mary Lou O’Neil and Fazil Guler, “Strangers to and Producers of their Own Culture: American Popular Culture and Turkish Young People,” Comparative American Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3, September 2010, pp. 230-243.

https://www.academia.edu/9740663/Strangers_to_and_Producers_of_Their_Own_Culture_American_Popular_Culture_and_Turkish_Young_People

[xiv] Basak Tanulku, “Gezi Park Events: Various Shades of the Opposition against the Authoritarian Rule,” Urban Cultural Studies, September 20, 2013.

[xv] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fpl9K0H5EJ8

Gazi to Gezi, 2015. The uprising is told from the point of view of a paving stone. https://vimeo.com/108620724

[xvi] Julius Gavroche, “Understanding the Kurdish Resistance,” Autonomies, September 28, 2015.

http://autonomies.org/ar/2015/09/understanding-the-kurdish-resistance-from-crimethinc/

[xvii] https://www.google.com/search?q=turkey+demonstration&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=XI-6UcbWNo28qQG89oDoCQ&ved=0CGUQsAQ&biw=1460&bih=928

[xviii] http://www.istanbulunitedthemovie.com/index.html

[xix] http://roarmag.org/2014/05/today-we-resist-celebrating-gezi-one-year-later/

[xx] Edrem Colak and Selen Yamak, “History, Struggle, and Class: Gezi Resistance,” a paper presented at SUNY Stony Brook, June 6, 2014.

http://www.stonybrook.edu/workingclass/images/2014conference_papers/colak%20yamak.pdf

[xxi] Özden Melis Uluğ and Yasemin Gülsüm Acar,  “The Body Politicized: The Visibility of Women at Gezi,” ROAR Magazine, January 9, 2014.

http://ROARmag.org/2014/01/women-gezi-park-protests/

[xxii] http://cohenmedia.net/films/mustang

[xxiii] http://www.themedialine.org/news/government-linked-foundation-caught-up-in-turkish-child-sex-scandal/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36071773

[xxiv] Birce Altiok and Kerem Yidirim, ‘’’Characteristics of Prolonged Social Movements: The Case of Gezi Park Protests,” paper presented at the Contentious Politics in the Middle East Conference, 2014.

https://www.academia.edu/11438156/Characteristics_of_Prolonged_Social_Movements_the_Case_of_Gezi_Park_Protests

[xxv] http://roarmag.org/2015/10/political-trust-ankara-bombing/

[xxvi] Oscar ten Houten. #Occupy Gezi. @postvirtual, 2013.

[xxvii] Suzy Hansen, “Whose Turkey is It?”, New York Times, February 5, 2014.

[xxviii] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2013/06/2013624105477515.html

[xxix] Umut Uras, “Turks Sharply Split Over Protest Movement,” Al Jazeera, June 13, 2013.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/06/201361311649428888.html

[xxx] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g21JxUO0gIw

[xxxi] Antoun Issa, “How Gay Rights Advance Democracy in the Middle East,” Foreign Policy, July 22, 2016.

How Gay Rights Advance Democracy in the Middle East

[xxxii] Basak Tanulku, “Gezi Park Events: Various Shades of the Oppostion against the Authoritarian Rule,” Urban Cultural Studies, September 20, 2013.

[xxxiii] Balca Arda, “Apolitical is Political,” Interface Journal, Vol. 7, No. 1, May 2015, pp. 9-18.

http://www.interfacejournal.net/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Issue-7-1-Full-PDF.pdf

[xxxiv] Dilan Koese, “Revolt of Dignity,” ROAR Magazine, January 7, 2014.

http://roarmag.org/2014/01/gezi-legitimation-crisis-capitalism/

[xxxv] Fiona Hill and Hannah Thoburn, “We Are Not Cattle: Protesters in Turkey and Russia,” Brookings Institution, June 24, 2013.

http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2013/06/24-we-are-not-cattle-protestors-turkey-russia-hill-thoburn

[xxxvi] Coskun Tastan, “The Gezi Park Protests in Turkey: A Qualitative Field Research,” Insight Turkey, Vol. 15, No. 3, Summer 2013, pp. 27-38.

http://file.insightturkey.com/Files/Pdf/15_03_2013_tastan.pdf

[xxxvii] Firat Kayakiran and Selcan Hacaoglu, “Turkey’s Old-Gurard Opposition Fights to Surf Wave of Protest,” Bloomberg News, January 20, 2013.

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-20/turkey-s-old-guard-opposition-fights-to-surf-wave-of-unrest-1-.html

[xxxviii] Firat Kayakiran and Selcan Hacaoglu, “Turkey’s Old-Guard Opposition Fights to Surf Wave of Unrest,” Bloomberg News, January 20, 2013

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-20/turkey-s-old-guard-opposition-fights-to-surf-wave-of-unrest-1-.html

[xxxix] http://www.tradingeconomics.com/turkey/youth-unemployment-rate

[xl] Kemal Kirisci, “Turkey Protests,” Brookings Blogs, June 13, 2013.

http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2013/06/13-turkey-protests-gezi-park-democracy-kirisci

[xli] http://www.whatishappeninginistanbul.com/?p=124

[xlii] Tim Arango and Ceylan Yeginsu, “Amid Flow of Leaks, Turkey Moves to Crimp Internet,” New York Times, February 6, 2014.

[xliii] Binnaz Saktanber, “’Cease and Censor’ in Turkey’s War on Social Media,” ROAR Magazine, February 20, 2015.

http://roarmag.org/2015/02/turkey-social-media-twitter-facebook/

[xliv] Suzy Hansen, op. cit.

[xlv] Saygun Gokariksel, “Speaking of Resistance,” Occupy.com, August 8, 2013.

http://www.occupy.com/article/speaking-resistance-gezi-park-forums-have-spread-across-turkey

[xlvi] http://autonomies.org/en/2014/01/okupying-production-kazova-workers-resistance/

[xlvii] Joris Leverink, “Kazova Workers Claim Historic Victory in Turkey,” ROAR Magazine, May 1, 2015.

http://roarmag.org/2015/05/free-kazova-cooperative-turkey/

[xlviii] Birce Altiok and Kerem Yidirim, ‘’’Characteristics of Prolonged Social Movements: The Case of Gezi Park Protests,” paper presented at the Contentious Politics in the Middle East Conference, 2014.

https://www.academia.edu/11438156/Characteristics_of_Prolonged_Social_Movements_the_Case_of_Gezi_Park_Protests

[xlix] Emre Kizilikaya, “Turkey’s Stairway to a Democratic Heaven,” Al-Monitor, September 1, 2013.

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/08/lgbt-rainbow-stairway-in-turkey.html

[l] Brandon Jourdan, After Gezi, 2014. http://vimeo.com/109212806

[li] “Gezi’s Echo and the Battle for Public Spaces in Turkey,” Global Voices, December 14, 2014.

http://globalvoicesonline.org/2014/12/14/gezis-echo-and-the-battle-for-public-spaces-in-turkey/

[lii] Tim Arango, “Turkish Leader, Using Conflicts, Cements Power,” New York Times, October 31, 2014.

