Agent L confesses to pussing out on Thursday. She wanted to go to the park very badly on Thursday night, but was rather frightened of increasing reports of Americans being arrested and detained, and possibly deported. All of her normal riot buddies were also playing the caution card, so she reluctantly stayed home.
For the record, Agent L is not afraid of teargas or pepper spray. (Physical pain is an unfortunate part of life, and the effects are brief and mostly non-damaging, probably.) She also doesn’t necessarily have the self preservation to fear arrest, but deportation would truly suck, and that’s the specter that kept her home.
I regret it now. It turns out that Thursday night was a huge party, with a grand piano recital. (Note, all these figures are underreported. Tens of thousands of protesters gather every night.) All day, and the previous day, the PM had been posting ominous threats about how his patience has worn thin, how the youth (I’m bout to go off on a screed about how the protesters keep being misidentified as youth) need to go home, vague and completely nonsensical warnings that Gezi Park is dangerous because of shadowy, malevolent Provacateurs, and, (and this totally backfired) a plea to the mothers of the land to protect their children- keep them home from Gezi Park! So, mothers did what they had to do to protect their children and formed a human chain between the protesters and the cops.
I’m positively kicking myself for giving into the fear mongering.
TJ and I left for Karaköy at around 4 in the afternoon, and walked up the hill to Istiklal street. All the stores around Galata were open, and the streets were not exactly thronged, but busy with tourists gawping at all the trinkets. Istiklal was surreal. The last time I saw it it was all but deserted, and nearly all the stores were shuttered. More than half were open now. When we ducked into Starbucks to feed TJ’s addiction, there were dozens of people sitting with their tablets and notebooks open, getting shit done as normal. As we got closer to Taksim Square, we had to shove our way through groups of tourists as though it were any normal day. There were still signs that as recently as two weeks ago Istiklal had been a war zone- the shops that were still shuttered were dripping with political graffiti- but all in all the sense of normalcy was unnerving.
Twitter had told me right before I left that the square was crawling with cops, but this wasn’t the case. There were two lines of them on either side of the square. Not a lot of riot gear, and not many more than you’d expect in Taksim before, say, a Galatasaray match. The flags and banners were gone from the statue. Tourists were taking each other’s pictures.
“This is so different from two days ago,” TJ said. “Two days ago it was almost deserted and there were so many cops, and it was really, really tense.
“This is so strange.”
We went into Gezi Park and wandered around a bit.
By the entrance closest to the park, there were a bizarre number of tourists wandering around, strolling and staring at things as though it were one of Istanbul’s famous attractions. As we were not dressed for revolution ourselves, and were carrying purses instead of rucksacks, and at least one of us was wearing flip-flops, we began to feel rather self conscious at being mistaken for tourists. As we moved further towards the back there were fewer tourists, though at the very end we did see a lady wearing traditional tourist garb- comfortable slacks, a fanny pack, some kind of ridiculous hat, (do foreign suns burn the skin more easily than the sun at home, I keep wondering?)- scuttle by with her suitcase in tow, apparently getting one last look before getting a taxi.
There were signs posted everywhere not to take anyone’s picture without permission, as noted in the last post.
“On the one hand I understand,” TJ said, “We can’t violate these people’s privacy-”
“Um, or endanger them.”
“Right. Or endanger them. On the other hand I think it’s so important that people understand the sheer scope of this. I just want to take a picture of all the tents. How many of them are there- hundreds?”
Every available inch of parkland, nearly, has been taken up with a city of tents, and for every tent there are about a half dozen people hanging out, reading, smoking, chatting.
“And I also think it’s so important to show, for instance, how many people there are here who aren’t college students.”
And again, world, I want to bring it to your attention that a large proportion of the protesters are NOT college kids. There were whole families camping out. Grandmas and grandpas calmly sitting under canopies. A fair number of headscarves. Unions had their own areas carved out- including Turkish airlines who had a tent with the heartrending plea,
“We are Turkish Airlines on strike. We need your help,” written on a placard outside. Sitting inside? A bunch of middle aged dudes munching sandwiches.
“I agree. That’s the most infuriating thing about this. Every time one of my friends from home well-intentionedly but sort of, I dunno, deprecatingly tells me they never knew what a little anarchist I could be, I grit me teeth and take deep breaths. Look around! Look at that dude in the suit! Don’t even joke about this being an anarchist movement ’cause my sense of humor about it is just gone. It undermines everything everyone here is trying to accomplish, and undermines the essentially peaceful nature of the protests.”
“Yeah. I also wish we could just get a really good picture of the kids here.” As if on cue a little boy of roughly eight popped out of a tent and raced across our path.
“Did I tell you what I woke up to the other morning? There was some little kid, maybe five, walking down the street with her mama screeching the ‘Shoulder to shoulder we fight fascism!’ chant in that high, reedy voice kids use when they’re bellowing at the tops of their lungs. So. Adorable.”
“Maybe one day she’ll understand what fascism is?”
“Maybe one day she won’t have to.”
“God, you’re such a hippie.”
We wandered out the side that was bitten into by the bulldozers. People had been busy terracing the wound in the earth, surrounding each terrace carefully with rocks, and planting wee little stressed out looking plants. As we looked some kids came down with pickaxes and shovels and began digging more plots out of the soggy ground. We sat on a rock and shared a beer.
We wandered back and stopped at the library, where TJ got a magazine she couldn’t read. Various organizations within Gezi were beginning to rally and have parades. The KESK started a rally cry and marched through the park to the steps down to Taksim where someone began making an impassioned speech through a microphone while the crowd of KESK workers, and the non-touristey crowd gathering by the metro stop, cheered. Not having anyone to translate, we wandered down Istiklal to find dinner.
We returned at 9-ish. Taksim was largely taken over by protesters, and the tourists had gone home.
The cops, to our surprise were right where we’d left them, in two relaxed lines, and we speculated about what that might mean. Were they resting and planning on attacking much later in the night? Were they giving in and stopping the offensive? Why so soon after Erdoğan had made his ultimatums?
Walking throughi it was much, much more crowded, and we grumbled again about the gross underreporting. Thousands my ass- you could barely move. Unlike other nights I’d been there the atmosphere wasn’t tense or watchful at all. People seemed relaxed.
We wandered down towards Beşiktaş, past where the busted up buses had been a mere week ago, past where the barricades were the first night we came, past the spooky civilian buses surrounded by cops, filled with plain clothes policemen that TJ saw two days ago.
“There were so many more cops here, two days ago,” TJ said, “And so many more buses. Like, this whole area was full of them. But they’re closer to the protest now.”
We walked further, towards where I helped build a barricade, near Kabataş. The bricks were still gone, and our flipflops squished not unpleasantly into the soft sand. All was quiet.
We passed Dolmabahçe where 50 or so cops, what looked like more under-cover cops, and a few buses were parked. In Beşiktaş we found a whole slew of cop cars and water cannons waiting on the road that goes to the Kadiköy ferry.
But all was quiet. The cops were relaxed. Their shields put away.
Could it be almost over?