Back to TaksimPosted: June 23, 2013
Istanbul, June 23
It has been an extraordinary week of revolutionary assemblies in all parts of the city. But I have to admit, I kind of missed the tear gas.
Yesterday at last we were bound to have some. Taksim Solidarity made a call for people to come to the square with flowers, and make a statement as standing men and women.
Measured by attendance, the gathering was a success. The square was full. Aside from that, it was dull. There was no point to it all, and no real emotion. More than the flowers, you noticed the flags. They were all the same prefab banners carrying the text ‘Taksim Solidarity.’
As my brother Naber pointed out, the umbrella organization that launched the protest is desperately trying to consolidate its power and conserve a central position in the movement. In the last week, they were overtaken by the people on all fronts. The neighbourhood assemblies are not linked to Taksim Solidarity, or to any other party or organization for that matter. It’s a giant leap compared to the politics of the occupation in Gezi. Those who came to the park with banners, left those banners at home when they came to the assemblies.
For an overview of the square, we occupy the Burger King balcony. After little less than an hour of chanting and jumping, the people start to disperse. There was no need for police to lend them a hand, but for some reason they did.
Gezi Park is under permanent occupation of police these days. A first batallion descends the steps in full riot gear. Three water cannons move into position, and without any provocation start spraying the crowd. People are washed away into the side streets, police go after them to speed them up. But a crowd itself is like water. Within minutes, people return to Taksim, and police rushes back after them to club them out again. They come back, and it starts again, with the water cannons. From a tactical point of view there seemed to be no thought behind the action, other than the desire to piss people off. And police officers as well. One of the water cannons accidentally sprayed a platoon of cops in the middle of the mess.
The tensions rise. At the entrance to Istiklal Street, police make a phalanx to defend themselves from incoming stones and bottles. Soon after that, they start shooting tear gas. Now the real fun starts. We put on our masks and descend into the square to stream the action from the ground.
Police push people further into Istiklal, the big shopping street. We are behind them, at a hundred meters. It’s a weird scene. Underneath the happy Christmas-like lights, there are piles of rubbish still burning. The shops are closed. The mosque starts wailing that Allah is great while police keep firing tear gas to clear the street.
We take one of the sidestreets to reunite with the resistance, and there the scene is no less weird. In between the cafeterias, bars and nightclubs and their loud electronic music there is a mixed crowd. Some of the girls are dressed to go out. Some of the girls are dressed to riot. Some of the girls are not really girls.
Every now and then, the group goes back up to Istiklal street, and a crowd forms. They sing and dance and chant, they try to advance to Taksim. Then police throw tear gas, or a water cannons comes along to clean them out and spray the sidestreets. Then we regroup, and return. Time after time.
At the third time, Istiklal street is ours. Police are trying to contain resistance elsewhere. So we build a barricade. It’s an act power, an act of beauty.
Now, let me give you a few hints on building barricades, based on the experiences of last night and last week. It will definitely come in handy sooner or later. First, you need material. Use metal containers and concrete flower beds as a spine. Make sure you have a building site at hand. You tear down the scaffolding. It’s deconstruction at its purest. You raise tables of pressed wood, you reinforce them with bags of cement using a human chain. Finally you take down the metal bars of the scaffolding for additional strength. Throw in everything else that isn’t nailed down and wrap it up with a net. For more permanent barricades, open up the pavement with picks and stack bricks and stones. You may want to use cement to glue it all together.
In less than half an hour the construction yard was turned into a full scale barricade, topped off with a Turkish flag. All around it, people were singing and celebrating.
It was the highlight of the evening. After midnight, police attacked again with overwhelming force and exuberant use of tear gas. First thing to do is stay calm, stay to the side. Run only if you have to. To relieve the pressure of the gas, you could pick up the smoking cannisters and throw them back to the police. Make sure you have a good mask, and use a glove. Tear gas cannisters are hot.
The resistance settled down after the barricade was broken. People hide in shops and bars as police platoons comb the streets. We decide to go back to our cove. We did our thing for tonight. Tomorrow it’ll be back to the business of building revolution in public spaces, not necessarily here, because the chants have come true. Everywhere is Taksim.