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Unrest in Istanbul

by MICHAEL DICKINSON

Istanbul.

On Sunday morning about 10 am the sound of  loud blaring music and chanting invaded my flat, interspersed by the raised voices of angry speakers and cheers from the seafront square where rallies and political meetings are often held, not far from my flat in Kadikoy Istanbul. I vaguely wondered what it was about as I trawled YouTube via Ktunnel (YouTube is banned in Turkey) in search of suitable videos and material to add to Money-Free – http://money-free.ning.com/ , a website to which I belong dedicated to propagating the idea of a world without money.  Although curious, I wasn’t about about to go down to the square to find out.

At a protest meeting there 3 years ago about the Israeli bombing of Lebanon I’d been violently arrested and carted off to the local police station in a very strange case of mistaken identity which featured on TV news and the front page of several newspapers the next day with photos of me being dragged away “saved from being lynched by a crowd of anti-Israel protestors” who supposedly thought I was a Jewish agitator because of the black skullcap I wear. I didn’t feel like risking that again.  Anyway it was cold out.

I added Naomi Klein’s ”The Take’ to the website, a film about workers taking over a factory in Argentina; a 1974 TV production of GB Shaw’s ‘The Millionairess’ starring Maggie Smith; ‘Common People’ by Blur, and an article about the strikes in Britain.

Then I went out to teach my afternoon English lessons at a nearby Language school.  It was cold and drizzling in the street and the sound of a strident speaker from the meeting carried in the air.  A couple of students were waiting in the canteen when I arrived at 2.

“We thought you might not be able to get here because of the police barricades,” one said.

“I didn’t see any,” I answered.  “What’s happening?  What’s the demonstration about?”

“It’s about the increase in unemployment,” I was told.  “They’re calling a strike.”

“Whaat?” I exclaimed.  “If I’d only known!  Wait here.  I’m going home to get something.  I’ll be back in 5 minutes.”

I dashed home and was soon back with what I had gone to collect – several sheets of paper displaying photocopies of 100 dollar bills which I proceeded to cut out. On the other side of each bill is a short message in Turkish, the translation of which goes:

WORLD STRIKE 2012

If you agree that the abolition of money would be a fine solution to most of our problems, and that we could create a much better system where EVERYTHING – food and drink, clothing and housing, water, heating, education, health-care and entertainment – shall be FREE  for EVERYONE – why not join the World-Wide Strike on the opening day of the Olympic Games in 2012?

The Strike will begin the moment the symbolic Olympic flame is lit – the signal for all who support the abolition of money to stop work and demand a new fair world of true freedom and justice.

WE WANT A MONEYLESS WORLD

I asked my students (a few more had arrived) if they would like to come with me to hand out the little flyers to people attending the rally, but they said they were afraid of being arrested, so I set them some translation work to do instead – ”The Emperor’s New Clothes’ – while I hurried off to the seafront on my own, telling them I’d be back in about 15 minutes.

When I got there I was disappointed to find that the meeting had recently finished and the crowds were dispersing, wandering home in coats anoraks and scarves, some discarding their banners, flags and placards in the the traffic-free streets.  There was still a huge presence of navy-blue uniformed armed police, some with riot shields, cordoning off areas of pavement, but some of their dark blue metal barricades had developed gaps for pedestrians and I got through to the main seafront road.  Following the wending straggling crowd, not sure which might have been at the rally or which might just be pedestrians, I handed out flyers to those carrying rolled banners, men wearing orange plastic work-helmets, people carrying film cameras, long-haired bearded youths and others who just seemed to be right.  A few reacted with suspicion, but most accepted the proferred fake dollars and looked at the message on the back.  One young helmetted worker said: “This looks a good idea!” but there was no time for discussion.  I had to get back for my lesson, and the flyers were running out.

I did a loop and walked back the way I’d come, on the other side of the street, distributing what were left.  A street-cleaner sweeping up the mess left behind refused to accept one.  I had about 5 left as I handed one to a quartet of burly men in dark anaraks, one of them wearing orange gloves.  I think that was the reason I gave one.  I crossed over the road heading back for the school, when I was distracted by a pile of discarded lollipop protest pankarts and flags.  I decided to take a couple back as souvenirs.

As I was making my selection I heard a voice behind me.

“Hey you!”

I turned round and saw the quartet of burly anarak-wearers bearing down on me.

“We’re police!  We think you should come along with us.”

“What on earth for?  I haven’t done anything wrong!” I gasped – (in Turkish, by the way.)

“This!” says one goon, waving the flyer I’d given him.

“Is it a crime to hand out leaflets in the street?” I inquired.  “Everyone does it!”

“But this could cause offense!” he wagged the flyer menacingly.

“How could it?” I ask.  “It’s about justice, equality, freedom!”

“It’s against the law!  Do you have any more of these things?  Hand them over!”

I relinquished my small stash of flyers and they demand to see some identification.  I handed them my British passport, pointing out the recently stamped 3 month tourist visa.

“Picture!  Picture!” says one impatiently, and I show it at the back of the book.

“Michael Dickin…,” he reads.

“I know him!” says one gravely. “Lebanon demonstration two years ago.  Lynch….”

“They thought I was an Israeli,” I agree. “But it all ended up okay in the end.”

“All right, you can go,” one said and they agreed.  “But don’t hand out any more of these things.  It is forbidden!”

“All right,” I said with fingers crossed.  “But don’t forget to tell your friends about the idea!”

They shrugged as they walked away and I breathed a sigh of relief still be free.

Since my little Sunday outing I’ve learned more about the demonstration that I missed that day.  It seems that the unemployment rate has recently passed 12.3%.

The rally was attended by 40,000 workers, women’s, students associations, groups and unions under the slogan “We Will Not Pay the Price for the Crisis: Labour and Democracy Rally for a United Struggle against Unemployment and Poverty.”

Protesters shouted “Side by side against fascism” and “Long live revolutionary soldarity”, and there were speeches.

Süleyman Çelebi, president of the D?SKtrade union federation accused the government: “Those who have ears but do not hear, those who have eyes but do not see, they cannot hear the voices of the ten thousands today, they cannot see us. We say no to job dismissals, unemployment and poverty. We say, do not use the crisis as an excuse to reduce wages. We want democracy and peace.”

Sami Evren, leader of the KESK trade union federation said that the crisis was being used as an excuse to encourage the black economy.  He called on Prime Minister Erdogan, saying:  “You have ignored our labour. You have put our jobs and food at risk. You continue to take away our right to group contracts and the right to strike. Don’t think you can frighten us, we are here to show our courage.”

Global Soldarity!

Michael Dickinson lives in ?stanbul.  He can be found at http://money-free.ning.com/  or at michaelyabanji@gmail.com

 

 

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Michael Dickinson can be contacted at michaelyabanji@gmail.com.

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