Strong Bodies, Dirty Shoes: An Ode to the Resistance

  • January 8, 2014

City & Commons

Love was hypnotic in Gezi. It brushed away the rational. It left you naked, vulnerable, happy. It surprised us all — and had a transformative effect.

In Gezi, you first met with yourself. There was a specific moment when you came face to face with who you are and what you fear. Then, you also had to take a look at what you believe in; how you relate to your body, to authority, to justice, to knowledge; and ultimately, of course, to freedom. After this first check-up came the sensations. Feeling Gezi came before thinking it. Sensations ran along the soft core, because it is through bodies — rushing up hills, hidden in staircases and in each breath — that desires stretched into force. Gezi started with a joyful display of real anger against the assemblages of capitalism, urban pillage, environmental destruction, conservative morals, body policing, selective justice, and whirling injustices. Gezi was just the beginning — the struggle continues. Freedom has a price and hope its joys.

Love was hypnotic in Gezi. It brushed away the rational. It left you naked, vulnerable, and happy. It breathed air into passion-torn little hearts. It had a transformative effect, like some psychedelic trip that queers you up some more. Love was surprising, again and again. Death was there too. One, two, three, four… dead in the street, shot in the head, beaten to death. One does not get used to death. Smiling sweet people have been dying in this country before, during, and after Gezi.

Killed by some sort of love; dead at work; found dead in the street; crushed in factories; strangled by family, hanged, starved to death; lynched in the neighborhood; burned alive with fire or acid; just missing. Some of the dead become heroes while others become martyrs. Death has a texture in this country, just like love. More softly, many people’s old selves collectively died in Gezi, each in their own way. Smooth quiet deaths of the ego faced the monstrosity of unaccounted crimes. With its dosage of love and death, Gezi was poetic.

Breaking the Silence

Feeling Gezi went through the sounds and the smells. The crowd held a beat, shaking up doors, banging on barricades. Helicopters in the sky, fizzing gas capsules, screams, and curses did not stop hundreds of people breathing out hard their orgasms in the streets to the sound of drums. Soft voices ordering you to stay calm, stay calm, stay calm. It is when your own voice rises to the chants that you meet your own intimate noise. Gas burned the inside of your nose, attacking your throat, jerking tears out of your eyes and tearing your lungs. Smells and sounds can hurt sometimes. The delicate notes of a piano or guitar strings can make you breathe again. Breaking the silence is the first step. Then, you see yourself in motion, going deeper and further inside the fog. And then, you come out.

Bodies were strong; sneakers dirty; sweat delicious. The omnipresent erotic energy was not quite suitable for a traditional family setting, with papa and his people, his money, his car, and his veil on her head. Glamour challenged frustration and bitterness in a dirty kind of way — that was what saved it from being too precious. Those who were there got no sleep for days on end, running on reserve forces. Women’s daily struggles to take control of their own body turned kinky. All genders were welcome and you knew you had to look professional as you walked the streets. Out of control, bodies had to be fit, flexible, soft, and lucky. If not, they broke.

The mind too had to be flexible. Gezi had an intellectual quality rarely seen in universities these days. Intertextualities educated us and made us laugh, because laughing was the face of resistance. Like flowers, books were symbols and arms, and we knew those red flowers before Gezi — from Hrant Dink and the Saturday mothers — that they have been around for a while. Words and jokes on city walls populated our spirits and fed us, despite the fact that they were painted grey over and over by the authorities every morning.

A Library of Life

Frantz Fanon welcomed you at one of the barricade-gates into the space of The Wretched of the Earth. Nazim Hikmet called you to be as unique and free as a tree while being as friendly as a forest. Marx reminded you that the shadows of trees were not for sale. On the walls, you could read that the revolution would not be televised — that was the point at which penguins met Guy Debord. The Quran reminded you of the value of sharing. Tayyip Erdogan, dressed up as Marie Antoinette, argued that if people do not have bread, they could eat gas instead.