[liii] Susan Fraser, “Turkey Teen Jailed for Allegedly Insulting President Released,” TheStar.com, December 26, 2014.

http://www.thestar.com/news/world/2014/12/26/turkey_teen_jailed_for_allegedly_insulting_president_released.html

[liv] “1,845 Erdoğan Insult Cases Opened in Turkey Since 2014.” The Guardian, March 2, 2016.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/mar/02/turkeys-justice-minister-defends-allowing-1845-insult-cases-to-go-ahead

[lv] Ceylan Yeginsu, “Turkey Promotes Religious Schools, Often Defying Parents,” New York Times, December 16, 2014.

[lvi] ROAR Collective, “Beyond Gezi: What Future for the Movement?” ROAR Magazine, January 16, 2014.

http://ROARmag.org/2014/01/beyond-gezi-future-movement/

[lvii] Joris Leverink, “Turkey’s Radicalizing Youth Dominates Escalating Conflict,” TeleSUR, September 19, 2015.

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Turkeys-Radicalizing-Youth-Dominates-Escalating-Conflict-20150919-0017.html

[lviii] Kareem Shaheen, “Turkish Election Campaign Unfair, say International Monitors,” The Guardian, November 2, 2015.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/02/turkeys-elections-campaign-unfair-say-international-monitors

Guney Işıkara, Alp Kayserilioğlu, & Max Zirngast, “Erdoğan’s Victory by Violence,” Jacobin, November 2, 2015.

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/11/turkey-akp-erdogan-hdp-pkk-suicide-bombing-war-isis-kurdistan/

[lix] Sabrina Tavernise, “As Erdogan Sculpts New Turkish Identify, Turks Look at His Work With Unease,” New York Times, July 11, 2016.

https://hydrablog.csusm.edu/2016/07/as-erdogan-sculpts-new-turkish.html

[lx] Selin Girit, Turkish Students Fear Assault on Secular Education,” BBC News, June 21, 2016.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36573914

[lxi] http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/how_did_the_failed_turkish_coup_unfold_20160716

[lxii] https://globalvoices.org/2016/07/16/following-reported-overthrow-attempt-turkish-netizens-ask-coup-or-theatre/

[lxiii]Turkish Post-Coup Purges Sweep through Education as Thousands of Teachers Lose their Jobs,” Euronews, July 19, 2016.

http://www.euronews.com/2016/07/19/turkey-cancels-licenses-of-21000-private-teachers-removes-15000-state-teachers/

[lxiv] Tim Arango, et al., “Turks See Purge as Witch Hunt of ‘Medieval’ Darkness,” New York Times, September 17, 2016.

[lxv] Joris Leverink, “Fabricating Illusions of People Power in Post-Coup Turkey,” ROAR Magazine, August 28, 2016.

https://roarmag.org/essays/fabricating-people-power-in-post-coup-turkey/

leadership and organizing in Occupy Wall Street, 2011

Leadership and Organizing

David Graeber reported that Occupy Wall St. succeeded because students and other young people set up camp and refused to leave. What surprised him was how rapidly the occupations spread to about 800 sites, “how quickly our liberal allies abandoned us,” including the media.[i] He said members of the Democratic Party tired to infiltrate the media teams and assume leadership, so he thinks in the future activists will need to think more carefully about their alliances. He credits the occupation for introducing discussion of social class for the first time since the Great Depression of the 1930s and encouraging Millennials’ dissatisfaction with the capitalist empire. He would like to see “fully automated luxury communism.”

Small working groups meet and discuss issues and present their conclusions to the larger assembly (GA) that sometimes includes thousands of participants. A facilitation committee teaches communication techniques to newcomers because “everyone was equal in the assembly,” according to organizer Marisa Holmes. Consensus is arrived at through hand signals, as you can see in a video of the NYC occupy movement in action.[ii] Hand signals include a “twinkle” or “spirit wave” where fingers are wiggled overhead to express approval, wrists or elbows chop down to indicate disapproval, and a block with arms crossed over chest means you’ll quit over a certain issue. Proposals can pass with a 90% vote, quite a feat when the crowd included anarchists, Marxists, feminists, queers, capitalists, immigrants’ rights activists, and anti-racist organizers.[iii] Since decision-making in large crowds is difficult, spokescouncils were added in late October. Working groups sent representatives to a council to make decisions until they were evicted two weeks later.

The GA crowd repeats a speaker’s sentences in waves to the back of the crowd until everyone hears the message through repetition of a phrase using the “Human Mic.”[iv] This was not a new technique; for example, Brazilian activists used it in the 1980s. Mic Checks are used to disrupt public gatherings such as fundraisers for Republican candidates or a speech by President Obama—who handled the interruption graciously. Black Lives Matter activists continued the interruptions of speeches by presidential candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in 2016. President Obama suggested they should be more willing to work with political leaders to find solutions rather than yell at them.

Organizers practiced direct democracy in their assemblies, but an activist in Occupy Oakland, Jasper Bernes, reported to the Global Uprisings conference that the GA is too cumbersome to make decisions. Like other critics, he said large gatherings should be for debate and idea sharing. Reporter Chris Hedges, a supporter of the Occupy movement, warned that consensus decision-making works well in small groups but leads to paralysis in large groups and “numbing exhaustion” that crushes some activists.[v]

Commenting on youth leadership, in my interview with Kim, active in Occupy Sacramento, she said that youth are able to organize quickly. At first older activists in their group only delegated electronic media outreach to the youth while dominating other areas, but gradually youth took more initiative, such as organizing a May Day event.

Inspired by Tahrir Square demonstrations, Kalle Lasn, the 69-year-old publisher of Adbusters that started Occupy Wall Street, commented:

 

         The messy, leaderless, demandless movement has launched a national conversation of the likes that we haven’t had in 20 years. That’s as good as it gets! Not every one needs to have a leader with clear demands. That’s the old way of launching revolutions. This revolution is run by the Internet generation, with egalitarian ways of looking at things, and an inclusive process of getting everyone involved. That’s the magic of it.[vi]

 

Environmental leader Bill McKibben, the Baby Boomer founder of 350.org, finds it “a little disconcerting to look around and realize that most of the movements don’t really have easily discernible leaders.”[vii] His organization trains young people from over 135 countries to be climate-change organizers because, “Instead of a leaderless movement, we need a leader-full one.”[viii] Young activists successfully fought against the Keystone XL Pipeline with blockades, tree sits, and chaining themselves to equipment. Some organizers use a “snowflake model” where tasks are delegated and teams report back to a central organizing group, as taught by The New Organizing Institute in Washington, DC.[ix] McKibben pointed out this new way of organizing reflects the environmental goal to replace a top-heavy system with many local power sources and is the only way to deal with giants like the oil companies. “Rooftop by rooftop [with solar panels], we’re aiming for a different world, one that runs on the renewable power that people produce themselves in their communities in small but significant batches. The movement that will get us to such a new world must run on that kind of power too.”

At a university forum on the first anniversary of September 17 Occupy Wall St., I asked C.T. Lawrence Butler, who has taught Formal Consensus to many Occupy groups, about leaderless organizing. He writes about On Conflict and Consensus and teaches Formal Consensus to various groups, including Occupy groups.[x] Butler advocates a horizontal structure without leaders who monopolize power, but with leadership on the part of many members. He said an effective group makes collective decisions and delegates power to individuals for the duration of a task. Leadership is rotated to prevent burnout and isolation. He defined the Occupy Movement as a protest movement motivated by anger at corporate domination, but it’s not yet a political movement because it lacks an articulate vision of a new society based on values rather than power. Many of the Occupy General Assemblies that he visited in the fall of 2011 degenerated into shoutouts with whoever is loudest dominating the discussion. Despite the intent to be inclusive, around the world, men in Occupy Movements often dominated the discussions.

