Women demand cities that value women

In this season of mass protests and demonstrations, much of the news media has decided that this global phenomenon is an expression of `middle-class rage’. It’s not. The waves of mass protests are a creative response to the form of urbanization that now covers the globe. Remember, already more than half the world population lives in urban zones, and, according to the United Nations, soon more than half the world population will live in urban slums. This means the urban local is global. That’s the lesson that protesters, and in particular women protesters, are once again bringing to the streets and beyond.

The march of protests is a global urban uprising. Ask the women, and their colleagues and friends, who, through policy brutality, have become icons of the protest movements.

When Ceyda Sungur, Gezi Park’s `woman in the red dress’, was interviewed, after the police pepper sprayed her in the face, she deflected personal attention: “A lot of people no different from me were out protecting the park, defending their rights, defending democracy. They also got gassed.”

How does protecting a park equal defending rights equal defending democracy? On one hand, in the specifics of the moment, the equation is part of the pro-democracy rhetoric. On the other, more pertinent hand, Ceyda Sungur is an urban planner. When Sungur says, “For me this is about freedom of speech and the power of the people”, she means the struggle for the park, rights, democracy, freedom, power, is an urban struggle, a struggle against authoritarian, anti-human, anti-woman urban development.

Then there’s Liv Nicolsky Lagerblad de Oliveira. She lives in Rio. One night, she was standing alone on a street corner where there had been demonstrations earlier. Hours earlier, the riot police had forcefully removed all the protesters, but they were still hungry. They descended upon Oliveira, alone, late at night, just standing, and pepper sprayed her full in the face at close range. Yet again, the riot police created a new icon, yet again a woman.

And yet again the message, this time Oliveira’s, was urban: “The city is being gentrified. The poor can no longer afford to live in some favelas and the elite is taking their place. The cost of life is increasing and the increase in bus fare was just the last straw.”

Around the world, thanks to `urban development’, the working poor can’t afford to live in the slums. Women know this story, because they’re the central, disallowed subjects.

Repeatedly, protestors argue the City has become the epicenter of debt-and-death. Worldwide women are protesting the designed hostility of `the new Jerusalem’ to women and girls. Women, like Ellen Woodsworth, the founder of Women Transforming Cities, are organizing with women to address the complete and systemic lack of gender equity lens that marks city planning and governance. Urban public lighting, transportation, access to medical care, access to police, affordable housing, green common spaces, toilets, living wages, decent working conditions, violence, crime, peace, well being, inequality, equality are all particular to women and are all feminist issues. For example, in Japan, the environmental recycling movement had to rethink everything when women challenged the assumptions of their mandated unpaid, unrecognized, `informal’ labor … in the name of a green economy. The women in Japan said, “No gender equity, no peace.” The women in Istanbul, Ankara, Dhaka, Rio, São Paolo, Vancouver, Cape Town, Barcelona, Buenos Aires, and beyond, are saying so as well.

The last green space in Istanbul is an urban women’s issue, and a feminist crisis. The rise in public transport fares and the pricing of slums out of the reach of the working poor in Rio de Janeiro is an urban women’s issue, and a feminist crisis. Thais Gomes, Brazilian `shantytown dweller’, understands that. It’s not “middle class rage”. It’s urban.

Around the world, women are saying “Hell no!” to the “gift” of global hyper-urbanization and “Hell yes!” to cities that respect all living beings as valuable, to city administrators and planners who see value in the social, to those who value women as humans, neighbors, partners.


(Photo Credit: Bianet)

From Gezi Park to Bakirköy Women’s Prison, the struggle continues

In Ankara, a #standingwoman surfaces. She is standing in Kizilay Sq, where Ethem Sarisuluk was shot dead by the police.” Across Turkey, individuals are standing, facing, moving while perfectly still. #duranadam. It means, “standing man.”

Revolutions change our language. How many around the world knew of Tahrir before the Egyptian uprisings? Now, we all do. It’s a gift Egyptians have given to the world.

The democracy and social movements across Turkey have given us Gezi, Taksim, and now #duranadam. This is part of the inherent creativity of people in movement.

The State has responded with predictable, moribund redundancies. First, it tried to criminalize the protesters. Then it claimed they were foreign agents. Then it tried to claim they were only a dissident, spoiled fringe minority. This is textbook `Statecraft’ at its emptiest.

Then the State sent in the police, to `clear’ the parks, to `reclaim’ the commons in the name of `the people’. Familiar, no?

Today’s news is filled with the predictable: “Turkey arrests dozens in crackdown”; “scores detained”; “dozens detained.”

Behind the `niceties’ of detention and arrest stands the prison. Turkish prisons are notorious for their human rights violations and abysmal conditions. On October 20, 2000, Turkey “gave” to the world the longest and deadliest hunger strike in modern history. Across Turkey, for three years, prisoners fasted, and died, protesting the construction of F-Type prisons, which are basically supermax. Across Turkey, women prisoners went on hunger strike, `even though’ women prisoners weren’t sent to F-Type prisons. In Turkey, solidarity is not a new phenomenon. Neither is standing, seemingly alone and yet decidedly with others.

Since then, hunger strikes, by prisoners and others, have become a regular part of the Turkish political landscape. Last September 60 or so Kurdish prisoners went on hunger strike. By the end of the strike, close to 70 days later, close to 700 prisoners had joined the strike, plus untold others across the country and even around the world.