Mevlana invited everyone to join, to come, whoever they are… everyone besides Tayyip, of course. Deniz Gezmis and his friends called out for a long life to the brotherhood of Kurds and Turks. Emma Goldman invited us to dance through the revolution. The Zapatistas sent their greetings. Orwells’ big brother followed us, under constant surveillance. History taught itself to us, pushing us to struggle in full knowledge of the risks and the high price to pay. All these friends, and many others, shared their wisdom with us and nurtured our capacity to smile and to be kind.

The whole experience was a challenge for those who usually spend time reading and thinking. Some could not feel Gezi close enough because of distance, children, age, fear, or illness. They ached and blossomed as they served as links in the transmission of knowledge, stuck in their security. Either way, the tension to spread the word was always palpable and it became clear that neoliberal universities could not provide that thinking space anymore.

Gezi was a bit of a brain crash: it exposed the wound of not being able to think enough and to know more. It made you see your ignorance and pointed to those who had knowledge of direct action, like women, gays, students, Kurds, Alevis, leftists, Muslims, and other rejects of all sorts. Minorities were present from the start — they already knew how to think, write and talk about all this. The silent and ignorant others had to learn a new language, and many still struggle to declassify their tongue. Thinking is not quite a crime around here yet, but it is strongly discouraged, sabotaged, and sometimes punished.

Martyrs, Soldiers and Heroes

Who were the actors at Gezi? Classical approaches will tell you some were activists, young, women, Kurds, Alevis, Antikapitalist Muslims, LGBT, students, environmentalists. They were also doctors, lawyers standing straight as they were dragged on the floors of the gigantic Palace of Justice, mothers, aunts, football players, criminals and very proper people too. There is some value in resisting making categories, because it is best through activated and deactivated networks, assemblages, articulations and affiliations that you can give a shape to Gezi — a shape that is in constant motion. That said, a special greeting can be sent to the LGBT community for splashing color, joy and pleasure; to the Kurds, for insisting on peace; to women and their wombs. Minorities were there, strong from years of accumulated work in silence. They were there before, during and after Gezi.

Like in all wars, there were martyrs, soldiers, and heroes. Our martyrs still smile on the walls of the city and on banners around the country; we call them by their first names. Smiling dying sweet people again. Cats and dogs became martyrs too. Our soldiers dutifully carried the wounded, they played music, built barricades, and kept the borders. Their bodies still carry wounds, inside and out. There were women soldiers and child soldiers. The soldiers of Mustafa Kemal were also there, weakened yet still convinced of their duties and rights. The soldiers of Freddy Mercury were there too, in their sexy outfits sparkling tight on their platforms. Soldiers in the dark nights and early morning hours, short guys grabbing gas capsules and throwing them back to the police.

There were also heroes; many women heroes, poets, dancers, and musicians. We quickly learned the value of people with guerilla skills, strong organizational capacities, and solid networks wrapped up in cutting-edge communication devices. Those who carried political responsibilities were always working behind the scenes. Of course, there was tension in the park, fighting and threats. We knew that flags come with trouble, so we tried to avoid them — and that’s not easy in this country.

The Gezi Crash Course

Some people, out of habit, tried to scratch the wound between the ‘Muslim’ and the ‘Secular’, but there was none of that in Gezi. The question of how to deal with homophobic insults and slogans arose and was dealt with in a very civilized manner. Internal conflicts arose; philosophically and politically irreconcilable positions met — clashing on issues of symbols, sex, alcohol, hierarchy, authority, violence, and ethics. There was no money involved. All these people were there, and were joined by new friends who were just awakening to a much brighter and scary new world.

Gezi was also a crash course in urban geography, memory, and warfare strategies. From micro to macro, there is sometimes a long way to run. You have to go local to be able to situate your body in a neighborhood under siege; within the military configuration of the city; through the back streets; the short cuts; and the long walks around. You must know your neighbors and be able to recognize the police at the corner of the street and on your phone. You are reminded that spaces have memories, too. Taksim square was already stained with the blood of workers; just like other places in Dersim, Sivas, Lice, Gewer, Uludere, Maras, continuously bleeding Kurdish and Alevi blood — women’s blood. Injecting terror and keeping a constant pressure is a military strategy; it existed before, during, and after Gezi.