Butler says groups need to define themselves and their values rather than accepting who ever shows up for fear of being exclusive. Activists need to adopt common principles and establish their identity with precise boundaries. He reported that 90% of the intentional communities he has worked with fail during their first year because they haven’t defined their “social technologies” of how to communicate, solve conflicts, make fair decisions, and integrate new members. As Second Wave feminists pointed out in the 1960s and ‘70s, the process is as important as the goal and personal relationships are political. The feminist injunction to “check your privilege” if you didn’t have direct experience with something exacerbated identity politics; for example the belief that only a person of color person could address racism.

 

Generational Differences

In their ebook on the Millennial Majority (2013), Morley Winograd and Michael Hais predicted that a new political consensus comprised of youth, women and minorities will reshape US policy for the next 40 years. A poll of 1,000 members of the “Snapchat Generation” in 2016 found most young people ages 18 to 26 valued personal freedom.[xi] Likely to be liberal, Bernie Sanders was their favorite politician. In this order, they worried about corruption, inequality, education costs, and national security in an era of terrorism. Despite their awareness of inequality, most were optimistic about their economic future (88%), 75% believed they’ll do better than their parents, and 61% believed the best days of the US are ahead. Republican pollster Frank Luntz concluded, “This is a very radically different generation than what came before it.”

A documentary #ReGeneration (2012) features five high-school students from the suburbs called them Generation Vexed.[xii] One of the girls said her generation isn’t activists because they don’t go outside. I asked Baby Boomers if they see generational differences in activists. Lawrence Butler said that while the ‘60s hippy protesters emphasized peace, love, and happiness, young activists today express more anger and angst with a sharper edge to their rebellion, because the world is more messed up. Many International “Days of Rage” were organized. He believes that charges that youth are apathetic are wrong, as they’re much more active, passionate and caring than his generation, but they’re more isolated.

Antonio, 20, a student at the CSUC forum in California where Butler spoke, reported he sees changes from his friends talking about sports, switching to discussion of how the system isn’t working, similar to what a young Turkish protester told The Guardian in 2013: “It’s about an order, a system, our global system. The fact is we don’t feel represented. We don’t have a voice.” Anti- capitalist Spanish demonstrators carried signs blaming “Error de Sistema” and “La Crisis Es El Capitalismo,” motivated by the fact that almost half of Spanish youth are unemployed

Boomer Bill Zimmerman, the author of Troublemaker: A Memoir from the Front Lines of the Sixties (2012), said the differences are his generation were idealists who built a strong civil rights movement, did away with the draft by 1973 with their antiwar movement, and built feminist organizations, while young activists today are cynical and weighed down by debt.[xiii] He pointed out that the US graduates about 800,000 students a year, but only about half can find full-time jobs. Whereas his generation changed the US culturally, socially, sexually and spiritually, he predicts today’s activists will change it economically with new tactics. A young participant in a Forward Together demonstration at the North Carolina state capitol, Manju Rajendran said, “It echoes a lot of the movements from the sixties. I think we’re borrowing from a strong tradition of nonviolent direct action.”[xiv] She emphasized the recent them of intersectionality; struggles around race, gender, sexuality, and immigration status are interconnected, so social movements need diversified leadership.

Stephen Tchudi, the director of volunteers at the Chico Peace and Justice Center observed:

           I’ve been especially impressed by the high school and college volunteers, who are smart, organized, well informed, and committed to action. I think they have a much greater sense of direction than my generation. I don’t know of many people of my age who had their wealth of experience at age 17 or 18.

However, he didn’t see the same focus in non-student young people in the local Occupy Chico movement: “I sensed that they had little sense of the history of activism and were not much interested in learning about what has gone before.” The Peace and Justice Center director Tammy Wichman, 26, observed that young activists are more impatient to see immediate change. They’re not willing to just talk about it, and they’re more inclusive about wanting to listen to various points of view. Her concern is many of her generation are apathetic, but the Occupy Movement got their attention, so she started a youth leadership program to teach organizing skills.

[i] David Graeber, “Fancy Forms of Paperwork and the Logic of Financial Violence,” ROAR Magazine, September 17, 2016.

https://roarmag.org/magazine/david-graeber-interview-debt-occupy/

[ii] www.adbusters.org/abtv/consensus-occupy-wall-street.html

Information about the consensus process: http://www.consensus.net/flowchart.html

[iii] James Rowe and Myles Carroll, “What the Left Can Learn from Occupy Wall Street’s Swift Rise and Current Impasse,” forthcoming Studies in Political Economy, Vol. 96, p. 12.

https://www.academia.edu/13223298/What_the_Left_can_Learn_from_Occupy_Wall_Streets_Rapid_Rise_and_Current_Impasse

[iv] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Bu9K26Qt1I

[v] Chris Hedges, “The Sparks of Rebellion,” TruthDig, September 30, 2012.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_sparks_of_rebellion_20130930/

[vi] Elizabeth Flock, “Occupy Wall Street: An Interview with Kalle Lasn, the Man Behind it All,” The Washington Post, October 12, 2011.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/blogpost/post/occupy-wall-street-an-interview-with-kalle-lasn-the-man-behind-it-all/2011/10/12/gIQAC81xfL_blog.html

[vii] Bill McKibben, “Movements Without Leaders,” Huffington Post Green, September 18, 2013.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-mckibben/movements-without-leaders_b_3777136.html

[viii] http://workshops.350.org/toolkit/start/

[ix] http://neworganizing.com/content/page/about-noi

http://neworganizing.com/content/toolbox/about-the-toolbox

http://thedailyattack.com/2011/08/01/the-snowflake-model-marshall-ganz-on-how-technology-has-changed-organizing-revolutions/

http://workshops.350.org/toolkit/organize/

[x] http://www.consensus.net/flowchart.html

[xi] “’Snapchat Generation’ Weights in on the 2016 Race,” CBS News, February 23, 2016.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/snapchat-frank-luntz-poll-young-voters-bernie-sanders-2016-race/

[xii] http://regeneration-themovie.com/ABOUT-TRAILER

[xiii] Bill Zimmerman, “The Aftermath of Occupy Will Surpass the Gains of 1960s Activism,” Occupy.com, July 11, 2012.

http://www.occupy.com/article/aftermath-occupy-will-surpass-gains-1960s-activism

[xiv] C. Robert Gibson, “Youth Civil Rights Leaders Explain How to Activate their Generation,” Huff Post Politics, January 1, 2016.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carl-gibson/youth-leading-americas-ne_b_7040818.html

Social Movement Research Bibliography by Chris Dixon

http://writingwithmovements.com/movement-knowledge.

Chris Dixon provides a compilation of the written resources I regularly recommend to scholars trying to do movement-based research.

Colours of Resistance Archive: http://www.coloursofresistance.org

Institute for Anarchist Studies: http://www.anarchiststudies.org

Punch Up Collective: punchupcollective.tumblr.com

Upping the Anti: http://www.uppingtheanti.org

Recent Politics in Cuba and Venezuela

Cuba

An influence on Zapatista revolutionary psychology, Cuban socialism under Fidel Castro and Che Guevara aimed to create a “new man” like Che who puts the group good over individual good in contrast to capitalist countries. Che said, “I am not me anymore, at least I am not the same me as I was before” the revolution.[i] Che was influenced by the Soviet concept of the selfless and physically strong new man and woman, discussed by Leo Trotsky. Che cut sugar cane on his day off from government work and died attempting to bring revolution to Bolivia in 1967. After Che died, students pledged before starting class, “We will be like Che.” Fidel was age 32 when he took over Cuba in 1959, commenting the next year, “Young people are the purest product of the Revolution.”

In high school, Fidel was called “El Loco,” the crazy one and told classmates he wanted fame and glory.[ii] After the 1959 revolution, tens of thousands of students were sent to the countryside to teach illiterate peasants and urban students continued do work-study programs in the countryside.[iii] The revolution wanted to give access to culture to all the people, enabling them to be creative, with art centers and music houses around the island where I enjoyed dancing salsa. The Communist Party ran the National Council of Culture and expected artists to avoid counter-revolutionary subjects in favor of socialist realism. All children are encouraged to join the Pioneer clubs, modeled after the Russian Young Pioneers. When I visited Cuban schools good students were rewarded with helping others, such as cleaning up after lunch. The childcare center put the kids in large playpens so they could learn to cooperate as a group.

With the introduction of tourism and private enterprise under Raul Castro who took over from his brother in 2008, the new man is described as, “The hombre novisimo demonstrates humility in all matters, is self-sacrificing and has an appreciation for hard work and also for culture.”[iv] Free university education is provided to all who qualify (about 155,000 students in 2013). The outcome is Cuba ranks high, along with Argentina and Chile, on the UN Human Development Index, famous for its excellent education and health systems. It has the highest test scores in Latin America and best rates for school attendance. The Cuban Federation of University Students represents them in the oldest youth organization in Cuba. Youth are also represented in the Young Communist League of Cuba. Cuba sends its doctors to disadvantaged areas in Africa and throughout Latin America, including Brazil’s rural areas and about 20,000 doctors help staff clinics in Venezuela. I met Cuban youths in an airport in Guatemala excited to do service in the countryside there. Cuba sent over 250 doctors to work with Ebola patients in West Africa during the epidemic. Health care is available for all in neighborhood clinics where the doctor probably lives upstairs and is paid very little. Green medicine and green agriculture developed in Cuba to compensate for the US blockade providing an “agro-ecological” model for other countries.

When I was in Cuba around 15 years ago when Fidel was still in charge, people made the silent gesture of stroking a beard to refer to him, afraid to speak out against him. When I was in the USSR, there was a similar caution about criticizing leaders but the difference is Cubans feel free to enjoy life, dancing and singing and laughing. People lived simply; my son traded a T-shirt with a Cuban boy who only owned a few shirts and food revolves around bland rice and black beans and a few vegetables, with some fish and chicken. A family in Havana told me they have very little in the way of material possessions compared to the US, but they’re happy with family and friends, dancing and going to the beach. In the informal economy, they rented a very unadorned apartment building to us and asked us not to call attention to ourselves.

, or if it fails” in the new hybrid economy with more private enterprise.[v]

The Raul Castro government told official media to conduct a “battle against secretiveness;” for example, a new TV show interviews people about real issues such as housing problems or food prices. Raul is described as a pragmatist in comparison to Fidel’s revolutionary idealism, so Cubans to say life is changing. Now people are speaking more frankly in online discussions, although most people don’t have access to the Internet and cyber cafes charge $4.50 an hour for national connections when the average monthly wage is about $20. The first free public Internet service offered Wi-Fi in a Havana cultural center in March 2015. An IT graduate student reported, “What we have now is hope for a new path. We don’t know what’s coming, but it better be good.”[vi] However, a young computer scientist, Eliécer Ávila blogged in 2014,

 

I grew up listening to my teachers saying that our society was building the man of the future, a different one, one that would have no defects, no malice, none of the vices “inherited from capitalism.” Those of us who over the years strived to bring ourselves closer to something that is a good New Man, today find we are aliens maladapted to this society.[vii]

 

Cubans now seem more concerned with making money than ideals, similar to the Russians and Chinese. Food is still rationed and many Cubans—including professionals, work second jobs to earn “the extra” because they can’t live on a government salary although health care and education are free. I asked a taxi driver if he was an engineer because he looked like one. He said yes, but he made much more money driving a cab as professionals like himself and doctors earn very little. A flourishing black market exists; the police stopped an unlicensed taxi driver as he dropped us off and police stopped a young black man and asked to see his papers when he approached my son to try and sell him marijuana.

Cuban youth are also blamed for being self-centered. A Somos Jovenes magazine article on Cuban youth by Cuban Javier Gomez Lastra faulted them for being apathetic, materialistic, lazy, and lacking motivation.[viii] He called for an emphasis on what national hero Jose Marti taught: “Being educated is the only way to be free.” The author blamed youth focus on “salsa, greenbacks, and beer,” a slogan from a soap opera on the “lack of accurate guidance” by parents and the lack of jobs for youth. Gomez Lastra noted that young people get frustrated due to “repetitive promises of a bright future, in contradiction to what they live from day to day.” The economic struggles of the 70s were called the gray or black years and the crisis of the early 90s caused by the end of support by the USSR was referred to as “the struggle,” which led to a falling away from revolutionary ideals. Thus, “many Cubans learned to live for the moment” and develop illegal strategies to make money. Psychologist Elaine Morales Chuco blamed the reduction of state educational and recreation centers and the decline of the old model of study-work-pay on “the move of many young people to the socio-cultural world of the street.” She added, “Thus, many Cubans learned to live for the moment, the uncertainty and with very little chance to develop solid life projects.”

Young people vent frustration through rap music and on Internet blogs although there’s no mobile Internet service and not much WiFi access. The Internet is slowly facilitating expression of the youth voice. Young university professors write a blog called La Joven Cuba (Young Cuba) that got thousands of hits a day. It stated, “We promise to continue making this a platform where we can not only talk about the changes occurring in Cuba, but also where readers can participate with good manners in building a better island.”[ix] The school administration blocked access to the site in April 2012 but a year latter important government leaders asked them to restore access. A sign of more openness, the first gay pride event was organized in June 2012. In the early days of the revolution, Fidel said gays couldn’t be true revolutionaries because they represented bourgeois decadence. Some gays were locked up in labor camps in the 1960s, described in Improper Conduct, a 1984 documentary.

The Cuban Youth Movement for Democracy has a blog and organizes demonstrations, such as against police arrests of young people. However, the government arrested 761 dissidents in November 2013 and several journalists were detained for several days so the process of opening up is slow. The next year Lenier Gonzales, age 33, and Roberto Veiga, 49, published a journal to freely discuss Cuba’s future, part of a “Cuba Possible” project.

Eliécer Ávila, a computer scientist and blogger, age 29, started a political movement call Somos+ (We are More) in 2014.[x] In a “letter to young people” he asked them to get involved in “the reconstruction of the country,” rather than complaining or leaving the country. US officials report that more than 50,000 Cubans move to the US each year. Tens of thousands of professionals, artists and athletes emigrate in a brain drain. Ávila wants to overcome isolation and enable people to express themselves on a platform without fear, hoping to mobilize a vanguard. His goals include a democratic parliament and free access to the Internet.

