When the initial resistance of a handful environmental activists of the Occupy Gezi movement was faced with heavy police brutality the focus shifted to wider issues, such as police brutality and increasing authoritarianism of Tayyip Erdogan’s government. In many messages and placards there soon appeared lines as “not about a couple of trees, but about democracy”. The style of the demonstrators also brought into minds those tens of anti-capitalist “occupy” movements emerged since 2008 in the West.
Despite the multiplication of the slogans and emerging chaos about the aims of the protesters, it was clear at the start, and it is still quite clear now, that this is first and foremost a response to the ruling AK Party’s grandiose neoliberal project of urban transformation, gentrifying schemes, with the aim of creating high-tech malls, skyscrapers, and glossy versions of some historical sites for tourists in the center of this amazing city. The plan to demolish Gezi Park is part of a massive urban project which aims to make the city a metropolis with a leading financial and commercial hub. All this urban renewal projects, imposed upon people in a crony capitalist fashion, are of course targeting the very existence and life styles of those people who are currently living in these urban spaces. So, Occupy Gezi is still essentially “about a couple of trees”, and this is a very significant an extremely vital point about this protest movement. Those couple of trees are the symbols of unity between the displaced poor squatter populations, intellectuals and artists who have been using and living in these most culturally vibrant spaces for generations, and all those who reject being part of the ongoing neoliberal restructuring project.
The very logic of accumulation under the neoliberal economic system necessitates that the material elements (resources) of nature are transformed explicitly into commodities in an ever-expanding rate. In this long history of human excessiveness in production and consumption, the stability of the economic order, as an unrestrained structure, is dependent, more than ever, on the continued accumulation in a cycle of never-ending expansion. This means that more and more materials from the nature must be consumed in the process of production.
Perhaps this is the most intractable challenge faced by not only the population of Istanbul, but all humanity living within a global economic system with its need for ever-growing profits. The central point in environmental sustainability is preserving a balance between human wants and nature’s needs. As Karl Marx pointed out long ago in fashioning the term “reification”, the natural tendency of the system is to reduce all human relationships to objectified and quantified values for the marketplace. This universal quality of the current economic system similarly attempts to reduce nature to a set of economic values that can be bartered in markets.
So, the Occupy Gezi is a resistance against this urban neoliberal transformation. It is a popular resistance against the construction-obsessed government. It is a resistance against the market-oriented vision for this urban space imposed by the ruling elite. It is a resistance against the increasingly authoritarian policies of a government emboldened by an economic boom. This is a resistance against boom-time development plans based on destructive urban generation projects. This is a resistance against neoliberalism as a local as well as global project.
Keele , 7 June 2013