At the same time, sexual violence, rape, and torture also form a part of the Turkish political landscape that emerges from and returns to prison. Women, like Hamdiye Aslan and Asiye Zeybek, have reported on the extreme and continuous violence they suffered. For more than a decade, national and international groups have documented this. Little to nothing has changed.

Some things have changed. In 2002, there were 55,000 people in Turkish prisons and jails. In early May, there were more than 130,000. Health care in the prisons has gone from bad to criminally worse, as acknowledged recently by none other than Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In October 2011, Ayşe Berktay, writer, translator, peace and justice activist, pro-Kurdish activist, was arrested. She’s still in prison, two years later. In December 2011, Berktay wrote from Bakirköy Women’s Prison: “The situation here is rather critical. Feeling ever more powerful with the support he is getting from `Western powers’ as a representative of so-called `Western ideals of democracy and freedom’ in the region, Erdoğan has turned his back on—or done away with—all semblance of democracy at home and is preparing to intervene actively in the region. Your action is valuable in the sense that it exposes the true nature of the Erdoğan government…He feeds on this `democratic prestige’ he has abroad to take harsher measures against democratic opposition at home. Such prestige makes his hand stronger against opposition in the country. Anyone who does not agree or go along with his way of solving the problem is a terrorist, an enemy—familiar, no?”

Familiar, no?

This morning, Rumeysa Kiger, a journalist who had been part of the delegation that met with Erdoğan last week, was arrested. According to her husband, she was on the way to an interview when she saw police arresting protesters. She went to object and was herself arrested. Familiar, no?

As Berktay concluded, two years ago, “Protests against this anti-democratic obstruction of political struggle and the arbitrary nature of the detentions, against arbitrary detentions to obstruct political struggle and democratic opposition, are very important. They need to know that the world knows and follows.”

One man standing. One woman standing. Thousands of women and men standing, in prisons, parks, squares, and streets. Extraordinary, no?


(Photo Credit: http://www.ayresmendevrim.com/2013/07/dunyadan-ve-turkiyeden-duranadam.html)

“A Bunch of Marginal Marauders” or Millions United under an ‘Overlapping Consensus’ to Topple Down the Government?

It has been almost a week since scores of protestors initiated a resistance movement (#DirenGezi) against the incumbent government and its anti-democratic discourse and practices. What had begun as a peaceful sit-down against the demolition of Gezi Park by a few hundred unfolded into massive anti-government demonstrations by hundreds of thousands, even millions across the country. The number of protestors has been soaring ever since despite or maybe due to the spontaneous and dynamic nature of the demonstrations. So has the level of police brutality and violence.

I was in Taksim and Beşiktaş the last few days starting from morning hours till late at night. I was one of the many who suffered from excessive police brutality, and I dare to say, state terrorism. The first water cannon and tear gas attack came in Siraselviler Street in Taksim, where we could at least seek shelter in side streets and nearby cafes, restaurants and houses. In Beşiktaş, however, we were caught unprepared and had nowhere to escape when the police tanks (known as TOMAs, or social intervention vehicles) marched towards unarmed and peaceful protestors and began firing tear gas bombs and water cannons randomly and incessantly at us. I saw thousands trying not to run over fellow protestors while running for their lives. I saw hundreds vomiting tear gas even hours after the TOMA attack, me being one of them.

But who are all these people anyway, suffocating under the thick smoke of tear gas? Why have they gone out to streets in the first place? Who mobilized them? Are they really “a bunch of marginal marauders… manipulated by the opposition” as the Turkish Prime Minister claims?

The simple answer is, NO!

Yesterday, at Gezi Park, my sister and I walked around the park and made spontaneous interviews with fellow protestors that we randomly picked, just to find out ‘who we were’. Amongst those that we talked were Kemalists, socialists, communists, ultra-nationalists, gays and lesbians, Armenians, Kurds, supporters of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), supporters of the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi), women wearing headscarves, revolutionary Muslims, fans of big football clubs, just ordinary people of all ages, identities and socio-economic backgrounds. Except for the members of a few political party groups, no one had invited or mobilized them. Not all of them shared the same political ideology. To the contrary! Some held completely rival political views with other fellow protestors. Some were not politically oriented at all and did not refrain from admitting that. Most of them were participating in a mass demonstration for the first time in their lives, had brought their children, grandchildren or grandparents with them.

However, all of these protestors had a common denominator: there was ‘an overlapping consensus‘, albeit a silent one, uniting those that represented different ‘comprehensive doctrines” as John Rawls would put it, or who did not champion any doctrine. This is an overlapping consensus on the urgency to topple down the incumbent government and put an end to its anti-democratic practices. This is an overlapping consensus on the urgency to rebuild solidarity and re-forge social bonds amongst fellow citizens, which were long severed.

Turkish Prime Minister keeps saying, “… this is not merely about a couple of trees.. ” Ditto, Mr. Erdogan! Of course it isn’t. Looking at the past few days, I can safely say that it never actually was about a couple of trees. Just as it was never about “a bunch of marauders manipulated by” anyone! Millions are out there filling the streets of Turkey demanding you to step down.

Pin back your ears, Mr. Prime Minister!

Or else, it will be too late!