Some express the youth theme of courage, as when a young Cuban man told an American reporter writing about changes in his country, “I’m not afraid of anybody!”[xi] A woman artist reported that the younger generation dream about their future in Cuba and don’t want to leave and they’re more accepting of homosexuality.[xii] However, she worries about growing inequality with a new class of wealthy people who lack taste. Summer 2016 saw announcements the country would have to cut fuel consumption by nearly a third and reduce state imports, partly because of weakness in Venezuela’s economy and oil supplier. The question is will youth trained in socialist values keep them or be seduced by emerging capitalism? When Raul retires in 2018 how will Cuban socialism change with younger leaders?

 

Venezuela

Socialist Hugo Chávez was elected president in honest elections in 1998, intent on creating a social revolution called the “Bolivarian process” with five-year Socialist Plans. His goal was to create “competition socialism” in Venezuela. Chávez succeeded in cutting poverty in half, although his government was charged with cronyism and corrupt practices and the 180% inflation rate was the highest in the world by 2016. He succeeded in building the economy by controlling the oil industry, using the revenues to cut poverty in half, increase access to free health care with the Barrio Adentro clinics program founded in 2003, and increase school enrollment. He was opposed by rich people who were supported by the US, who failed in an attempted overthrow of Chávez in 2002. Even after his death people still refer to him as their comandante and chant “We’re all Chávez.” His government developed a democratic food sovereignty system, banning GMO seeds and Monsanto corn and international gatherings were hosted in the “ecosocialist” village of Monte Carmelo.[xiii] One of the Guardians of Seeds explained, “I used to live by earning money. Money puts your mind to sleep. True liberty is in the land, protecting nature.” A law passed in 2015 promotes ecological organic farming and independence from international food markets. A Popular Council helps government decide on food policy.

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean praised Venezuela for its commitment in 2014 to end extreme poverty by 2019 (down from 21% in 1998 to 5% in 2014), building 1,500 service centers with 24-hour medical clinics and nutrition information.[xiv] The government built more than a million homes for the poor from 2011 to 2015, lending money to neighborhood assemblies that provided the labor. Chávez was democratically elected five times, initiated local councils, and doubled spending on education and health.[xv] He led his country to be the most income equitable in Latin America by 2012 with free health care, subsidized fuel, and computers for students.

Chávez funded thousands of communal councils and worker-run cooperatives and hundreds of communes after the failure of the attempted coup in 2002. The self-help projects to combat poverty are called missions. They provide education, health care and economic development such as teaching new skills in the production of chocolate. Military reservists help with the community projects. Tens of millions of people, the majority being female, have joined in these efforts to create a new world.[xvi] Youths have access to the Hip Hop Revolucion movement, founded in 2003, providing after-school music programs.[xvii] “Hip-hop and the political struggle are inextricably linked,” in that young people have the “chance to play a tangible part in building the better future they want to grow up in.”

The government reported in 2015 that poverty rate dropped from 21% of families when Chavez was elected in 1998 to 4.5%, but after his death in 2013, the economy fell apart.[xviii] A slogan was, “With Chávez everything, without Chávez, nothing.” But a university student and leader of the Communist Party of Venezuelan youth, Jairo Calderon said the idea was a joke, because one person doesn’t make a revolution.[xix] He added, “Our job is to make sure the people don’t get demoralized.” Another young leader, Carmen Camacho said her goal is to “fill ourselves with knowledge so that we can transform the human being, the collective, and our communities,” similar to Cuban goals to create a new human.

The economy suffered after the death of charismatic leader Chávez, with high inflation and reliance on oil exports. President Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, imposed new austerity measures in the form of tax increases. The struggling economy is hurt by the falling price of oil, US sanctions, and one of the world’s highest inflation rates, requiring cutting government spending by 20%. The inflation rate grew to 70% and basic staples and medicine are scarce. A Venezuelan activist told me Maduro lacks Chávez’ ability to create stories to motivate people, leaving the country in crisis. Venezuela and Thailand both saw large protests led by right-wing demonstrators in 2014, resulting in deaths and injuries in clashes with security forces. Both groups accused the government of corruption.

Large demonstrations of thousands of youth and others occurred in Caracas in 2013 to 2014, protesting the inflation rate of 57%, high homicide rate, lack of freedom, and shortage of basic goods like toilet paper, oil and flour. Shoppers have to wait in line for long hours to get in subsidized markets in poor neighborhoods. The country has the world’s largest oil reserves and one of the highest rates of violent crimes, highlighted by the January 2014 murder of a popular actress and former Miss Venezuela and her husband in front of their daughter.

Demonstrations began on February 4, 2014, on a campus in San Cristóbal to protest the sexual assault of a female student. Police repressed the protest and detained some of the students. The next day protests spread to other campuses in support of the detainees. Those protests were also repressed and some of the students jailed, increasing the size of protests around the country. Hundreds the protesters were detained and some reported they suffered torture and sexual assault. A student (age 22) who voted for Maduro said, “We need a new political ideology. When Chávez died, Chavismo died with him.” Juan Requesens, a student leader, called on the Catholic Church to mediate the conflict. BBC reported that Caracas was like a war zone, not functioning as a city, with shortages of food and medicine. Maduro sent fighter jets to fly over the city. (See videos about the protests.[xx])

A mass opposition rally on February 12 (National Youth Day) in 18 cities called for the release of all detainees. Three deaths during the protests garnered global media attention, followed by 40 more deaths by June and almost a thousand injuries.[xxi] A demonstrator, 19, said police shot at his leg from close range. Police used the usual pepper spray, water cannons and tear gas. Protests were especially large in interior cities that lack public services. Protests in Caracas were largely centered in middle-class neighborhoods led by college students, rather than the slums where the socialist government has provided social services for the last 15 years. On the poor west side of Caracas daily life carried on as usual. One of the slum dwellers, age 26, said, “I’m a Chavista but things are going badly. Maduro is doing things badly. But I don’t support the violence of the opposition either. They are full of hate.”[xxii] A slum dweller, 24, who opposed Maduro carried a sign saying, “I’m not bourgeois, before all I’m Venezuelan and I’m in the opposition.” Maduro asked a crowd, “Do you want neoliberal capitalism to return? Do you want to continue the Bolivarian Revolution?,” as shown on an Al Jazeera documentary of the protests.[xxiii]

Protesters set up street barricades called guarimbas and made firebombs and bonfires. They gathered rocks to use against national guardsmen, militias on motorcycles (Maduro calls them colectivos), and police. Neighbors brought food and water to the protesters, similar to Egypt and Turkey. When a 19-year-old student was asked by BBC what her parents thought about her activism, she said they worried about the danger but “I do it for them.” Rebels strung barbed wire across some narrow streets to halt security force motorcycles. Some wore a glove on one hand to throw back tear gas canisters. Masked protesters started fires and damaged buildings, while others wore white to symbolize peace. Some Caracas residents banged pots and pans to protest the economic crunch and urge Madero to resign although there’s no doubt he was fairly elected. In March three air force generals were arrested on charges of plotting a coup.

