Friday, 12 July 2013

Ural Koroglu: Neighborhood forums, neighborhood committees

Following the brutal attack to Taksim Gezi Park and occupation of  Taksim Square by the police, two new “resistance forms” have come out, one is the “standing person” and the other one is the transformation of the parks in numerous neighborhoods in Istanbul and some other cities into forum arenas and assembly places [1]. By all means both of them are manifesting that the resistance against Tayyip Erdoğan and AKP (Justice and Development Party) power have transformed into different forms.
The distinguished importance of the neighborhood parks’ transformation to forum arenas is beyond its being a form of sustaining the resistance, the practice shelters significant important and new characteristics on behalf of the struggle. The foremost characteristic is the practice of direct democracy [2] by a vast mass of participating people probably for the first time. The initiative and the inspiration for the neighborhood forums was undoubtedly the Gezi Park experience throughout which “living space” had been formed and lived along where state and government authority did not exist for nearly 15 days. There had been effective accumulation of experience on health, sheltering, alimentation, hygiene and other vital issues in Gezi Park. In the beginning the park forums facilitated as an open mic platform to bring the people together to express their ideas and to share their stories with other. Yet the relationship among people in the forums was not passive at all. In order to prevent disturbing the residents nearby, new arm gestures have been defined for acceptance, applause and rejection. In short time, people have started to take decisions in the forums. First of all, “subordinate initiatives” determined by the participants’ profession has been formed. More than 10 subordinate initiatives were formed in Abbasağa Park such as engineers’ initiative, women initiative, youth, lawyers, craftsmen and artisans initiatives. These initiatives are in charge of answering the demands of the resistance’s and forum participants’ needs and requirements in general yet they are well capable of positioning themselves in accordance with the neighborhood’s needs as well. One of the important topics on which unanimous consent is sought for is to name and define these communities and People’s Assembly, Solidarity Platform, People-Resistance-Freedom Platform are among the proposals. The most inspiring and forthcoming feature of the forums is their ability to take immediate decisions, though generally as a reflex, get mobilized and act. In the evening of the day the court has released the police officer who shot Ethem Sarısülük from his head, several neighborhood forums, Kadıköy-Yoğurtçu Park, Kartal, Tarsus, decided to march in order to protest the judge’s decision
Besides these encouraging aspects of the forums, it is definitely unavoidable for us to determine the deficiencies and weaknesses in order to overcome them as soon as possible.
First of all, it is hard to say that the number of participants of the forums is sufficient. Even in Kadıköy district, where over ten thousand people have marched across the Bosphorus Bridge early in the morning before dawn, the participants all over the forums merely add up to one thousand. Most of the forums are carried on by 100 to 500 people in total. A significant difference among the central neighborhood and periphery, poor neighborhoods can be observed as well where in latter one the number of the participants is quite low and the discussions concentrate on local agenda. The lack of comprehension that forum participation is necessary for the continuation of the resistance, the lack of association consciousness overwhelmed by the scarification of individualism are among the principal deficiencies yet calls for forums are not effective and inclusive enough. Location and timing in addition to topics of the agenda and discussion may be announced in advance. Forum arenas which are mainly simple parks can be organized so the participants’ needs are fulfilled.
Remarkable number of people perceive and evaluate the forums as “a show” where individuals get on the stage for themselves rather than prioritizing the community’s and/or the struggle’s requirements. People talking in return usually make everlasting political analysis and emphasize on elections. There is no definite solution to prevent such misleading behavior, yet they can be reduced by highlighting the community’s common agenda instead. It is possible to limit the speeches by a given period of time, to oblige them in accordance with the agenda of the day, to change moderators, both women and men on daily basis.
It must be kept in mind that “a marching column advances at the pace of the slowest”. This is the most important principle and ground basis to mobilize the forums and assemblies held in the parks to a common aim. The main achievement is to succeed in preserving the integrity of the communities and catch “the collective median”. At this point, classically defined leftist organizations and political bodies tend to behave erroneously. Forums may be dissolved and decomposed if the community is continuously challenged to act and get mobilized in a revolutionary way. If we are to repeat and summarize our concerns, the main objective is to preserve the forums and assemblies as integrity and a whole, to try to seek for consent, to respect the “slow pacer”, to determine a common objective, to institutionalize from within.
