The Master’s Tools: Turkey…
from June 5, 2013
The Master’s Tools: Turkey as an Example of How the Mainstream Media Has Defined Our Ideas of Revolution and How That Co-opts Real Efforts for Change
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” -Audre Lorde
Today it’s Turkey. Yesterday it was Cambodia, India, Bangladesh. It was Tunisia and Egypt and Bahrain. It was New York and Detroit. I remember when it was Seattle, Chiapas, Argentina. It has been South Africa, Nigeria, Burma, Aceh, Bolivia, Guatemala. It is Palestine. It’s been most places in this world and it’s happening much more often than we know. It is the media alone that defines these ongoing struggles as if they were only moments of collective outbursts and clashes. It is only the wars and street battles that call the media’s attention and support it’s hunger for advertising dollars.
The fact is that the energy to push for change ebbs and flows constantly but never ceases. The push for liberation may come up against a push for authoritarianism or fundamentalism but some of the players are always moving and always pushing. And that is what is important. It is not that those tipping points turned street clashes and occupations are not important – they very much are. But they cannot be predicted, cannot be created; they are not for everyone and they are not sustainable. Any sustained and sustainable movements towards real social change must accept them, recognize their importance strategically and emotionally, but also understand that they are not the revolution itself. They are also, often too easily, co-optable. And herein lies one of the problems with understanding the world through the lens of the mainstream media and its attachment to the vague and overly generalized concept of ‘the revolution,’ specifically as it has been incorporated into not only the media and pop culture but also an historic nationalism and nation-state based framework.
In the June 5, 2013 New York Times is an article about Turkey’s current “crisis,” as they put it, which contains the following paragraph:
As the occupation of Taksim Square enters its fifth day, crucial questions remain: How will it all end, and can the many disparate groups – leftists, environmentalists, secular liberals – who have descended on the square transform the protest movement into a viable political force? There is, so far, little evidence that the groups that have occupied Taksim Square can unite around a shared vision for the future or a common leader.
Now, I realize this is The New York Times, but also, this is The New York Times. By which, I mean, that I know that it is entrenched in the establishment but is also has become one of the few daily newspapers left that is respected as a source of information by the more ‘general public’ (whatever that means) and is generally respected by liberals. What I’m saying is that this isn’t the people’s media but it isn’t FOXNews either and writing it off misses the point. It is a big player in defining the mainstream perspective and the paragraph above really does make an important point.
I want to break it down because I think that we are in a surge of revolutionary activity in the world right now and how we come through that is incredibly important. And the questions raised above show a glimpse at what is exactly in our way.
So… I want to break this into a few pieces and examine them separately to start: who, how, how long, and what next/how next.
Briefly, let’s begin with the questions about lengths of time. This comes up twice – the reference to the occupation being in it’s fifth day and then later with the pointed “so far” insertion. I feel like I read this type of comment regularly – it showed up throughout the reporting on the Arab Spring uprisings, the Occupy encampments and more generally it goes back to stories about strikes, spontaneous demonstrations with or without demands, and more. It seems clear that the demolition of Gezi Park as it begun and the enclosure and privatization of public space that was proposed to follow it was the breaking point for a lot of frustrated people across several if not many sections of Turkish society and as the dam broke, so to speak, the water burst forth with power and intensity. So, given that breakthrough and the myriad of frustrations that caused it, it seems ridiculous to assume that in less than a week (as the article notes), there would be clearly defined evidence of where things will go and how they will move forward.
Ok, obvious. But I want to go back to something I learned from an old friend while working on autonomous media many years ago. She always said that the mainstream media portrays a demonstration (or uprising, protest, action, etc.) as one of two things – violent or ineffective. Or both – in my opinion, the media excels at capturing both. The point here is the insinuation of ‘ineffective’ – I mean it’s been five days and they don’t have their shit perfectly together [insert sarcastic tone]. The media is saying ‘we don’t know what’s going to happen but we’ll default to: nothing of any good or usefulness until convinced otherwise.’
Now, you may say, this is just one paper, one paragraph, it’s not all of the media but I challenge you to go look through mainstream TV and print media and see if this pattern emerges more often than you realized (I’ve thrown in some links from major media outlets below as well as to the whole article that I’m quoting from as it doesn’t get any better and a link to the Democracy Now! coverage, an alternative. There are many more points for critique and comparison that I’m not even touching on here – see what you notice.) It is of the utmost importance to a corporate, state-blessed media machine convince people that rising up is generally ineffective.
Related to this is the next thing I want to look at and it segues well into the third. The “who have descended onto the square” bit. Descended. Square. Descended is a rather ominous word. Several dictionaries I took a look at for this from Merriam-Webster to the free online dictionary use the word in reference to coming down on something, lowering oneself to something. Thesaurus.com lists it as a synonym for invade, attack, assault, infect, pillage, plunder and violate among others. It’s a square – a public space. The people of a place using a public space in that place is not an invasion. That language assumes that the public space doesn’t belong to the people at all and if they are to be present in it in any large numbers, it must be an attack. And, if it’s an attack, who is being attacked? Who do we really believe owns that “public” space?