Maduro threatened to sanction radio stations and newspapers that covered the protest. Rebels used Twitter to communicate news but protests lacked coordination, despite the fact that 14 million out of the total population of nearly 30 million own smart phones. The international hacker group Anonymous searched government websites. The former indigenous president of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, pointed out that being elected democratically is not enough; democratic governance is needed including freedom of expression. He faulted Maduro for being controlled by the armed forces and silencing freedom of expression. Toledo and three other presidents signed a declaration on March 4, 2014, to express their alarm over violence by security forces and militias, and restrictions on the media.[xxiv] Between March and June 2014, 43 were killed and over 100 wounded. During the demonstrations, 43 people were killed, mostly government supporters.[xxv]

Maduro invited student protest leaders to talk, promising to listen “with respect and affection.” He blamed the US-backed “fascist, spoiled, rich kids” and a virus-like “parasitic bourgeoisie” including opposition leader Leopoldo López, age 42. López has a Harvard University Master’s degree in economics, calling his campaign “la salida,” the exit.[xxvi] López said, “Let’s fight. I will be doing so” for Maduro’s resignation. In a country with of the highest rates of Twitter use in the world, in an information war he tweeted to Maduro, “Don’t you have the guts to arrest me? Or are you waiting for orders from Havana?” Rumors spread that López and another opposition leader, María Corina Machado (age 46), were planning a coup; they were called firebrand leaders of the anti-democratic faction of the oligarchic elite.[xxvii] Others blamed the right-wing opposition coalition for organizing the demonstrations and accused them of paying demonstrators to take part. Rachael Boothroyd Rojas wrote that the demonstrators weren’t student protests or youth-led, as portrayed in the media, but were used by the opposition.[xxviii]

López was put in a military prison for a 14-year term where he made a YouTube video that went viral. His appeals are postponed. (He and other young leaders in Italy and Greece look like they could be handsome brothers dressed informally in white dress shirts without ties.) From prison he wrote to the New York Times charging that the Maduro government is a repressive, undemocratic, corrupt, and inept elite leading the worst-performing economy in the region with the highest inflation rate in the world.[xxix] He advocated that the opposition unite in the Democratic Unity Roundtable, release the 76 political prisoners including himself, and work for the removal of bans on opposition leaders running for office. Maduro responded to some of these charges in his own New York Times article stating that the Obama administration spends at least $5 million annually to help the opposition movement.

López’ wife, Lilian Tintori, took over as his spokesperson, saying, “We’re very disciplined and peaceful.” Protests continued, with talks put on hold In May 2014, after the government arrested more than 200 student protesters who camped for weeks outside the UN offices and in three plazas in the capital. A 28-year-old lab assistant observed, “They know that the revolution is over, and they’re scared.” Another political rival, the mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was arrested in February 2015. He was charged with plotting with the CIA to overthrow the government and his ally Maria Corina Machado was charged with plotting to assassinate Maduro.

Because universities are free, Venezuela has over 2.6 million university students. Progressive author Dario Azzellini reported in 2014 that most of them were not involved in street protests, and they were less than a third of arrested demonstrators.[xxx] He believes that protest leaders are drug traffickers, paramilitaries and private military contractors. The wealthy opposition is afraid of the new world being built by working class people. He implied that the US is behind the protests in an effort to destabilize the government, including another coup attempt by the right-wing opposition supported by the US government in February 2015. Palestinians agreed, demonstrating in support of Venezuela because of the “terrible threats that the government and people of Venezuela have received from the US government . . . The only threat to humanity is the government of the United States and its allies . . .and the people of Gaza are showing their love today in the streets, in their support for Venezuela,” stated Hamas member Abu Zuhri.[xxxi]

Three US officials were accused of organizing students to protest and exiled from the country. Professor Julia Buxton reported that a large amount of the $45 million in annual US funding to opposition groups went to “youth outreach” programs such as Juventud Activa Venezuela Unida (JAVU) mobilized after 2010.”[xxxii] The 2014 student movement joined with López and Machado in the Salida/ (exit) campaign in “frenzied” Twitter activity using photos of police violence from other countries as if they were in Venezuela. Former US Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said on Fox News that the way to undermine Chavez was to use the weapon of “anything we can do to make their economy more difficult for them” without getting in direct conflict.[xxxiii] Maduro blamed the US for leading an “economic war” on his country and trying to stage coups. He tweeted, “the aggression of power form the United States is total and on a daily basis.”[xxxiv] Maduro shouted at a rally, “Yankee, go home!” He called protesters Chuckies, a character in a US horror film—Western film references are used in interesting ways, similar to Putin comparing Russian demonstrators to monster Orcs.

Students in Caracas duplicated the tent cities established in Egypt’s Tahrir Square until the National Guard arrested 243 of them in April 2014, triggering a new wave of demonstrations, roadblocks and neighbors banging pots and pans. Julio Cesar Rivas, 29, a leader at a plaza camp in Chacao said, “The government is trying to drive the students toward violence with the torture and raids. But we’re intelligent and we have patience. The fight doesn’t have to be violent, but we’re not going to hide. We’ll stay in the streets.”[xxxv] The protests resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people during the several months of demonstrations. The president of the National Assembly, Maduro supporter Diosdado Cabello said in December 2014 that the government allowed the demonstrations to continue for several months until the people got tired of the chaos.[xxxvi] The opposition Democratic Unity Table took control of the National Assembly in 2015 with 56% of the vote, despite the fact that up to 60% of the budget that goes to social programs that reduced extreme poverty from 11% in 1998 to 5% in 2015.[xxxvii]

Due to runaway inflation, scarcity of goods, power outages due to the effect of drought on hydroelectric power production, and the low price of oil exports, the right won in 2015 legislative elections. Due to shortages of basics, food deliveries required armed guards and soldiers guarded bakeries and food riots occur around the country in 2016. Maduro declared martial law, blamed the US, saying, “The economic war has triumphed.”[xxxviii] He added, “We have lost a battle today but now is when the fight for socialism begins.” The government declared an economic emergency caused by foreigners, saying the US was creating another Operation Condor that opposed progressive governments in the 1970s and 80s accused of killing or disappearing around 50,000 people. (Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa agreed, stating that the right wing was making up for a decade out of power.[xxxix]) Maduro’s Venezuela assumed the presidency of the 120 nation Non Aligned Movement in 2016, part of its leadership in international issues such as UN reform and anti-imperialism.

Maduro’s government had to ration electricity and water in a time of drought, shut schools on Fridays and many government offices are only open two half-days a week. The military delivered food and supplies to prevent fighting over scarce food. An article by Luis Britto Garcia suggested how to renew the government’s popularity and Gabriel Heland explained the reasons for the economic crisis, while the new minister of Economy, Luis Salas vowed to continue the previous 17 years of social programs.[xl] Hetland concluded socialism is not the problem as the private sector increased it’s share of economic activity to 71% in 2011 and elections are free and fair so Venezuela is not a dictatorship. The problem is a combination of government financial errors as in managing the currency, corruption, dependence on oil sales when prices are dropping, and opposition from the US that kept the country from getting foreign financing along with violent opposition in Venezuela

 

 

 

[i] Gonzalo Gernandez, “The New Man in Cuba,” Intrepid Media, July 30, 2013.

http://www.intrepidmedia.com/column.asp?id=4553

[ii] “Fidel Castro, American Experience,” PBS, 2005.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/castro/filmmore/pt.html

[iii] Irina Pino, “Countryside Boarding Schools in Cuba,” Havana Times, February 26, 2014.

http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=102086

[iv] Denise Blum. Cuban Youth and Revolutionary Values. University of Texas Press, 2011.

[v] Damien Cave, “Cuba’s Reward for the Dutiful: Gated Housing,” New York Times, February 11, 2014.

[vi] Damien Cave, “The Revolution Fidel Castro Began Evolves Under His Brother,” New York Times, December 18, 2014.

