On The Streets of Istanbul

There’s something happening here.

It’s unpredictable. It’s chaotic. It’s raw and imperfect. It’s growing.

About to board a flight from Paris to NYC – I was repping Occupy Wall Street at the OECD Forum – I changed plans abruptly. I flew to Istanbul, grabbed a cab with another random globe-trotter I met, destination Taksim Square. Inside the square is a park called Gezi.

It is now occupied. With thousands of bodies: young, old, all religions, all political persuasions. It began early last week, when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan began to demolish the park to build a new commercial development. A small group of people – mostly youngsters like my friend Ege (see below) – fought back. And almost a week later the country is on spiritual (and in some places literal) fire. In over 48 cities people are protesting.

The air in the streets around Taksim is electric, because the police have withdrawn, at least for now. Last night, Saturday, techno music bumped in disco clubs while swarms of youth alternately ran from police flashes and tear gas and boogied down. Windows smashed, but nothing looted. Street medics applying bandages at narrow intersections, youth drunk with power and beer celebrating the (small) victory.

This morning’s rain washed away some of that evidence, but the sun started to emerge again around 11am, as did the protesters but now in much larger number. Some of them, clad in pink gloves and with blue trashbags, cleaned up the evidence of the reverie the night before. Bonfires that had burned and government vehicles that had exploded to applause had disappeared. Now, little kids and strollers replaced them. Flags of every color and political stripe.

I hear that the protests have been repressed brutally in other cities, and I may have to leave Taksim to Ankara later today to see for myself. People are basking in the uncertainty without fear, and nobody I speak to doubts that the whole country supports this uprising. It is beyond political now, they say.

What looked disorganized last night is beginning to congeal, but no one can tell me what will happen tomorrow when business is supposed to start up again. I guess we’ll see.

Justin Wedes is an activist, educator, media-maker and community organizer. He’s the co-founder of the Paul Robeson Freedom School in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to provide engaging, culturally-relevant curriculum to young adults in Brooklyn in order to train them to become educator-leaders in the struggle for high-quality, free education. To support the school and Justin’s independent media work, visit our website.

See more pics from the last few days on my facebook and twitter.