“Two…four…five…six and seven”.
Within a matter of five minutes, seven full buses of police officers roll down the main stretch of road in Taksim towards Gezi Park. Several friends told me that tensions will be high around holidays and celebrations from now on. It is Bayram now, the national celebration of the national holiday here in Turkey, and Istiklal Caddesi is full of visiting Turks, European and Arab tourists, and the usual humming crowd that makes Taksim, well, Taksim. Running contrary to the path of the police parade, the signature red trolley rolls down the hill on its old metal tracks; it is filled with tourists, and on the back, young local boys cling onto the outside panels, sometimes dragging their feet on the ground as if pretending to ski- burning the rubber soles off their shoes with the friction.
“People are really worried about what will happen on October 29th– you know, it’s the Turkish national independence day”- one man told me. Tensions have remained high since the Gezi Park protests of one month ago. Hundreds of thousands of Turks took to the streets and occupied Gezi Park in protest of police violence and the increasing authoritarianism of the ruling party AKP and their leader, PM Tayyip Erdogan. While the protests did not lead to government overturn as seen in Egypt and Libya, there is still a sense that something was accomplished in those months. Having returned to Istanbul after living here throughout the summer and the protests, some tell me that there is an increased awareness of community again that was thought to have been lost before the protests. “People, and myself included, are more likely to help a stranger on the street, as during the protests, the police and justice were thought to be acting against the people of Istanbul”. I too had noticed more random acts of kindness among Turks in the city; a rare feat for any city with the population of over 20 million, where focusing on taking care of one’s own family and needs can sometimes trump the humanitarian spirit.
But this is also mixed with a feeling of unfinished business- as the protests failed to shake the decision making of the Prime Minister; those opposing AKP still hope to bring about change in how government responds to its constituents in the upcoming election. In the roar of contention, Istanbul (and especially its youth) wants to be heard and they continue to look to the international system to protect their freedom of speech and expression, as it will be vital determinant in the coming election. With high rates of media control, the latest curtailment of alcohol consumption and talk of Erdogan’s push to rewrite the constitution from a parliamentary to a presidential system, Taksim still hums along with a tradition of vitality, unpredictability and a hint silent protest- where people vote with their everyday choices before the ballot.