[vii] “Translating Cuba: English Translations of Cuban Bloggers,” July 23, 2014.

http://translatingcuba.com/category/authors/eliecer-avila/

[viii] Javier Gómez Lastra, Somos Jovenes Magazine,
March 13, 2015.

http://www.somosjovenes.cu/articulo/gusto-y-pana

https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/CubaNews/conversations/messages/155600

[ix] http://jovencuba.com/

http://cubanyouthforum.wordpress.com/

[x] http://somosmascuba.com/

somosmascuba@gmail.com

[xi] Many young people she met debated about whether to stay or try to leave. Cynthia Gorney, “Cuba’s New Now,” National Geographic, November 2012.

http://www.sfgate.com/movies/article/Mix-of-youthful-exuberance-music-can-be-movie-5514727.php

[xii] Cyd Bernstein, Cuba Through Her Eyes, Open Democracy.Net, July 20, 2015.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/cyd-bernstein/cuba-through-her-eyes-0

[xiii] Nick Dearden, “Venezuela’s food Revolution Has Fought Off Big Agribusiness and Promoted Agroecology,” Common Dreams, January 11, 2016.

http://www.commondreams.org/views/2016/01/11/venezuelas-food-revolution-has-fought-big-agribusiness-and-promoted-agroecology

Quincy Saul, “Return to the Source: Guardians of Seeds Fight Monsanto and Win,” Popular Resistance, October 15, 2016.

https://www.popularresistance.org/return-to-the-source-guardians-of-seeds-fight-monsanto-and-win/

[xiv] “UN Development Body Praises Venezuela for Poverty Reduction,” TelesSUR, March 27, 2015.

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/UN-Development-Body-Praises-Venezuela-for-Poverty-Reduction-20150327-0002.html

[xv] Gabiel Hetland, “The Truth About Chavez,” Carib Flame, September 2, 2015.

http://www.caribflame.com/the-truth-about-chavez-bernie-sanders-is-wrong/.

[xvi] Renee Kasinsky, “’Otro Mundo Es Possble,’ Women Power of the VI Caracas World Social Forum and the Bolivarian Revolution,” Journal of international Women’s Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3, April 2007.

http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1393&context=jiws

[xvii] “London Latinos Premiere Venezula ‘Hip Hop Revolucion” Film, TeleSUR, November 6, 2015.

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/London-Latinos-Premiere-Venezuela-Hip-Hop-Revolucion-Film-20151106-0016.html

[xviii] Ryan Mallett-Outtrim, “Extreme Poverty in Venezuela Drops to 4.5%,” TeleSUR, July 28, 2015.

http://f2.telesurtv.net/english/news/Extreme-Poverty-in-Venezuela-Drops-to-4.5-20150728-0011.html

[xix] Tamara Pearson, “Venezuela: Activists Speak,” Latin America Bureau, January 28, 2013.

http://lab.org.uk/venezuela-activists-speak

[xx] http://globalvoicesonline.org/specialcoverage/protests-in-venezuela/

[xxi] “Venezuela Protests Death Toll Hits 43,” Banla News, June 22, 2014.

http://banglanews24.com/en/fullnews/bn/93800.html

[xxii] William Neuman, “Slum Dwellers in Caracas Ask, What Protests,” New York Times, February 28, 2014.

[xxiii] “Venezuela Divided,” Al Jazeera TV, June 27, 2014.

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/faultlines/2014/08/venezuela-divided-2014825151453970459.html

[xxiv] http://brazilportal.wordpress.com/2014/03/05/presidents-arias-cardoso-lagos-and-toledo-joint-statement-on-developments-in-venezuela/

[xxv] “The Refusal of the Political Opposition in Venezuela to Agree To Recognize the Results,” TeleSur, November 24, 2015.

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Venezuelan-Opposition-Again-Refuses-to-Honor-Election-Results-20151124-0008.html

[xxvi] Jeffrey Tayler, “What the Heck is Going on in Venezuela?,” Bloomberg Businessweek, February 18, 2014.

http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-02-18/what-the-heck-is-going-on-in-venezuela-could-the-maduro-regime-fall

[xxvii] Jerome Roos, “Venezuela: It’s the Opposition that’s Anti-Democratic,” ROAR Magazine, February 21, 2014.

http://roarmag.org/2014/02/venezuela-protests-opposition-coup/

[xxviii] Rachael Boothroyd Rojas, “From 2014 Violent Barricades to Venezuelan Assembly Right-Wing,” TeleSUR, February 12, 2016.

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/From-2014-Violent-Barricades-to-Venezuelan-Assembly-Right-Wing–20160211-0024.html

[xxix] Leopoldo Lopez, “Even in Jail, I will Fight for a Free Venezuela,” New York Times, September 25, 2015.

[xxx] Dario Azzellini, “Venezuela: Where the Wealthy Stir Violence While the Poor Build a New Sociey,” Venezuelanalyis.com, April 28, 2014.

http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/10648

[xxxi] “Palestinians Rally in Solidarity with Venezuela,” TelSUR, March 21, 2015.

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Palestinians-Rally-in-Solidarity-with-Venezuela-20150321-0004.html

[xxxii] Julia Buxton, “Venezuela: The Real Significance of the Student Protests,” Latin American Bureau, February 20, 2014.

ab.org.uk/venezuela-–-student-protests

[xxxiii] Slavoj Zizek, “A Brief Clarification about Populism,” TelSUR, April 25, 2015.

http://digger666.com/2015/04/25/a-brief-clarification-about-populism-opinion-telesur-english/

[xxxiv] Simon Romero Girish Gupta, “Amid a Slump, a Crackdown for Venezuela,” New York Times, February 22, 2015.

[xxxv] Corina Pons and Nathan Crooks, “Venezuela National Guard Raids Caracas Student Protest Camps,” Bloomberg Businessweek, May 8, 2014.

http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-05-08/venezuela-national-guard-raids-student-protest-camps-in-caracas#p2

[xxxvi] Diosdado Cabelo, “Hectoring Venezuela on Human Rights,” New York Times, December 17, 2014.

[xxxvii] Tim Anderson, “Despite Its Crises, Venezuela Assumes Another Key international Role,” TeleSur, September 15, 2016.

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/Despite-Its-Crises-Venezuela-Assumes-Key-International-Role-20160915-0010.html

[xxxviii] Nadia Prupis, ”After Party Loss Venezuela’s Maduro Vows to Continue ‘Socialist Revolution,” Common Dreams, December 7, 2015.

