Account from #OccupyGezi movement in Istanbul, Turkey from Campaign Director at Greenpeace Turkey. Originally posted to Huffington Post
In the build-up to the unrest life in our office had never been so busy. The past few weeks had brought so many new laws and amendments chipping away at the already weak environmental regulations – we had no idea how to keep up.
Nuclear power regulations are being eased to make construction easier. The government is entering international agreements committing it to new coal plants – bypassing domestic regulations. Rules removing the protected status of environmental areas are being prepared. The cabinet are now deciding whether a forest is “beneficial” or not – all of this and more within just the past few weeks.
The government’s preference for easy profit over protection of the natural environment – the right to breathe and the right for a healthy life is nothing new. But the pace of destructive change is so fast that we find ourselves helpless.
The News Media That Never Was
It is naive to claim “the media only recently began to censor”.
When a peaceful protest by residents near the site of a new coal plant in the Black Sea town of Gerze was met by tear gas and mass arrests the media didn’t cover their trials. When those people set up camp to keep the bulldozers and builders off their land, the main news channels barely noticed.
But we had never come across such massive censorship as within the last few months. All we have left was handful of newspapers and handful columnists who would listen to what we have to say.
Gezi and Beyond
As Greenpeace, we were not running a direct campaign to save Gezi Park. We were supporting the solidarity in Taksim, but our main focus were incidents Anatolia and Ankara- which were going largely ignored by the press. Obviously, we had to be there when the destruction began or when the first tear gas dropped.
What strength had the government left us with other than to stand shoulder to shoulder?
People who say that the Gezi resistance is more than defending a couple of trees are absolutely right. But, do not think this is something new. If it were, it would not rage across Turkey so rapidly.
Listen carefully to the outburst against building hotels over forests and the resistance against hydroelectric and coal or gas power plants in recent years. Take note the number of signatures for our campaigns to protect the purity of our food and drinks.
Throughout Anatolia, people are fighting in what little space they have left against the government’s now instinctive and almost gluttonous desire for growth, a strategy that has never been open for discussion.
In fact there is a ‘Gezi Park’ in every city. That’s why this movement – which started in İstanbul, spread so easily around the republic.
Regardless of their political stance, Gezi became the symbol of the peasant who lays down in front of bulldozers; of the city coalition that comes together to protect its river and air; of the ordinary people who are suddenly taken into custody just because they have every intention to protect their garden, and of the village headman who shields himself to protect his people.
The police violence that you see has been going on all around Anatolia, but we were not witnessing it. That is the reason why people all around Turkey came together that quickly and stood shoulder to shoulder; everyone understood each other clearly, went out to the streets, and joined the solidarity.
Consequently, no one should believe those who would link this movement with radicalism, with disturbing the peace, or nationalism. No one should look for dominant powers behind it, call us idiots, or collaborator of agents.
This is an effort to overcome the feeling of desperation, of being discarded. First and foremost, this is a collective fight for the right to life and for the freedom of expression. It is the story, solidified now in history, of thousands of peaceful people who, even now, the media is trying to bury by focusing on provocateurs.
How do the trees feel?
The construction digger entered the park illegally and the police shielded it against the people who were trying to protect the trees; after a day where people could no longer sit idly by pushing the voice of their conscience down, a Greenpeace associate was taken into custody.
Some of us were with our friend who had been detained, some of us looked for a friend who had been hospitalized, the rest of us participated the forum ,and the organizations held in the park.
We were all exhausted, but the evening was beyond praise. It became a festival with more than ten thousand people who came out in support. People sang songs, community literary reading were held, the messages for support from other countries set people’s mind at rest.
The atmosphere gave us hope We all felt the hope coming out of this atmosphere, the hope we had not felt for a long time. My friend Ezgi looked over the trees for a moment, “All of us gathered round for the trees. I wonder what do they feel? Is our presence here making them happy?”
Sometimes you need to be this naïve. Otherwise, you cannot hear or understand what your people truly desire while you stare at the opinion polls.