The method of decision these kind of forums apply is obviously more flexible than the “democratic centralism” principle which is applied commonly by democratic mass associations where all participating during the decision making process has to abide by the decision. The method of decision in the forums has to be in accordance with “decentralization” principle. Everyone can participate in decision making process yet it may not be obligatory for all to the final decision. Hence, one must pay attention not to challenge the community and give rise to conflicts and disenchantment.
It is far too early for the forums and assemblies to institutionalize themselves; their progress is carried on and characterized by experiences. Possible committed mistakes may cause disappointments within the communities and may harm the new embodiments of people. It would certainly be more effective and useful to determine achievable, realistic but high objectives rather than forming subordinate initiatives for every matter discussed. Three indispensable aspects of these kinds of formations are the presence of regular – participation granted common will formed on the basis of volunteerism, achievable main demands and aims [3] and a defined period set in advance for the main objective to be achieved.
The political opposition which has stemmed from Gezi Park has not culminated yet and it is still prevailing on the streets. Four demands which have been announced repeatedly have not been met yet. People’s conception that their freedom is at stake have not changed yet. Fair and proper legal assessment, judging and penalizing have not been applied at all. On the contrary, the police, governors, ministers and the state are given double standard and protection. Tayyip Erdoğan’s numerously repeated, insulting and degrading discourse continues on. As a consequence, people’s opposition head towards manifestations where they can express themselves. Lastly on June 22, the call for meeting in Taksim Square to commemorate our losses, to remind the demands, and to condemn the violence have gathered over a hundred thousand of people. We find it appropriate that every Saturday may be announced with one of the demands of the resistance (Justice Saturday, Freedom Saturday, etc.) and therefore mass gatherings will continue.
Local forums should not give up their local agendas and discussions but all need to thrive on this axis. It is indispensable that the political emphasis is visualized by positioning against AKP. However these people need is not to indulge propaganda against each other. A proper propaganda method has to be found to catch the discrepancies on behalf of the AKP bloc.
Besides the majority of the participants in the forums are unorganized and backed up by erroneous perceptions they are against being organized. Therefore forums should be the actual places where the importance of being organized is shown. Calls for “organized labor, professional associations, democratic mass associations, Halkevleri [People's Houses]” has to be designated in future as advanced models.
The “pros and cons” of the forums can be summarized as above “for now”. One last comment we can add shall be the “utopia” that is going to be realized. The first condition for this utopia is to save Gezi Park from police occupation and get people design the park themselves as a free “life and meeting” space. And eventually let all the parks turn into Gezi Park which becomes the common will of the people’s assemblies all around the city and the country. We all hope for “direct democracy” to be practiced in every park, for all parks to transform into “life and meeting” spaces, for spaces of freedom where none of the reactionary and fascist ideologies could penetrate within and there will be no need for state authority…
Translation: Isik Kiribrahim
[1] List of several parks where forums are held and gathered together in İstanbul; Acıbadem, Esenyurt, 5. Sokak Akasya Park, Sarıyer-Dağevleri, 2 Temmuz Yaşam Park, Üsküdar Fetih Mahallesi Tahralı Park, Yeniköy Park, Kartal Park, Beşiktaş Abbasağa Park, Elmadağ-Harbiye, Maçka Park Kadıköy Yoğurtçu Park, Ümraniye Çarşı Park, Okmeydanı Sibel Yalçın Park, Beyoğlu Cihangir Park, Göztepe Park, Etiler-Akatlar Sanatçılar Park, Alibeyköy Karadolap Belediye Park, Fatih Saraçhane Park, Bahçelievler Egemenlik Park, Bakırköy Square,Maltepe Square, Kireçburnu Ömürtepe Mahallesi Çamlık Picnic Area, Hisarüstü-Boğaziçi University, Duatepe Park.
[2] Which means neither power nor right is delegated, people not only participate in the decision making  process but  are active in implementation as well, the policy initiatives decided are obliged to checks and balances chosen representatives can be called to resign.
[3] For example in Beşiktaş, Abbasağa Park, the significant local demand  was to have the bus stop removed by the justification of  its potential obstacle for the PM when he arrives in his working office and/or  departs from there to be placed in former place again. Besides, this demand was put forward after the mayor of Istanbul, Kadir Topbaş have announced that “we are going to consult everything, even a bus stop with people from now on”.

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