Resistance Forums in Istanbul: A Roundup of Discussions, 16-30 June #occupygezi

Source:www.whatishappeninginistanbul.com

The Gezi resistance continues to create its own public spaces. Since the occupation at Gezi Park was forced out by the police on 15 June, public forums (popular assemblies) are being held in over 30 parks around Istanbul in the evenings, as well as in other cities including Ankara, İzmir, Adana, Mersin, Eskişehir. While some of these forums, such as Abbasağa Park Forum in Beşiktaş, and Yoğurtçu Park Forum in Kadıköy, have been held every day since 16 June except for evenings for which demonstrations were scheduled, others take place less frequently but regularly. The different groups and sections of society that make up Gezi resistance meet at the forums to continue self-organizing, to discuss and debate the wider political issues and seek new directions for the resistance movement.
Abbasağa Forum in Beşiktaş. photo: Muhsin Akgün

Abbasağa Forum in Beşiktaş. photo: Muhsin Akgün

This process is certainly not reported on or followed by the mainstream media. However, there are self-organized attempts to reach out to wider audiences through reports of forum sessions via Facebook groups, and websites such as http://parklarbizim.blogspot.com, http://muhalefet.org/haber-simdi-halk-konusuyor-12-6602.aspx, http://direnisforumu.org , http://hemzeminposta.org (all in Turkish). As whatishappeninginistanbul.com we hope to reflect something of this process, by giving an overview of the discussions at various forums on a fortnightly or monthly basis. We believe that it is an important task to keep a record of the collective reasoning, desires, and dreams for a future that are being aired in public spaces created by the people’s own initiative as a tangible product of the Gezi resistance.

We can gather the common issues, thoughts and decisions that emerged Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara’s forums between 16 June and 30 June 2013 under the following headlines:

Function of the Forums
A key subject of discussion in all the forums from which we have reports, concerns the functionality of the forums: how the forums should run, how they should function, how the decision-making process should operate. Most of the forums started meeting on the 3rd week of June, and began by making decisions on moderation, length of speeches, and other technical issues. They then started applying these decisions. For instance, Abbasağa Forum decided that each speaker should only speak for two minutes, the moderator’s role should be limited to keeping the order of speeches, and that the bodily signs developed in global Occupy movements be adopted for audience feedback, so that the people living around the park would not be disturbed by noise. It was also decided that smokers should be sensitive towards others, considering it is a crowded space.

Although tensions arise from time to time due to the great diversity of backgrounds and political stances that people bring to the forums, it is possible to say that there is a general effort to maintain the environment of dialogue and emphaty that is now referred as the “Gezi Spirit”. In one Zekeriyaköy Forum participant’s words, this spirit seeks “what our commons are and on what we can unite”. (27 June, Şakir).

In just about every forum, it is possible to see that the function of the forums is defined as developing concrete practices through collective reasoning. One statement uttered in Ankara Anıtpark Forum seems to express a common feeling found across the forums: “When concrete actions wane, resistance will fade”.

The proposals for these concrete practices include setting up neighborhood workshops, communicating with local small shop owners, explaining the resistance to those who didn’t participate, identifying a communication strategy against the propaganda produced by the government, particularly the campaign that aims to damage the reputation of the resistance by relying on the repetition of certain themes and lies.

By developing models of self-organisation, the forums attempt to sustain the feeling of unity and euphoria that was experienced throughout the first few weeks of the Gezi resistance. As one speaker stated at the Ataşehir Deniz Gezmiş Forum: “through communal living, the resistance proved that another world is possible”.

Common Political Demands
There are various differences among the forums in terms of constituencies. For example, while in Yoğurtçu Park the women’s movement is represented and Turkish Communist Party is a discernible presence, Abbasağa Park is (naturally) dominated by the Çarşı group. Some participants at the Koşuyolu-Acıbadem Park seem to have a distinct fear of “sharia”, and the Kurdish issue creates a difference of opinion at many forums. Thus just as there are differences among the participants of any given forum, there are differences among the forums themselves. An Avcılar Forum participant has reported that their forum is largely attended by people in their 50s and above, who do not have access to social media, and who use the forums for keeping up-to-date on the resistance, as much as for discussions. However, despite all these differences it is possible to identify some common themes in the political demands that are formulated.

