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.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Post I Can't Write

Many of you know my daughter lives in Istanbul, where protesters are being victimized by a government-backed police riot. I've begun several posts on the situation but have been unable to complete anything.

So for now, I'll just re-post this woman's piece. It's awesome, even if she got the governing party's initials wrong. It's called the Justice and Development Party, whose Turkish initials are AKP. She used "JDP."

Click this link for a truly moving piece.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Turkey: Believe in the Power of No

See the mother and father of a baby, and you see the faces of joy. Watch the baby, and you see his little eyes struggle to keep up with the kaleidoscope of colors and shapes and shadows of shapes rushing at him every moment.
Or see her little ears strive to understand the cacophony of sound, the good voices and the not-so-good, the warnings and the praises, the trains, the cars, the voice of the simit peddler, the music. Watch the baby, and you share the parents' joy.

Something both difficult and wondrous happen about the time the baby turns two. The baby, having learned a few words, suddenly stands and says, "No!" The question doesn't matter. 
"Do you want some ice cream?" Mama says.


"Go to grandma," Papa says.


This moment is hard for the parents, and, truth be told, difficult for the child. But the baby's saying No is a transformation from babyhood to childhood, and beyond. No doesn't mean "no" so much as it means it's time for a new direction, and new beginning. A time to grow into adulthood.

Times come in the lives of nations when some of the people say No. Those in charge don't like it. They warn of the end of times, of outside agitators, of the selfish and narrow motives of a tiny minority. They claim the support of a majority who stays in the shadows, whom no one hears, a majority who may be too comfortable, too lazy, too afraid, too ignorant, too much in denial. Saying nothing, thinking yes, living the easy way.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s in America, a small minority said No. They said No to an unjust war in Asia and No to denying political and civil rights to black people and to women. Mohammed Ali, the greatest boxer in the world, said No to being drafted into a war that violated his religious beliefs.

The people in charge didn't like it when Ali said No and they put him in jail. They sent hundreds of police with dogs and guns and tear gas and clubs against people demanding civil rights. Their thugs sneaked into the night and murdered people. Young men burned their draft cards and young women burned their bras. Gay people rioted over Stonewall. President Nixon claimed the support of "the Silent Majority." The protestors were called criminals, terrorists, and malcontents.

And they still said No.

It took time--babies don't grow up quickly and nations change even more slowly--but in America today, black people don't just vote, they become President. In nearly half of American households, women earn more than men, and in colleges, women outnumber men. The government doesn't force young people to serve in the military. Gay people can marry in many states, and Mohammed Ali is an American, even international, hero.

History teaches us that the strongest power in the universe is the power of ideas. No one knows for sure where ideas come from, and each of us imagines their source. But there's no denying their power.

We also know from history that rights are never, ever given freely. They must be demanded and, ultimately, taken. 

And the process doesn't happen until people say No.