Protestors in gas masks in Gezi Park

Gas Masks in Gezi: This Is What Democracy Smells Like?

Many journalists and experts have cautioned against drawing too many parallels between the Occupy Gezi movement and Occupy Wall Street, or between the Turkish uprising and the uprisings of the Arab Spring, such as the one centered around Egypt’s Tahrir Square. It’s true that Turkey exists at a pivot point between secular and religious that is unique to its history, for all the superficial resemblances that may have to The Handmaid’s Tale fantasies of America’s Christian conservatives. Each people, each culture, is unique and so are its uprisings.

Yet the Turkish people have embraced the Occupy moniker, as well as solidarity with other global movement’s like Spain’s #15M. Likewise, occupiers and activists worldwide have marched and rallied in support of the Turks. Social media technologies enable a global connection and worldwide solidarity.

And whatever the cultural differences, Monday’s attack on the Gezi Park encampment underlines how the Global One Percent use a shared playbook when they suppress those pesky outbreaks of democracy:

1. Free Speech is Filthy

Much like the empty support voiced by Democratic mayors and politicians in the first days of Occupy Wall Street, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo infamously commented “This smells like free speech!” during an early visit to the Occupy encampment at City Hall. Months later, he was complaining to the press about the reek of urine and feces at the site. Occupiers were forced to dismantle the camp late at night, three times a week, for a power-washing that did irreparable damage to the beautiful tiles of the plaza. When it still wasn’t filthy enough, the formerly public bathrooms were permanently locked — even after occupiers cleaned them and painted over graffiti.

A similar scenario played out nationwide. By the end of the encampments, crackdowns were being justified by the “health hazard” camps posed. After police swept in and literally tore these temporary communities to shreds, mainstream media could point to footage of the piles of wreckage as evidence of how Occupy filled public spaces with tons of garbage.

It was no surprise to many of us when, as police massed outside Gezi Park last night, the announced purpose of this assembled army was merely to assist in “cleaning up” the space.

Other than “Get a Job!” the asinine comment occupiers heard shouted most often was “Take a shower!” Our rulers and their media puppets did nothing to discourage this. Modern culture is, if anything, overly neurotic about germs and body odor, so what better way to scare away support than to link free speech with filth? At least we have good company in every filthy peasant who dared to raise a pitchfork against serfdom throughout history.

2. Placate, Never Negotiate

The Democratic leaders of many cities claimed to love their Occupy encampments before using the “filth” excuse to see us evicted. Their support came during those brief moments when it seemed as if Occupy could be twisted in their favor as the Left’s answer to the Right’s Tea Party. That support soon vanished, but their initial statements helped save face, and more importantly, discourage anyone from looking too closely for the coordination behind the crackdowns — coordination now proven through FOIA requests and leaked documents.

Problems with hygiene? Regular use of public spaces is destroying the grass? Any real problem at an encampment could conceivably have been solved in a way other than by an invasion of riot police. Likewise, while leaders will voice their support for this expression of popular democracy, they’ll never take their demands seriously. No matter how many lists of demands Occupy issued, it was never enough — we were simply filthy, bored, worthless hippies.

This policy of placation goes all the way to the top. As long as your country isn’t in imminent danger of invasion by the United States or its allies, the worst thing you can expect when you inevitably crack down on your local version of the global revolution is a light finger-wagging reprimand.

From Reuters:

‘We continue to follow events in Turkey with concern, and our interest remains supporting freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest,’ White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.

‘We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security, and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and a free and independent media. Turkey is a close friend and ally of the United States, and we expect the Turkish authorities to uphold these fundamental freedoms,’ she said.

Our leaders will have plenty of statements about the importance of Democracy to keep them warm at night while the tear gas fills the streets.

Unless of course you’re keeping our warships safe in your harbors, like the repressive regime of Bahrain; put down this playbook, because you can already do whatever you want.

3. When In Doubt, Provoke

Undercover Austin Police Officer Rick Reza poses with a lockbox he constructed with other undercover officers.

If you still haven’t succeeded in vilifying your local protest movement, there’s always infiltration. Under the guise of keeping us “safe,” Austin Police infiltrated Occupy Austin and built lockbox devices which resulted in felony charges in Houston — but only after they failed to provoke us into acts of violence or property damage. Some headstrong young people who had been part of Occupy Cleveland were lured into an FBI-orchestrated terrorist plot.

In their rush to report on the latest “clash” between protestors and police, the mainstream media will inevitably focus on any property damage or token acts of bottle-throwing over almost any brutality by police.

And if a mass of heavily armed riot cops aren’t enough to provoke a tense crowd, then just dress up a few undercovers and have them throw the first rock or molotov cocktail. Social media is full of reports from anguished Gezi protestors like this anonymous message shared by a woman I met at last Monday’s Gezi Solidarity rally:

When the police attacked with gas bombs a group of about 30 instigators who are NOT among us, NOT activists, NOT among the people who resist started attacking the police with molotov cocktails. Curiously enough the TOMA’s (water cannon vehicles) that are able to push away and separate hundreds of people within seconds (as we have seen many times in the two weeks) could not get rid of this group of provocators for hours. Why? This is all a planned game to be played in front of the international media.

The Guardian backs up this popular account with a new story on Erdoğan’s similarity to Putin (another owner of the 1% playbook):

And so it proved, with police encircling the square at 6am on Tuesday, firing rubber bullets and teargas, and ripping down banners calling for Erdoğan’s resignation. By happy coincidence, Turkey’s state media, which for days had blithely ignored the country’s huge anti-government demonstrations, were on hand to record the event.

Turkish TV viewers witnessed this: a small group of four or five “demonstrators” throwing molotov cocktails at police. At one point they advanced on police lines in a comic Roman-style phalanx while holding the flag of a fringe Marxist party. The “protesters” were in fact middle-aged undercover police officers, staging a not very plausible “attack” on their own for the benefit of the cameras.

But the violence meted out against the genuine protesters camped out under the plane trees of nearby Gezi Park was real enough. Dozens were left choking or injured as teargas billowed across central Istanbul. Meanwhile, some 50 lawyers acting for detained activists were themselves dragged away by police and roughed up at Istanbul’s Çağlayan court.

Faced with a choice between engaging with this new, vibrant civil society movement or crushing it, Erdoğan has picked the latter course.

Whether or not violence can ever be justified in a revolutionary setting is a discussion for another day. Suffice to say that the puppet media will repeat their story of violent protestors over and over again, tacitly endorsing whatever steps, no matter how brutal, are taken to suppress the protest’s activities afterward. Congratulations, world leaders: since you never negotiate, you are now free to throw ever-increasing amounts of force at your free speech problem.

 

Does this mean we should stop protesting or occupying public spaces? In my opinion, no tactic should be removed from play if it fits the situation at hand.

Instead, let’s use their tactics — global coordination and information sharing — against them. Smart activists need to begin using their local and global activist networks to cooperatively develop new strategies and new playbooks of resistance.

Occupy Gezi photo by Burak Turan released under a Creative Commons license. Public domain lockbox photo by Austin Police Department.