First and foremost is the removal of the 10% election threshold. Concerns about the fairness of elections are expressed in some forums; but the real reason behind the absence of parliamentary representation of societal diversity and opposition is generally identified as the election threshold. It is possible to trace a common understanding that this is the most important political barrier.

While it may not be expressed as clearly as the election threshold, records and testimonies from the forums indicate that there is a search for a new political agent / party / leader / group in opposition to the AKP government. This idea of a new party in theory has lead to the development of an interactive website for collectively drafting a party programme through “crowdsourcing” methods. A similar initiative is found at http://gezimeclise.org. Perhaps one of the most visible demands of the resistance is that this “new” political subject should be one that is not based on classical political models. Burak D.’s brief statement was an example of this tendency: “…it really shouldn’t be standard. Most importantly, it should not include the concepts of left/right. It should be the party of the people and should have a name that unites, that is genuine.”

Another common political tendency seems to be the will to sustain and expand the language of dialogue, and the practice of understanding and empathy that appeared with the Gezi resistance. At times, this demand is articulated in more general terms such as “not losing the Gezi Spirit” and at other times more specifically in terms of “attaining cultural awareness and peace” and calls for excluding hate speech and creating a new language. A point of departure for this search for a new language was articulated at Abbasağa Park Forum on 28 June in the following words: “we will stay away from words and deeds that are hurtful to any cultural group… we will omit the word ‘minority’ and replace it with ‘cultural group’… when we are angry, we will not use words that humiliate other cultures.”

Common Action Plans
In addition to more immediate calls such as joining protests in solidarity with the Kurdish town of Lice where protestors were attacked with live bullets killing one on June 28, participating in Istanbul’s LGBT Pride Parade, or marching to the offices of ATV (TV Channel) in order to protest pro-government disinformation concerning the murder of protestor Ethem Sarısülük in Ankara, there are also longer-term action plans being discussed at the forums. These proposals include:

Boycotts: An invitation to boycott shopping malls, credit cards, big brands, main stream media channels is repeated in just about every forum. People are further advised to not pay for public transport, just as those who attended the government’s rallies (held by the Prime Minister during the Gezi occupation in an effort to save his image) were exempt. A commonly heard call at the forums is for using local shops in order to create a stronger community through the neighborhoods’ tradespeople. This is identified as one way to effectively resist the AKP government’s neo-liberal capitalist onslaught, while working against the extensive government propaganda that targets small-shop owners to provoke them against the resistance.

We are the media: Throughout the Gezi Resistance, internet and social media have been used much more efficiently than before in documenting and archiving the collective memory of the resistance as a way to mobilize, and reverse the mainstream media’s propaganda, using humor, knowledge and information. Now in every forum, there are plans to produce media messages to collect and share on online platforms, social media and the individual digital groups of each forum. The forums repeatedly host statements about how Gezi Protests created a kind of collective awareness, while mainstream media produced disinformation and manipulative messages. As in Gezi Park, the common statement across the forums is “we are the media”. Media messages produced by the resistance emphasize the importance of “forming a positive language against the policies of polarization, and uniting the forums around a common language” (Cihangir Forum, 27 June). At the same time, in just about every forum, there are repeated calls for boycotting the mainstream media. Along with producing news and creating archives, the suggestions include setting up cinematheques at the forums and organizing film screenings (Cihangir forum). There are plans and/or initiatives under way to print pamphlets and leaflets to distribute to local residents and shopkeepers; especially for the benefit of those who haven’t participated in the protests or don’t use social media. Some forums come up with plans to visit AKP voters and hold face-to-face meetings.

Crash Courses: The forums have been organizing crash courses on a diversity of subjects including first aid training, what to do when detained, and using internet securely. There are also plans or initiatives underway to run workshops on art, cinema and media, depending on the area. These courses aim to create an experience of collective living and producing.

Processing the Events
In about every forum, there are discussions concerning the affective aspects of having been part of crowds of resistance that brought together people from such a diversity of backgrounds. There is also talk about the collective trauma experienced due to being subject to continuous police violence since 31 May, as well as the collective euphoria of acting together. In that sense, the forums also occasionally function ocnally as a space for group therapy.

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