It is worth noting that Nusaybin, at the border between Turkey and Syria, got the honorary price of the best protest performance of 2013. Sitting on the border — between nations and two wars; hungry; in the middle of landmines; stopping the construction of a wall — is different from sitting in a park surrounded by hundreds of people. Sometimes, people just stop time and refuse to leave a space; they hold on to that space and that time, despite and with the fear. Sometimes, you just have to stay and hold the space. Fear, just like desire, tightens up all along your core. At other times, there is no choice, no doubt, you need to find a way out. Gezi’s frequency disrupted the normal flow of time; it challenged hierarchies between people, and that is quite something in this country.

Meeting our Neighbors

Meanwhile, the European call had become a murmur — a heavy beat of the regional wars to the east in Syria, Iraq and Egypt shook the ground and tore bodies. To the North and West, Ukraine, Greece, and Bulgaria were roaring back. We are finally not that different from our neighbors; nice to meet you again. And after all, we are not so far away from Brazil either.

Gezi is a small park in the center of Istanbul where people gathered, walked the streets, sat on sidewalks, built barricades, took pictures, danced, screamed, looked at each other, and touched each other. Gezi received much love and solidarity from the world. It might have received more than it gave, like a cute yet somewhat spoiled baby star. It was all play — an experimental art work in politics; it was risky. That was before the big destruction; before they came to crash, burn, and break. Then, the witch-hunt started — public threats, verbal and physical terror, getting fired, lynched in the media, arrested and put in prison, and still keeping up with the smile.

The language of war snipes at women first. His women, his park, his children, his property, his fake trees, his big bridges, his shopping malls, his cash, and his quantitative nonsense. Numbers do not make sense any more, they are played with, they just circulate around, empty of content, like in all rising authoritarian regimes. Obedience wants to become a norm, freeze the brain, package it in plastic, and sell it in a shopping mall. Six months after Gezi, revenge is on the agenda. It is cold outside, those who have capital, political power, and big rigid norms suck human blood, nature blood, and city blood. We rage, we roar, we fall, we cry, and we laugh. Surprise us again and again love.


Reflections on the Gezi Uprising

1. Editorial
Gezi and the Spirit of Revolt

2. Rüzgar Akhat
Gezi: Losing the Fear, Living the Dream

3. Dilan Koese
Revolt of Dignity: Gezi and the Global Legitimation Crisis

4. Burak Kose
The Culmination of Resistance Against Urban Neoliberalism

5. David Selim Sayers
Gezi Spirit: The Possibility of an Impossibility

6. Cagla Aykac
Strong Bodies, Dirty Shoes: An Ode to the Resistance

7. Stephen Snyder
Gezi Park and the Transformative Power of Art

8. ROAR Collective
The Sultan Is Watching: Erdoğan’s Lust for Power

9. Yasemin Acar & Melis Ulug
The Body Politicized: The Visibility of Women at Gezi

10. Elif Genc
At Gezi, a Common Voice Against State Brutality

11. Erkan Gursel
Sarisuluk’s Story: A Family Fighting for Justice

12. Beatrice White
Cracking Down on the Press: Turkish Media after Gezi

13. Matze Kasper
To Survive, the Gezi Movement Will Have to Compromise

14. Mark Bergfeld
Beyond the Hashtags? Gezi and the AKP’s Media Power

15. Emrah Güler
Is Social Media Still the Way to Resist in Turkey?

16. Lou Zucker
Reclaim the Urban Commons: Istanbul’s First Squat

17. Christopher Patz
From Madrid to Istanbul: Occupying Public Space

18. Sinan Eden
The Mayonnaise Effect: International Inspiration from Gezi

19. Mehmet Döşemeci
Superman, Clark Kent, and the Limits of the Gezi Uprising

20. Editorial
Beyond Gezi: What Future for the Movement?

Cagla Aykac

Cagla Aykac is Assistant Professor teaching at various universities in Istanbul. She holds a PhD in Sociology from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris.

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