To continue my story– when we were all vaselined, (sidebar- really, Agent J? Everyone told me vaseline helped) and had 50 cls of liquid courage in us, Lina and TJ and I headed down to Kadikoy to join the protests in Rhitim. My afternoon classes were all cancelled, because by mid-morning all transit in and out of Kadikoy had been shut down- no ferries to Europe, and the rumor was the bus depot and main boulevard were shut down. We were shocked, then, to see a ferry pull away from the Eminonu dock, with people literally hanging from the rails, so laden with protesters it seemed a little unsteady in the water. As the ferry sounded its horn and lurched off, the crowd went crazy- cheering, screaming.
I cannot explain why they would close transit in the morning and reopen it in the afternoon. But there it was- hundreds of people cueing to get on a ferry to Europe. The gates were wide open and no one was paying.
It was then-ish we got a text from Jeff saying the police had left Gezi Park, and they were on their way to Europe by bus. We hadn’t been necessarily planning to, but we all looked at each other, and without consulting went to the bus depot to see if we could get to the European side that way. We found a bus to Mecediyeköy almost immediately. It was nearly empty. The bus driver saw our lemons and cheered us.
On the bridge over we saw a plume of tear gas rising from- where? Kabataş? Beşiktaş? Still not very up on my Istanbul geography. TJ and I looked at each other and shrugged- in for a penny, in for a pound. We were still concerned at that point that because the police had already demonstrated a charge-and-retreat tactic, that they might be coming back, that it was all a ploy.
We walked to Gezi Park from Mecediyekoy along a broad boulevard that got increasingly crowded as we went. People were chanting and screaming. All the cars that passed us honked. Business owners cheered us. The air was charged, and, the closer we got to Taksim, stingey.
The park was full of people, and more were streaming in from everywhere- Karaköy, Kabataş, Şişli… The end we entered was the end that was partially demolished, so we had to queue to scramble up a side of a steep embankment. The woman in front of me was wearing four inch lucite stripper heels which did not affect her ability to get up, somehow.
“I’m a girl who loves a stiletto,” TJ observed, “but in a riot?”
The thing that awed us in the park, as I’ve mentioned, was the diversity of people. One huge misconception that’s circulating in the media is that this is just a bunch of punk activist kids. (Not that there’s anything wrong with punk activist kids) I am here to tell you it is not. The park was full of people of all stripes- families with small children, preppy students, punk activist kids, old men in suits, business people with rolexes- all sitting around grinning at each other like idiots and occasionally whooping or breaking into a chant. People were streaming in from all corners of Istanbul to protest, not trees or a shopping mall, as is also being widely disseminated, but several years’ worth of the erosion of personal rights and liberties, several years’s worth of erosion of any meaningful voice in the AKP government.
Regular Joe Istanbul is finally angry, and it’s glorious to see.
To walk through the park and into Taksim square took us the better part of half an hour. I’ve seen reports that tens of thousands of people came to Taksim on Saturday and I’m here to tell you that’s not true. I’ve heard numbers as high as 1.2 million, and having been squished in that crowd, I believe those reports.
We walked down Istiklal, and amazingly in that throng ran into a friend. After waiting around for half an hour and watching, in amazement, the slow, shouty parade of people, we wandered around the corner to a Tekel and sat on the street along with everyone else to enjoy a beer that was warm because the ‘fridge couldn’t keep up with demand.
“Warm beer never tasted so good.”
“Warm beer is the taste of victory.”
TJ and I broke off from our little group to wander by ourselves, once we sussed that there was no way the popo were coming back to Taksim in the near future. Most of the shops on Istiklal were shuttered, but a few remained open, including, hilariously, a men’s dress shirt store. There were a few cracked windows, but no signs of massive vandalism or looting.
A cry of alarm went up that cops were gathering en masse in Beşiktaş and preparing to come back, so TJ and I wandered back to the square, which we figured was safer than Istiklal as it afforded us more exit strategies. We got a spot on the grass and watched boys setting off fireworks and flares from the statue while everyone around us celebrated.
“I’m so glad we came.”
“It is so amazing that we’re seeing this.”
“You’re a good riot buddy.”
“No, you are.”
Then, drunk on the magical quality of the night, we found ourselves by tacit agreement wandering down towards the Beşiktaş stadium where the scene was far different. We came across three buses with the windows all smashed out. Further in the distance we saw fires burning. We came to a blockade that had a tire burning in it and asked the young men sitting near it if they spoke English.
“Yes, of course.”
“Then what the fuck is this? Taksim is so peaceful and happy! This looks like a war zone!”
“It is,” he said grimly. “The police are coming from here. We’re setting up the barricades to keep the people in the park safe.”
We chatted some more and bummed them some cigarettes, and then turned back.
It had been an exhausting day, but one which was thankfully, for us, free from violence.
It was time to go home.
In the metrobus station on the way home we were wondering why Mecediyeköy was far gassier than Gezi Park or Taksim. Lots of theories, no solutions. Last night I found out from Big M, who tried to get to Taksim at around 9 on Saturday night, that the police, in an attempt, one presumes, to stem traffic from the only nearby transportation hub, had gassed the shit out of Mecediyeköy.