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/12/07/after-party-loss-venezuelas-maduro-vows-continue-socialist-revolution

[xxxix] “Maduro Warns of New US-Backed ‘Plan Condor’ Against Left Governments,” TeleSUR, March 19, 2016.

http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Ecuadors-President-Warns-of-New-Operation-Condor-for-Region–20160319-0011.html

[xl] Luis Britto Garcia, “Ten Proposals for Chavismo in the Face of Our Defeat,” Venezuelanalyze.com, December 17, 2015.

http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/11777

Gabriel Hetland, “Why Is Venezuela in Crisis?,” The Nation, August 17, 2016.

https://www.thenation.com/article/why-is-venezuela-in-crisis/

Iceland’s Democracy Works

Iceland

Iceland bounced back from economic collapse, with a balanced budget and unemployment down to 4% but no new constitution. President Olafur Ragnar Grimmson said Iceland recovered from the financial disaster by letting the banks fail, helping the poor, and not implementing austerity measures. “Four years ago, we had hope. Four years later, our hope was lost. And our Utopia, it was lost too,” said Smári McCarthy in 2014, who called himself an information activist.[i] He blamed the ten ruling families that control Iceland: “Iceland is not a country of bribery, it is a country of nepotism.” Jonsdottir explained that the Mafia-style financial rulers are called the Octopus. It’s also a country with no army, a vast middle class, free health care and education. It uses mostly geothermal energy and has friendly police, as seen in photos.[ii]

The three largest banks, the currency and the stock market collapsed and about one-sixth of Icelanders lost their savings and most businesses went bankrupt. After the banks borrowed and invested money equal to eight times the country’s GDP in a Ponzi-like scheme, the country went bankrupt in 2008, two weeks after the fall of the Lehman Brothers financial empire in the US. In October 2008 all three of the major banks collapsed. As a consequence, the largest of the new banks, Landsbankinn, is required to have at least 40% women in top management. During the financial crisis the voters forced the government to resign and refused to allow bank bailouts.

The problem was the banks that lent large loans to their shareholders and the cabal of about 30 people who manipulated the economy, as revealed in WikiLeaks documentation in August 2009 that the elite tried to repress. Julian Assange came to Iceland to urge they make information free and in response the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) was passed in June 2010, formulated by hackers including Pirate MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir who became the leader of the Pirate Party in 2013 along with other “geeks.” However, only parts of the IMMI have been implemented.

Citizens showed their displeasure with corrupt bankers by peacefully banging pots and pans in street demonstrations in October 2008. First hundreds, then tens of thousands of people of all ages protested the banks’ misdeeds every Saturday in the main square in Reykjavik. A documentary titled Pots, Pans and Other Solutions is available online, along with a 2015 video titled Reykjavik Rising.[iii] It tells the story of the revolution, emphasizing that people around the globe are realizing that they are not the slaves of government, that it’s up to grassroots movements to fix problems and it’s dangerous to trust political parties. We see a global pattern of the people demanding change and getting it for a while, until entrenched powers surface again to offer stability. By 2015 unemployment was only 4%, the economy was growing and tourism booming. It was compared to Greece although Iceland only has 320,000 people and has its own currency. Iceland’s rebellion encouraged the later Tunisian, Spanish and Greek anti-austerity, anti-neoliberal protests.[iv] Spanish activists acknowledged the influence of Iceland’s example: Slogans included “Spain rise up–be the second Iceland” and “Our role model–Iceland.”

One of the world’s oldest democracies, it was the first demonstration to continuously occupy a central public place, rather than a week of demonstrations like the famous anti-WTO Battle for Seattle in 1999. Starting on October 11, 2008, demonstrations were held every Saturday at 3:00 PM for the next five months demanding that the government and the heads of the Central Bank resign. Anarchists organized pre-rally meetings attended by young people. Other citizens’ meetings were held every Monday to interview leaders held responsible for the financial crisis. A heterogeneous crowd of protesters included many middle-aged women.

New elections were won by the Greens and Social Democrats in 2009 (advocating democratic socialism, a welfare state) but parliament passed a law to pay back 3,500 million euros to the UK and the Netherlands. The government let the banks fail resulting in $85 billion in defaults but saved local deposits by moving them to new banks. It didn’t cut social services or enact austerity programs but raised taxes, didn’t bail out the banks, and prevented investing abroad. The Supreme Court upheld convections of the top bankers. Although only 25% of EU national parliaments and senior ministers are female, Iceland’s feminist Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir (the first openly lesbian head of government) appointed a majority of women to her cabinet in 2009. Iceland had elected the world’s first female president in 1980, college professor Vigdis Finnbogadottir.

A group of artists, singers and comedians, stars of the punk wave of the 80s, formed The Best Party as a joke with a platform to cancel all the country’s debts. A comedian representing the party, in 2010 Jon Gnarr won the mayor’s office in the capital city where almost half of Icelanders live. One of their tactics was posting photos of influential bankers in public toilets and Gnarr sang Tina Turner’s song “The Best.” The people demanded a referendum to deny payment to Europe and to draft a new constitution.

Two of the protesters were voted into parliament. Gen X Birgitta Jónsdóttir, referred to as the MP for the Movement, was a founder of the Icelandic Pirate Party for direct democracy. It was founded first in Sweden in 2006 and spread to other countries including Austria, the US, the UK, Belgium, Germany to around 60 countries but is most successful in Iceland. It supported WikiLeaks, whistleblowers, and direct democracy. Jónsdóttir said that many forces were working behind the scenes to undermine the referendum against debt repayment, fearful they would set the example for countries like Greece. Jónsdóttir explained that the each Icelandic citizen would be responsible for paying for the equivalent of buying a house, which was unacceptable. She stated that the world is in economic warfare and Iceland was the first country to face it, calling for “rEvolution” with direct democracy. An excerpt from Jónsdóttir’s poem “Generations” is on her blog (joyb.blogspot.com):

 

willingness to start a revolution

in our own hearts

Taste the bittersweet

brutal honesty 

The collective knowledge

of the transparency generation

spreading through the nerves of cyberspace

 

The government selected a Constitutional Assembly to write a new constitution in 2010, with members chosen at random, but the Supreme Court declared it illegal the next year. A random selection of 1,000 citizens brainstormed ideas and sent the results to a committee of 25 people who prepared a report. The only requirement to run for the assembly was being an adult who had the backing of 30 people. The committee began its work in February 2011, receiving suggestions from local assemblies and social media, the first crowdsourced constitution. Each week the council posted its latest draft and read the hundreds of comments received the previous week. The policies with the most “likes” moved up on the priority list. In August the constitution was given to parliament, which ignored it for a year. Late in 2012 parliament called for a referendum asking if the new constitution should be approved, and 67% of voters said yes, but in 2013 parliament was led by two Center-Right parties that privatized the banks and voted down the new constitution.[v] It’s still on hold.

However, over 200 corrupt bank executives and others held responsible for the financial disaster were charged with crimes. Lawyer Eva Joly advised how to use a special court called the Landsdomur to prosecute former Prime Minister Geir Haarde in 2012 for not holding emergency cabinet meetings to prevent the financial crisis. In December 2013 four former Kaupthing bank executives were sentenced to prison terms, increased to seven executives in 2015 and 26 bankers were sentenced to prison by early 2016.

[i] Smári McCarthy, “Utopia Lost: Lessons from Iceland,” SLE, January 21, 2014. http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/constitutionuk/2014/01/21/utopia-lost-lessons-from-iceland/

[ii] Abby Zimet, “Iceland’s Police Are Not Our Police,” Common Dreams, Marcy 27, 2015.

http://www.commondreams.org/further/2015/03/27/icelands-police-are-not-our-police

[iii] http://potspansdocumentary.wordpress.com/

www.youtube.com/watch?v=8-SiYQ8s_61&feature=youtube

[iv] A.D. Juliusson and M.S. Helgason, “The Roots of the Saucepan Revolution in Iceland,” in Cristina Flesher Fominaya and Lawrence Cox, eds. Understanding European Movements. Routledge, 2013.

[v] Thorvaldur Gylfason, “Democracy On Ice,” Open Democracy, June 19, 2013.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/thorvaldur-gylfason/democracy-on-ice-post-mortem-of-icelandic-constitution

Iceland’s ‘crowd-sourced’ constitution is dead