Thursday, June 13, 2013

The events in Turkey, particularly in Istanbul, have become an obsession with me, particularly since my daughter and grandson live there and may face danger at some point. The sound  of a text message at 4:30 a.m. can really get your attention. During the day, I'm obsessed with Facebook and Twitter so I can see every first-person update. Facebook is the last thing I see at night and the first thing I open in the morning.

I'm starting to figure out why I've been having such a tough time writing about it all. Of course, it's very personal and hard to sort through the emotions and fears covering me like a galaxy. But I'm starting to figure out that the whole drama is hitting me on so many different levels from emotional to intellectual.


One thing has become very clear. The protesters have given new meaning to the term, "Young Turks." More than one hundred years ago, young Turkish intellectuals just said No to the absolutism of the Ottoman monarchy, and in so doing, created an archetype for the world that stands to this day.

It's the first-person accounts, such as this one or this one that tell the story. Reading the news reports or opinion pieces is one thing, but first-person accounts of people on the ground live drama. Reading these accounts and others brought me back to the time of my own, and my generation's, political activism. The experience was far more than individual events.


I suppose the most famous occurred at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. Was it the first? I don't know. There were so many. I participated in several anti-war, pro-environment, pro-civil rights and women's rights rallies, though not this one.

The American political establishment's response is echoed in the Turkish establishment's: It's a few "outside agitators." Clearly, there are communists at the root of it (21st century governments substitute "terrorist" for "communist"). The majority is on our side. We don't care what your demands are because we're going forward. Your are dirty. You are looters. A few troublemakers won't be allowed to disrupt the plan.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan's script was waiting for him. What I'm waiting to hear is, "Why don't you people work for change in the establishment?" The answer, of course is that the Establishment failed. It failed in America in the 1960s and it's failing in Turkey today. An Establishment who gasses and maims its own people is no Establishment anyone wants to join.


At Kent State University in 1970, it was clear that we had a government who was killing us. If it wasn't an unnecessary war or polluting the environment or jailing and killing people because of their color, it was just out-and-out shooting students.

My own experience occurred at the University of Nevada on Governor's Day in 1970, one day after the Kent State massacre, where National Guardsmen had killed four students and wounded nine within thirteen seconds. In Reno, Nevada, we were a group of, maybe, three hundred students who intended to disrupt a ceremony honoring Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets. American troops had also just invaded Cambodia.

We sat down at one end of a football field as a brigade of cadets marched directly at us with their rifles and bayonets lowered. It was only at the last second that the drill sergeant ordered them to turn away.

The rest of the day was bedlam, with the governor's car stopped by protesters, the ceremony generally disrupted and, later, our scurrying across the campus dodging rumors. A friend had some friends from the Bay area visiting, and they attended as well. These people were later referred to as "outside agitators" and communists. Several of us were arrested and two tenured faculty professors who had tried to calm us down were fired for inciting violence. No one was hurt.

After the fear and outrage, think what I remember most is the headiness, the camaraderie we felt. It's not just a shared ideal at a particular moment as it is a epiphanous understanding of a different reality as those in charge speak lies and denigrate you with false truths. There's no feeling like it, and the feeling spread from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Chicago and New York and back again.

Those memories aside, my daughter and her friends and colleagues are extremely distraught over the events in Istanbul. I understand. I understand the feelings of solidarity, the desire to confront outrageous wrongs, the feelings of powerlessness and fear oozing from an authority who simultaneously denies and re-creates reality. I understand the fear in the uncertainty that happens when Truth becomes a casualty of power, and Voltaire's "those who can make you believe absurdities can get you to commit atrocities" is more than a glib quotation.

I understand, and because I understand, I worry. But that's my issue.

As the 21st Century hits stride, the great-great grandchildren of the first Young Turks are once again saying, "No!" Saying No can be very powerful, as well as empowering, and today's Young Turks are showing their nation a new way. It's like zip lining from a mountaintop: The fear and excitement are enthralling.

Mr. Erdogan, you can't gas kismet or put her in jail. Lead, follow or get out of the way.


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