Not to mention that I didn’t realize leftists, environmentalists and secular liberals were so scary. This is where the violent part comes in. If you watch Democracy Now!’s coverage from June 3, there is an interview with a woman who is in the streets and identified as both an activist and scholar.
She speaks about the frustrations of more strict laws that govern personal choice from drinking alcohol to women’s liberation, including recent government attacks on reproductive rights, as well as government insults and lack of commitment on LGBT rights. She begins by talking about how even more than Islamist (as much media portrays it), the current government is neoliberal and that this is about resistance to that agenda AND the culmination of repressive policies as mentioned above. The crux of the park issue is the privatization of space and the destruction of green space – trees. In reality it feels more like a moment built on movement and resistance to the over-reaches of both capitalism and fundamentalism. Sounds nice to me. But I guess we can’t risk that sounding like a good idea here. Or anywhere else for that matter.
Which brings us to the who – leftists, environmentalists, secular liberals – oh my! More importantly – can they be a “viable political force” and “unite around a shared vision for the future or a common leader[?]” We’ll come back to the leader part.
Now, I’ve been around movements long enough to know that groups of people who seem like they should be able to get along don’t always necessarily do so (which should be the topic of any number of other writings). But this reads to me as a pre-emptive strike against even that possibility. The assumption that they can’t or won’t be able to work together. And then I start wondering: chicken or egg?
There’s something even more insidious here and it gets at the root difference between true and sustainable shifts in our world and the ‘revolutions’ that land us back where we started. The idea presented is that these varied entities (who don’t overlap?) must unite and have a shared vision in order to be “politically viable.” All of those things describe the makings of a political faction if not a political party. Legitimacy remains – in this context – within the confines of both the state and the global economic (capitalist) system.
The subtext is that legitimacy comes from following the right steps – which lead to institutionalization and a focus on gaining political power.
This is why I choose to focus in on this one little paragraph. It succinctly describes what is said over and over and over again and what people in the midst of uprising as well as longer-term movement get all too bogged down with – that the only way to see the change through is to become that entity that you were fighting against in the first place.
It is the ultimate attempt at journalistic smack-down – you are irrelevant because in a short time you don’t have your shit together AND you will never become relevant if you don’t party-up, so to speak.
What’s unfortunate about this is that autonomous (from the state), local, self-reliant and sustainable change is in my opinion the only possible way we’re going to get out of this mess of economic and ecologic destruction. The tipping point turned uprising must break through the dam but also, eventually, the river must flow again on its own natural course – building another dam only to have to force another breakthrough seems to miss the point.
Which finally brings us to the “leader” grand finale of the statement: the idea that the only way to affect change is through recreating hierarchical bodies with central leadership. I won’t simplify this down to ‘this is what the state wants’ – though it is. It is the most inherent problem with the concept of revolution as it broadly exists today. Out with the old guard and in with the new. Many, many, if not most, countries in the world today trace their lineage to some glorious revolution whether that was 200, 50 or 10 years ago. The hegemonic US empire, the authoritarian and increasingly consumerist China, not to mention Mexico, France, Russia, South Africa, Egypt…
We are told – as this demonstrates – that the revolution must happen quickly. It must do so for both the advertising-driven news cycle as well as so that one side can win, one side can lose and order can be restored more or less to what it was before. If not worse.
But change doesn’t come overnight or even over a week or a month. Real change is slow and everyday and challenging and takes a lifetime, more than a lifetime. It doesn’t come from a new president, a new party and it doesn’t sell newspapers. These uprisings need to be moments amongst this long work wherein we break from the state, from the market, from the domineering and oppressive forces on our lives and our forced complicity in the destruction of our own planet. If we used these as catalysts into actually different worlds, then they would truly deserve the title of ‘Revolution’ or we’d probably come up with some better word. There is nothing that tells me that this is not the desire of some or most of those in the streets in Turkey right now or anywhere else I mentioned at the beginning of this writing. But this media crap gets in all of our heads and it stops us from acting and/or it changes how we act once we’re in the midst of movement. It is more insidious than we give it credit for and we must learn to recognize that in every bit of it, it is doing the work of those who stand in the way of a better world. It never serves us. Our own media and storytelling must do that.
I’m not in Turkey, I’ve never been there. I don’t personally know anyone there. I am reliant on what media I can find and I must piece together what to believe. If I could talk to people in Turkey right now, I would just want to listen – to hear their stories, their feelings, their hopes, their ideas. If they asked, I would offer this to them not as criticism but as a conversation starter – how I hope you receive it as well.
I could never pretend I know what is right for people in Turkey or that they all need the same thing, anyway. I do know that some supposedly unifying mission statement and central leadership will not magically make their lives better. Only they can make their lives better – by rejecting fundamentalism and authoritarianism and neoliberalism, even if all that can be masked in so-called democracy. And by working every day to take collective and autonomous control over their own lives and communities. I hope for them that their revolution finds its way downstream. I hope all of our revolutions do.
the article the quote is sourced from:
first part, up to about 1:30 or so mostly about US interests:
from CNN with multiple videos and links – how will the police stop these destructive kids with silly demands about drinking? ok, i’m paraphrasing:
gotta throw in fox – this is the general page, vids if you scroll down. haven’t found much worst than any of the rest but, wow, they are not very skilled journalists:
and for some better information: